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Make China Great Again! AKA The Xin Dynasty and the rule of Wang Mang

Contributed by Southpaw Ben

In 9 AD, Wang Mang usurped the throne after years of developing a personality cult around himself. He did this by having a false prophet write a divine decree pretending to be from Emperor Gaozu, the founder of the Han dynasty, proclaiming him as emporer, which he "dutifully accepted". He then decided to enact reforms to return to China to it's golden age of the early Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC - 256 BC), the dynasty prior to the currently interupted Han dynasty. This year he started this by making all land property of the empire, and split up the land if a family of less than 8 people had more than about 150 acres of land. All excess was to be distributed to neighbors, fellow clan members, or other member of the same village.[1][2]

My Take by Southpaw Ben
First off, apologies for my minimal contributions last week, it was beyond hectic. Also sorry for no name pronunciation help. I have a little clue with them as you. Anyways, enough with the excusese. While Wang Mang had been a great scholar and politician, when it came to ruling he was incompetent and surprisingly naive for such a successful politician. It appears that he managed to rise past his level of competence when he took power. It also appears that with China, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like with it's modern communism, which is slowly transitioning to capitalism, the land redistribution failed miserably. Wang Mang repealed these decrees in 12 AD due to resistance against the laws.

Nightmare in the Forest

Summer is drawing to a close and the 17th, 18th, and 19th legions under the command of Varus are preparing to march from their summer camp deep in the heart of Germany to their winter camp on the banks of the Rhine. Arminius, commander of the German auxiliary cavalry, a Romanized German has been building a military alliance of Germanic tribes for two years, and he now feels strong enough to strike, but the Germans are no match for the legions in a straight fight. Arminius fought with the Romans to crush the Pannonian Revolt, which has just ended this year, he is also a Roman knight and officer, enjoying Varus' complete trust, although the senior officers are a little wary. The Romans must have thought that Arminius could help them tame Germany, but he is using all these advantages to make sure there will be no straight fight The Romans have almost 20,000 soldiers and camp followers in the army and could easily defeat the ill equipped Germans while in the open river valley of their planned marching route. Arminius plans to lure the Romans into the Teutoburg Forest where an ambush could easily be launched. On the night before they begin marching, a chieftain named Segestes entered the Roman camp and revealed the conspiracy to Varus and exposed Arminius as its leader. He is shocked when Varus dismisses him and tells him to stop spreading slander; this is the last warning the Romans will receive.

Arminius is ordered to take his auxiliary cavalry ahead to scout the route and departs the camp ahead of the main army. It is unknown how Arminius convinced the Romans to abandon their normal route and enter the forest, but some Roman historians say that he burned several watchtowers, luring Varus into investigating. The legions begin a tough march into the forest and begin to spread out, losing cohesion. Varus also never ordered a march in battle order. Their auxiliary cavalry watching their flanks suddenly gallops into the forest and charges back moments later at the head of screaming tribesmen. Many Romans are killed, but they have to keep going, they have gone too far to turn back. They set up camp for the night which gives them some shelter, but morale is low. The next day doesn't go much better with the baggage train and camp followers lost in the fighting, and the army fighting to escape. On the third day, the Roman army escapes the forest, but is trapped between an earthen embankment and the Germans. Varus kills himself and several officers follow his lead, knowing that captivity would be worse than death. The few Romans that survive the fighting are taken away to serve as slaves and as sacrifices to the German gods. A small group escaped and brought news to the two legions at the Rhine, who were now the only thing standing between the Germanic tribes and Gaul. No Roman settlements exist east of the Rhine. Germania is in German hands again, for now. [3] [4] [5]

My Take by David Verne
It's hard for me to emphasize how shocking a defeat this was. It would be like an aircraft carrier task force getting sunk, its considered nearly impossible. Rome normally reformed lost legions, but the numbers 17, 18, and 19 would never be used again. Augustus was so shaken, he stopped shaving for months and for the rest of his life would sometimes shout for Varus to give his legions back. This battle was undoubtedly a major disaster and a turning point in Roman history, therefore it is easy to give credit to the battle as the reason the Romans never tried to conquer Germany again, but there are many better reasons. Germany was simply too poor to justify the investment needed to take it, and the Romans recognized that the one thing that unified the tribes was their combined cause to throw off Roman rule. Almost as soon as the Romans left Germany, the tribes returned to their eternal squabbling. There was one thing in particular Rome was known for, and that was not losing the resolve to fight after major defeats. They begin to send raiding parties and make preparations for a punitive expedition.

I'm sorry this segment was so long. There's a lot to this battle, and I didn't want to leave important parts out.~David Verne

See Also


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xin_dynasty
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Mang#As_acting_emperor
  3. Dando-Collins, Stephen (2010). Legions of Rome. St. Martin's Press. 
  4. Arminius.
  5. Publius Quinctilius Varus.

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