Patriots and Tyrants - Marion Lansing

Hermann the Deliverer

What were Hermann and Flavus doing in these years while Marbod was making himself a king? They were still at Rome. Marbod was eight or ten years older than Hermann, who was therefore only a child when Marbod left the court.

Of Flavus we know almost nothing. We do not even know what his German name was, for Flavus was his Latin name, just as Arminius was the Latin form of Hermann. What we know of Hermann we get only from Roman writers, but the stories they tell show us what a brave, handsome boy he must have been, and we say to ourselves, "If the Romans, whose bitterest enemy he became, praised him like this, what would his own people have said of him, if there had been Teuton historians?"

This is the picture that his superior officer in the army gives of him: "He was a youth of noble blood, brave, and bold in action. He was quick, too, and far brighter than the average barbarian. In a moment he could understand a situation and grasp quickly the right thing to be done. Moreover, he was full of spirit. From his bright blue eyes streamed the fire of spirit and energy. There was something especially attractive about him."

Hermann was sixteen years old in the year of the birth of Christ, and he stayed at Rome till he was twenty-three. During his last years in the army there came to him news of the way the Roman officers were oppressing his people. A new governor, Varus, had been moved from Syria, where the people had hated him, and sent to the provinces beyond the Rhine. He and his officers cared nothing about Teuton ways nor customs. They set to work to make Old Germany a Roman province, and this is the way they did it. They said to the Teutons (or if they did not say it in so many words, they showed plainly enough that this was what they thought): "You Teutons are so rude and rough that we always call you barbarians. The wise men who rule you are barbarians, too, and your priests and your judges are barbarians, and by that we mean that they do not know how to rule in the right way, which is the Roman way. Even your language sounds rough and harsh to our ears. For this reason we have decided that it will be better for you to have our wise men rule over you, our priests and our judges. Also we command that all the business of the land be done in our beautiful, pleasant-sounding speech. Because it will cost a great deal to govern you in this way, you must give us, each one of you, part of your corn and of the money which you make in trading, and that we will call a tax."

The Teutons had never heard of taxes. To them money paid by one people to another was tribute, such as the Romans themselves had paid to keep Attila and his Huns from attacking their cities; and for a nation to pay tribute was a sign that its independence was gone.

"We are forced to give up our language and our customs and our laws, and then, in addition, to pay for this system which we hate," they said. "What, then, is left to us of our ancient liberty?"

This was the report that came to the young soldier Hermann, and he gave up his court life and came back in all haste to his home. He tried to persuade Flavus to return with him, but Flavus chose to stay in Rome. "What can one man do against such a mighty power as Rome?" he said.


So Hermann went back alone to his fatherland. As Marbod had worked among the tribes of South Germany eight years before, so he labored among the people of North Germany. He did not have to rouse them to anger; they were angry already with the Romans; but they were hopeless. "What can we do?" they said. "The Romans are stronger than we." Hermann had married the fair Thusnelda, daughter of the powerful chief Segestes, and now even Segestes refused to join him.

"I prefer ancient friendship to new connections; my voice is for peace," he said; and in one of Hermann's absences he exercised the old Teuton authority of a father over a daughter and gave Thusnelda into Roman custody, where, after war broke out, she was held a prisoner.

The loss of his wife roused Hermann to new bitterness. He went everywhere through the land, calling upon the tribes to rise against Rome.

"To other nations punishments and taxes are unknown, as they were to our fathers. They speak freely the language of their ancestors, not the tongue of a conqueror. Behold the exploits of the Romans, the glory of a warlike nation! With mighty numbers they have led a woman into captivity! Other nations are happy; they are ignorant of the Roman. Shall we who have dared nobly for our liberties remain under the Roman yoke? If your country is dear to you, if the glory of your ancestors is near your hearts, if liberty is of any value to you, follow Hermann. I will marshal you to glory and to freedom!"

