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Odoacer › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 20 September 2014
Odoacer Solidus (Coin) (Saperaud)

Odoacer (433-493 CE, reigned 476-493 CE) also known as Odovacar, Flavius Odoacer, and Flavius Odovacer, was the first king of Italy. His reign marked the end of the Roman Empire ; he deposed the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, on 4 September 476 CE. He was a soldier in the Roman army who ascended through the ranks to general and was then chosen to rule after the mercenary general Orestes refused to grant land in Italy to his soldiers, and they proclaimed Odoacer as their leader. The Roman senate approved Odoacer's leadership and awarded him the honorary status of a patrician. He provided his soldiers with the land he had promised, ruled in accordance with the precepts of the Roman Empire, and governed Italy judiciously until he was defeated in battle and then assassinated by Theodoric the Great of the Ostrogoths (475-526 CE).Although some historians have regarded his reign as uneventful and claim he introduced no innovations, he was successful in maintaining order, culture, and the last vestiges of the civilization of the Roman Empire which, considering the time in which he reigned, was an impressive achievement.


Nothing is clearly known of Odoacer's early life. His ethnicity is generally regarded as Germanic, but who his parents were, how he was raised, or even where, is a matter of debate among historians. It is generally agreed among scholars, however, that he was the son of Edico the Hun, king of the Germanic Sciri tribe, and trusted advisor to Attila. It was Edico, who had been sent by Attila as an ambassador to Rome, who revealed to Attila the Roman plot to assassinate him and so foiled the plan. After Attila's death, and the dissolution of the Hun Empire, Odoacer is thought to have fought for his father before joining the Roman army, ascending through the ranks, and finally assuming power. While it seems clear enough that Odoacer was Edico's son, the problem historians argue over is `Which Edico?' The 6th century writer Jordanes claims that Odoacer's father was Edica of the Sciri tribe but in no way associates him with Edico of the Huns. Much of Jordanes' work has been questioned by modern scholarship, however, and most historians agree that Edico of the Huns was the father of Odoacer.Historian Hyun Jin Kim describes Odoacer as "Edico's famous son" and notes his military skill as comparable to that of the Huns (96). The historian Peter Heather agrees, writing :
What's so exciting about Edeco is that he became king of the Sciri after Attila's death, even though he himself was not one. He probably owed his claim to the throne to having married a high-born Scirian lady, since his children, Odovacar and Onoulphous, are said to have had a Scirian mother. But Edeco himself is dubbed variously a Hun or a Thuringian (228).
Still, there are other historians who dispute these claims and suggest that Edico the Hun was not the father of Odoacer and that his father's name was Edica, of the Sciri tribe, who had nothing to do with Edico. As the majority of scholarship sides with historians such as Hyun and Heather, however, Edico has been identified as Odoacer's father, who was married to a noble woman of the Sciri.
Odoacer first appears in history in a minor role as a soldier called Odovacrius, fighting the Visigoths in 463 CE. He is also mentioned in the Life of Saint Severinus by Eugippius (5th century CE), where it is stated that he, with a band of followers, stopped by the saint's home to ask his blessing, and Severinus prophesied to Odoacer, "Go on to Italy - though now covered in mean hides, soon you will make rich gifts to many". While this prophecy proved to be true, it is unclear whether Eugippius wrote this anecdote before or after Odoacer had come to power. The story may be a later insertion into the life of the saint, written to lend him the gift of prophecy.


