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A History of Germany from the Earliest Times to the Present Day By Bayard Taylor Characters: 19530

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

(9-21 A. D.)

The Cherusci.

-Hermann's Early Life.

-His Return to Germany.

-Enmity of Segestes.

-Secret Union of the Tribes.

-The Revolt.

-Destruction of Varus and his Legions.

-Terror in Rome.

-The Battle-Field and Monument.


-First March of Germanicus.

-Second March and Battle with Hermann.

-Defeat of C?cina.

-Third Expedition of Germanicus.

-Battles on the Weser.

-His Retreat.

-Views of Tiberius.

-War between Hermann and Marbod.

-Murder of Hermann.

-His Character.



The Cherusci, who inhabited a part of the land between the Weser and the Elbe, including the Hartz Mountains, were the most powerful of the tribes conquered by Tiberius. They had no permanent class of nobles, as none of the early Germans seem to have had, but certain families were distinguished for their abilities and their character, or the services which they had rendered to their people in war. The head of one of these Cheruscan families was Segimar, one of whose sons was named Hermann. The latter entered the Roman service as a youth, distinguished himself by his military talent, was made a Roman knight, and commanded one of the legions which were employed by Augustus in suppressing the great insurrection of the Dalmatians and Pannonians. It seems probable that he visited Rome at the period of its highest power and splendor: it is certain, at least, that he comprehended the political system by means of which the Empire had become so great.

When Hermann returned to his people, he was a man of twenty-five and already an experienced commander. He is described by the Latin writers as a chief of fine personal presence, great strength, an animated countenance and bright eyes. He was always self-possessed, quick in action, yet never rash or heedless. He found the Cherusci and all the neighboring tribes filled with hate of the Roman rule and burning to revenge the injuries they had suffered. His first movement was to organize a secret conspiracy among the tribes, which could be called into action as soon as a fortunate opportunity should arrive. Varus was then-A. D. 9-encamped near the Weser, in the land of the Saxons, with an army of 40,000 men, the best of the Roman legions. Hermann was still in the Roman service, and held a command under him. But among the other Germans in the Roman camp was Segestes, a chief of the Cherusci, whose daughter, Thusnelda, Hermann had stolen away from him and married. Thusnelda was afterwards celebrated in the German legends as a high-hearted, patriotic woman, who was devotedly attached to Hermann: but her father, Segestes, became his bitterest enemy.

9 A. D.

In engaging the different tribes to unite, Hermann had great difficulties to overcome. They were not only jealous of each other, remembering ancient quarrels between themselves, but many families in each tribe were disposed to submit to Rome, being either hopeless of succeeding or tempted by the chance of office and wealth under the Roman Government. Hermann's own brother, Flavus, had become, and always remained, a Roman; other members of his family were opposed to his undertaking, and it seems that only his mother and his wife encouraged him with their sympathy. Nevertheless, he formed his plans with as much skill as boldness, while serving in the army of Varus and liable to be betrayed at any moment. In fact he was betrayed by his father-in-law, Segestes, who became acquainted with the fact of a conspiracy and communicated the news to the Roman general. But Varus, haughty and self-confident, laughed at the story.

It was time to act; and, as no opportunity came Hermann created one. He caused messengers to come to Varus, declaring that a dangerous insurrection had broken out in the lands between him and the Rhine. This was in the month of September, and Varus, believing the reports, broke up his camp and set out to suppress the insurrection before the winter. His nearest way led through the wooded, mountainous country along the Weser, which is now called the Teutoburger Forest. According to one account, Hermann was left behind to collect the auxiliary German troops, and then, with them, rejoin his general. It is certain that he remained, and instantly sent his messengers to all the tribes engaged in the conspiracy, whose warriors came to him with all speed. In a few days he had an army probably equal in numbers to that of Varus. In the meantime the season had changed: violent autumn storms burst over the land, and the Romans slowly advanced through the forests and mountain-passes, in the wind and rain.