With such burning words he inflamed the people, and when he gave the word to strike, they were ready to flock to his standard. Secretly he made his plans, and when he knew that Varus and his army were starting on a march to put down a revolt among the tribes, he gathered his countrymen by night, and prepared to meet the troops in the Teutoburg forest. The Romans were surprised; the ground under their feet was swamp land where they could not fight to advantage; and a terrible three-days battle took place in which the Teutons, with Hermann at their head, were victorious. The Roman legions were lost, and the news, when it came to Rome, created panic at the capital. If the barbarians could do this, would they not soon come down on Rome itself? "In ten days," said the emperor, "they may be here"; and the whole city was in terror. But the Germans had no such thought. They had driven the oppressor out of their land. They had saved their homes from Roman rule. To us these terrible battles seem a dreadful thing, and well they may; but we must remember that these were rough times, when all nations would have seemed to us cruel and barbarous. The battle of the Teutoburg forest took place only nine years after the birth of Christ; so all this happened more than nineteen hundred years ago. But if the question of who was to rule Europe was to be settled by war, as all questions were in those days, we who are of Hermann's own race and blood must rejoice that the victory was on the side of freedom for our ancestors. By his victory the Roman empire was halted at the river Rhine, and on the east of that great river our forefathers were free to develop their systems of law, which preserved and gave to the modern world the chief glory of the Teutons,—the love of independence, which is the foundation of all our law and government.

Hermann did not do all this in one battle. The Romans sent other armies across the river, and Hermann met them many times again; but he was never defeated. The Romans could not regain their power. Once his brother Flavus was in the army which fought against him,—Flavus, who had served all these years in the Roman army and had become so much a Roman that his German name has been lost to history, and we would not know that he had ever been a German if it were not for his relation to Hermann. There is a strange story of a meeting between the two, which took place on the evening before a great battle. Hermann went down to the river which lay between the two camps, and called across that he would speak to Flavus; and when Flavus came, the two brothers talked to each other across the stream in this wise: Flavus had lost an eye in battle, and Hermann, noticing it, began, "Whence that disfigurement of features?"

He was told the battle and the place where it had happened.

"And what," he asked, "has been your recompense?"

"I have received," said Flavus, "an increase of pay, a military chain, an ornamental crown, and other honors."

Hermann burst into a laugh of scorn and indignation.

"They are the wages," he said, "of a slave cheaply purchased."

A warm dispute followed. Flavus told of the majesty of Rome, of the power of the Csars, of the weight with which their vengeance fell on the obstinate, and the mercy shown to nations which submitted willingly. Hermann on his side urged the rights of men born in freedom, the ancient law of liberty, and the love of country.

"Your mother," he added, "joins me in earnest supplication; we both conjure you not to desert your family and friends and country, but to return and have the great glory of commanding armies in defense of your fatherland."

The conversation ended in sharp words, and while Hermann went back to his people, Flavus returned to the Roman camp, and we never hear of him again.

Hermann had occasion during these years to appeal also to Marbod for help against the Romans, but Marbod declined to send his army. Then Marbod's people rose up against him, and many of them went over to Hermann and fought by his side. For fifteen years the two leaders dwelt in North and South Germany, and then the differences between them came to a settlement by war. Hermann had spent his time, since the Romans departed, trying to unite his people and to show them that it would be better for them to make a great union of tribes But always they accused him of desiring power, and pointed to Marbod as an example. When the two came to battle, so many of Marbod's allies went over to Hermann that, though he was not defeated, he knew it was not safe for him to stay in the country. He fled away to Italy and begged protection of the, Roman emperor, and the emperor gave him a house in northern Italy, where he lived for the remaining twenty years of his life. "Hated by all his people," says the chronicler, "he grew gray in indolence, dying, as he had lived, under the power of Rome."

So Hermann was left to do his work alone. His mother, who had always supported him, died; his brother was in the Roman army; his wife was a Roman prisoner; his son had been born on Roman soil and the father had never seen him. Rival chiefs were jealous of him, thinking that, like Marbod, he sought power for himself, or at least would take away their authority. When he was only thirty-seven years old, he was killed by a member of his own family.

Thus died this great patriot; and gradually, after many years, people came to see what a great gift of freedom he had made to the world through the Teuton race. This is what the great Roman historian Tacitus writes about him: "He was undoubtedly the deliverer of the Teutons. He had not, like the kings and generals of a former day, the infancy of Rome to meet; he dared to grapple with the Roman power in its maturity and strength. To this noble man,—who in seven years had won freedom for his nation, who had given up not merely body and life but wife and home for his country,—to him his people gave what it had to give, an eternal place in its songs of heroes."

To-day the Teutoburg forest is still dense and wild, but there are open spots here and there. On the highest of these, upon a height overlooking the whole forest, stands a monument to Hermann. The pedestal of granite is in the form of a temple, ninety feet height, and above it rises a colossal bronze statue of the patriot. He stands with soldierly erectness, holding a spear in his uplifted hand, looking out upon the land which he saved. Travelers entering the region see from a distance of fifty miles this heroic figure, and are told by the patriotic Germans the story of his life. Thus the people of Germany have honored their deliverer, who is also the deliverer of the whole Teuton race,—our first "Man of Freedom."