Arminius, also known as Armin or Hermann (18 BC/17 BC - AD 21) was a chieftain of the Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. His tribal coalition against the Roman Empire successfully blocked the efforts of Germanicus, nephew of Emperor Tiberius, to reconquer the Germanic territories east of the Rhine, although there is debate among historians about the outcome of several inconclusive battles. [Tacitus, Annals 2.22] [Suetonius, Caligula 1.4] Although Arminius was ultimately unsuccessful in forging unity among the Germanic tribes, his upset victory had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic tribes, of the Roman Empire, and ultimately, of Europe.


Born in 18 or 17 BC as son of the Cheruscan war chief Segimerus, Arminius was trained as a Roman military commander and attained Roman citizenship and the status of equestrian (petty noble) before returning to Germania and driving the Romans out.

"Arminius" is probably a Latinized variant of the Germanic name "Irmin" meaning "great" (cf. Herminones). During the Reformation but especially during 19th century German nationalism, Arminius was used as a symbol of the "German" people and their fight against Rome. [cite journal|title=German Pagan Antiquity in Lutheran Historical Thought|author=W. Bradford Smith|journal=The Journal of the Historical Society|volume=4|issue=3|year=2004|pages=351–74|url= | doi = 10.1111/j.1529-921X.2004.00104.x/abs/ ] It is during this period that the name "Hermann" (meaning "army man" or "warrior") came into use as the German equivalent of Arminius; the religious reformer Martin Luther is thought to have been the first to equate the two names. [cite journal|title=Arminius into Hermann: History into Legend|author=Herbert W. Benario|journal=Greece and Rome|volume=51|issue=1|year=2004|month=April|pages=83–94|doi= 10.1093/gr/51.1.83]

Battle at the Teutoburg Forest

Around the year AD 4, Arminius assumed command of a Cheruscan detachment of Roman auxiliary forces, probably fighting in the Pannonian wars on the Balkan peninsula. He returned to northern Germania in 7/AD 8, where the Roman Empire had established secure control of the territories just east of the Rhine, along the Lippe and Main rivers, and now sought to extend its hegemony eastward towards the Weser and Elbe rivers, under Publius Quinctilius Varus, a high-ranking administrative official appointed by Augustus as governor. Arminius soon began plotting to unite various Germanic tribes and to thwart Roman efforts to incorporate their territories into the empire.

In the fall of AD 9, in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Arminius — then 25 years old — and his alliance of Germanic tribes (Cherusci, Marsi, Chatti , Bructeri , Chauci and Sicambri) ambushed and annihilated a Roman army (comprising the 17th, 18th and 19th legions as well as three cavalry detachments and six cohorts of auxiliaries) totalling around 20,000 men commanded by Varus. Recent archaeological finds suggest that the long-debated precise location of the three-day battle is almost certainly near Kalkriese Hill, about 20 km north of Osnabrück. When defeat was certain, Varus committed suicide by falling upon his sword.

The Attempted Roman Reconquest

After his victory, Arminius tried for several years to bring about a more permanent union of the northern Germanic tribes so as to resist the inevitable Imperial counter-offensive. After the Teutoburg Forest disaster, other Germanic tribes did become more openly hostile to Rome, although the most powerful Germanic ruler, King Marbod of the Marcomanni, in Bohemia, remained neutral, although Arminius sent him the head of Varus [Velleius II 119,5] he declined the present and sent it on to Rome for burial). Also, most of the coastal tribes were successfully wooed by the Romans. Still, Arminius succeeded in forging a solid block of anti-Roman tribes in what is now west-central Germany and the eastern Netherlands.

Between AD 11 and 13, the Romans under Tiberius, then heir apparent, made initial incursions along the Ruhr, Lahn and Ems rivers, reestablishing some bases. In September AD 14, Tiberius became emperor and his nephew Germanicus took over the huge army on the Rhine, immediately launching a successful assault. The next spring, he launched a two-pronged invasion up the Ruhr and Lahn, the main success of which was the capture of Arminius's wife, Thusnelda. She was taken to Rome and displayed in Germanicus' victory parade in May, 17; she never saw her homeland again and is not mentioned again by Tacitus, who reported these events. The son she bore Arminius while in captivity, Thumelicus, was trained by the Romans as a gladiator in Ravenna and probably died in the arena.

