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Gaius Julius Arminius, also known as Arminius, Armin or Hermann (b. 18 BC/17 BC in Magna Germania; d. AD 21 in Germania) was a chieftain of the Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forestmarker. His influence held an allied coalition of Germanic tribes together in opposition to the Romans but after decisive defeats to the Roman general Germanicus, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius, his influence waned and he was assassinated on the orders of rival Germanic chiefs. Although Arminius was ultimately unsuccessful in forging unity among the Germanic tribes, the loss of the Roman legions in the Teutoburg forest had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic tribes and on the Roman Empire. Germanicus' campaign was the last major Roman military effort east of the Rhinemarker.


Born in 18 or 17 BC as son of the Cheruscan war chief Segimerus, Arminius was trained as a Roman military commander and attained Roman citizenship and the status of equestrian (petty noble) before returning to Germania and driving the Romans out.

"Arminius" is probably a Latinized variant of the Germanic name Irmin meaning "great" (cf. Herminones). During the Reformation but especially during 19th century Germanmarker nationalism, Arminius was used as a symbol of the "German" people and their fight against Rome. It is during this period that the name "Hermann" (meaning "army man" or "warrior") came into use as the German equivalent of Arminius; the religious reformer Martin Luther is thought to have been the first to equate the two names.

Battle at the Teutoburg Forest

Around the year AD 4, Arminius assumed command of a Cheruscan detachment of Roman auxiliary forces, probably fighting in the Pannonian wars on the Balkan peninsula. He returned to northern Germania in 7/AD 8, where the Roman Empire had established secure control of the territories just east of the Rhinemarker, along the Lippemarker and Mainmarker rivers, and now sought to extend its hegemony eastward towards the Weser and Elbe rivers, under Publius Quinctilius Varus, a high-ranking administrative official appointed by Augustus as governor. Arminius soon began plotting to unite various Germanic tribes and to thwart Roman efforts to incorporate their territories into the empire.

In the fall of AD 9, in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forestmarker, Arminius — then 25 years old — and his alliance of Germanic tribes (Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci and Sicambri) ambushed and annihilated a Roman army (comprising the 17th, 18th and 19th legions as well as three cavalry detachments and six cohort of auxiliaries) totalling around 20,000 men commanded by Varus. Recent archaeological finds suggest that the long-debated precise location of the three-day battle is almost certainly near Kalkriesemarker Hill, about 20 km north of Osnabrückmarker. When defeat was certain, Varus committed suicide by falling upon his sword.

Roman retaliation

After his victory, Arminius tried for several years to bring about a more permanent union of the northern Germanic tribes so as to resist the inevitable Imperial counter-offensive. After the Teutoburg Forest disaster, other Germanic tribes did become more openly hostile to Rome, although the most powerful Germanic ruler, King Marbod of the Marcomanni, in Bohemia, remained neutral even after Arminius sent him the head of Varus (he declined the present and sent it on to Rome for burial). Also, most of the coastal tribes were successfully wooed by the Romans. Still, Arminius succeeded in forging a solid block of anti-Roman tribes in what is now west-central Germany and the eastern Netherlandsmarker.

Between AD 11 and 13, the Romans under Tiberius, then heir apparent, made initial incursions along the Ruhrmarker, Lahn and Ems rivers, reestablishing some bases. In September AD 14, Tiberius became emperor and his nephew Germanicus took over the huge army on the Rhine, immediately launching a successful assault. The next spring, he launched a two-pronged invasion up the Ruhr and Lahn, the main success of which was the capture of Arminius's wife, Thusnelda. She was taken to Rome and displayed in Germanicus' victory parade in May, 17; she never saw her homeland again and is not mentioned again by Tacitus, who reported these events. The son she bore Arminius while in captivity, Thumelicus, was trained by the Romans as a gladiator in Ravennamarker and probably died in the arena.

That was followed by another two-pronged attack with an army of as many as 100,000 troops that cut Arminius's forces in half along the Ems river, and then swept eastward. However, Arminius had launched an emotional appeal to the tribes to fight back against an invader whose only success was, he claimed, in making war on women (i.e., his wife) and had managed to collect such a huge force that he was able to inflict severe defeats on the huge Roman army.

After securing the surrounding territory, Germanicus visited the Teutoburg Forest battlefield and buried the remains of the dead soldiers, building a monumental grave tumulus which indicated that he was in fact planning to hold onto that ground (Tacitus says it was later destroyed by the Germanic tribesmen and that Germanicus decided against rebuilding it — i.e., he was no longer able to do so). He then launched a swift attack on Arminius, who lured him into a trap and succeeded in ambushing and largely wiping out his cavalry and his auxiliary units. Germanicus beat a hasty retreat northward up the Ems, sending half his army southward to restore a key causeway — another indication that the Romans planned to reconquer the area and thus wanted to restore its infrastructure. Arminius surrounded this force, led by Caecina, destroyed the repaired causeway, and drove the Romans in confused retreat through a swampy area. But in a nighttime council of the army, Arminius' uncle Inguiomer called for an assault on the Roman camp - and was supported by the warriors, against the urging of Arminius, who wanted to attack them again only when they tried to escape. The assault failed, with heavy Germanic losses, and the surviving Romans escaped across the Rhine.

