Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton


The most lucrative office under the Roman administration was that of governor. When a nation was robbed of its liberty, it's soldiers slaughtered in wars of conquest, and its most distinguished men sent into captivity, it was proclaimed a Roman province and handed over to Roman authorities, who levied tribute and seized upon its treasures by force and sent them to Rome. As a fixed sum was exacted, a governor could enrich himself by additional levies to any extent he pleased.

Varus was governor of Syria for many years. He was a favorite of Augustus, and was appointed to the office that he might have a chance to repair his personal fortune, which had been wasted in dissipation. He succeeded so well in his spoliation that, as Tacitus says, he entered the rich country poor; and when he left, it was poor and he was rich. He was a master in the art of keeping a people quiet by an affectation of paternal solicitude for them, thus gradually accustoming them to servitude, and at the same time destroying their ability to free themselves.

The subjugation of Germany was more seriously considered in Rome now than it ever had been before. The Romans were satisfied it would not he an easy task to effect it by force, and for that reason the Emperor for some time had adopted a policy of persuasion by gifts and bribes. As Varus was an expert in this direction, he was recalled from Syria and entrusted with full powers to carry out this policy toward Germany. At the same time the Emperor placed a strong army at his disposal and made him its general.

Behold Varus in a marble hall filled with elegant statues, its floor made of artistic mosaic. Upon a long marble table supported by finely carven figures, are golden vessels filled with delicious wines. Leading Romans, civil and military, wearing togas with broad purple stripes indicating their rank, are reposing upon billowy cushions. On either side of the table and behind each guest stands a slave, clad in most extravagant style, and watchful of every sign.

We have here," said Varus, opening a papyrus scroll, "the names of Germans upon whose sympathy and support we can depend. I am told that Segest has almost as much influence among the Cherusci as Sigmar himself. I hope with his aid to prevent them from making any serious resistance. Messengers have already been sent to him with the offer of governorship over the united German nations in case he carries out what he has promised. To what extent he can keep his word remains to be seen. But how about these sons of Sigmar, Flavius and Herman? Can we depend upon them?"

"Flavius," interposed a senator, "is with us heart and soul. He says he will not return to the forests of the barbarians until Roman culture has been introduced among them. Herman, on the other hand, is still an untamed German bear, and resists all our influence."

"We must have him," said Varus. "I have seen him. He is a man and a hero in every sense. You can see that at the first glance."

"It is far more important to secure him than Segest," said a tribune, "for no one else can inspire the Germans to stubborn resistance like him. I am not saying there is any occasion for alarm, for what people can withstand us? But I think it a wise policy to use persuasion before we enforce authority by the sword."

"You are right," said Varus. "What we secure by persuasion and money we shall not have to se—cure by force. I have spoken with Augustus about Herman and have received from him full permission to carry out my plans. You will see how quickly this bear will learn to dance when I put on the golden muzzle. I have requested his presence here. Possibly he is now in the antechamber." Turning to a slave, he said: "See if he is there, and bring him into the trap immediately."

In a few minutes Herman appeared. He was greeted by the guests with many expressions of respect and with a special display of friendliness by Varus, who seated him at table by his side.

"Soldiers and citizens of Rome," said Varus, rising and turning toward Herman, I am pleased to announce a special proof the Emperor's favor. I would gladly have retained you in the army, for our soldiers have told me of your heroic deeds, but, reluctant as I am to lose you, it gives me the highest pleasure to notify that the Emperor has chosen you as governor of Illyria and that he has selected for your bride the charming Lydia, daughter of Balbus the Senator, and celebrated in the verses of our leading poets. Balbus himself is wealthy, but as a mark of special favor, the Emperor will make your future consort a wedding gift of a thousand talents."

With these words, Varus and the others rose to congratulate Herman. But the latter had already risen, and without paying any attention to the scroll which Varus offered him, replied: "Wait, men of Rome. I cannot accept the honors tendered me, nor enter into any alliance with a Roman lady. I came to Rome of my own accord; I intend to leave it of my own accord."

Varus grew pale with anger. "Why," said he, after a pause, "do you so foolishly reject such good fortune and happiness?"

"Because I shall live in Germany," said Herman, quietly but firmly.

"And you purpose to return to Germany?"

"I do."

"There to engage in hostile operations against us?"

"Have you hostile designs against my father-land?" said Herman, with a penetrating glance at Varus.

The direct question disconcerted Varus for an instant, but he quickly recovered himself, and replied: "We had no hostile designs, but your conduct indicates hostile designs against us. We would like to have an alliance with the Germans, but we will exterminate them if we find they are hostile to us. We were also mistaken in you when we made you the object of our favor and graciousness. Reject the honors and gifts if you will. You are unworthy of them. Go back to your barbarians and live with them upon acorns and bear's claws. Go at once, but perhaps we shall meet again sometime."

Herman remained calm and undisturbed. "Yes," he answered with significant emphasis, "perchance we shall meet again." Then he left the hall with firm step.

Some time elapsed before Varus and his guests could discuss the occurrence calmly. Rome had subdued half the world and was now at the very summit of its power. Why should it fear because one German was going home? But Varus could not rid himself of the extraordinary impression Herman had made upon him, and he finally ordered his arrest. His minions were speedily on the way to Herman's abode.