This was Caecina’s fortieth campaign as a subordinate or a commander,
and, with such experience of success and peril, he was perfectly fearless.
As he thought over future possibilities, he could devise no plan but
to keep the enemy within the woods, till the wounded and the more
encumbered troops were in advance. For between the hills and the swamps
there stretched a plain which would admit of an extended line. The
legions had their assigned places, the fifth on the right wing, the
twenty-first on the left, the men of the first to lead the van, the
twentieth to repel pursuers.

It was a restless night for different reasons, the barbarians in their
festivity filling the valleys under the hills and the echoing glens
with merry song or savage shouts, while in the Roman camp were flickering
fires, broken exclamations, and the men lay scattered along the intrenchments
or wandered from tent to tent, wakeful rather than watchful. A ghastly
dream appalled the general. He seemed to see Quintilius Varus, covered
with blood, rising out of the swamps, and to hear him, as it were,
calling to him, but he did not, as he imagined, obey the call; he
even repelled his hand, as he stretched it over him. At daybreak the
legions, posted on the wings, from panic or perversity, deserted their
position and hastily occupied a plain beyond the morass. Yet Arminius,
though free to attack, did not at the moment rush out on them. But
when the baggage was clogged in the mud and in the fosses, the soldiers
around it in disorder, the array of the standards in confusion, every
one in selfish haste and all ears deaf to the word of command he ordered
the Germans to charge, exclaiming again and again, “Behold a Varus
and legions once more entangled in Varus’s fate.” As he spoke, he
cut through the column with some picked men, inflicting wounds chiefly
on the horses. Staggering in their blood on the slippery marsh, they
shook off their riders, driving hither and thither all in their way,
and trampling on the fallen. The struggle was hottest round the eagles,
which could neither be carried in the face of the storm of missiles,
nor planted in the miry soil. Caecina, while he was keeping up the
battle, fell from his horse, which was pierced under him, and was
being hemmed in, when the first legion threw itself in the way. The
greed of the foe helped him, for they left the slaughter to secure
the spoil, and the legions, towards evening, struggled on to open
and firm ground.

Nor did this end their miseries. Entrenchments had to be thrown up,
materials sought for earthworks, while the army had lost to a great
extent their implements for digging earth and cutting turf. There
were no tents for the rank and file, no comforts for the wounded.
As they shared their food, soiled by mire or blood, they bewailed
the darkness with its awful omen, and the one day which yet remained
to so many thousand men.

It chanced that a horse, which had broken its halter and wandered
wildly in fright at the uproar, overthrew some men against whom it
dashed. Thence arose such a panic, from the belief that the Germans
had burst into the camp, that all rushed to the gates. Of these the
decuman gate was the point chiefly sought, as it was furthest from
the enemy and safer for flight. Caecina, having ascertained that the
alarm was groundless, yet being unable to stop or stay the soldiers
by authority or entreaties or even by force, threw himself to the
earth in the gateway, and at last by an appeal to their pity, as they
would have had to pass over the body of their commander, closed the
way. At the same moment the tribunes and the centurions convinced
them that it was a false alarm.

Having then assembled them at his headquarters, and ordered them to
hear his words in silence, he reminded them of the urgency of the
crisis. “Their safety,” he said, “lay in their arms, which they must,
however, use with discretion, and they must remain within the entrenchments,
till the enemy approached closer, in the hope of storming them; then,
there must be a general sortie; by that sortie the Rhine might be
reached. Whereas if they fled, more forests, deeper swamps, and a
savage foe awaited them; but if they were victorious, glory and renown
would be theirs.” He dwelt on all that was dear to them at home, all
that testified to their honour in the camp, without any allusion to
disaster. Next he handed over the horses, beginning with his own,
of the officers and tribunes, to the bravest fighters in the army,
quite impartially, that these first, and then the infantry, might
charge the enemy.

There was as much restlessness in the German host with its hopes,
its eager longings, and the conflicting opinions of its chiefs. Arminius
advised that they should allow the Romans to quit their position,
and, when they had quitted it, again surprise them in swampy and intricate
ground. Inguiomerus, with fiercer counsels, heartily welcome to barbarians,
was for beleaguering the entrenchment in armed array, as to storm
them would, he said, be easy, and there would be more prisoners and
the booty unspoilt. So at daybreak they trampled in the fosses, flung
hurdles into them, seized the upper part of the breastwork, where
the troops were thinly distributed and seemingly paralysed by fear.
When they were fairly within the fortifications, the signal was given
to the cohorts, and the horns and trumpets sounded. Instantly, with
a shout and sudden rush, our men threw themselves on the German rear,
with taunts, that here were no woods or swamps, but that they were
on equal ground, with equal chances. The sound of trumpets, the gleam
of arms, which were so unexpected, burst with all the greater effect
on the enemy, thinking only, as they were, of the easy destruction
of a few half-armed men, and they were struck down, as unprepared
for a reverse as they had been elated by success. Arminius and Inguiomerus
fled from the battle, the first unhurt, the other severely wounded.
Their followers were slaughtered, as long as our fury and the light
of day lasted. It was not till night that the legions returned, and
though more wounds and the same want of provisions distressed them,
yet they found strength, healing, sustenance, everything indeed, in
their victory.
The Annals by Tacitus