In AD 16, Germanicus again invaded Germania, this time from the north. Three major battles are reported in Tacitus' account, the first being the Battle of the Weser River, where Arminius last saw his brother Flavus, who was fighting with the Romans. In a shouting-match across the river, probably around the modern city of Mindenmarker, Arminius called on his brother to return to his homeland, and Flavus made an opposite appeal, asking Arminius to make peace with a stern but forgiving Roman Empire, which was, he claimed, treating his captured wife and newborn son well. Neither convinced the other, and in the ensuing battle the Romans were able to cross the river, but with heavy losses.

The next battle took place at Idistaviso, farther up the Weser, probably around Rintelnmarker. Arminius was wounded, but the Romans were unable to secure a strategic advantage and had to abandon their plan to drive into the Cheruscan heartland, around Detmoldmarker. Arminius escaped by smearing his face with blood, so that he would not be recognised. The final battle took place much farther down the Weser, to the north at the Angrivarian Wall, an earthen wall with a palisade, which, according to Tacitus, formed the boundary between the lands of the Angrivarii and that of the Cherusci, near Steinhude Lakemarker. Germanicus was unable once again to wipe out the Germanic forces, who simply retreated back into the forests. As in the previous year, his withdrawal route up the Ems river resulted in a catastrophe, as a ferocious storm scattered his fleet. Although he ended the year by launching some punitive operations, and also managed to recover 2 of the 3 legionary eagle lost in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Emperor Tiberius denied his request to launch a campaign the following year, as he wished that the frontier with Germania be drawn at the Rhine river. Instead, he accorded Germanicus the honor of a triumph, a victory march in which captives — including Thusnelda — and loot were paraded through Rome, and reassigned him to Syria. This sparked Tacitus' wry remark that the Germanic tribes were more often "triumphed" in Rome than defeated in Germania. The third eagle was recovered later under Emperor Claudius

Inter-tribal conflicts and death

Thereafter, war broke out between Arminius and Marbod, king of the Marcomanni (see above). The war ended with Marbod's retreat, but Arminius did not succeed in breaking into the "natural fortification" that Bohemia is. Consequently, the war ended in stalemate. Arminius also faced serious difficulties at home from the family of his wife and other pro-Roman leaders.

In AD 19, his formidable opponent Germanicus suddenly died in Antiochmarker, under circumstances which led many to believe he had been murdered by his opponents; Arminius suffered this fate two years later, at the hands of opponents within his own tribe, who felt he was becoming too powerful. Tiberius had purportedly refused an earlier offer from a Chatti nobleman to poison Arminius, declaring that Rome did not employ such dishonorable methods.



In the accounts of his Roman enemies he is highly respected for his military leadership skills and as a defender of the liberty of his people. Based on these records, the story of Arminius was revived in the sixteenth century with the recovery of the histories of Tacitus by German historians, who wrote in his Annales II, 88:

Arminius, without doubt Germania's liberator, who challenged the Roman people not in its beginnings like other kings and leaders, but in the peak of its empire; in battles with changing success, undefeated in the war.

Arminius was not the sole reason for Rome's change of policy towards Germania. Augustus sought a secure boundary to protect Gaul, and found this in the Rhine river instead of the Elbe. The resources for the conquest of Germany may have been lacking after the great Roman civil wars in the Late Republic and loss of three legions in the Teutoberg Forest, but they were not however lacking later on. That indicates—and archeological evidence supports this—that Arminius' achievements together with the influence of Rome, which continued peacefully during the centuries that followed, also sparked a development within the Germanic tribes that made it possible for them to withstand further Roman aggression.

Politics also played a factor; the Emperors could rarely entrust a large army to a potential rival, although Augustus had enough family members to wage his wars; Drusus, Augustus' step son, who himself campaigned successfully against Germanic tribes, is a good example. For a period after the Marian reforms (the professionalisation of the legions) Germanic tribesmen were beaten by the legions with almost monotonous regularity: Gaius Marius' victory at Aquae Sextiaemarker, Caesar's victory over Ariovistus, and Tiberius' and Drusus' campaigns. Arminius' victories changed all that. Henceforth, Rome would try to control Germania by appointing client kings, which was cheaper than direct military campaigns.

