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Statue of Arminius at the Hermannsdenkmal memorial
Prince and Chieftain of the Cherusci tribe
Born18/17 BC
DiedAD 21 (aged 37–38)
(His original name is unknown; modern German variants, e.g. Hermann and Armin, are back-formations.[1])

Arminius (/ɑːrˈmɪniəs/; 18/17 BC–AD 21) was a chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci tribe who is best known for commanding an alliance of Germanic tribes at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, in which three Roman legions under the command of general and governor Publius Quinctilius Varus were destroyed. His victory at Teutoburg Forest precipitated the Roman Empire's permanent strategic withdrawal from Germania Magna,[2] and modern historians regard it as one of Rome's greatest defeats.[3] As it prevented the Romanization of Germanic peoples east of the Rhine, it has also been considered one of the most decisive battles in history[4][5][6][7] and a turning point in human history.[8]

Born a prince of the Cherusci tribe, Arminius was part of the Roman-friendly faction of the tribe. He learned Latin and served in the Roman military, which gained him Roman citizenship, and the rank of eques. After serving with distinction in the Great Illyrian Revolt, he was sent to Germania to aid the local governor Publius Quinctilius Varus in completing the Roman conquest of the Germanic tribes. While in this capacity, Arminius secretly plotted a Germanic revolt against Roman rule, which culminated in the ambush and destruction of three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest.

In the aftermath of the battle, Arminius fought retaliatory invasions by the Roman general Germanicus in the battles of Pontes Longi, Idistaviso, and the Angrivarian Wall, and deposed a rival, the Marcomanni king Maroboduus. Germanic nobles, afraid of Arminius's growing power, assassinated him in 21. He was remembered in Germanic legends for generations afterwards.[9] The Roman historian Tacitus designated Arminius as the liberator of the Germanic tribes and commended him for having fought the Roman Empire to a standstill at the peak of its power.[9]

During the unification of Germany in the 19th century, Arminius was hailed by German nationalists as a symbol of German unity and freedom.[10] Following World War II, however, Arminius' significance diminished in Germany due to his association with militaristic nationalism; the 2,000th anniversary of his victory at the Teutoburg Forest was only lightly commemorated in Germany.[10]


The etymology of the Latin name Arminius is unknown, and confusion is further created by recent scholars who alternately referred to him as Armenus.[11] In his History, Marcus Velleius Paterculus calls him "Arminius, the son of Sigimer, a prince of the nation" and states he "attained the dignity of equestrian rank".[12] Due to Roman naming conventions of the time, it is likely Arminius is an adopted name granted to him upon citizenship or in any case not his Germanic name. The name instead appears to ultimately be of Etruscan origin, appearing as armne and armni on inscriptions found at Volaterrae.[1] According to another theory, that name was given to Arminius for his service in Armenia.[11]

The German translation of Arminius as the name Hermann dates from the 16th century, possibly first by Martin Luther.[13] In German, Arminius was traditionally distinguished as Hermann der Cherusker ("Hermann the Cheruscan") or Hermann der Cheruskerfürst ("Hermann the Cheruscan Prince"). Hermann etymologically means "Man of War", coming from the Old High German heri meaning "war" and man meaning "person" or "man".[14][15] This has also led to his English nickname "Herman the German."


Relatives of Arminius

Born in 18 or 17 BC in Germania, Arminius was the son of the Cheruscan chief Segimerus (German: Segimer; Proto-Germanic: Sigimariz; Old English: Sigemær),[16] who was allied with Rome.[citation needed]

Arminius learned to speak Latin and joined the Roman military alongside his younger brother Flavus. He served in the Roman army between AD 1 and 6, and received a military education as well as Roman citizenship and the status of equite before returning to Germania.[16][17] These experiences gave him knowledge of Roman politics and military tactics, which allowed him to successfully anticipate enemy battle maneuvers during his later campaigns against the Roman army.[citation needed]

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest[edit]

Magna Germania in AD 9. The yellow legend represents the areas controlled by the Roman Republic in 31 BC, the shades of green represent gradually conquered territories under the reign of Augustus, and pink areas on the map represent tributary tribes.

