Modern Impact

By the Middle Ages the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was a distant memory all but forgotten in the minds of Europeans, even Germans. In part this was due to the decline in the tradition of recording history and restriction of reading and writing to clerics, both of which were sponsored by the Christian conversion of Europe, which ushered in the true Dark Age. Only vague memories of the battle likely survived in the legends of Siegfried or Sigurđr. Churches and monasteries preserved ancient manuscripts from Greece and Rome unknown to the general populace, who believed that such knowledge had been lost. Greek and Roman manuscripts became an item of popular analysis and were actively sought after as the Middle Ages were coming to an end and the Renaissance beginning. It is then that the lost story of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was rediscovered.

With the discovery of Tacitus's writings in the 15th and 16th centuries, an intense study into the Northern Europeans began, with particular focus upon the Germanic tribes. In 1425 CE, German monasteries and other monasteries north of Italy were believed to house several manuscripts by Roman historians and other important Roman authors. Poggio Bracciolini attempted to take the manuscripts, as he puts it, "from the barbaric people of the north and free them" by returning them to Italy. The richest source of information on the Germanic tribes is Germania, written by Tacitus in 100 CE. Bracciolini had his colleague Niccolň Niccoli create a handwritten copy of the manuscript. Germania, in this copy, arrived in Rome in around the 1450's CE, and there was hand copied by several scholars; the first publication of Tacitus's Germania was in 1470 CE in Venice and later in 1473 CE in Nuremberg. The publication of Germania coincided with the development of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. This coincidence allowed a vast number of scholars to get their first look into the Germanic-Roman relationship.

As a result the effect on the Germans was immediate: awoken in them was the long sleeping sense of national unity and pride. During the mid 15th to 16th centuries CE, Germans were caught in a cultural and national identity vacuum, as they wrestled to establish their own cultural identity and national unity. Tacitus's Germania gave the Germans the needed foundation to stand upon to build these ideals, a work that placed the Germanic tribes of Augustus and Julius Caesar's time on equal historical footing as the Gaulish tribes that were described by Julius Caesar himself. In 1470 CE, Lucius Annaeus Florus's manuscript was discovered, which contained information on the actual battle at Teutoburg Forest. Germanicus's discovery of the heathen sacred site at the Great Bog at Kalkriese is described in the Annals of Tacitus discovered in 1505 CE. In the Annals of Tacitus, Tacitus wrote on the location of the battle site in a place he refers to as saltus Teutoburgiensis, thus naming the site Teutoburg Forest. It is from Tacitus's two books that we have details about the Germanic tribes and important information on the battle and its outcome. But Tacitus was not the only source in which information on the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was to be found: shortly after the discovery of the Annals of Tacitus, the writings of Velleius Paterculus were found in 1515 CE. Paterculus's Roman History provides a very important source of information due to his familiarity with Arminius and Varus, as he is likely to have known both men personally. Paterculus also provides important details on the Roman military in the form of the strength of the Roman force at Teutoburg Forest. By 1520 CE, Arminius's victory and the man himself had become a popular topic: Ulrich von Hutten composed a drama on Arminius in Elysium, where he is arguing with other warriors that he should be considered the greatest general in history, even greater than Hannibal and Alexander. During this phase of revival of Arminius's fame, Martin Luther referred to the "liberator of Germany," as Tacitus called him, in his bid to separate Germany's churches from the influence of Rome. By invoking Arminius's name Luther hoped to resolve and solidify in his fellow Germans the nationalistic spirit of Germany. He wrote of his admiration for Arminius and is thus credited with the first Germanizing of Arminius to Hermann. This name transformation would go on to spawn legends within Germany and increase their enthusiasm for reclaiming their cultural identity and pride. Up to 1871 CE Germany remained separated into many parts and severely divided culturally and politically; the story of Hermann / Arminius and how he stood against the Roman aggression and emerged as the guarantor of Germanic freedom provided the cultural and political bridge that was needed to unite Germany under a common national identity.

The first known visual depiction of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest is a woodcut that was made in 1517 CE for Benatus Rhenanus's edition of Velleius Paterculus's Roman History published in 1520 CE. However, its influence did not just extend to history and visual arts: there have been 67 operas composed on the story of Arminius and his victory against Rome. The height of the national popularity of Hermann / Arminius was reached in 1860 CE with Die Herrmannsschlacht (Hermann's Battle), a play by Heinrich von Kleist. This play allowed the German people to establish a symbolic connection between the struggles Arminius / Hermann faced and what the then Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was facing in trying to realize the nationalist dream of a united Germany. Bismarck would be granted the title of Unifier of Germany in 1871 CE with the creation of the German Empire. In the same year of 1871 CE, the highly influential scholar and politician Theodor Mommsen drew attention to the parallel between Bismarck and Arminius / Hermann and also in the same year, while giving a lecture on Augustus's policy in Germania, established the idea that the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was a major turning point in history.

National identification with Arminius / Hermann spanned the 19th century CE, when the statue of Arminius / Hermann was created and erected on a hilltop near the German city of Detmold, not far from Teutoburg Forest. The foundation stone for the monument was set in place in 1841 CE and the statue of Arminius / Hermann was dedicated in 1875 CE, four years after the unification of Germany. In the 21st century the monument is seen as one of Germany's greatest attractions, receiving as many as two million visitors a year. Also in the 19th century the legend of Arminius / Hermann found new growth when German immigrants established the Sons of Hermann in 1840 CE in New York. The Sons of Hermann was established as a fraternal organization to help preserve the German language in America and preserve the German traditions that had been brought to America from Europe. In 1897 CE the Minnesota branch of the Sons of Hermann commissioned their own statue of Arminius / Hermann and had it erected in New Ulm, Minnesota. During and after World War One, the organization declined in popularity; however, it still survives today with several local chapters with as many as 78,000 members.