Hermann knew the ground and was able to choose the best point of attack. With his army, hastily organized, he burst upon the legions of Varus, who resisted him, the first day, with their accustomed valor. But the attack was renewed the second day, and the endurance of the Roman troops began to give way: they held their ground with difficulty, but exerted themselves to the utmost, for there was now only one mountain ridge to be passed. Beyond it lay the broad plains of Westphalia, with fortresses and military roads, where they had better chances of defence. When the third day dawned, the storm was fiercer than ever. The Roman army crossed the summit of the last ridge and saw the securer plains before them. They commenced descending the long slope, but, just as they reached three steep, wooded ravines which were still to be traversed, the Germans swept down upon them from the summits, like a torrent, with shouts and far-sounding songs of battle.

A complete panic seized the exhausted and disheartened Roman troops, and the fight soon became a slaughter. Varus, wounded, threw himself upon his sword: the wooded passes, below, were occupied in advance by the Germans, and hardly enough escaped to carry the news of the terrible defeat to the Roman frontier on the Rhine. Those who escaped death were sacrificed upon the altars of the gods, and the fiercest revenge was visited upon the Roman judges, lawyers and civil officers, who had trampled upon all the hallowed laws and customs of the people. The news of this great German victory reached Rome in the midst of the rejoicings over the suppression of the insurrection in Dalmatia and Pannonia, and turned the triumph into mourning. The aged Augustus feared the overthrow of his power. He was unable to comprehend such a sudden and terrible disaster: he let his hair and beard grow for months, as a sign of his trouble, and was often heard to cry aloud: "O, Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!"

The location of the battle-field where Hermann defeated Varus has been preserved by tradition. The long southern slope of the mountain, near Detmold, now bare, but surrounded by forests, is called to this day the Winfield. Around the summit of the mountain there is a ring of huge stones, showing that it was originally consecrated to the worship of the ancient pagan deities. Here a pedestal of granite, in the form of a temple, has been built, and upon it has been placed a colossal statue of Hermann in bronze, 90 feet high, and visible at a distance of fifty miles.

14 A. D.

Hermann's deeds were afterwards celebrated in the songs of his people, as they have been in modern German literature; but, like many other great men, the best results of his victory were cast away by the people whom he had liberated. It was now possible to organize into a nation the tribes which had united to overthrow the Romans, and such seems to have been his intention. He sent the head of Varus to Marbod, Chief of the Marcomanni, whose power he had secured by carrying out his original design; but he failed to secure the friendship, or even the neutrality, of the rival leader. At home his own family-bitterest among them all his father-in-law, Segestes-opposed his plans, and the Cherusci were soon divided into two parties,-that of the people, headed by Hermann, and that of the nobility, headed by Segestes.

When Tiberius, therefore, hastily collected a new army and marched into Germany the following year, he encountered no serious opposition. The union of the tribes had been dissolved, and each avoided an encounter with the Romans. The country was apparently subjugated for the second time. The Emperor Augustus died, A. D. 14: Tiberius succeeded to the purple, and the command in Germany then devolved upon his nephew, Germanicus, the son of Drusus.

The new commander, however, was detained in Gaul by insubordination in the army and signs of a revolt among the people, following the death of Augustus, and he did not reach Germany until six years after the defeat of Varus. His march was sudden and swift, and took the people by surprise, for the apparent indifference of Rome had made them careless. The Marsi were all assembled at one of their religious festivals, unprepared for defence, in a consecrated pine forest, when Germanicus fell upon them and slaughtered the greater number, after which he destroyed the sacred trees. The news of this outrage roused the sluggish spirit of all the neighboring tribes: they gathered together in such numbers that Germanicus had much difficulty in fighting his way back to the Rhine.


