History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Hermann, the Hero of Germany

Tiberius succeeded to his brother Drusus, and under him, it seemed as if German freedom was to be lost. It was he who sent the triumphant message to Rome, "All the land between the Rhine and the Elbe is subdued." He had no doubt that Germany was at length become a province of Rome.

But the spirit of freedom was still alive. More than fifty years had passed since Ariovistus had defied Csar. Now there came to power a much greater man. This was Hermann, or, as the Romans called him, Arminius. He is indeed the German national hero.

Hermann was a prince. He was one of the many German princes who had learned Roman manners, and who had served in the Roman army. But although he had learned much from the Romans, he remained a German at heart. He loved his country, and longed to see it freed from the yoke of Rome.

Tiberius had by this time been recalled from Germany, and his place was taken by the Roman General Varus. He treated the free Germans as if they were slaves, and soon roused in their hearts hatred for himself, and an intense desire for revenge. Far and wide low mutterings of rebellion were soon heard. All that was needed to make it burst forth was a leader. And one in Arminius the people found. He was only twenty-five, but he was bold and ready and loved his country. At once the Germans began to plot to get rid of the Romans. Varus was told of these plots, but he paid little heed to them. How should base Germans dare to plot against Rome? he asked.

So the time passed, autumn came, and all was ready. Then, as had been arranged, a small and distant tribe rose in revolt. Varus marched to put down the revolt. This was the awaited signal. Hermann and the princes and peoples in league with him at once gathered and followed the unsuspecting Roman General. Varus believed he was marching to crush a petty tribe. He was marching to his own destruction.

Germany at this time was full of pathless forests, swamps, and marshes. Now Varus and his legions had to pass through a dense forest called the Teutoburg Forest. It was a terrible march, for the season was already late, there were no roads, the ground was sodden with autumn rain, the streams were swollen and impossible to ford. To make a path for themselves the Romans had to hew down trees and make bridges over rushing torrents. The rain poured down in floods, the wind roared in the mighty trees, as, heavily laden with baggage and provisions, the men toiled on through forest and swamp.

Then suddenly one day above the roar of the storm the fierce, wild war-cry of the Germans was heard. It seemed as if the forest around was alive with armed men, and a hail of arrows and javelins poured upon the Romans from every side. It was Arminius with his gathered tribes who had surrounded the Roman army. The Roman discipline was splendid, and desperately they fought.

All day the struggle lasted, the Romans slowly retreating before the foe, and when night came they encamped upon a small open space which they had reached.

When morning dawned, the fight and retreat again began. The Romans were now growing exhausted and thousands fell beneath the swords and battle-axes of their terrible foe, and all the way was marked with dead and dying. The retreat became a rout, and at length the Roman army of thirty or forty thousand men was utterly wiped out, only the shattered remnant, under cover of the friendly darkness, reaching the Roman fortress of Aliso.

Varus was not among these few. Rather than face the bitterness of defeat and disgrace he had thrown himself upon his own sword and died.

This is perhaps the worst defeat which ever fell upon the Romans. It is one of the great turning-points in the history of Europe. For that day it was made certain that Northern Europe would never be added to the Empire of Rome.

When the dire news was carried to Rome it was received with a cry of rage and fear. The Emperor Augustus was now an old man, and the news filled him with unutterable grief. He rent his robes in despair, he wandered frantically about his palace beating his head in helpless wrath against the gilt and marble pillars. With tears running down his furrowed cheeks he cried in anguish, "Varus, Varus, bring me back my legions." For a whole month long he neither shaved his beard nor cut his hair, vowing splendid offerings to the gods if they would take his kingdom once more under their care.

All Rome was filled with dire expectation. The Cimbric Terror once more laid hold upon the people, and every day they feared to see the wild barbarians at their gates.

But the Germans had no thought of conquest. For freedom alone they had fought. The desire alone of freedom had held them together. Now that the Roman power was broken they fell apart once more.

Almost at once the Romans made another effort to conquer Germany. Germanicus, the son of Drusus, who inherited the name Germanicus from his famous father, was the leader of the Romans. Arminius was still the leader of the Germans.

Many battles were fought, and in one Thusnelda, the wife of Arminius, was taken prisoner.

At that Arminius was mad with grief and wrath. Here and there he hurried among his people, urging them to war. "Before me three legions have fallen," he cried. "But not by treachery, not against women, but openly against armed men do I wage war. The standards which I took from Rome and hung up in honour of our country's gods may still be seen in the groves of Germany. One thing the Germans will never forgive, that is that the rods and axes and togas of Rome have been seen between the Rhine and the Elbe. If you prefer your fatherland, and your own peaceful life to tyrants and new laws, follow your leader Arminius to glory and freedom."