At the beginning of the 20th century the history of Hermann / Arminius as liberator of Germany and the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was an important part of history that was in text books and taught at school in Germany and around the world. However with the collapse of the German Empire in 1919 CE at the end of World War One, the process to remove the importance of Hermann / Arminius and the Battle of Teutoburg Forest began. Just as the Treaty of Versailles had unfairly treated Germany and wrongfully blamed Germany for the whole of World War One, subsequently the process of dismantling German national identity had begun.

During the depression in Germany that followed the end of World War One, Germans found themselves more preoccupied with trying to feed their families than with worrying about their cultural identity; as such when Adolf Hitler was elected, Hitler placed special emphasis on Hermann / Arminius, using the Battle of Teutoburg Forest to exemplify the perverted Nazi agenda of world domination and racial purification, yet another symbol tainted by the Nazis. At the end of World War Two, the Allied Forces took control of Germany, resulting in foreign control of the education system; since the Allied Forces had won the war, they also took the opportunity to remove the last bit of what remained of German national identification; as a result Arminius /Hermann and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest are absent from the history books of Germany itself, as well as many other nations in the world. Instead the history books would have the youth believe that there was no conflict between Rome and Germania, as the history books only mention the cooperation between the Germanic people and Romans and not the conflict and rebellions.

Discovering the actual battle site has been a long and challenging process. After the discovery by Germanicus, no outside people had any idea where the battle actually occurred; it had been lost in history. In 1716 CE Zacharias Goeze discovered a large number of Roman coins found by farmers in Kalkriese. In 1768 CE Justus Möser, a government official, noted that it was common to find coins of the Roman period by simply digging in the ground, an activity that farmers did often. Mommsen's Die Örtlichkeit der Varusschlacht (The Location of the Varus Battle), published in 1885, suggested Kalkriese as the battle site, but lacking any proof, Mommsen found his theory was less than accepted amongst his colleagues. It would not be until 1987 CE that the proof that Mommsen needed to back up his theory would be found by British Major Tony Clunn. While stationed in Osnabrück, Germany, Major Clunn visited with Dr. Wolfgang Schlüter, the head of archaeology for the Kalkriese region. Major Clunn, who is interested in archaeology, wished to search for some Roman artifacts while he was there. It was then that Dr. Schlüter suggested to Major Clunn to explore the region north of the town near Kalkriese Hill, where a lot of Roman coins had been found. Major Clunn, like the farmers before him, discovered many coins; but this alone was not enough to establish this site as the battle site. The one oddity of the coin finds, including those not found by Major Clunn, was that all the coins were from the reign of Augustus and minted before 14 CE. Major Clunn's continued study of the area resulted in more bronze and lead objects being discovered. The discovery of the Roman sling stones now moved the finds away from trade objects to a possible battle site. The other significance of the sling stones is that they provided a rough date range: sling stones were not in use in the Roman military after the 2nd century. The combination of the sling stones and the coins not dating past 14 CE with the site being 85 miles northeast of the Rhine border region of the Roman Empire could only mean that at last the site of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest had been rediscovered. Further archaeological investigations by Dr. Schlüter have resulted in the remains of the battle being discovered in an area measuring roughly four miles by three miles in what is now known as the Kalkriese-Niewedde Depression. To the south of the site is the 360-foot-high Kalkriese Hill and to the north lies the Great Bog; on the site the richest deposits of finds have been along the southern edge of the hourglass-shaped parcel of land that is approximately half a mile at its widest point, the narrowest region being between Kalkriese Hill and the Great Bog. In modern times the water level of the Great Bog has been artificially lowered, but before this only the southern and northern edges of the half-mile-wide gap between Kalkriese Hill and the Great Bog were passable along the deposits of sand and sediment. The discovery of evidence of prehistoric settlement and other historical signs of farms indicates the traffic pattern moved along the southern edge of the pass before the Romans, also.

In the 21st century the story of Arminius / Hermann has had a slight revival, not as a means to rebuild a Germanic national iconic hero, but rather to further the subversive manner in which we are taught to perceive history and in which historical events are portrayed. In this modern age of computers and rapid production of video programming, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest has been highlighted in the computer game Total War Rome as an unwinnable battle for the Romans and been featured in programming on the History Channel with the clear message: Rome is great and those northern barbarians were lucky in achieving victory. What is troublesome is the vulgar attempt by a segment of the world to brand all things German and Germanic evil. In the 21st century this has been made blatantly clear through the manipulation of the media and entertainment industry. It is not paranoia to think that this denigration is deliberate, when you review the evidence that lies before you. This propaganda is fueled by the holocaust industry that makes millions if not billions of dollars a year capitalizing on the exploitation of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime. Despite the Nazi regime having constituted a mere blip in Germanic history, it has become the only piece of Germanic history that is focused on while the rest of it is ignored or is interpreted in light of it. The rest of Germanic history needs to be included properly in the history books and all other media to balance out the negative imprint left by the regime that has done so much harm to our heritage and folk. Now with the 2000th anniversary of this event it is time that the continued suppression of Germanic national heritage and pride come to an end and the battle that changed the world and Rome be talked about truthfully and not as a means to denigrate the Germanic people.


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