That was followed by another two-pronged attack with an army of as many as 100,000 troops that cut Arminius's forces in half along the Ems river, and then swept eastward. However, Arminius had launched an emotional appeal to the tribes to fight back against an invader whose only success was, he claimed, in making war on women (i.e., his wife) and had managed to collect such a huge force that he was able to inflict severe defeats on the huge Roman army.

After securing the surrounding territory, Germanicus visited the Teutoburg Forest battlefield and buried the remains of the dead soldiers, building a monumental grave tumulus which indicated that he was in fact planning to hold onto that ground (Tacitus says it was later destroyed by the Germanic tribesmen and that Germanicus decided against rebuilding it — i.e., he was no longer able to do so). He then launched a swift attack on Arminius, who lured him into a trap and succeeded in ambushing and largely wiping out his cavalry and his auxiliary units. Germanicus beat a hasty retreat northward up the Ems, sending half his army southward to restore a key causeway — another indication that the Romans planned to reconquer the area and thus wanted to restore its infrastructure. Arminius surrounded this force, led by Caecina, destroyed the repaired causeway, and drove the Romans in confused retreat through a swampy area. But in a nighttime council of the army, Arminius' uncle Inguiomer called for an assault on the Roman camp - and was supported by the warriors, against the urging of Arminius, who wanted to attack them again, when once they tried to escape. The assault failed, with heavy Germanic losses, and the surviving Romans escaped across the Rhine.

In AD 16, Germanicus again invaded Germania, this time from the north. Three major battles are reported in Tacitus' account, the first being the Battle of the Weser River, where Arminius last saw his brother Flavus, who was fighting with the Romans. In a shouting-match across the river, probably around the modern city of Minden, Arminius called on his brother to return to his homeland, and Flavus made an opposite appeal, asking Arminius to make peace with a stern but forgiving Roman Empire, which was, he claimed, treating his captured wife and newborn son well. Neither convinced the other, and in the ensuing battle the Romans were able to cross the river, but with heavy losses.

The next battle took place at Idistaviso, farther up the Weser, probably around Rinteln. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and Arminius was wounded, but the Romans were unable to secure a strategic advantage and had to abandon their plan to drive into the Cheruscan heartland, around Detmold. Arminius escaped by smearing his face with blood, so that he would not be recognised. The final battle took place much farther down the Weser, to the north at the Angrivarian Wall, near Steinhude Lake. Here, again, both sides suffered heavy losses, but Germanicus was unable once again to wipe out the Germanic forces. His own losses must have been very severe by this time, for although it was the height of summer, he once again beat a hasty retreat and completely abandoned all conquered territory. As in the previous year, his withdrawal route up the Ems river resulted in a catastrophe, as a ferocious storm scattered his fleet. Although he ended the year by launching some punitive operations, and also managed to recover 2 of the 3 legionary eagles lost in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Emperor Tiberius denied his request to launch a campaign the following year, realizing that any such effort would only invite further disaster. Instead, he accorded Germanicus the honor of a triumph, a victory march in which captives — including Thusnelda — and loot were paraded through Rome, and reassigned him to Syria. This sparked Tacitus' wry remark that the Germanic tribes were more often "triumphed" in Rome than defeated in Germania. The third eagle was recovered later under Emperor Claudius [Cassius Dio, Roman History 60.8]

Inter-Tribal Conflicts and Death

Thereafter, war broke out between Arminius and Marbod, king of the Marcomanni (see above). The war ended with Marbod's retreat, but Arminius did not succeed in breaking into the "natural fortification" that Bohemia is. Consequently, the war ended in stalemate. Arminius also faced serious difficulties at home from the family of his wife and other pro-Roman leaders.

In AD 19, his formidable opponent Germanicus suddenly died in Antioch, under circumstances which led many to believe he had been murdered by his opponents; Arminius suffered this fate two years later, at the hands of opponents within his own tribe, who felt he was becoming too powerful. Tiberius had purportedly refused an earlier offer from a Chatti nobleman to poison Arminius, declaring that Rome did not employ such dishonorable methods.



