[Archive] Counter Factual History- Part I- Rome & Germania

Border Reiver:

By the time of the Huns the Empire would probably have advanced to the Vistula. After the pacification of Germania, that would have been the next logical step.

There would probably be raids from Scandinavia during this time which would bring those territories to the attention of Rome - amd their lack of resources that the Romans wanted. This would likely see those territories becoming disrupted by Roman agents, or the site of recruiting centres for auxillary troops.

Britain would likely have been incorporated about the same time it was, but with a larger manpower base, the Wall would likely not have been built as the Caledonian and Pictish peoples probably would end up being incorporated - meaning that the Romans might even have considered heading to Ireland.


That was my thought Caledonia was heavily explored and had numerous bases throughout the lowlands. My thinking in this scenario that if they can conquer the rest of The isles but the mid 2nd century they are well on their way to no turning back as a world super power. They already were, true but a Rome streching to the Vistula is even better positioned. If this happens the Parthians are further minimized and the Black Sea might very well turn into another Roman lake.

IF this happens their truly is no one to stop them.

Hibernia would have presented a problem but not a insurmountable one.

Truly fascinating because with Rome turning back it led to the world we have today. All for the price of 3 Roman Legions…


Teutoberg wasn’t about the loss of 3 legions, it was about the roman strategy of annexing auxiliaries to the empire. Arminius/Herman was a friend to the Empire and trusted before the battle, and key to the roman strategy of bringing Germania into the roman empire. When he led the legions northward, Rome was expecting the co-operation of the German peoples and when they turned on them they realized that strategy was no longer trustworthy. Germania had little to offer the empire outside of auxillary manpower and a buffer zone to the north. It was deemed too much trouble. Briton, by comparison, offered tin and so vital to the war effort.

War is never about “our losses” vs "their losses."

Also, the Roman empire’s grip began to loosen when it became an Empire rather than a Republic and Christianity began to be absorbed into its culture - a religion that wasn’t compatible with many auxillary states philosophies which were to that point pagan and allowed the worship of many different gods, even those that weren’t yours. Paganism could exist with Christianity but Christianity could not/would not co-exist with paganism.


Teutoberg wasn't about the loss of 3 legions, it was about the roman strategy of annexing auxiliaries to the empire.

That's my point it wasn't about the loses it was about the will to conquer it.

Border Reiver:

GRNDL’s quite right though about some of Rome’s problems arising from being an empire, but those could also be placed on the absolute lack of succession laws in the empire for the transfer of imperial power.

Essentially, if you were to succeed to the purple, you absolutely needed the support of the army. That meant “presents” for the troops, offices for the junior officers and lots of influence for the commanders. And the need to keep it up afterwards to keep them all happy. This required huge amounts of resources, and the lack of certainty in the power structure and the emphasis on the rewards of loyalty being tangible (money, land, political office) meant that loyalty was to people, not the state. The empire would have collapsed, even if that Jewish sect hadn’t gained lots of influence.


A little experiment thread here at CDO.

Lets not let this get to derailed into politics and get it locked. So with that how about some Counter Factual fun? For those not in the now Counter Factual history is take a divergent point in history and make small plausible changes to the way that history might have unfolded.

The main rules of counter factuals are:
1. Small plausible changes in the timeline with the possibilities of former patterns reasserting themselves.

2. Minimal Rewrites. Usual historians that study this ascribed to the rule of 2; i.e. no more then 2 changes as the further it gets from point of change the tougher it gets.

So with that lets consider:

Rome and the German Frontier in AD 9
Why AD 9? Well the more historically minded will recognize that was the year that the Empire lost the XVII, XVIII, and XIX legions at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest This loss meant that after some few more abortive attempts Rome withdrew behind the Rhine and never attempted to conquer Germania.

Consider that up until this time Rome had been expanding and had already laid the groundwork for the pacification of Germania. In the preceding centuries Hsipania and Gaul fell and Britain ahd been subdued. Since 13 BC give or take, the Romans had been preparing with naval fortifications and depots along the North Sea and punitive raids along with the general romanization of tribes along almost any border that Rome came into contact with. Even Caesar had probed into Germania decades before.

Now obviously the lost of the legions was horrific to the Romans of the day, but considering a ascendant Rome need it had been a crippling loss? I speculate No. The other tack is what if it never happened at all and that is covered by the book What If (collected edition) edited by Robert Crowley. It takes the tack of what if Rome had been successful and had not lost the legions; that the Western half of the Roman Empire might have never “fallen” and Rome might have endured to the present day in some shape or form radically changing the face of Europe.

