The Betrayal Of Herman The German. A Teachable Lesson On Occupations.

by Daniel Russ on February 6, 2014




“The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal….but the Gauls were more formidable.” Tactitus noted. He thought the Gaul had good organizational skills. Their settlements were small but efficient and everyone was busy with the tasks of life. The Germans on the other hand seemed to live within boundaries that only they could see. There were no roads, or permanent structures. The largest structures were thatched and the tribes’ greatest joy in life was constantly raiding each other for glory and power and territory. It was the fratricidal habits of the Germanic tribes that kept them from ousting the Romans for so long.


 Still, Tactitus noted that while both the Gauls and the Germans were proud of their own origins, they were also in a strange way proud of their associations with Rome. Of course they despised the cruelty and brutality of Romans who came and occupied their lands. Of course they bucked at Roman rule. Still, the association was fruitful. They traded refined metals, new weapons, horses, construction skills and organization. The Gaul and Germans who associated with the Romans would sport chain mail or clothing made from animals in other regions brought here in the supply train behind the Roman Army. Exotic items newly purchased from the Romans added  sort of panache to those tribesmen who made friendly relationships with the occupiers. The Germans and the Gauls learned the power that came from massive organizational skills. They learned Rome’s agricultural techniques and engineering. For many years to come, tribesmen would choose to join the excitement of service in a Roman auxiliary unit and forgo the predictable stone-age lifestyle of their tribesmen.


But peace with Rome and the cooperation with Rome were always dodgy. Rome was an interloper who came into the lives of bands of free people all around Europe and ended with the Empire further expanded. The justness of the rule depended upon the Roman Prefect put in charge. Before the Romans, generally life was idyllic in these surroundings. There was enough for everyone. The Huns and Tartars and Mongols that ran others out northern Europe had not appeared yet. It was a semi agrarian life, healthy, easy like a song, and to some tribes, the arrival of the Romans sounded the desinence of the song. 


To invading Romans Germanic tribes lived in small bands and were more familial with large bands sleeping in the same thatched housing. Many Germanic tribes slept indoor with their animals. There were no towns, just an assemblage of cottages, and impenetrable thick forests many with dark verdant interiors covered overhead with brush. These elegiac forests birthed the fears that were the impetus for the stories we hear of vampires and werewolves and other frightful beasts.


The Romans who grew up essentially as city boys, this was untenable, just a hoary and dreadful black forest to cross. Roman legionnaires had never seen forests. Romans could not fight in forests. They required semi-flat plains where they could make their complex legion formations, and had plenty of room to run cavalry. Deployment to Germania was a lot like a current day military posting to Minot Air Force Base in South Dakota: Cold, desolate and a punishment all in one. Similarly, when Germans saw Rome, they were speechless.


But Rome needed to expand. It is the operating system of Empires to expand. It is the quickest way to glory and money and power and influence. But Naval fleets ate up all the timber in Italy, and there was little to oppose the Roman legions across the Rhine. So expand it did.


Prior to the first century, Roman troops invading Germania would hold children of prominent tribal chiefs hostage. They were raised as Romans, taught Roman ways and expected to behave as Romans. In return the Romans occupied the land of the tribes and would visit no violence upon them. Not optimal, but it served Rome’s purpose and from time to time satisfied the needs of the tribes for peace. Armenius, son of Segimerus the Cheruscan king was one such child taken by the Romans and raised in the Roman military. There, he thrived and triumphed.


This was social engineering Roman style. By developing citizenized tribesmen, they could inculcate Roman ways of thinking and Roman ways of living into the tribe culture. Romans would find it easier to hold sway in future dealings with tribes who had children that had gone native.


Armenius was a child and remembered the drive through the tenements where the city workers lived, the prostitutes hung out, and then on into the rich city and its teeming inhabitants, its mix of smells and tall buildings. Parade routes criss-crossed, good hard roads connected everything, and water ran in fountains and pools. People were shaven, clean and wore clean linens. People lived in the buildings around him above the ground. This was the other end of the world to a Germanic tribesman.


