Arminius : biography

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In the fall of 9 AD, the 25-year-old Arminius brought to Varus a 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) from the march to winter quarters to suppress the rebellion. Varus and his legions marched right into the trap Arminius had set for them near Kalkriese, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Arminius’s tribe, the Cherusci, and their allies the Marsi, Chatti, Bructeri, Chauci and Sicambri ambushed and annihilated Varus’ entire army, totaling over 20,000 men. Recent archaeological finds show the long-debated location of the three-day battle was almost certainly near Kalkriese Hill, about 20 km north of Osnabrück. When defeat was certain, Varus committed suicide by falling on his sword. Arminius’ success in destroying three entire legions and driving the Romans out of Germany has been called "the most successful insurrection by an occupied power against a technologically superior, imperialist state in history."Gaius Stern, "Insurgency in AD 9: How the Germans Drove out the Romans at Teutoburger Wald," Society of Military History, Virginia 2012. At the conference, this claim met with mild resistance only over the definition of insurgency, but a large majority of the audience agreed with the speaker. Roman attempts to reconquer Germany failed, although the Romans inflicted defeats and severe damage.

Roman retaliation, inter-tribal conflicts, and death

Between 14 and 16 AD, Germanicus launched punitive operations into Germany, twice defeating Arminius: first in the Battle of the Weser River; and later near the Wall of the Angrivarii. Arminius also faced opposition from his father-in-law and other pro-Roman Germanic leaders.Tac. Ann. 1.54-59. In AD 15 Roman troops managed to recapture one of the three legionary eagles lost in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. In AD 16, a second eagle was retrievedTac. Ann. 1.60.4, 2.25.2 Tiberius denied the request of Germanicus to launch an additional campaign for A.D. 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 AD 41 by Publius Gabinius under the emperor Claudius.Dio 60.8.7.

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 AD, Germanicus died in Antioch under circumstances which led many to believe he had been poisoned by his opponents. Arminius suffered death two years later, in 21 AD, murdered by opponents within his own tribe who felt he was becoming too powerful.Tacitus, The Annals 2.88 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."Tac. Ann. 2.87-88.

Roman attempts to reconquer Germany failed, although the Romans inflicted defeats and severe damage.


Arminius had married a princess named Thusnelda, whose name is preserved only by Strabo. She was captured by the Romans while pregnant, so her son Thumelicus, grew up in Roman captivity. Tacitus tells us he had an unusual story, which the historian promises to tell, but is lost to us.


In the accounts of his Roman enemies, Arminius is highly regarded for his military leadership skills and as a defender of the liberty of his people. Based on these records, the story of Arminius was revived in the sixteenth century with the recovery of the histories of Tacitus, who wrote in his Annales II, 88:

Arminius was not the only reason for Rome’s change of policy towards Germania. Politics also played a factor; emperors could rarely trust a large army to a potential rival, though Augustus had enough family members to wage his wars. Also, Augustus, in his 30 year reign, had annexed many territories still at the beginning of the process of Romanization.