My thought is what would have happened had Rome lost the legions in question, but instead of retreating behind the Rhine redoubled its efforts in earnest instead. So for my purposes let us suppose that Varus does manage to get his three legions annihilated forest like he did in history. Need it had been the end of the Roman ambitions in Germania? The answer that strikes me is no. Through its history prior, say with Hannibal, Rome has suffered far greater loses over a longer period of time and been able to recover. They later would at Adrianople Battle of Adrianople - Wikipedia loss a battle but still survive in the western side of the Empire for over another 100 years or so (while a loss, the Eastern half would recover and survive until 1453).

So lets look at the immediate aftermath. In AD 9 there were no mounting barbarian pressures really anywhere in the roman world like there would be in the the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. While a blow it wasn’t a cripplingly one, the Roman population could absorb the loses of three legions, they had lost far more before and soldiered on as it were. I don’t think the lost of the legions was the issue of the time.

Rather what strikes me as the issue is the character of Augustus who by this time was nearing the end of his eventful life and more importantly the man who would succeed him. Augustus adopted a policy of no more expansion for the remainder of his life (although he did allow raids). Upon his death in 14 AD Tiberius became Emperor. Tiberius and perhaps even more importantly Germanicus  did not fully follow Augustus’ plan and then reversed and later on did by abandoning Germainia. Tiberius had fought in Germania and command eventually passed to Germanicus. Both were knowledgeable of the area and the strategic picture (remember Augustus was no soldier, an expert politician yes) Germanicus was successful in penetrating further into Germania, he harried the German tribes, recovered 2 out of the lost three imperial eagles of the destroyed legions. In short he was well on the way to the upper hand there. This lasted until Tiberius would pull his nephew back and reassign him to the east (around 18 AD) where he would later die under mysterious circumstances.

So let us assume that Germanicus successful as he was in AD 16 and then allowed to continue rather then his uncle reassigning him east.

Bear in mind that at this time he had 8 full legions and numerous auxilaires at his disposal which were more then enough for the scattered and far from unified Germanic tribes. Given the ad-hoc nature of raising legions throughout Rome’s history its not unthinkable believe that the lost of three legions could have been nothing more then a temporary setback given the drive or at least the right leader to pull it off. The legions in question were indeed replaced, but their numbers never reassigned. So we can rule out the legions being lost as a major manpower loss.

So in this scenario we have a competent general at the head of 8 legions supported by the Roman Navy operating in the North Sea establishing bases and moving around North Sea, Denmark and to the Baltic Sea. Under this scenario the legions are never very far from resupply and reinforcements thereby freeing them from the Rhine/Danube line (By the time of AD 9 the Roman’s had bases as far forward as Hamburg).

It seems to me that this sweep from the northwest or the “left” of the Roman line might have a great chance of success in a gradual advance rather then say Trajan’s thrust into Dacia in the 110’s. This would have been likely here as noted the Roman Navy was operating along the coast of Germania providing supply and support.

So let us further assume that Germanicus is successful and rolls Roman frontier to the Oder/Danube line. What might this have led to? One is tempted to speculate that the defensive line of the Oder/Danube would have been a far more defensible one then the one that actually happened with a possibility of trade to the eastern provinces being easier. This becomes a distinct possibility when one considers that Roman roads would have been crossing Germania shortly thereafter. A truism is that wherever the legions went the roads followed closely behind. And there is barely any engineering problems that the Romans couldn’t have overcome to do so.

So what does this all leave? A stronger Rome with a more defensible line far further east rather then the roughly northwest line that stretched along as it actually did. It also means that perhaps that Germanicus becomes the next Emperor at the death of Tiberius with a firm eye on the north and still no immediate barbarian issues for another 150 years. Its tempting to think what might have Rome done in the intervening years? Complete the conquest of the British Isles? Thats another thread later.

As I said this also has direct implications on the barbarian pressures of the later centuries. These were probably bound to happen regardless with the Huns driving westward pushing other tribes/clans eastward. But a Rome with a border hundreds of miles eastward rather then on the Rhine would be in better position to repulse them. Especially if one considers that by say the time the Huns show up there is the possibility that the Germanic tribes are incorporated into the Empire and become citizens. Should that have happened it also means more men for the legions. (This is not an unreasonable imagining considering that Huns were still about  250 years away.) At worse the barbarians are still about a 100 years away given the advance of the line.

So please discuss. Again these are musings and a counter factual is an exercise in what if as such there are numerous possibilities.
Please keep all discussions civil.

If this becomes successful and everyone behaves themselves perhaps it will be fun to discuss more historical what ifs in the future.