Emperor Augustus was a busy emperor. He came to power with Marcus Lepidus and Mark Anthony as the Second Triumvirate after the assassination of Julius Caesar. He took special powers granted to him by the senate and slowly organized the state such that the Republic was fully dead. He was the sole monarch of Rome. Now Rome would finish out its centuries as a dictatorship and a military dictatorship at that. From 27 BC to 14 AD he organized campaigns and expanded the Roman Empire into Northern Spain, Western Germania, the Levant, the Alps, Africa, Egypt, Anatolia. Like Napoleon, all he did was fight and win.


Pax Romana indeed.


Already the Romans had built marching camps, garrisons and administrative headquarters on the east side of the Rhine and pushed into Germanic territory, one summer to cross the Rhine. Then the next summer to the Lippe, then the next summer to the Weser. This was their way of letting the locals know that Rome claimed this territory.


Along with Roman soldiers come those that support military operations. Cooks and kitchens, leather smiths, iron smiths, weapon smiths, smiths for a whole armamentarium, villas had to be built for high officials and a harbor on the river to provide Roman luxuries for the barbarian outposts. In these encampments, Romans could live like they did at home, and they wrote letters back and forth to their families. It was not unlike today.




Arminius is made a Knight, a high Roman title for an auxiliary leader and a respected citizen of Rome. As a captain of a Roman auxiliary force, with a command over force of Cheruscan mercenaries, he is assigned in 1 BC to Pannonia in the Balkans. There he watched first hand as the Romans marched into a Germanic village, and were welcomed with open arms. Over time, cruel and brutal Roman Prefects abased the people and the relationships rotted. Traditions were debased, Germanic holy places were defaced and tribesmen were crucified for failing to obey Roman law. Arminius was a just administrator but of course there were other commanders who were cruel just because they could be. Eventually, the proud Germanic tribesmen talked of insurrection. The  Cherusci, the Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci, and the Sicambria objurgated each other over whether it was worth a try to shed themselves of Roman governance. They feared all being crucified if they failed. Yet the freedom they once enjoyed was too compelling. They found a sympathetic ear in their old countryman, Arminius.


They decided to revolt in 7 AD and Augustus sent three legions or almost 20,000 men to crush the revolt.


In 7 AD, Augustus appointed a new prefect over Germania, Publius Quinlitilous Varus. He had already crushed a Jewish revolt, crucifying 2000 Jews. He was fat, and lazy, and complacent. A Roman saying about him was that “Varus came into that rich province a poor man and left that poor province a rich man.” Augustus sent Varus and Armenius together


The Romans must use the Lippe to move supplies, and even built a 30 meter shallow draft barge. The Romans built hundreds of these barges and moved deep into Germania. The river ended there and then Arminius and Varus had to move 20,000 people and supplies in a straight line on land for miles. His own lines were 15 kilometers long, divided into 4 columns.


Eventually, the German heart of Arminius bled as he saw his people in their simple agrarian state so humiliated in front of Varus. It was watching this procession from one military encampment to the next  that most likely gave Arminius the idea for dealing with revenge on the Romans. He convinced Varus to lend him three legions, the 17th, 18th and 19th and follow him to northern Germany to march to winter quarters and in the Spring crush the revolt. His request was granted.


In 9 AD, the 20,000 Roman legionnaires marching near Kalkriese Hill were inexperienced. They were trained, but not veterans of doing war with Germans. This was not a military procession but a ravelment, troops spread out and mixed in with the weapons handlers and the cooks. The horses were strung out, and unorganized. It was right after a massive rain storm that turned the roads into a sea of mud that the Germans ambushed the forces Arminius led to them. They exploded out of the forest and forced the disorganized Romans into a panicked retreat. The battle was desperate and  took almost three days to finish. The Germans were fearless and killed all of the Romans. All of them. Three silver eagle heralds were lost.


This was one of the largest defeats of the Roman Empire, the Battle of Teutoburg forest and they neer again occupied Germany.






Sources: Wiki, BBC History, Rise and Fall Of The Roman Empire. Gibbons.




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