In the accounts of his Roman enemies he is highly respected for his military leadership skills and as a defender of the liberty of his people. Based on these records, the story of Arminius was revived in the sixteenth century with the recovery of the histories of Tacitus by German humanists, who wrote in his "Annales II, 88":

:Arminius, without doubt Germania's liberator, who challenged the Roman people not in its beginnings like other kings and leaders, but in the peak of its empire; in battles with changing success, undefeated in the war.

Arminius was not the sole reason for Rome's change of policy towards Germania. Augustus sought a secure boundary to protect Gaul, and found this in the Rhine river instead of the Elbe. [Cornell and Matthews, Atlas of the Roman World 80] The resources for the conquest of Germany may have been lacking after the great Roman civil wars in the Late Republic and loss of three legions in the Teutoberg Forest, but they were not however lacking later on. [Goldsworthy, Roman Warfare 122] That indicates -- and archeological evidence supports this -- that Arminius' achievements together with the influence of Rome, which continued peacefully during the centuries that followed, also sparked a development within the Germanic tribes that made it possible for them to withstand further Roman aggression.

Politics also played a factor; the Emperors could rarely entrust a large army to a potential rival, although Augustus had enough family members to wage his wars; Drusus, Augustus' step son, who himself campaigned successfully against Germanic tribes, is a good example. [Cassius Dio, Roman History 54.32] For a period after the Marian reforms (the professionalization of the legions) Germanic tribesmen were beaten by the legions with almost monotonous regularity: Gaius Marius' victory at Aquae Sextiae, Caesar's victory over Ariovistus, and Tiberius' and Drusus' campaigns. [Tacitus, Germania 37] Arminius' victories changed all that. Henceforth, Rome would try to control Germania by appointing client kings, which was cheaper than direct military campaigns.

Obtaining the final defeat and death of Arminius (possibly through assassination by client princes) was costly to Rome which no longer intended to rule directly in Germania east of the Rhine and north of the Danube; Rome preferred to exert indirect influence through client kings, so Italicus, nephew of Arminius, was appointed king of the Cherusci; Vangio and Sido became vassal princes of the powerful Suebi, etc.. [Tacitus, Book 12 [verse 27 to 31] ] [] [] []

Germanic Sagas

The story of Arminius and his victory may have lived on in Germanic sagas [cite journal|title=Ueber den Ursprung der Siegfriedsage|author=A. Giesebrecht|journal=Germania|issue=2|year=1837|url=] , in the form of the dragon slayer Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied (who is called Sigurd in the Scandinavian tradition). An Icelandic account states that Sigurd "slew the dragon" in the Gnitterheide -- today a suburb of the city of Bad Salzuflen, located at a strategic site on the Were river which could very well have been the point of departure of Varus's legions on their way to their doom in the Teutoburg Forest.

Martin Luther

In Germany, he was rechristened "Hermann" by Martin Luther, and he became an emblem of the revival of German nationalism fueled by the wars of Napoleon in the 19th century.

Another theory regarding Arminius' Latin name is that it is based on the Latin word "armenium" a vivid blue, ultramarine pigment made from a stone. Thus, Arminius would have been called "blue eyes," and his brother Flavus "blondie" -- as references to the stereotype physical features which the Romans assigned to their Germanic neighbors. [cite web|url= | title=Arminius: The Original Siegfried | accessdate=2006-09-06] In that case, the theory goes, "Arminius" does not necessarily have anything to do with the word and god-name "irmin", and his Germanic name could thus have been anything -- Siegfried, for instance. Proponents of that theory argue that his father, too, (Segimerus, the modern form of which is "Siegmar") also bore a name with the stem "sieg," or "victorious".

German Nationalism

Hermann Heights Monument, New Ulm, Minnesota.] In 1808, Heinrich von Kleist's published but unperformed play "Die Hermannsschlacht", unperformable after Napoleon's victory at Wagram, aroused anti-Napoleonic German sentiment and pride among its readers.

The play has been revived repeatedly at moments propitious for raw expressions of National Romanticism and was especially popular during the Third Reich. [cite encyclopedia| encyclopedia=The Literary Encyclopedia | title=Die Hermannsschlacht | first=William C | last=Reeve | year=2004 | url= | publisher=The Literary Dictionary Company | accessdate=2006-09-06]

In 1839, construction was started on a massive statue of Arminius, known as the "Hermannsdenkmal", on a hill near Detmold in the Teutoburg Forest; it was completed and dedicated during the early years of the Second German Empire in the wake of the German victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. The monument has been a major tourist attraction ever since, as has The "Hermann Heights Monument", a similar statue erected in the United States. The German Bundesliga football-club DSC Arminia Bielefeld is also named after Arminius.