Obtaining the final defeat and death of Arminius (possibly through assassination by client princes) was costly to Rome which no longer intended to rule directly in Germania east of the Rhinemarker and north of the Danube; Rome preferred to exert indirect influence through client kings, so Italicus, nephew of Arminius, was appointed king of the Cherusci; Vangio and Sido became vassal princes of the powerful Suebi, etc..[11155][11156][11157]

Germanic sagas

In the early 19th century, attempts were made to show that the story of Arminius and his victory may have lived on in the Old Norse sagas, in the form of the dragon slayer Sigurd of the Völsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied. An Icelandic account states that Sigurd "slew the dragon" in the Gnitterheide—today a suburb of the city of Bad Salzuflenmarker, located at a strategic site on the Werremarker river which could very well have been the point of departure of Varus's legions on their way to their doom in the Teutoburg Forest. However, there is no evidence for such a connection.

Martin Luther

In Germany, he was rechristened "Hermann" by Martin Luther, and he became an emblem of the revival of German nationalism fueled by the wars of Napoleon in the 19th century.

Another theory regarding Arminius' Latin name is that it is based on the Latin word armenium a vivid blue, ultramarine pigment made from a stone. Thus, Arminius would have been called "blue eyes," and his brother Flavus "blondie" -- as references to the stereotype physical features which the Romans assigned to their Germanic neighbors. In that case, the theory goes, "Arminius" does not necessarily have anything to do with the word and god-name "irmin", and his Germanic name could thus have been anything—Siegfried, for instance. Proponents of that theory argue that his father, too, (Segimerus, the modern form of which is "Siegmar") also bore a name with the stem "sieg," or "victorious".

German nationalism

In 1808, Heinrich von Kleist's published but unperformed play Die Hermannsschlacht, unperformable after Napoleon's victory at Wagrammarker, aroused anti-Napoleonic German sentiment and pride among its readers.

The play has been revived repeatedly at moments propitious for raw expressions of National Romanticism and was especially popular during the Third Reich.

In 1839, construction was started on a massive statue of Arminius, known as the Hermannsdenkmalmarker, on a hill near Detmoldmarker in the Teutoburg Forest; it was finally completed and dedicated during the early years of the Second German Empiremarker in the wake of the German victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. The monument has been a major tourist attraction ever since, as has The Hermann Heights Monumentmarker, a similar statue erected in the United Statesmarker in 1897.

The Hermann Heights monument was erected by the Sons of Hermann, a fraternal organization formed by German Americans in New York City in 1840 and named for Hermann the Cheruscan that during the nineteenth century flourished in American cities with large populations of German origin. Hermann, Missourimarker, a town on the Missouri River founded in the 1830s and incorporated in 1845, was also named for Arminius.

The German Bundesliga football-club DSC Arminia Bielefeld is named after Arminius.

Modern popular culture

Robert Graves' novel I, Claudius includes a description of Arminius's campaigns, where he is called "Hermann".

In The Oppermanns by Leon Feuchtwanger, a novel describing the rise of the Nazis to power, a major theme is the struggle between a liberal, half-Jewish pupil and a Nazi teacher - over the student's paper on Arminius which the teacher considers "unpatriotic" and "an insult to German nationalism".

In 1945 by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, an alternate history novel describing a world in which Nazi Germany did not declare war on the United Statesmarker in December, 1941, Operation Arminius is the code name for the German plan for the invasion of the United Statesmarker.

Harry Turtledove's 2009 historical novel Give Me Back My Legions is a fictional retelling of Arminius' story, from the points-of-view of Arminius himself, various Germans, and Varus and the Romans.

Irishmarker Black metal band Primordial recently referred to Arminius in a song off their To The Nameless Dead album named "Heathen Tribes" with the line "Arminius stood tall in Teutoborg" in relation to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

Other references

  1. Johne, K-P. (2006) Die Romer an der Elbe: Das Stromgebiet der Elbe im Geographischen Weltbild und im Politischen Bewusstsein der Griechisch-Romischen Antike. Akademie Verlag, Berlin.
  2. Tacitus, Annals 2.22
  3. Suetonius, Caligula 1.4
  4. Velleius II 119,5
  5. Annals, 2.19
  6. Cassius Dio, Roman History 60.8
  7. Cornell and Matthews, Atlas of the Roman World 80
  8. Goldsworthy, Roman Warfare 122
  9. Cassius Dio, Roman History 54.32
  10. Tacitus, Germania 37
  11. Tacitus, Book 12 [verse 27 to 31]
  12. F.G. Gentry, W. McConnell, W. Wunderlich (eds.), The Nibelungen Tradition. An Encyclopedia, New York–London 2002, article "Sigurd".

External links

  • "They Need a Hero" by Clay Risen, The National, October 9, 2009 - an article on modern German views of Hermann and the 2,000-year anniversary of the battle

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