However that may be, by the year 470 CE Odoacer was an officer in the dwindling Roman army stationed in Italy. Julius Nepos (430-480 CE) had been appointed emperor of the west by the eastern Byzantine emperor Leo I (401-474 CE). Nepos appointed a general named Orestes as head of the army against the wishes and advice of the Roman senate. The senate did not trust Orestes because he was not of patrician stock and had fought for the armies of Attila against Rome. He was also, they felt, far too popular with the troops he had come to lead. The historian Gibbon writes:
These troops had been long accustomed to reverence the character and authority of Orestes, who affected their manners, conversed with them in their own language, and was intimately connected with their national chieftains by long habits of familiarity and friendship (547).
As soon as Orestes was elevated to commander-in-chief of the army in 475 CE, he marched them against Nepos who fled into exile. The troops then encouraged Orestes to declare himself emperor, but he declined and instead had his teenage son Romulus Augustulus (c. 460-500 CE) declared emperor. For their service to Orestes in deposing Nepos, and to augment the back pay they felt they deserved, the soldiers requested that a third of the lands of Italy should be given to them as homesteads. The problem with this request was that there were already people living on those lands who would have had to be re-located, and many of them were Roman citizens. Gibbon writes:
Orestes, with a spirit which, in another situation, might be entitled to our esteem, chose rather to encounter the rage of an armed multitude than to subscribe to the ruin of an innocent people. He rejected the audacious demand and his refusal was favourable to the ambition of Odoacer, a bold barbarian, who assured his fellow soldiers that, if they dared to associate under his command, they might soon extort the justice which had been denied to their dutiful petitions (547).
The soldiers went over to Odoacer's camp, and Orestes fled to the city of Pavia and mounted a defense. Odoacer marched on the city and, when it seemed it would fall, Orestes escaped and re-formed an army at Piacenza. Odoacer pursued him there, defeated him in battle, and had him executed. He was then declared king of Italy on 23 August 476 CE. The remnants of the Roman army, however, refused to accept him, and a final engagement, known as the Battle of Ravenna, was fought on 2 September 476 CE from which Odoacer emerged victorious. Two days later, on 4 September 476 CE, Romulus Augustulus was deposed and the Roman Empire in the west was finished. He was sent away to Campania under a kind of house arrest with a fixed annual allowance and disappears from history. The Roman senate, which was still a functioning entity, approved of Odoacer and wrote to the emperor in the east (who, at this time, was Zeno) that they no longer felt a western emperor was necessary in Rome, and the empire could easily be ruled from Constantinople in the east and by a king in the west.Regarding this situation, historian Guy Halsall writes:
Zeno's response was sharp. He reprimanded the Roman senate for having killed one emperor sent by the east (Anthemius) and exiled another (Julius Nepos) and urged them to accept Julius back. If Julius wished to bestow the patriciate upon Odoacer, that was for him to decide. Odoacer had no wish to see Julius return and so, rebuked by the imperial court and left with no other means of legitimation, he did what more than one military commander had done before in that situation: he declared himself king (281).
Although he had already been declared king by his troops, and his position approved by the Roman senate, Odoacer's personal declaration was made as an acceptance of this honor and, also perhaps, to send the message that he felt himself worthy to be king on equal standing with any other monarch. This may have been especially directed toward Zeno in order to make clear that Odoacer intended to rule as he pleased in accordance with the precepts of the Western Empire and was not seeking Zeno's explicit approval. Though initially displeased with what appeared to him to be lawlessness, Zeno recognized that having a barbarian king in the west, instead of a co-emperor, would greatly increase his prestige as sole ruler of the Roman Empire and so approved Odoacer's reign (no doubt with the thought in mind that he could always find a way to rid himself of Odoacer later). Odoacer, at around the age of 42, was now the most powerful man in Italy.