Hermann succeeded in escaping from his father-in-law, by whom he had been captured and imprisoned, and began to form a new union of the tribes. His first design was to release his wife, Thusnelda, from the hands of Segestes, and then destroy the authority of the latter, who was the head of the faction friendly to Rome. Germanicus re-entered Germany the following summer, A. D. 15, with a powerful army, and to him Segestes app

ealed for help against his own countrymen. The Romans marched at once into the land of the Cherusci. After a few days they reached the scene of the defeat of Varus, and there they halted to bury the thousands of skeletons which lay wasting on the mountainside. Then they met Segestes, who gave up his own daughter, Thusnelda, to Germanicus, as a captive.

The loss of his wife roused Hermann to fury. He went hither and thither among the tribes, stirring the hearts of all with his fiery addresses. Germanicus soon perceived that a storm was gathering, and prepared to meet it. He divided his army into two parts, one of which was commanded by C?cina, and built a large fleet which transported one-half of his troops by sea and up the Weser. After joining C?cina, he marched into the Teutoburger Forest. Hermann met him near the scene of his great victory over Varus, and a fierce battle was fought. According to the Romans, neither side obtained any advantage over the other; but Germanicus, with half the army, fell back upon his fleet and returned to the Rhine by way of the North Sea.

C?cina, with the remnant of his four legions, also retreated across the country, pursued by Hermann. In the dark forests and on the marshy plains they were exposed to constant assaults, and were obliged to fight every step of the way. Finally, in a marshy valley, the site of which cannot be discovered, the Germans suddenly attacked the Romans on all sides. Hermann cried out to his soldiers: "It shall be another day of Varus!" the songs of the women prophesied triumph, and the Romans were filled with forebodings of defeat. They fought desperately, but were forced to yield, and Hermann's words would have been made truth, had not the Germans ceased fighting in order to plunder the camp of their enemies. The latter were thus able to cut their way out of the valley and hastily fortify themselves for the night on an adjoining plain.

15 A. D.

The German chiefs held a council of war, and decided, against the remonstrances of Hermann, to renew the attack at daybreak. This was precisely what C?cina expected; he knew what fate awaited them all if he should fail, and arranged his weakened forces to meet the assault. They fought with such desperation that the Germans were defeated, and C?cina was enabled, by forced marches, to reach the Rhine, whither the rumor of the entire destruction of his army had preceded him. The voyage of Germanicus was also unfortunate: he encountered a violent storm on the coast of Holland, and two of his legions barely escaped destruction. He had nothing to show, as the result of his campaign, except his captive Thusnelda and her son, who walked behind his triumphal chariot, in Rome, three years afterwards, and never again saw their native land; and his ally, the traitor Segestes, who ended his contemptible life somewhere in Gaul, under Roman protection.

Germanicus, nevertheless, determined not to rest until he had completed the subjugation of the country as far as the Elbe. By employing all the means at his command he raised a new army of eight legions, with a great body of cavalry, and a number of auxiliary troops, formed of Gauls, Rh?tians, and even of Germans. He collected a fleet of more than a thousand vessels, and transported his army to the mouth of the Ems, where he landed and commenced the campaign. The Chauci, living near the sea, submitted at once, and some of the neighboring tribes were disposed to follow their example; but Hermann, with a large force of the united Germans, waited for the Romans among the mountains of the Weser. Germanicus entered the mountains by a gorge, near where the city of Minden now stands, and the two armies faced each other, separated only by the river. The legends state that Hermann and his brother Flavus, who was still in the service of Germanicus, held an angry conversation from the opposite shores, and the latter became so exasperated that he endeavored to cross on horseback and attack Hermann.

Germanicus first sent his cavalry across the Weser, and then built a bridge, over which his whole army crossed. The Romans and Germans then met in battle, upon a narrow place between the river and some wooded hills, called the Meadow of the Elves. The fight was long and bloody: Hermann himself, severely wounded, was at one time almost in the hands of the Romans. It is said that his face was so covered with blood that he was only recognized by some of the German soldiers on the Roman side, who purposely allowed him to escape. The superior military skill of Germanicus, and the discipline of his troops, won the day: the Germans retreated, beaten but not yet subdued.


