Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton

The Battle

As already said, Herman was farther inland, in the vicinity of the Lippe and the Weser, longing for the decisive moment. He was thoroughly convinced of the sacredness of his cause and ready to sacrifice himself for his people rather than wear the captive's fetters. The instant destruction of his whole nation seemed to him a happy fate as compared with the result which would inevitably follow their subjugation by the Romans, and his soldiers were animated by the same spirit. Youths who could almost overtake the stag in its flight sped to all parts of his army with his orders, and also fetched him news from the detachment which was executing his instructions in close proximity to the Romans.

The weather cleared in the morning. The Romans burned their superfluous baggage so as to go into battle with as few impediments as possible. They got into motion and awaited attack with the utmost confidence. The day passed much like the previous one and an anxious night followed. About noon of the second day they reached a tolerably open spot, and the army was drawn up in complete battle order. Swords, shields, and armor glistened in the sunlight, and the imposing spectacle roused many a sinking spirit.

Varus awaited the Germans, but they seemed to have disappeared. The army again advanced and again found itself in a pathless wooded region. An hour later the sky was once more overclouded. A heavy rain fell. They were in the vicinity of what is now the principality of Lippe-Detmold. The German detachment attacked them more furiously than ever. The Romans deemed themselves fortunate when they again found an open spot. Making great exertions, and exposed to constant attacks, they sought to entrench themselves, while heavy showers fell, lightnings pierced the gloom, and the thunder rolled above them.

At this time Herman suddenly appeared at the head of his army on the surrounding heights, and a battle-cry rose which drowned the thunder. The Germans exulted at every flash of the lightning, for they believed not only that Odin and Tyr were helping them, but also Thor, who usually kept remote from battles.

Herman turned the mountain streams and rolled huge masses of rock down the mountain side into the Roman camp, carrying death and destruction before them. The rain at last ceased and the moon shone brightly through the riven clouds. Then the war-cry was sounded for general attack, and more mightily than the storm, the streams, and the rocks, the Germans hurled themselves from every side upon the camp. The earth shook under the tread of the rushing host; the air trembled with battle-cries and clash of arms.

The Romans fought bravely, but the entrenchments were carried by storm. The whole camp was thrown at once into utter confusion. There was no unity of action. Every man fought for himself, and cavalry and infantry were mixed together. A troop of the Germans, with Herman at its head, advanced upon the centre of the enemy. His flashing sword seemed aflame with divine fire. As the waving corn goes down before the reaper, the ranks of the enemy fell before these warriors. Ever nearer they approached the high tent in the centre of the camp in front of which the golden eagles glistened in the moonlight.

Herman soon perceived Varus, who was vainly endeavoring to restore order in his army. He was anxious to capture him, for he knew that if he could take him prisoner the victory would be certain. Varus also saw Herman. He stood for an instant as if transfixed with astonishment. "We meet again!" shouted Herman to him with the voice of a lion. Then Varus, placing his sword with the hilt upon the earth, threw himself upon its point and fell dead.

The death of Varus struck the Roman ranks like a thunderbolt. A panic ensued. Those who continued fighting were killed, and but few escaped by flight. The others were either taken prisoners or were slain.

Thus was one of the largest and most powerful of the Roman armies destroyed, and a deed was done that proved the invincibility of the Germans when united in a just cause.