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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

He burst upon the legions of Varus

It was time to act; and, as no opportunity came Hermann created one. He caused messengers to come to Varus, declaring that a dangerous insurrection had broken out in the lands between him and the Rhine. This was in the month of September, and Varus, believing the reports, broke up his camp and set out to suppress the insurrection before the winter. His nearest way led through the wooded, mountainous country along the Weser, which is now called the Teutoburger Forest. According to one account, Hermann was left behind to collect the auxiliary German troops, and then, with them, rejoin his general. It is certain that he remained, and instantly sent his messengers to all the tribes engaged in the conspiracy, whose warriors came to him with all speed. In a few days he had an army probably equal in numbers to that of Varus. In the meantime the season had changed: violent autumn storms burst over the land, and the Romans slowly advanced through the forests and mountain-passes, in the wind and rain.


Hermann knew the ground and was able to choose the best point of attack. With his army, hastily organized, he burst upon the legions of Varus, who resisted him, the first day, with their accustomed valor. But the attack was renewed the second day, and the endurance of the Roman troops began to give way: they held their ground with difficulty, but exerted themselves to the utmost, for there was now only one mountain ridge to be passed. Beyond it lay the broad plains of Westphalia, with fortresses and military roads, where they had better chances of defence. When the third day dawned, the storm was fiercer than ever. The Roman army crossed the summit of the last ridge and saw the securer plains before them. They commenced descending the long slope, but, just as they reached three steep, wooded ravines which were still to be traversed, the Germans swept down upon them from the summits, like a torrent, with shouts and far-sounding songs of battle.

A complete panic seized the exhausted and disheartened Roman troops, and the fight soon became a slaughter. Varus, wounded, threw himself upon his sword: the wooded passes, below, were occupied in advance by the Germans, and hardly enough escaped to carry the news of the terrible defeat to the Roman frontier on the Rhine. Those who escaped death were sacrificed upon the altars of the gods, and the fiercest revenge was visited upon the Roman judges, lawyers and civil officers, who had trampled upon all the hallowed laws and customs of the people. The news of this great German victory reached Rome in the midst of the rejoicings over the suppression of the insurrection in Dalmatia and Pannonia, and turned the triumph into mourning. The aged Augustus feared the overthrow of his power. He was unable to comprehend such a sudden and terrible disaster: he let his hair and beard grow for months, as a sign of his trouble, and was often heard to cry aloud: "O, Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!"

The location of the battle-field where Hermann defeated Varus has been preserved by tradition. The long southern slope of the mountain, near Detmold, now bare, but surrounded by forests, is called to this day the _Winfield_. Around the summit of the mountain there is a ring of huge stones, showing that it was originally consecrated to the worship of the ancient pagan deities. Here a pedestal of granite, in the form of a temple, has been built, and upon it has been placed a colossal statue of Hermann in bronze, 90 feet high, and visible at a distance of fifty miles.

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