Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teutoburg Forest

I'm reading Tacitus. (Enjoying it, too.) Which had me thinking.

"Varus! Give me back my legions!"

One of my favourite lines in history. An angry, frustrated Divine Augustus, smashing his head against the wall, in the fashion of mere mortals, screaming to a ghost. "Varus! Give me back my legions".

Varus, a Roman Governor and General, led three Legions of the Roman Army into the barbarous wilds of Northern Germany, marched his army through Teutoburg Forest, marched his army into the heart of an ambush, marched his army to slaughter. Very few of the men in Varus's army survived, too few to even really consider. Varus and all his officers were killed. Most of them were dragged off to the sacred woods, boiled in pots, and had their bones used in the barbarians victory rituals. 20,000 men dead, the myth of the invincible Eagle shattered, the most advanced military equipment of the day lost and in the hands of the enemy.

"Varus! Give me back my legions!"

(Augustus responds with this when he hears the news, I think, because the whole event was perfectly avoidable. Military intelligence suggested that Varus would be ambushed, and Varus ignored the warning.)

What I am interested in isn't the defeat, however. It is the aftermath of the defeat. With Roman honour stained with defeat, with the Roman Legions Sacred Eagles in the hands barbarians, with the borders into the Romanized provinces open, something had to be done. A response was indeed undertaken; Tacitus writes of 1000 ships being built to carry the avenging Legions into Germany.

Think about that for a moment: Varus did not need to kill himself and 20,000 veteran soldiers in an ambush he was warned about. But he did, and as a result, Rome was forced to spend resources it could have used for other endeavors on a campaign in which the motive was not to secure another province, or gain an ally, but rather to avenge honour, and to gain back the Eagle's (essentially the standards of the Roman army). Important stuff to be sure, but not as important as another province to collect taxes from.

It is a three-fold setback: Varus loses legions, Rome has to send more legions to avenge the legions lost, and the original reason Varus was in Germany to begin with, to pacify and civilize, gets abandoned.

On the weekend, the Flames, in my mind, had a "Varus! Give me back my legions!" moment.

Edmonton had been talking about this game. They had apparently put Feaster's bluster about "Where did the Oilers finish last year, caller?" (Answer: out of the playoffs, like the Flames, Feaster.) on the proverbial bulletin board. Military intelligence had warned the Flames that an ambush was coming, and the Flames did not respond. They put up 19 shots against a team that gives up on average 30 shots a game. (I just looked, and the Flames give up more shots against a game than Edmonton. But hey, let's bring back Coach Sutter.)

In an important game, only because the Flames went 10/23 in the first two months of the season, the Flames did not show up.

The next game the Flames played was against the Blue Jackets. The Flames put up 30 plus shots, but were not able to win the game. The Flames managed to get at least one point out of the game, which is nice, but they needed two.

Had the Flames won those two games, they would be sitting pretty with 84 points, they would be alone in 7th place. They would have leapfrogged four teams, and be feeling pretty good about themselves. Instead, they sit with 81 points, they sit at the bottom rung of all the teams still competing for the final spots in the West.

Instead of building a playoff cushion, the Flames need to win games just to get back to the position they should have been in, as wins against the bottom dwellers of the conference are expected. The Flames are now forced to play at a clip that is superior to the clip that Colorado and Phoenix will play. Can they? Sure, anything is possible; Matt Stajan is scoring. But they didn't have to. Had they won those games on the weekend, winnable games, they could have simply gone .500 and had a good chance to make the dance. Now they are forced to play above that clip. 

Varus was defeated in AD 9, and revenge was had in AD 13. Four years, and who knows how much money and energy, later. Had only Varus headed the warnings.

Furthermore, I think Peter Loubardias Ken King should be fired. 


  1. Not to mention, this spelled long term pain and suffering as well. Teutonberg was revisited. Arminius got his, eventually. However, this caused Rome to reset their entire strategy, and it wasn't enough. Sure, it lasted a couple of centuries, but by the crisis of the 3rd century, the problems were apparent.

    Even when they straightened up and flew right, the Romans eventually overextended themselves, and it could be pointed right back to that moment.

    I hope the Flames metaphor can't be carried that far.

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