It was in the year 9 AD. In today's Haltern am See, located in the North Rhine-Westphalian district of Recklinghausen, the Roman general Varus sets out with the 19th legion towards the Weser. A short time later he was caught in a Germanic ambush in the "saltus Teutoburgiensis" in the Teutoburg Forest. This is how Roman historians put it. Varus is killed, his troops destroyed. After that, the Romans gave up their goal of establishing a province of Germania on the right bank of the Rhine. The Varus Battle will go down in school books as a turning point in history.
There are hundreds of theories about exactly where this battle was fought. Most of the time they suspect the place to be in the area that we now call the Teutoburg Forest. But for several years it has become apparent that Varus has found its end further north at Kalkriese in the Osnabrücker Land. An ancient battlefield has been excavated and researched there since the 1980s. There are many indications that these are the remnants of the armed conflict of the year 9. Recently there has been evidence of this. A few weeks ago, Annika Diekmann, who works at the Bochum Mining Museum, published her doctoral thesis.
She examined metal remains from belt buckles, horse harness and the like for their chemical composition, created a so-called metallurgical fingerprint of the Kalkriese finds - and compared this with the metal finds from the Roman camps in Haltern and in Dangstetten in Baden-Württemberg. The 19th Legion was demonstrably stationed at these two locations. Lo and behold: the composition of the material is identical. From this, the researchers conclude that Kalkriese's devastated army must have been the 19th Legion of General Varus.
For Bettina Tremmel, an expert in Roman archeology at the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe, this raises new questions. She is not only interested in the location of the Varus Battle, she rather tries to reconstruct the exact sequence of Roman activities on the right bank of the Rhine. In addition to Haltern, logistics also included other warehouses in Westphalia, she explains. Some of them have been found - for example in Anreppen near Delbrück in the Paderborn district, in Oberaden near Bergkamen, in Beckinghausen near Lünen or in Olfen in the Coesfeld district. They are assigned to earlier phases, when the generals Drusus and Tiberius carried out the military operations in Germania with the 17th and 18th legions.
Tremmel would now also like to have the finds from these Westphalian camps examined using the new method. If the theory is correct that a metallurgical fingerprint can be assigned to a certain legion, then, according to Tremmel, one should be able to distinguish the Westphalian camps from one another. "But if the same metallurgical fingerprint were also found in other Roman camps such as Anreppen or Oberaden, something doesn't fit our picture: Varus cannot have been in these camps at the same time as in Haltern and Dangstetten," says the researcher. “Or the chronological sequence was different than previously thought. When was Varus where? Easy question, hard answer. The detective game is not over yet.”