These words so stirred the people that from far and near they flocked to the standard of Arminius.

Meanwhile the Romans too had been stung to wrath by the sight of the fatal field in the Teutoburg Forest, where six years before so many of their kinsmen had fallen. As Germanicus and his men reached the spot it was a dreadful sight they saw. Everywhere the field was strewn with whitening bones, now piled in heaps where some brave stand had been made, now scattered wide as the men had fallen in flight.

As he walked sadly over the ghastly field Germanicus fought the battle again in his imagination. As he listened to the tale of one who had escaped from that dreadful day he seemed again to see the fight. Here he eagle was captured, here Varus was wounded, here again he died by his own hand.

Six years had passed, but the heart of Rome still bled from the wound. And now Germanicus was seized with a great longing to give honourable burial to these dead comrades. So he bade his soldiers gather the bones together, and lay them in one huge mound, and cover them over with earth. This the men did, not a soldier knowing whether or not the bones he laid on the pile might not be those of some dear kinsman. So they looked upon them all as their kinsfolk, and their anger against the Germans grew more bitter than before.

But in doing honour to his dead kinsmen Germanicus had given Arminius an opportunity. And in the wild rocky passes of the Teutoburg Forest Germanicus soon found himself surrounded even as Varus had been. The Roman soldiers were slain in thousands; but Germanicus was a far finer soldier than Varus, and he succeeded in cutting his way through the enemy, and retreated in good order to his ships.

With hearts enflamed with hatred and desires of revenge on either side the war went fiercely on. At length in A.D. 17 Arminius was defeated at the Maiden's Meadow near Minden. But, although Arminius was defeated, the Romans had lost so many men, that they dared fight no longer. They dared stay in Germany no longer. So they retreated to their ships which lay waiting for them on the river Ems, and set sail for the stormy North Sea on their way home.

At first the sea was calm, but soon a terrible storm burst forth. Soon with broken masts and torn sails the Roman galleys were driven helplessly hither and thither. Some were dashed upon the rocks and were splintered to pieces; others were swallowed by the angry waves; only a few, with broken spars and with shirts for sails, at length reached port.

Germany was still unconquered. But Tiberius, who was now Emperor, was jealous of the fame of Germanicus, and he would not allow the General to continue the fight and recalled him to Rome. After thirty years' fighting the Romans had gained nothing, and Tiberius now decreed that the Rhine should be looked upon as the German border.

Yet, although the war was thus made useless, Germanicus was given a triumph. And in the splendid procession there walked Thusnelda, the beautiful wife of Arminius, a prisoner, leading by the hand her little three-year-old son. The deliverer of Germany had not been able to free his own wife and child from the chains of Rome. Thusnelda never saw her home or her husband again, but died in Rome, when and how we know not. Let us hope it was soon, for life held only misery for her, and she was robbed even of her little son. He had been born in captivity, and as a tiny boy he was taken away from his mother. But what became of him we hardly know. He was perhaps trained as a gladiator, and taught to fight with wild beasts to amuse his captors. All that is certain is that he died while still quite young, and that he never saw his father or his fatherland.

So ended Rome's last attempt to conquer Germany by force.

But now there was war within German borders. Marbod, the king of the Marcomani, was after Arminius the greatest leader in Germany. He had never joined with Arminius in his war of liberty, he had instead made friends with Rome. His kingdom was the largest of all the German kingdoms. Now he began to try to take possession of still more land. It seemed as if he wanted to conquer all Germany and bring every part of it under his sway. This was not to be suffered, for was he not the friend of Rome? So now Arminius turned his sword against Marbod, and at length defeated him so utterly that he was obliged to flee the country and take refuge with the Romans. Thus Arminius a second time saved his country from tyranny.

After this very little is known of the life of the great Arminius. He had saved his country from the yoke of Rome, and his people were grateful to him. Yet there were those who were jealous of his greatness, and in the year 21 A.D. he was treacherously murdered by his own kindred. He was only thirty-seven.

"Truly he was the deliverer of Germany," said a Roman writer. "He defied Rome, not in her early days, as other kings and generals had done, but at the height of the glory of the Empire. He fought, indeed, undecisive battles, yet in war he remained unconquered."

To this day the Germans look upon Arminius as the saviour of their country. Not far from the town of Detmold a huge statue of him may be seen standing guard above the field where it is thought his great battle was fought.