It’s two thousand years ago that the Roman commander Varus and three legions were defeated by Germanic tribesmen led by Arminius. The Battle in the Teutoburg Forest has always been a lieu de mémoire in German history, and it comes as no surprise that there are several expositions devoted to this event. In Xanten, there’s a charming exposition on Marcus Caelius, one of the soldiers killed in action (more…). In Kalkriese, there’s an exposition called “Conflict” on the relations between Rome and the Germanic tribes (which I already mentioned in passing); in Detmold you can visit the “Myth” expo, on the Nachleben of the battle; and finally, there’s “Imperium” in the Seestadthalle in Haltern, which tries to show to which civilization Varus belonged.
“Imperium” is the most overwhelming exposition I have visited in five years or so. You will see art objects from the first centuries BC and AD documenting the origins of Rome, like the relief shown next to this article; imperial propaganda (e.g., the Vatican Actium relief and works of art pertaining to the Ara Pacis); portraits of the main actors (Pompey, Caesar, Augustus, Cleopatra, Tiberius, Gaius and Lucius…) and cultural icons (Virgil, Maecenas…); you can see frescoes from the homes of Rome’s rich and famous (from the Palazzo Massimo); there are codices with the poems of Ovid and Propertius; coins with Varus’ portrait; objects illustrating his career in Syria; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Best of all, you can make as many photos as you like. I have on at least five occasions tried to make photos in the Ostia museum, because I wanted to study the geese relief – it was always forbidden, but now I finally was able to make my photos. I have one complaint, though: the illumination was rather old-fashioned – the objects were still shown in poorly illuminated rooms in which only a couple of objects are to be seen in low-key light. This was, now that new museums like Tongeren and Xanten have decided to abandon this approach, an unpleasant surprise. Still, the set of objects that has been collected is splendid and I was suffering from exhaustion when I had seen it all.