Around the year AD 4, Arminius assumed command of a Cheruscan detachment of Roman auxiliary forces, probably while fighting in the Pannonian wars on the Balkan peninsula. He returned to northern Germania in AD 7 or 8, where the Roman Empire had established secure control of the territories just east of the Rhine, along the Lippe and Main rivers, and was now seeking to extend its hegemony eastward to the Weser and Elbe rivers, under Publius Quinctilius Varus, a high-ranking administrative official appointed by Augustus as governor. Arminius began plotting to unite various Germanic tribes in order to thwart Roman efforts to incorporate their lands into the empire. This proved a difficult task, as the tribes were strongly independent and many were traditionally enemies of each other.[citation needed]

Between AD 6 and 9, the Romans were forced to move eight of the eleven legions present in Germania east of the Rhine to crush a rebellion in the Balkans,[18] leaving Varus with only three legions to face the Germans, which was still 18,000 troops, or 6,000 men per legion. An additional two legions, under the command of Lucius Nonius Asprenas, were stationed in Moguntiacum.[19] Arminius saw this as the perfect opportunity to defeat Varus.[20]

Varusschlacht, Otto Albert Koch (1909)

In the autumn of AD 9, the 25-year-old Arminius brought to Varus a false report of rebellion in northern Germany. He persuaded Varus to divert the three legions under his command (composed of the 17th, 18th, and 19th legions, plus three cavalry detachments and six cohorts of auxiliaries), which were at the time marching to winter quarters, to suppress the rebellion. Varus and his legions marched right into the trap that Arminius had set for them near Kalkriese. Arminius' tribe, the Cherusci, and their allies the Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci, and Sicambri (five out of at least fifty Germanic tribes at the time)[10] ambushed and annihilated Varus' entire army, totaling over 20,000 men, as it marched along a narrow road through a dense forest. Recent archaeological finds show the long-debated location of the three-day battle was almost certainly near Kalkriese Hill, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of present-day Osnabrück. When defeat was certain, Varus committed suicide.[21] The battle was one of the most devastating defeats Rome suffered in its history. Arminius' success in destroying three entire legions and driving the Romans out of Germany marked a high point of Germanic power for centuries. Roman attempts to reconquer Germania failed, although they did eventually manage to break Arminius' carefully coordinated alliance.[citation needed]

Roman retaliation, inter-tribal conflicts, and death[edit]

View over the Teutoburg Forest

After the battle, the Germans quickly annihilated every trace of Roman presence east of the Rhine. Roman settlements such as the Waldgirmes Forum were abandoned. The vastly outnumbered Roman garrison of Aliso (present-day Haltern am See), under the command of the prefect Lucius Cedicius, inflicted heavy losses on the Germans before retreating into Gaul, resisting long enough for Lucius Nonius Asprenas to organize the Roman defense on the Rhine and Tiberius to arrive with a new army. This prevented Arminius from crossing the Rhine and invading Gaul.[22]

Between 14 and 16, Germanicus led punitive operations into Germany, fighting Arminius to a draw in the Battle at Pontes Longi and twice defeating him (according to Tacitus): first in the Battle of Idistaviso and later at the Battle of the Angrivarian Wall. In 15, Roman troops managed to recapture one of the three legionary eagles lost in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. In 16, a second eagle was retrieved.[23] Tiberius denied the request of Germanicus to launch an additional campaign for 17, however, having decided the frontier with Germania would stand at the Rhine river. Instead, he offered Germanicus the honor of a triumph for his two victories. The third Roman eagle was recovered in 41 by Publius Gabinius, under the emperor Claudius.[24] Arminius also faced opposition from his father-in-law and other pro-Roman Germanic leaders.[25] His brother Flavus, who had been raised alongside him in Rome, remained loyal to the Roman Empire and fought under Germanicus against Arminius at the Battle of Idistaviso. With the end of the Roman threat, a war broke out between Arminius and Marbod, king of the Marcomanni. It ended with Marbod fleeing to Ravenna and Roman protection, but Arminius failed to break into the "natural fortification" of Bohemia, and the war ended in stalemate.

In 19, Germanicus died in Antioch under circumstances which led many to believe he had been poisoned by his opponents. Arminius died two years later in 21, murdered by opponents within his own tribe who felt that he was becoming too powerful.[26][27] Tiberius allegedly had refused an earlier offer from a Chatti nobleman to poison Arminius: "It was not by secret treachery but openly and by arms that the people of Rome avenged themselves on their enemies."[28]

Statue of Thusnelda in Loggia dei Lanzi. Created in second century AD with modern restorations.

