The First Great Victory of the German People

Taken from the Syracuse Union, Thursday, June 9, 1921 p.3

At the beginning of time the Germans lived in small tribes and offshoots as hunters and farmers. They made no significant imprint on history until they engaged in two battles with the proud rulers of Rome, who at the time were the most powerful influencers of world culture. Rome's defeat led it to question its own invincibity.

Caption under illustration reads: The Hermann Memorial in the Teutoburg Forest

The first encounter with Rome came around the year 113 B.C. with the emergence of the Cimbrian and Teutonic tribes from northeastern Germany when they arrived in the Steiermark [Styria.] Their undisciplined numbers shattered the tried and true tactics of the Roman legions.

The second and dissimilar encounter resulted in the absolute annihilation of the best Roman army in the mountainous regions of Münster in Westfalia. This victory is tied to the celebrated national hero named Hermann (Arminius.) The fateful hour of the Roman defeat caused the Roman emperor to suffer a deep humiliation. But before we discuss that day in which our ancestors brought their foreign domination to an end, we must think back to the time of the Roman eagle standard in the marshes of the German primal forest.

It is unclear exactly when the Germanic peple began settling in what is now their homeland. Previously they lived far to the east. However we know from gravesites that they must have been in Germany at least 3000 years before Christ under cultural circumstances barely recognizable as a civilized nation. In fact at the time of their first encounter with the Romans there were no established towns or villages. Their desire for absolute freedom led them to isolate themselves to their own tracts of land. A free man measured his worth by his hunting ability and skills as a warrior. He spent his days feasting, drinking and lounging.

Caption under illustration reads: Soldier of the Roman Legions

Managing the farm and tending the cattle was the job of slaves and bondsmen under the supervision of the women. Under such circumstances with families requiring so much land, ties within the population were weak. Situated between the North and Baltic Seas with the Alps on one side and between the Rhine, Oder and Vistual Rivers on the other the population numbered scarcely more than 5 to 6 million. Like most northern people they were heavy drinkers and game players. The Roman historian Tacitus described the Germans fine character and told his degenerate countrymen that they were worthy of imitation. But he also recognized: "They do not consider it shameful to spend their days and nights drinking and gambling and if you would allow them their pleasure it would be easier to defeat them by means of this vice than by using weapons." Their religious customs were barbaric, centered around Wotan, the allfather, and his sons Thor (Thonar) and Thyn, the god of warfare. They performed their services in the sacred halls of the open forest rather than in temples. Besides their priests, who did not enjoy special status, there were priestesses such as Veleda, the famous priestess of the Bructeri, who were responsible for sacrificing those captured in battle. Bareheaded and without shoes, clothed only in a white linen robe, the high priestess walked measured steps ceremoniously up to the scaffold on which the iron cauldron stood. Crowned like sacrificial animals the prisoners condemned to death were led up to the platform where the vestal virgins bent the prisoners over the cauldron and cut their throats with sharp knives. The blood collect was used to predict the future.

Caption under illustration reads: Vessels from a Germanic grave, from the time around the birth of Christ.

One need not condemn the people of today for such practices out of refined sentiment. Overall, whereever humans lived, within the primal beginnings of many cultures human sacrifice was instituted in order to find favor with a deity. However in lands such as Germany until Christian times and the development of higher civilizations, the only choices a people had were victory or death.

It's difficult to understand why the Romans were operating in Germany and why they sent their legions to regions of endless forest wildernis filled with wild animals, areas filled with large marshes, climate much rawer than anything in Italy and resources offering nothing desireable or leading to wealth. The Germans hadn't gone anywhere near the center of Roman influence. Like most places there was the occasional robbery beyond the border where a Roman merchant was murdered. One of the Roman emperor's emissaries, General Collius, was horribly beaten during a punitive expedition. After that the Germans promised to keep the peace. However a year later Emperor Augustus came up with the plan to subjugate the native people under the deceptive pretext that this would prevent possible encroachment and war. He sent an army led by his stepson Drusus, who went to Germany five times from the years 13 to 9 B.C. The army laid waste to the countryside from the Rhine and Main Rivers to the Elbe and eastern Westphalia. The Aliso Fortress was built at the source of the Lippe River (near today's village of Elsen, not far from Paderborn.)

The subjugation of the fatherland had dire consequences for the native population. A portion of them gave in to the overwhelming forces. It was to their advantage, and it was to their shame. There have always been people without strong character. Upper class youths like Prince Hermann, who later became the liberator, sought the amenities of the foreign invaders even though they detested them. They entered the Roman army and soon gained ranks as officers. However bitterness soon increased among the populace for the foreign authorities, who wanted to make western Germany a Roman province. The Roman General Saturninus was a serious, gentle man with a positive approach to life, who entertained the young German noblemen in his residence, which was luxuriant enough for Italians. When he was replaced by Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus, the husband of the emperor's niece, the German people began to suffer under the thievery of tax collectors, lawyers, merchants and deliverymen, who had swarmed to the north to plunder a foreign population.

