Today’s installment concludes Arminius Drives Romans Out of Germany,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward S. Creasy published in 1851. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of seven thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Arminius Drives Romans Out of Germany.
Time: 9 AD
Place: Teutoburg Forest
I shall not be thought to need apology for quoting here the stanzas in which Praed has described this scene — a scene among the most affecting, as well as the most striking, that history supplies. It makes us reflect on the desolate position of Arminius, with his wife and child captives in the enemy’s hands, and with his brother a renegade in arms against him. The great liberator of our German race was there, with every source of human happiness denied him except the consciousness of doing his duty to his country.
Back, back! he fears not foaming flood
Who fears not steel-clad line: No warrior thou of German blood,
No brother thou of mine.
Go, earn Rome’s chain to load thy neck,
Her gems to deck thy hilt;
And blazon honor’s hapless wreck
With all the gauds of guilt.
“But wouldst thou have me share the prey?
By all that I have done, The Varian bones that day by day
Lie whitening in the sun,
The legion’s trampled panoply,
The eagle’s shatter’d wing —
I would not be for earth or sky
So scorn’d and mean a thing.
“Ho, call me here the wizard, boy,
Of dark and subtle skill,
To agonize but not destroy,
To torture, not to kill.
When swords are out and shriek and shout
Leave little room for prayer,
No fetter on man’s arm or heart
Hangs half so heavy there.
“I curse him by the gifts the land
Hath won from him and Rome,
The riving axe, the wasting brand,
Rent forest, blazing home.
I curse him by our country’s gods,
The terrible, the dark,
The breakers of the Roman rods,
The smiters of the bark.
“Oh, misery that such a ban
On such a brow should be
! Why comes he not in battle’s van
His country’s chief to be?
To stand a comrade by my side,
The sharer of my fame,
And worthy of a brother’s pride
And of a brother’s name?
“But it is past! where heroes press
And cowards bend the knee,
Arminius is not brotherless,
His brethren are the free.
They come around: one hour, and light
Will fade from turf and tide,
Then onward, onward to the fight,
With darkness for our guide.
“To-night, to-night, when we shall meet
In combat face to face,
Then only would Arminius greet
The renegade’s embrace.
The canker of Rome’s guilt shall be
Upon his dying name;
And as he lived in slavery,
So shall he fall in shame.”
On the day after the Romans had reached the Weser, Germanicus led his army across that river, and a partial encounter took place, in which Arminius was successful. But on the succeeding day a general action was fought, in which Arminius was severely wounded and the German infantry routed with heavy loss. The horsemen of the two armies encountered without either party gaining the advantage. But the Roman army remained master of the ground and claimed a complete victory. Germanicus erected a trophy in the field, with a vaunting inscription that the nations between the Rhine and the Elbe had been thoroughly conquered by his army. But that army speedily made a final retreat to the left bank of the Rhine; nor was the effect of their campaign more durable than their trophy. The sarcasm with which Tacitus speaks of certain other triumphs of Roman generals over Germans may apply to the pageant which Germanicus celebrated on his return to Rome from his command of the Roman army of the Rhine. The Germans were “triumphati potius quam victi.”
After the Romans had abandoned their attempts on Germany, we find Arminius engaged in hostilities with Maroboduus, king of the Suevi and Marcomanni, who was endeavoring to bring the other German tribes into a state of dependency on him. Arminius was at the head of the Germans who took up arms against this home invader of their liberties. After some minor engagements a pitched battle was fought between the two confederacies (A.D. 19) in which the loss on each side was equal, but Maroboduus confessed the ascendancy of his antagonist by avoiding a renewal of the engagement and by imploring the intervention of the Romans in his defense. The younger Drusus then commanded the Roman legions in the province of Illyricum, and by his mediation a peace was concluded between Arminius and Maroboduus, by the terms of which it is evident that the latter must have renounced his ambitious schemes against the freedom of the other German tribes.
Arminius did not long survive this second war of independence, which he successfully waged for his country. He was assassinated in the thirty-seventh year of his age by some of his own kinsmen, who conspired against him. Tacitus says that this happened while he was engaged in a civil war, which had been caused by his attempts to make himself king over his countrymen. It is far more probable, as one of the best biographers has observed, that Tacitus misunderstood an attempt of Arminius to extend his influence as elective war chieftain of the Cherusci and other tribes, for an attempt to obtain the royal dignity.
Footnote 1: Dr. Plate, in Biographical Dictionary.
When we remember that his father-in-law and his brother were renegades, we can well understand that a party among his kinsmen may have been bitterly hostile to him, and have opposed his authority with the tribe by open violence, and, when that seemed ineffectual, by secret assassination.
Arminius left a name which the historians of the nation against which he combated so long and so gloriously have delighted to honor. It is from the most indisputable source, from the lips of enemies, that we know his exploits. His countrymen made history, but did not write it. But his memory lived among them in the days of their bards, who recorded
Footnote 2: Tacitus: Annales.
“The deeds he did, the fields he won, The freedom he restored.”
Tacitus, writing years after the death of Arminius, says of him, “Canitur adhuc barbaras apud gentes.” As time passed on, the gratitude of ancient Germany to her great deliverer grew into adoration, and divine honors were paid for centuries to Arminius by every tribe of the Low Germanic division of the Teutonic races. The Irmin-sul, or the column of Herman, near Eresburgh (the modern Stadtberg), was the chosen object of worship to the descendants of the Cherusci (the Old Saxons), and in defence of which they fought most desperately against Charlemagne and his Christianized Franks. “Irmin, in the cloudy Olympus of Teutonic belief, appears as a king and a warrior; and the pillar, the ‘Irmin-sul,’ bearing the statue, and considered as the symbol of the deity, was the Palladium of the Saxon nation until the temple of Eresburgh was destroyed by Charlemagne, and the column itself transferred to the monastery of Corbey, where perhaps a portion of the rude rock idol yet remains, covered by the ornaments of the Gothic era.” Traces of the worship of Arminius are to be found among our Anglo-Saxon ancestors after their settlement in this island. One of the four great highways was held to be under the protection of the deity, and was called the “Irmin street.” The name Arminius is, of course, the mere Latinized form of Herman, the name by which the hero and the deity were known by every man of Low German blood on either side of the German Sea. It means, etymologically, the War-man, the man of hosts. No other explanation of the worship of the Irmin-sul, and of the name of the Irmin street, is so satisfactory as that which connects them with the deified Arminius. We know for certain of the existence of other columns of an analogous character. Thus there was the Roland-seule in North Germany; there was a Thor-seule in Sweden, and (what is more important) there was an Athelstan-seule in Saxon England.
Footnote 3: Palgrave: English Commonwealth.
Footnote 4: Lappenburg: Anglo-Saxons.
This ends our series of passages on Arminius Drives Romans Out of Germany by Sir Edward S. Creasy from his book The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World published in 1851. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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