Marriage to Thusnelda[edit]

Arminius married a Germanic princess named Thusnelda.[29] Her father was the Cheruscan prince Segestes, who was pro-Roman. After the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Arminius abducted and then impregnated Thusnelda circa AD 14. This elopement was likely a result of a dispute between Arminius and Segestes who was against their relationship.[29][30] In May of 15 the Roman general Germanicus captured Thusnelda. At the point of her capture she was pregnant and living with her father, who had taken her back.[31] Arminius deeply grieved the capture of Thusnelda and did not marry again.[32] Tacitus recorded that Arminius was "driven to frenzy" by the loss of his beloved wife.[33][34] Tacitus states in the Annals:

Arminius, with his naturally furious temper, was driven to frenzy by the seizure of his wife and the foredooming to slavery of his wife's unborn child. He flew hither and thither among the Cherusci, demanding "war against Segestes, war against Cæsar." And he refrained not from taunts.[33]

Thusnelda gave birth to a son named Thumelicus who grew up in Roman captivity. Tacitus describes him as having an unusual story, which he promises to tell in his later writings, but these writings have never been found.[35]


Arminius' victory against the Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic peoples and on the Roman Empire. The Romans made no further concerted efforts to conquer and permanently hold Germania beyond the Rhine and the Agri Decumates. Numerous modern historians have regarded Arminius' victory as one of the most decisive battles in history,[4][5][6][7][8][17] with some calling it "Rome's greatest defeat".[3]


This Roman sculpture of a young man is sometimes identified as Arminius[36]

In the accounts of his Roman enemies, Arminius is highly regarded for his military leadership and as a defender of the liberty of his people. Based on these records, the story of Arminius was revived in the 16th century with the recovery of the histories of Tacitus, 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.[37]

Arminius was not the only reason for Rome's change of policy towards Germania. Politics also played a factor; emperors found they could rarely trust a large army to a potential rival, though Augustus had enough loyal family members to wage his wars. Also, Augustus, in his 40-year reign, had annexed many territories still at the beginning of the process of Romanization. Tiberius, who succeeded Augustus in AD 14, decided that Germania was a far less developed land, possessing few villages and only a small food surplus, and therefore was not currently important to Rome. Conquering Germania would require a commitment too burdensome for the imperial finances and an excessive expenditure of military force.

Modern scholars have pointed out that the Rhine was a more practical boundary for the Roman Empire than any other river in Germania. Armies on the Rhine could be supplied from the Mediterranean Sea via the Rhône, Saône, and Mosel, with only a brief area of portage. Armies on the Elbe, however, would have to have been supplied by extensive overland routes or by ships travelling the hazardous Atlantic. Economically, the Rhine already had towns and sizable villages at the time of the Gallic conquest. The Rhine was significantly more accessible from Rome and better equipped to supply sizable garrisons than the regions beyond.[38]

Rome chose no longer to rule directly in Germania east of the Rhine and north of the Danube, instead preferring to exert indirect influence by appointing client kings, which was cheaper than military campaigns. Italicus, nephew of Arminius, was appointed king of the Cherusci; Vangio and Sido became vassal princes of the powerful Suebi, etc.[39] When indirect methods proved insufficient to control the Germanic tribes beyond the Rhine, Roman emperors occasionally led devastating punitive campaigns deep into Germania. One of them, led by the Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax, resulted in a Roman victory in 235 at the Battle at the Harzhorn Hill,[40] located in the modern German state of Lower Saxony, east of the Weser river, between the towns of Kalefeld and Bad Gandersheim.

Old Germanic sagas[edit]

In the early 19th century, attempts were made to show that the story of Arminius and his victory may have lived on in the Old Norse sagas,[41] in the form of the dragon slayer Sigurd of the Völsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied. An Icelandic account[42][43] states that Sigurd "slew the dragon" in the Gnitaheidr—today the suburb Knetterheide of the city of Bad Salzuflen, located at a strategic site on the Werre river which could very well have been the point of departure of Varus' legions on their way to their doom in the Teutoburg Forest. One of the foremost Scandinavian scholars of the 19th century, Guðbrandur Vigfússon,[44] identified Sigurd as Arminius. This educated guess was also picked up by Otto Höfler, who was a prominent Nazi academic during World War II.[45]

