Ancient history


Arminius is a Latinized variant of the Germanic name Irmin which means “great” (cf. Herminones). The name "Hermann" (meaning "armyman" or "warrior") was not used as the German equivalent of Arminius until many centuries later, perhaps at the instigation of Luther who wanted to use an ancient and heroic character to symbolize his fight against Rome.

Arminius (16 BC - 21 AD), often referred to in Germany as Hermann der Cherusker, was a warlord of the Germanic Cheruscan tribe. He was the son of the Cheruscan warlord Segimerus. As the son of a chief, he became a hostage and was brought up in Rome as a Roman citizen, becoming a member of the Equestrian Order. Back in Germania, he became a confidant of Governor Varus while at the same time forming a rebellion, which allowed him to bring Varus and three legions into a devastating ambush (Battle of Teutoburg). He was assassinated by Germans, who feared his power had become too important and authoritarian.

The Battle of Teutoburg

Around AD 4. AD, Arminius commanded a Cheruscan auxiliary detachment in the service of Rome, probably during the Pannonian Wars in the Balkan Peninsula. In 7/8 ap. he returned to northern Germania, where the Roman Empire had established its authority over the territories west of the Rhine and was now seeking to extend it to the Elbe, under the command of the military governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. Arminius began his intrigues to unite the various Germanic tribes and thwart Roman efforts to incorporate their territories into the Empire.

In the fall of 9 A.D. BC, at the battle of Teutoburg, Arminius, then twenty-five years old, and the Germanic tribes who had formed an alliance (Cheruscans, Marsians, Chats and Bructera), ambushed the Roman army which comprised the 17th, 18th, and 19th Legions along with three cavalry detachments and six cohorts of auxiliaries, altogether about 25,000–30,000 men commanded by Varus. This was an unprecedented disaster for the Romans. Recent archaeological finds suggest that the precise location, which has long been the subject of discussion, must be near the hill of Kalkriese about 20 km northeast of Osnabrück. The battle lasted three days; when the defeat was certain, Varus committed suicide by throwing himself on his sword and never thereafter did the Romans attempt again to conquer territories on the right bank of the Rhine, the river which constituted the border of the Empire for centuries. .

This disaster deeply affected the Roman Emperor Augustus, to such an extent that the latter put an end to any attempt at Roman expansion beyond the Rhine. In his sleepless nights, Augustus (who no longer shaves his head and face) can be heard suddenly shouting “Varus, Varus, give me back my Legions!” .

Continuation of the wars against Rome

After this great victory, Arminius tried for several years to get the tribes of northern Germania to unite against Rome permanently in order to better resist its future efforts at conquest, but the tribal rivalries were too strong. He encountered the Romans in other battles as they sought to avenge their defeat at Teutoburg.

In AD 13, Germanicus again entered this region at the head of 80,000 men, found the dead of Varus' legions, buried them, and raided many surrounding areas. Arminius resisted successfully in a series of skirmishes and battles and once again nearly annihilated the Roman army commanded by Caecina; she was saved by the indiscipline of her uncle Inguiomer, who attacked the Roman camp too soon, which spared the fate of Varus to Caecina who had to abandon his camp all the same with his provisions, and fled with the troops who had sent him. remained, while Inguiomer's warriors plundered.

In the year 15, Germanicus made new raids against the Germans, he plundered their villages and succeeded in capturing Thusnelda, the wife of Arminius, who was delivered to him by his own father, Segestes, who wanted revenge on Arminius. Indeed, while he had promised his daughter to someone else, she had fled with Arminius and married him after the victory of Teutoburg. Segesta and his clan were allies of Rome and opposed the policy of Arminius, as did Flavus, Arminius' brother. Thusnelda was taken to Rome to be exhibited there on the occasion of the triumph of Germanicus in the year 18; she never saw her homeland again and disappeared from history. Thumelicus, the son of Arminius whom she gave birth to during her captivity, was raised by the Romans in Ravenna to become a gladiator and died in the arena before he was thirty years old.

The last major battle between Germanicus and Arminius, the Battle of the Weser, took place in 16 at Idistaviso (Angrivarierwall), the Romans avoided another defeat and only because Inguiomer, once again, did not respect the battle plan which had been established. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and this marked the end of Roman attempts to subjugate northern Germany.

The Roman historian Tacitus once wrote of Arminius:"He was undoubtedly the liberator of Germania, a man who did not, like other kings or generals, confront Rome in its early stages but rather when she was at the zenith of her power. In battles he fought with varying success but in war he remained unconquered. His exploits survive to this day in the songs of his people..." (translation of Tacitus , Annals, 1, 57,58)

In 1875, at the height of European nationalism, an imposing statue was erected in his effigy, in the famous Teutoburg Forest, a statue more than fifty meters high and sculpted by E. von Bandel.

This statue was once celebrated with great pomp by the Nazis before they considered him a traitor.

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