The Order of the Sons of Hermann, named for Hermann the “Cherusker”, had its origins as a mutual protection society for the protection of German immigrants in New York City during the 1840s. The order promoted the love of German language and preservation of German traditions and customs. Also provided for members was low cost insurance. The order flourished in many U.S. communities where German immigrants settled but was in decline by late 20th century probably owing to thorough acculturation of the immigrants’ progeny. Hermann, Missouri, a town on the Missouri River in the United States founded in the 1830s and incorporated in 1845, was named for Arminius.

Modern popular culture

Robert Graves' novel "I, Claudius" includes a description of Arminius's campaigns, where he is called "Hermann".

In "The Oppermanns" by Leon Feuchtwanger, a novel describing the rise of the Nazis to power, a major theme is the struggle between a liberal, half-Jewish pupil and a Nazi teacher - over the student's paper on Arminius which the teacher considers "unpatriotic" and "an insult to German nationalism".

In "1945" by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, an alternate history novel describing a world in which the Nazi Germany did not declare war on the United States in December, 1941, Operation Arminius is the code name for the German plan for the invasion of the United States. The operation is named after the German leader.

Irish Black metal band Primordial recently referred to Arminius in a song off their "To The Nameless Dead" album named "Heathen Tribes" with the line "Arminius stood tall in Teutoborg" in relation to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

Other References

External links

* [ Terry Jones' Barbarians - The Savage Goths (Google Video)] - includes a portion on Arminius
* [ A description of Arminius and his fight against the Romans] , in German

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Arminius — (in einigen Quellen auch Armenius; * um 17 v. Chr.; † um 21 n. Chr.) war ein Fürst der Cherusker, der den Römern im Jahre 9 n. Chr. in der Varusschlacht mit der Vernichtung von drei Legionen eine ihrer verheerendsten Niederlagen beibrachte. Die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Arminius —  Cet article concerne le chef de guerre germain. Pour le théologien protestant, voir Jacobus Arminius. La statue d Arminius Arminius (16 av. J. C …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Arminĭus [1] — Arminĭus (Armin, ein aus deutschem Stamm römisch gebildeter Beiname, der nicht unserm Hermann entspricht), Fürst der Cherusker, geb. 17 v. Chr. als Sohn des Cheruskerfürsten Sigimer, leistete nach der Weise jener Zeit mit seinem Bruder Flavus den …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Arminius — Arminius, 1) so v.w. Hermann 1); 2) (Jacob, eigentlich Hermanni od. Harmensen), geb. 1560 zu Oudewater in SHolland, studirte in Basel, Padua u. Rom u. wurde 1587 Prediger in Amsterdam. Es war damals in Holland die Streitfrage, ob der ewige… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Arminĭus [2] — Arminĭus, Jakob (eigentlich Harmensen), Stifter der Arminianer (s. d.), geb. 10. Okt. 1560 zu Oudewater in Südholland, studierte in Utrecht, Marburg und Leiden, hörte 1582 in Genf Beza und besuchte Italien (Rom). 1588 ward er in Amsterdam als… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Arminius — Arminĭus (fälschlich für die röm. Form des Namens Hermann gehalten), Befreier Deutschlands vom röm. Joch, geb. 17 v. Chr., Sohn des Cheruskerhäuptlings Segimer, vereinte, aus dem röm. Kriegsdienst nach Deutschland zurückgekehrt, die unzufriedenen …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Arminius [2] — Arminĭus, Jakob, Begründer der Arminianer (s.d.) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Arminius — Arminius, s. Hermann …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Arminius — Arminius, Jacob …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • ARMINIUS — Germanorum Cheruscorum Dux fortissimus, qui Varum cum exercitu suo delevit. Dein a Germavico cruencissimô duplici praeliô superatus, illô in Orientem avocatô, Marroboduum et Inguiomerum patruum sibi adversantes vicit. Tandem au. 12. principatus… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

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