Map of Odoacer's Italy in 480 CE


Throughout his reign he is thought to have called himself "King of Italy" only once in correspondence and was referred to by his subjects as simply Dominus Noster ("our lord") and by others as king of whatever tribe or region was under discussion at that moment. His relationship with the troops, whom he had established with land and homes throughout the country, continued to be one of mutual respect and admiration, and he was noted for his humility. Even so, his first act as king was to destroy those who might oppose him and establish himself as a monarch to be feared and obeyed. In October 476 CE he acquired Sicily through a treaty with the Vandals, and throughout 477 CE he consolidated his rule and strengthened the borders of the new Kingdom of Italy. When Julius Nepos was assassinated in his villa in Dalmatia in 480 CE, Odoacer marched to subdue the assassins, killed them, and then annexed Dalmatia (the modern-day eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea) into his kingdom.
Although modern historians are rightly suspicious of Edward Gibbon's 18th century CE work (as Gibbon tends to take those sources which suit his view of history at face value and reject others, no matter how substantial, that contradict him), his evaluation of Odoacer's reign is accurate. Gibbon writes how Odoacer received his position from the Roman senate and how he enjoyed their continuous support throughout his reign. Instead of deviating from the model of Rome, Odoacer embraced it and conducted himself as a Roman ruler, even adopting the prefix "Flavius". Gibbon writes:
The laws of the emperors were strictly enforced, and the civil administration of Italy was still exercised by the Praetorian prefect and his subordinate officers. Odoacer devolved on the Roman magistrates the odious and oppressive task of collecting public revenue; but he reserved for himself the merit of seasonable and popular indulgence. Like the rest of the barbarians, he had been instructed in the Arian heresy; but he revered the monastic and episcopal characters; and the silence of the catholics attests to the toleration which they enjoyed (549).
That Odoacer, who was raised as an Arian, should allow Trinitarianism to be practiced throughout his kingdom without problems is a testament to the wisdom and tolerance of his reign. The Arian heresy was the belief that Jesus was a created being, not equal to God, and therefore Arians did not believe in the trinity. Constantine the Great had so hated the Arian heresy that he ordered all the Arian works burned. Troubles between Arian Christians and Trinitarian Christians (Catholics) had erupted into public disturbances in the past, as they would also later on. Odoacer's tolerance of Trinitarianism and his continuation of other practices and policies of Rome show his prudence in that, ultimately, he only ruled by the senate's approval and by their intercession on his behalf with Zeno in Constantinople.