In a short time the latter were so far recruited that they brought on a second battle. On account of his wounds, Hermann was unable to command in person, but his uncle, Ingiomar, who took his place, imitated his boldness and bravery. The fight was even more fierce than the first had been, and the Romans, at one time, were only prevented from giving way by Germanicus placing himself at their head, in the thick of the battle. It appears that both sides held their ground at the close, and their losses were probably equally great, so that neither was in a condition to continue the struggle.

Germanicus erected a monument on the banks of the Weser, claiming that he had conquered Germany to the Elbe; but before the end of the summer of the year 16 he re-embarked with his army, without leaving any tokens of Roman authority behind him. A terrible storm on the North Sea so scattered his fleet that many vessels were driven to the English coast: his own ship was in such danger that he landed among the Chauci and returned across the country to the Rhine. The autumn was far advanced before the scattered remnants of his great army could be collected and reorganized: then, in spite of the lateness of the season, he made a new invasion into the lands of the Chatti, or Hessians, in order to show that he was still powerful.

Germanicus was a man of great ambition and of astonishing energy. As Julius C?sar had made Gaul Roman, so he determined to make Germany Roman. He began his preparations for another expedition the following summer; but the Emperor Tiberius, jealous of his increasing renown, recalled him to Rome, saying that it was better to let the German tribes exhaust themselves in their own internal discords, than to waste so many of the best legions in subduing them. Germanicus obeyed, returned to Rome, had his grand triumph, and was then sent to the East, where he shortly afterwards died, it was supposed by poison.

19 A. D.

The words of the shrewd Emperor were true: two rival powers had been developed in Germany through the resistance to Rome, and they soon came into conflict. Marbod, Chief of the Marcomanni and many allied tribes, had maintained his position without war; but Hermann, now the recognized head of the Cherusci and their confederates, who had destroyed Varus and held Germanicus at bay, possessed a popularity, founded on his heroism, which spread far and wide through the German land. Even at that early day, the small chiefs in each tribe (corresponding to the later nobility) were opposed to the broad, patriotic union which Hermann had established, because it weakened their power and increased that of the people. They were also jealous of his great authority and influence, and even his uncle, Ingiomar, who had led so bravely the last battle against Germanicus, went over to the side of Marbod when it became evident that the rivalry of the two chiefs must lead to war.

Our account of these events is obscure and imperfect. On the one side, it seems that Marbod's neutrality was a ground of complaint with Hermann; while Marbod declared that the latter had no right to draw the Semnones and Longobards-at first allied with the Marcomanni-into union with the Cherusci against Rome. In the year 19 the two marched against each other, and a great battle took place. Although neither was victorious, the popularity of Hermann drew so many of Marbod's allies to his side, that the latter fled to Italy and claimed the protection of Tiberius, who assigned to him Ravenna as a residence. He died there in the year 37, at a very advanced age. A Goth, named Catwalda, assisted by Roman influence, became his successor as chief of the Marcomanni.


After the flight of Marbod, Hermann seems to have devoted himself to the creation of a permanent union of the tribes which he had commanded. We may guess, but can not assert, that his object was to establish a national organization, like that of Rome, and in doing this, he must have come into conflict with laws and customs which were considered sacred by the people. But his remaining days were too few for even the beginning of a task which included such an advance in the civilization of the race. We only know that he was waylaid and assassinated by members of his own family in the year 21. He was then thirty-seven years old, and had been for thirteen years a leader of his people. The best monument to his ability and heroism may be found in the words of a Roman, the historian Tacitus; who says: "He was undoubtedly the liberator of Germany, having dared to grapple with the Roman power, not in its beginnings, like other kings and commanders, but in the maturity of its strength. He was not always victorious in battle, but in war he was never subdued. He still lives in the songs of the Barbarians, unknown to the annals of the Greeks, who only admire that which belongs to themselves-nor celebrated as he deserves by the Romans, who, in praising the olden times, neglect the events of the later years."

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