History of Europe

Arminius and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

Our character today was considered one of the most despicable traitors of ancient Rome. Of Germanic origin and Roman citizen at the same time, he was the architect of one of the most degrading defeats suffered by the Roman army in its entire history. Thirteenth installment of “Archienemies de Roma “. Collaboration of Gabriel Castelló.

Arminio, or Hermann (meaning man of war in his German language), he was born between 16 and 17 B.C. He was the son of Segimer (Segimer), leader of the Cherusci, a Germanic people who inhabited the forests on the banks of the Weser river in lands of today's Hannover . Little has come down to us from this tribe; according to the archaic Germanic and Gaulish words, Kern-Hirsch would mean deer horn. Incorporated into the Roman orbit in 12 B.C., we know that in 4 A.D. Arminius, only 20 years old, was already commanding an auxiliary unit alongside the legions in Pannonia. That campaign brought him prestige as a warrior and Roman citizenship as a reward.


Arminio's prolonged coexistence with the Roman soldiery must have demystified the legions' reputation for invincibility. When he returned to his land after serving in the Eagles between 7 or 8 A.D. he began to develop a plan to throw off the Roman yoke. At the time of Augustus , almost all the lands between the Rhine and the Elbe were under Roman influence, not constituted in provinces such as Gaul or Hispania, but subject to the tributes and whims of the governors of Germania Superior and Inferior. The architect of this conquest was the favorite and possible successor of Augustus, Claudius Drusus , but a fall from his horse on the way back to Rome cost him his life in 9 AD. Without a doubt, a bad omen.

Germania was an inhospitable territory for men from southern lands like the Romans:total absence of large cities, impenetrable and gloomy forests, swamps, constant rains and very, very cold in winter. Its inhabitants were consistent with such sparse terrain, conflictive and indomitable, taller, stronger, fierce eyes of an intense blue color and hair as blond as wheat in August; This is how Cátullus described them a few years before these events.

Arminius sowed discord among his own, encouraging the revolt and causing the Cherusci to divide into two factions, leading the rebels himself against those grouped around Segestes, Arminius's political rival and friend of Rome. The latter sent several warnings that he was brewing something very big, but Publio Quintilio Varo , governor of those territories, ignored his warnings until the rebellion broke out. Varus was a greedy and conceited patrician who owed his position to being the son-in-law of the influential Agrippa and whose career to date had been little more than discreet. After his painful management as propraetor in Syria, the government of Germania Magna was transferred to him. (which is what they called this vast territory) his excessive greed and his expeditious methods to collect tribute were the best allies of Arminio to revolt all the tribes in the area. He thought that he could bend the German will as he had done in Syria. Big mistake. Serve as an example this phrase that Dión Casio attributes to a German chief years ago:

“You Romans bring trouble on your own. You do not send dogs and shepherds to guard your flocks, but you station hungry wolves”

In the early Autumn of AD 9, Varus led three legions out of their summer camp in Cheruscan territory and into the Bructerian lands in search of his presumed friend and ally Arminius until he reached a thick and narrow forest at the height of the present city. from Osnabrück , in Lower Saxony. Arminius, conspiring behind his back, had assembled a coalition of Germanic tribes ready to prepare a lethal ambush for an unsuspecting legate who was moving the XVII, XVIII and XIX plus their six auxiliary cohorts with their cavalry and impedimenta through those gloomy forests. . The pretext for that displacement was a nonexistent rebellion that required his intervention. Varo was warned again on several occasions by Segestes and other leaders related to Rome, but his arrogance and presumption made him ignore those advices. Arminius knew perfectly well what the Achilles heel of the Roman army was. He had no chance of victory in open field battle. It must have been a surprise on rough and soft terrain, as it was.

