This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. First installment: Dark and Disheartening German Prospects.
This battle was important for what it revealed. In its aftermath Augustus Caesar decided that the benefits of occupying Germany did not justify the costs. He made the Rhine River Rome’s boundary in central Europe. In subsequent centuries Gaul (modern France) developed on Roman lines; the lands that became modern Germany developed a different culture.
This selection is 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.
Edward Creasy was the great historian of important battles.
Time: 9 AD
Place: Teutoburg Forest
To a truly illustrious Frenchman, whose reverses as a minister can never obscure his achievements in the world of letters, we are indebted for the most profound and most eloquent estimate that we possess of the importance of the Germanic element in European civilization, and of the extent to which the human race is indebted to those brave warriors who long were the unconquered antagonists, and finally became the conquerors, of imperial Rome.
Twenty-three eventful years have passed away since M. Guizot delivered from the chair of modern history, at Paris, his course of lectures on the history of civilization in Europe. During those years the spirit of earnest inquiry into the germs and primary developments of existing institutions has become more and more active and universal, and the merited celebrity of M. Guizot’s work has proportionally increased. Its admirable analysis of the complex political and social organizations of which the modern civilized world is made up must have led thousands to trace with keener interest the great crises of times past, by which the characteristics of the present were determined. The narrative of one of these great crises, of the epoch A.D. 9, when Germany took up arms for her independence against Roman invasion, has for us this special attraction — that it forms part of our own national history. Had Arminius been supine or unsuccessful, our Germanic ancestors would have been enslaved or exterminated in their original seats along the Eider and the Elbe. This island would never have borne the name of England, and “we, this great English nation, whose race and language are now overrunning the earth, from one end of it to the other,” would have been utterly cut off from existence.
Footnote 1: Guizot was minister of foreign affairs, and later (1848) prime minister, under Louis Philippe.
Arnold may, indeed, go too far in holding that we are wholly unconnected in race with the Romans and Britons who inhabited this country before the coming over of the Saxons; that, “nationally speaking, the history of Caesar’s invasion has no more to do with us than the natural history of the animals which then inhabited our forests.” There seems ample evidence to prove that the Romanized Celts whom our Teutonic forefathers found here influenced materially the character of our nation. But the main stream of our people was, and is, Germanic. Our language alone decisively proves this. Arminius is far more truly one of our national heroes than Caractacus; and it was our own primeval fatherland that the brave German rescued when he slaughtered the Roman legions, eighteen centuries ago, in the marshy glens between the Lippe and the Ems.
Dark and disheartening, even to heroic spirits, must have seemed the prospects of Germany when Arminius planned the general rising of his countrymen against Rome. Half the land was occupied by Roman garrisons; and, what was worse, many of the Germans seemed patiently acquiescent in their state of bondage. The braver portion, whose patriotism could be relied on, was ill-armed and undisciplined, while the enemy’s troops consisted of veterans in the highest state of equipment and training, familiarized with victory and commanded by officers of proved skill and valor. The resources of Rome seemed boundless; her tenacity of purpose was believed to be invincible. There was no hope of foreign sympathy or aid; for “the self-governing powers that had filled the Old World had bent one after another before the rising power of Rome, and had vanished. The earth seemed left void of independent nations.”
The German chieftain knew well the gigantic power of the oppressor. Arminius was no rude savage, fighting out of mere animal instinct or in ignorance of the might of his adversary. He was familiar with the Roman language and civilization; he had served in the Roman armies; he had been admitted to the Roman citizenship, and raised to the rank of the equestrian order. It was part of the subtle policy of Rome to confer rank and privileges on the youth of the leading families in the nations which she wished to enslave. Among other young German chieftains, Arminius and his brother, who were the heads of the noblest house in the tribe of the Cherusci, had been selected as fit objects for the exercise of this insidious system. Roman refinements and dignities succeeded in denationalizing the brother, who assumed the Roman name of Flavius, and adhered to Rome throughout all her wars against his country. Arminius remained unbought by honors or wealth, uncorrupted by refinement or luxury. He aspired to and obtained from Roman enmity a higher title than ever could have been given him by Roman favor. It is in the page of Rome’s greatest historian that his name has come down to us with the proud addition of “Liberator hand dubie Germaniae.”
Often must the young chieftain, while meditating the exploit which has thus immortalized him, have anxiously revolved in his mind the fate of the many great men who had been crushed in the attempt which he was about to renew — the attempt to stay the chariot wheels of triumphant Rome. Could he hope to succeed where Hannibal and Mithradates had perished? What had been the doom of Viriathus? and what warning against vain valor was written on the desolate site where Numantia once had flourished? Nor was a caution wanting in scenes nearer home and more recent times. The Gauls had fruitlessly struggled for eight years against Caesar; and the gallant Vercingetorix, who in the last year of the war had roused all his countrymen to insurrection, who had cut off Roman detachments, and brought Caesar himself to the extreme of peril at Alesia — he, too, had finally succumbed, had been led captive in Caesar’s triumph, and had then been butchered in cold blood in a Roman dungeon.
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