or Hermann, "the chieftain," was the son of Sigimer, "the conqueror," and chief of the tribe of the Cherusci, who inhabited the country to the north of the Hartz mountains, now forming the south of Hanover and Brunswick.
He was born in the year 18 B. C., and in his youth he led the warriors of his tribe as auxiliaries of the Roman legions in Germany (Tac. Ann. 2.10
), where he learnt the language and military discipline of Rome, and was admitted to the freedom of the city, and enrolled amongst the equites. (Vell. 2.118
He appears in history at a crisis which is one of the most remarkable in the history of Europe.
In the year A. D. 9, the Romans had forts along the Danube, the Rhine, on the Elbe and the Weser. Tiberius Nero had twice (Vell. 2.107
) overrun the interior of Germany, and had left Varus with three legions to complete the conquest of the country, which now seemed destined to become, like Gaul, a Roman province. But Varus was a man whose licentiousness and extortion (D. C. 56.18
; Vell. 2.117) made the yoke of Rome intolerable to the Germans. Arminius, who was now twenty-seven years old, and had succeeded his father as chief of his tribe, persuaded the other chiefs who were with him in the camp of Varus, to join him in the attempt to free his country.
He amused Varus with professions of friendship, with assurances that his countrymen were pleased with the improvements of Roman civilization, and induced him to send off detachments of his troops in different directions to protect his convoys; and as these troops were separately attacked and cut to pieces, Varus gave orders for the army to march to quell what seemed an insurrection. Arminius promised to join him at a certain place with his Germans. It was in the upper Valley of the Lippe, and then covered with the deep wood of the Teutoburger Wald. Here Arminius met him, as he had promised, but with a furious assault. (D. C. 56.19
The legions were in disorder, making their way through the forest, and encumbered with a heavy baggage train, when the Germans charged on all sides upon them. Night put an end to the fight, which was renewed at daybreak.
But the country was almost impassable--a violent storm of wind and rain rendered it still more so--and the legions were unable to advance or retreat. Varus fell on his own sword. (Tac. Ann. 1.61
Those who were taken alive were sacrificed at altars in the forest to the gods of the country, and the legions were cut to pieces, with the exception of a very small body, who broke through the Germans, and made their way to the Rhine.
The consternation felt at Rome is well known. (Suet. Aug. 23
.) Tiberius was despatched (A. D. 10) with a veteran army to the Rhine. But Arminius had manifestly succeeded in making that river again the barrier of the Roman power.
In the year A. D. 14, Germanicus took the command of the legions, and collected his forces on the Ems to penetrate along that river into Germany.
But the party of Arminius had rapidly gathered strength.
He had been joined by his uncle, Inguiomer, a powerful chief who had hitherto fought for the invaders; and the popular feeling was so strong against his father-in-law, Segcstes, still a partizan of the Romans, that he had been rescued only by the legions of Germanicus from a place in which he had been beset by his own tribe.
It was on this occasion that the wife of Arminius fell into the hands of the Romans, and was reserved, with the infant boy to whom she soon after gave birth in her captivity, to swell the triumph of Germanicus at Rome. (Strabo vii. p.291
; Tac. Ann. 1.57
.) As Germanicus advanced, Arminius retired before him into the forests.
He at last halted on some open ground, and allowed the Romans to attack.
He then gradually withdrew his men towards a wood, on the skirts of which he had concealed strong bodies of men, whose unexpected charge threw the Romans into confusion.
After an obstinate struggle, Arminius remained master of the field, and Germanicus withdrew towards the Rhine. (Tac. Ann. 1.63
.) One division of the Roman army under Caecina was ordered to retire by a causeway raised over an extensive marsh, and called the Long Bridges. Arminius occupied the woody heights about the place where the bridges began; and as Caecina halted to repair them, Arminius charged down from the hills, and the Romans were giving way when night ended the contest.
The next morning, the Romans endeavoured to make their way round the border of the marsh, and when their long-extended line of march had already got into confusion, Arminius rushed down from the woods, broke the Roman line, and nearly made Caecina prisoner; and nothing but the eagerness of the Germans for plunder, and the approach of night, saved the Romans from destruction.
In the morning, Arminius urged, that the enemy, who had formed an entrenched camp during the night, should be allowed to leave their lines before they were attacked But he was overruled by Inguiomer, who led the impatient Germans to the assault.
The result was what Arminius expected.
As they were mounting the ramparts, they were suddenly met by a vigorous and steady charge along the whole line. They were routed and pursued with great slaughter, and the Romans made good their retreat to the Rhine. (Tac. Ann. 1.68
The next year the Romans made no attempt on Germany; but on the following year, A. D. 16; they appeared on the left bank of the Weser. Arminius collected his own and the neighbouring tribes on the plain of Idistavisus, and there resolved to await Germanicus. (Tac. Ann. 2.16
It was a winding plain between the river and the neighbouring hills.
A forest clear of underwood was in the rear of the main body of the Germans. Arminius with his tribe occupied some rising ground on the flank; and he seems to have chosen his ground and disposed his men with ability.
But the generalship of Germanicus and the discipline of the veterans prevailed. Arminius and his tribe were surrounded.
He himself was badly wounded, and after making every exertion to maintain the fight, he broke through the enemy, and saved himself by the fleetness of his horse. (Tac. Ann. 2.17
Germany again seemed at the mercy of the Romans. Arminius could not meet them in the field; but he had maintained the struggle long enough to save his country from subjection, till the jealousy of Tiberius recalled Germanicus, A. D. 17, and left Germany to secure the independence for which her gallant chief had so nobly struggled.
The same year that the Romans retired, Arminius was engaged with another enemy in Maroboduus (or Marbod), the king of the Suevi.
He was deserted by his uncle, Inguiomer, who was jealous of his glory, and joined his enemy.
But he had attached to himself, as the champion of German liberty, the powerful tribes of the Semnones and Longobardi, and a battle was fought in which he was victorious. (Tac. Ann. 2.45
These successes, however, suggested to him other objects than his country's liberty. Not contented with being the chief of a free tribe, he aimed at absolute power. His countrymen rose in arms against him, and the struggle was undecided when he fell by the hands of his own relations in the 37th year of his age, A. D. 19. (Tac. Ann. 2.88