It was a real slaughter. For three days the Germans goaded the thin Roman line, splitting it apart and bit by bit finishing off every legion, cohort or maniple that was cut off from the main force. The cavalry commander, Numonio, was the first to try to flee and the first to die; Many more fell behind him, including the legate Lucio Egio, who in a display of ignorance tried to surrender and died trying. Varo himself was wounded and, unable to contain the disaster and fearful of ending up in German hands, he committed suicide. Nearly 15,000 legionnaires plus an undetermined number of auxiliaries and civilians (magicians, artisans, prostitutes and other followers of the army) left their lives and miseries in the Teutoburg Forest .

Battle of Teutoburg

This ignominious defeat was learned from the testimony of a young officer, Casio Querea , who was the only one capable of saving the Germanic siege with a detachment protected by night darkness. Perhaps his fate saved his life (years later he would be the one to stab Caligula) When Augustus learned of such a sad event he was deeply saddened. According to Suetonius, he slept badly since he was given that fatal news, waking up sweaty at night and banging his head against a door shouting " Quintili Vare, redde legions! ” (Varus, give me back my legions!) Arminius ordered Varus's head to be burned and sent to Rome as a warning and many of the prisoners were sacrificed to the Germanic gods, their severed heads populating the forests until the vermin cleaned their bones...
Such an affront was not left without more. Augustus deposed every German or Gaul with any power in the provinces and sent in 14 AD. to his nephew, Julius Caesar Germanicus , commanding eight legions with the mission of recovering the Eagles and alleviating the image of weakness that such a disaster had left in very little Romanized areas. After a series of small defeats, such as that of his legacy Cecina, Germanicus fulfilled his mission. He reached Teutoburg and retrieved the sacred insignia of the legions. Tacitus He described that moment like this:

Not far away was the forest where the remains of Varus and his legions were said to have been left unburied. Germanicus had the desire to pay the last honors to Varus and his soldiers. This same commiseration extended to the entire army of Germanicus, thinking of his relatives and friends, of the hazards of war and of the fate of men... In the middle of the field the bones were whitening, separated or piled up, depending on whether they had fled or coped. Alongside them lay the remains of weapons, and horse limbs and human heads were nailed to tree trunks. In the nearby woods there were barbarian altars, beside which the tribunes and the first centurions had been sacrificed

Segestes requested the help of Germanicus, who did not hesitate to enter Cheruscan territory, taking Thusnelda with him. , his daughter and wife of Arminio, handed over by her father as an act of revenge against his wayward son-in-law and for his unacceptable behavior, since having been promised to another man, she ran away to meet her beloved outlaw, something unacceptable for a clan that is openly friendly of Rome.

Arminius and Thusdenla

In 16 BC, Germanicus clashed with Arminius at the Weser river. , near Minden; It is known as the Battle of Idistaviso . The Roman arrived at that bend with four legions and twenty thousand Gallic and Batavian auxiliaries. Opposite him was Arminius with about fifty thousand Germans on foot and a thousand horsemen. That battle, without tricks or tricks, ended as usual when a huge force of barbarians faced the Roman legions. Arminio's uncle, Inviomero , he ignored the guidelines set by someone who knew well how the legions worked and his recklessness had a high price. Arminius managed to flee, but fifteen thousand of his men were spread out on the red banks of the Weser. Germanicus only lost a thousand men.

Idistaviso marked the end of Arminio as a German leader. He could neither recover his beloved, nor maintain the fidelity of his own. With Rome's victory, the fleeting alliances he had forged were easily undone. King Marbod of the Marcomanni (present-day Bohemia) broke relations with him and Thusnelda was paraded in the Triumph of Germanicus through the streets of Rome in 18 AD. The son she had with Arminius, Tumelico , he ended his days in the arena as a gladiator. Nothing else was heard of her.

The star of Arminius it was gradually extinguished until in 21 a.C. a conspiracy hatched by the clan of his forced mother-in-law ended his life. He was 37 years old and had unknowingly liberated Germania from the power of Rome. Tiberius he rejected using more resources to dominate such a thankless and unproductive territory. The romanticism of the 19th century rescued the figure of Arminio as one of the great heroes of Germanic nationalism.