German nationalism[edit]

During the unification of Germany in the 19th century, Arminius was hailed as a symbol of German unity and freedom.[10] In Germany, the name Arminius was interpreted as reflecting the name Hermann by Martin Luther, who saw Arminius as a symbol of the German people and their fight against Rome.[46] Hermann der Cheruskerfürst became an emblem of the revival of German nationalism fueled by the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, such as in Caspar David Friedrich's 1812 painting The Tombs of the Old Heroes.[47]

Arminius says goodbye to Thusnelda, Johannes Gehrts (1884)

In 1808, Heinrich von Kleist wrote the play Die Hermannsschlacht,[48] but with Napoleon's victory at Wagram it remained in manuscript, being published in 1821 and not staged until 1860. The play has been revived repeatedly at moments propitious for raw expressions of National Romanticism and was especially popular in Nazi Germany.[49]

In 1838, construction was started on a massive statue of Arminius, known as the Hermannsdenkmal, on a hill near Detmold in the Teutoburg Forest; it was finally 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 New Ulm, Minnesota, in the United States in 1897. The Hermann Heights monument was erected by the Sons of Hermann, a fraternal organization formed by German Americans in New York City in 1840 that flourished during the 19th century in American cities with large populations of German origin. Hermann, Missouri, a town on the Missouri River founded in the 1830s and incorporated in 1845, was also named for Arminius.

Following the rise of Nazi Germany, fueled by aggressive German nationalism, and its subsequent defeat in World War II, Arminius became a lesser-known figure among West Germans and many schools shied away from teaching his story in any detail due to its previous association with nationalism.[10] There was, however, a somewhat different perception in East Germany. In East Germany, Arminius, based on a Marxist reading of history, came to be seen as a revolutionary figure of sorts, leading German tribes in a fight against the Roman slaveholder society (Sklavenhaltergesellschaft). In the context of the Cold War, Arminius was interpreted as symbolic of socialism, with Rome being a symbol of the capitalist United States as an oppressive empire.[50]

According to journalist David Crossland: "The old nationalism has been replaced by an easy-going patriotism that mainly manifests itself at sporting events like the soccer World Cup."[10] The German Bundesliga football club DSC Arminia Bielefeld is named after Arminius. The 2,000-year anniversary of the battle was also celebrated in New Ulm, Minnesota without restraint. There were mock battles between Romans and club-wielding barbarians and also a lecture series in an auditorium.[51]

Cultural references[edit]


Fictional versions of Arminius appear in:

Music and Opera[edit]