Varus, who had acquired his princely wealth by extracting the blood and sweat of the Syrians, believed he could gain even more in Germany. Ignorant to the fact that he was becoming ever more entangled in the web of corruption, he extorted and subjugated and punished those who resisted by whipping them. This was the greatest form of humiliation for a free German. In the summer of 9 B.C. Prince Hermann, supposedly still friends with the governor, was planning the final blow against Varus. Of the five legions with auxiliary personnel there were only two in and around Mainz. The other three were garrisoned at the fortress of Aliso (and perhaps a portion of them were in Vetera.) They were in summer camp, doing what today would be called maneuvers above the Osning Ridge and the Forest of Lippe, which was associated with the Teutoburg Forest, which runs along the confluence of the Werre and Weser Rivers near Rehme.

Quintilius received the report that a few tribes in northern Westfalia (in the region where today's city of Osnabruck is located) had rebeled. They had secretly been incited by Prince Hermann. The legions were going to return from Aliso soon, but the weather had already become fall-like and raw. Rainwater had turned the valleys into marshes. Despite all this, Varus decided to avoid the paved roads over the mountains in order to conquer the insurrectionists. Segestes, whose daughter Thusnelda had become Hermann's wife after the uprising despite her father's wishes, advised caution. However the Roman general felt sure of himself and ordered the army to march in a northwest direction. Under the leadership of Hermann and Diegmar, Thusnelda's uncle, the 2500 man-strong Roman army marched in its long columns through the unpaved valleys and thick forests of the mountains. It was a terrain better suited to battles with axes and knives. Hermann and other German troop leaders had even dined in Varus' tent the night before the catastrophe. During the night the German troop leaders and all the other Germans disappeared even though they had been surrounded on all sides by armed Romans.

On the evening of the first day of battle the Romans sought safety in an open area where they pitched camp and started fires but found no room to conduct their military tactics against a highland enemy. The carnage continued the next day so that by the end of the second evening there were few Romans left to set up a second camp and even fewer would make it back to the fortress of Aliso.

Varus, who had suffered a head wound on the first day, fell on his own sword. All the field standards were lost. However the prisoners suffered an even more dreadful fate. Some were crucified, others were buried alive. The rest became sacrifices to the gods. Their heads decorated the trees in the sacred grove. Only the brave defender of Aliso, Lucius Caedicius, who was no fancy-dressed lieutenant but rather an old veteran soldier, was allowed to leave the fortress in the dead of night after putting up long-fought, valient resistence. He reunited with the decamped legions from Mainz carrying the report of the catastrophe.

Undoubtedly it was a great victory which the plunder-happy Germans of Westphalia didn't know how to use to their advantage. It was won through deceit and betrayal which no one as civilized as the Romans could have anticipated. Even today's Italians, from the time of the Moroccan Crisis to the last days of the Triple Alliance, considered all Germans incapable of loyalty and truthfulness and this eventually showed up in the war as a sad example of betrayal and ingratitude, which history has not yet examined.

The site where the memorialized battle occurred cannot be absolutely determined. There are numerous finds of coins from the time of Augustus, many more than coins from earlier or later periods, indicating that the defeat of the Roman army occurred somewhere in the vicinity of the ravines of the Teutoburg Forest. The 1875 monument dedicated to Hermann looks out over the treetops of a forest opening.

The most important result of the victory was that despite many attempts to subjugate the Germanic tribes at the German border, the Roman army never again dared to go into the heart of Germany north of the Main River and east of the Rhein in order to reestablish dominance. Hermann himself suffered a tragic fate. Because of the guilt of his father-in-law, Segestes, Hermann's wife was sent to a Roman prison where she bore his son Thumelicus, who never saw his father in the free, German forest. Hermann's attempt to establish an national kingdom in Germany did not succeed. He died at the age of 37 as a victim of his own relatives, who could not envision his wide-reaching plans. No trace was ever found of his wife and son. It has been asserted that Thumelicus died as a gladiator in Ravenna but this was never proven.

Blue-blooded Countess: Johann, my son's handkerchief has blue flecks on it. How did that happen?

Servant: With your permission, Your Grace. The young Count has cut his finger!

Translator's note: The four other illustrations on this page have nothing to do with this article or articles on other pages in the June 9th issue.

Illustration at center of page reads: Old Waterworks and Wendish Evangelical Church in Bautzen.

Illustration at center of page reads: After the annexation in Southern Tyrolia - In Meran an eagle reflief was chiseled on the former Royal Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Office Building.

Illustration at bottom of page reads: The long bridge in Danzig

Illustration in last column reads: Cloister fountain in Hirsau in Wurttemberg.

Translator's Note: Julius Caesar had some interesting things to say about the Druids of Argentoratum [Strasbourg] and the Germans in the North. "The Druids examine the constellations and track the paths of their motion. They calculate the magnitude of the universe in relationship to the earth. They contemplate the realm of nature and the immortality of the gods. They engage in active debate and produce a wealth of inventions." - Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Book VI, Chapter 14, 58-49 B.C.

"The multitudes of Germania are very different. They do not have Druids, who tend the cosmos, nor do they offer sacrifice. They have a number of individual gods who are supposedly seen and who openly perform miracles. The sun, the moon, and fire are worshipped along with lesser-known deities. Everything in their lives concerns hunting and military matters. They actively pursue a life of hardship. Adolescents strain themselves to the limit in order to gain praise. Tribal stature is proportionate to physical musculature." - Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Book VI, Chapter 21.

Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks, July 27, 2021