By Dr Peter Heather
Last updated 2011-02-17
When Roman power was advanced from the Rhine to the Elbe, Arminius had initially accepted the situation. He graduated to Roman citizenship - in those days a considerable honour - and a military command in the imperial auxiliaries. But by 9 AD, he was disgusted by what he saw as Roman oppression and secretly organized a revolt, which involved contingents from a large number of Germanic tribes.
Pretending friendship, he lured the Roman governor of Germany, Quinctilius Varus, with a huge force of three legions (c. 15,000 men) and a large number of auxiliaries into an ambush in the so-called Teutoburger Wald. Part of the battle site has recently been identified near Kalkriese, about 16 kms north of Osnbruck, in northern Germany.
The Roman army found itself trapped between wooded hills and deep marshes. In a three-day running battle it was crushed. Varus himself committed suicide as his command was massacred around him, with few escaping. The emperor Augustus's dying words were: 'Varus, give me back my legions.'
Even after this huge victory, Arminius won only temporary allegiance from his people. In the face of the Roman counterattack and his own aspirations to kingship, support melted away from him and towards his uncle Inguiomerus. First his family was taken captive and then he himself was eventually killed by his own people.
In the modern era, he was turned anachronistically into a symbol of triumphant German nationalism, but the monument erected to him at Detmold in 1875 is 70 km south of the real battlefield.
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