  • Barbarians is a 2020 TV show that features a fictionalised version of Arminius (portrayed by Laurence Rupp) as one of the central characters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schulze, Wilhelm (1904). Zur Geschichte lateinischer Eigennamen. Weidmann. p. 127.
  2. ^ Dr. Aaron Ralby (2013). "The Roman Legion: Refining Military Organization". Atlas of Military History. Parragon. p. 241. ISBN 978-1-4723-0963-1.
  3. ^ a b Murdoch 2012
  4. ^ a b Tucker 2010, p. 75
  5. ^ a b Cawthorne 2012
  6. ^ a b Davis 1999, p. 68
  7. ^ a b Creasy 2007, p. 104
  8. ^ a b "How the eagles were tamed". The Spectator. 27 March 2004. Retrieved 25 April 2021. Mommsen referred to the Battle of the Teutoburg forest as a turning-point in world history.
  9. ^ a b Tacitus. The Annals.2.88. "Assuredly he was the deliverer of Germany, one too who had defied Rome, not in her early rise, as other kings and generals, but in the height of her empire's glory, had fought, indeed, indecisive battles, yet in war remained unconquered. He completed thirty-seven years of life, twelve years of power, and he is still a theme of song among barbarous nations, though to Greek historians, who admire only their own achievements, he is unknown, and to Romans not as famous as he should be, while we extol the past and are indifferent to our own times."
  10. ^ a b c d e f Crossland, David (28 August 2009). "Battle of the Teutoburg Forest: Germany Recalls Myth That Created the Nation". Spiegel Online International. Der Spiegel. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  11. ^ a b Murdoch, Adrian (2009). Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest. The History Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-0750940160.
  12. ^ C. Velleius Paterculus (1924). The Roman History. Loeb Classical Library. p. 118.
  13. ^ Herbert W. Benario (April 2004). "Arminius into Hermann: History into Legend". Greece and Rome. 51 (1): 83–94. doi:10.1093/gr/51.1.83.
  14. ^ Förstemann, Ernst Wilhelm (1900). Altdeutsches Namenbuch (in German). Nabu Press. ISBN 9781270714996.
  15. ^ "▷ Vorname Hermann: Herkunft, Bedeutung & Namenstag". vorname.com (in German). Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  16. ^ a b "Arminius". Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.
  17. ^ a b Durschmied 2013, p. p. 1759
  18. ^ "Legio V Alaudae". www.livius.org. September 2010. Archived from the original on 26 April 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  19. ^ Syme, pg. 60
  20. ^ Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History 2, 109, 5; Cassius Dio, Roman History 55, 28, 6–7
  21. ^ Bordewich, Fergus M. (September 2006). "The Ambush That Changed History". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  22. ^ Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History II, 120, 4; Cassius Dio, Roman History LVI, 22, 2a-2b
  23. ^ Tac. Ann. 1.60.4, 2.25.2
  24. ^ Dio 60.8.7.
  25. ^ Tac. Ann. 1.54–59.
  26. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 2.88
  27. ^ Tacitus, Annals 2.22 ff.; Suetonius, Caligula 1.4; Dio 57.18.1; on Arminius' assassination, Tac. Ann. 2.88;
  28. ^ Tac. Ann. 2.87–88.
  29. ^ a b "Arminius". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  30. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 1.55
  31. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 1.57
  32. ^ "Thusnelda, Wife of Hermann". www.germanamericanpioneers.org. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  33. ^ a b Tacitus, The Annals 1.59
  34. ^ Winkler, Martin M. (3 November 2015). Arminius the Liberator: Myth and Ideology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-049352-3.
  35. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 1.58
  36. ^ "Arminius". Encyclopædia Britannica. 11 July 2023.
  37. ^ Winkler, Martin M. (2016). Arminius the Liberator: Myth and Ideology. Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 9780190252915.
  38. ^ Peter Heather (2006). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.
  39. ^ Tacitus, Book 12 [verse 27 to 31]
  40. ^ Historia Augusta, The Two Maximini 12:1–4; Herodian, Roman History, Book 7:2:3
  41. ^ A. Giesebrecht (1837). "Ueber den Ursprung der Siegfriedsage". Germania (2).
  42. ^ unknown (1387), Nikulas Bergsson, Arnamagnæan Collection manuscript 194, 8yo
  43. ^ Simek, R. (1990). "Altnordische Kosmographie: Studien und Quellen zu Weltbild und Weltbeschreibung in Norwegen und in Island vom 12. bis zum 14. Jahrhundert". Berlin/New York.
  44. ^ G. Vigfusson, F. York Powell (1886). Grimm centenary; Sigfred-Arminivs, and other papers. Oxford Clarendon Press.
  45. ^ O. Höfler, "Siegfried Arminius und die Symbolik," Heidelberg (1961), 60–64, and also in Siegfried, Arminius und der Nibelungenhort (Vienna 1978); F.G. Gentry, W. McConnell, W. Wunderlich (eds.), The Nibelungen Tradition. An Encyclopedia (New York–London 2002), article "Sigurd".
  46. ^ W. Bradford Smith (2004). "German Pagan Antiquity in Lutheran Historical Thought". The Journal of the Historical Society. 4 (3): 351–74. doi:10.1111/j.1529-921X.2004.00104.x.
  47. ^ Dorothea Klein (ed.), Lutz Käppel (ed.): Das diskursive Erbe Europas: Antike und Antikerezeption. Peter Lang, 2008, ISBN 9783631560136, p. 329
  48. ^ Heinrich von Kleist: Die Herrmannsschlacht. Ein Drama [1808] (Frankfurt am Main and Basel: Stroemfeld-Roter Stern, 2001).
  49. ^ Reeve, William C (2004). "Die Hermannsschlacht". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Retrieved 6 September 2006.
  50. ^ Tillmann Bendikowski: Deutsche Geschichte – Mythos einer Schlacht. Zeit Online, 4 November 2008 (German)
  51. ^ "New Ulm celebrates 2,000th anniversary of battle". Twin Cities. 20 September 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2020.


External links[edit]

The Football (Soccer) Team „DSC Arminia Bielefeld“ is named After Arminius