The consent of the senate notwithstanding, it was ultimately Zeno who held the greatest power over Odoacer's rule and fate. In 487 CE, Odoacer invaded the Danube Valley (which was under his control) to curtail the power of the Rugii tribe who had been increasingly gaining influence there. He defeated the Rugii and took their king Feletheus and his wife Gisa as prisoners to Ravenna, where they were executed. Frederick, Feletheus' son, raised an army to win the kingdom back but was defeated in battle by Odoacer's brother Onoulphous. Frederick survived the battle and took refuge with the king of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric. Odoacer, no doubt, felt secure in his kingdom after the Rugian War, but it would provide Zeno with the justification he was looking for to depose the king of Italy. Since the only reason Odoacer could give for attacking the Rugii was their increasing influence (not a rebellion) Zeno could say that Odoacer was acting like a tyrant who needed to be removed and so justify military action against him.
Zeno had agreed to the Roman senate's request only with the understanding that Odoacer was more or less a stand-in for Julius Nepos and that he would step aside should Nepos return. With Nepos dead, Odoacer's reign was uncontested, and his campaigns in Dalmatia troubled Zeno because he took them as evidence of Odoacer's growing power and independence from Rome. Further irritating Zeno was Odoacer's support of the general Illus, who had revolted against Zeno's rule and caused him multiple problems. The historian Herwig Wolfram comments on this, writing, "The precarious relations between Constantinople and the Italian kingdom deteriorated further when [Odoacer] prepared for an intervention in the East on the side of the anti-Zeno party" (278). After the Rugian War, Zeno saw his opportunity to rid himself of Odoacer and entered into a treaty with Theodoric of the Goths, which stated that "after the defeat of Odovacar, Theodoric, in return for his efforts was to rule Italy for the emperor until he arrived in person" (Wolfram, 279). Whether the initial suggestion to invade Italy and depose Odoacer came from Zeno or Theodoric is debated but most scholars believe it was Zeno who suggested it and the evidence concerning their relationship seems to confirm this.
Theodoric had also been causing problems for Zeno. Raised and educated at the court in Constantinople, Theodoric understood how military might translated to political power. After Zeno had employed him and his Goths to defeat Illus, Theodoric wanted more power and, as Halsall relates, "the Goths threatened Constantinople and ravaged the Balkans but could not take the capital, whilst Zeno, secure behind the city's famous triple line of walls, was unlikely to drive the latter completely from his territories. A solution was required, agreeable to both parties, and found: for Theodoric's Ostrogoths to move to Italy and dispose of the "tyrant" Odoacer" (287). Theodoric marshalled his forces and marched on Italy and Zeno was rid of his problem with the Goths. Whether Odoacer killed Theodoric or Theodoric deposed Odoacer did not seem to matter much to Zeno; whichever one emerged from the war could be dealt with later.
Theodoric ravaged the countryside and encountered his first resistance from the Gepid people at the Vuka River in 488 CE. It is unknown whether they were allied with Odoacer or simply protecting their lands from invasion, but they were quickly defeated and slaughtered by Theodoric's forces. Theodoric marched on and met Odoacer's forces in battle at the Isonzo Bridge 28 August 489 CE, where Odoacer was defeated. He retreated to Verona with Theodoric in pursuit, and they clashed again on 29 September 489 CE; Odoacer was again defeated. He then fled to Ravenna and prepared the city's defenses, while Theodoric continued his conquest of the country. Wolfram writes:
Theodoric's march to Italy seemed destined for a fast and decisive victory. In Milan, which Theodoric captured after Verona, secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries welcomed him as the emperor's representative. Even Odovacar's commander-in-chief, Tufa, and large numbers of the defeated army joined the victor (281).
Trusting Tufa's gesture of submission and allegiance, Theodoric sent him in command of his elite troops to Ravenna to capture Odoacer. Tufa had only been feigning loyalty to the conqueror, however, and betrayed the troops to Odoacer's soldiers; the elite force was destroyed and "Theodoric suffered his first serious defeat on Italian soil" (Wolfram, 281). Odoacer left Ravenna and took the battle to the enemy who repeatedly repelled him. Tufa met Frederick of the Rugii in battle in August of 491 CE in which both were killed. Hostilities continued until 25 February 493 CE at which time John, the bishop of Ravenna, brokered a treaty by which Odoacer and Theodoric would rule jointly. Theodoric rode into Ravenna 5 March 493 CE and, on 15 March, at a formal dinner held to celebrate the treaty, Odoacer was murdered by Theodoric who stabbed him to death. His last words were, "Where is God?" to which Theodoric replied, "This is what you have done to my people" in reference to Odoacer's alleged tyranny and his destruction of the Rugii tribe, a people related to Theodoric's Goths. Wolfram describes the aftermath of Odoacer's death:
The deliberate and methodical nature of Theodoric's act is clearly revealed by the subsequent events: Odovacar was not allowed to receive a Christian burial and his wife Sunigilda was starved to death. Odovacar's brother Hunulf sought refuge in a church and was used as a target by Gothic archers...On the day of Odovacar's murder his followers and their families were attacked. Wherever the Goths could lay hands on them they met their deaths. In the course of the year 493 Theodoric had become the unchallenged master of Italy (284).
Odoacer's reign was then largely eclipsed by that of Theodoric (who would come to be known as Theodoric the Great) and his accomplishments forgotten. Under Odoacer, however, the country was secured during an extremely chaotic time in its history.He guided the country through famine, defended it against foreign invasions, and enlarged it through military conquest. His last words, "Where is God?" have been interpreted by scholars for centuries as questioning the justice of his murder after leading such an illustrious and pious life. The historian Will Durant once wrote, "It is easier to explain Rome's fall than to account for her long survival" (670). A part of her survival, in so far as the culture she gave rise to, is due to Odoacer and his preservation of Roman civilization and values throughout his reign.

Arminius › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
published on 19 October 2016
Arminius (Rezwan)

The Cherusci noble Arminius (c. 18 BCE - 19 CE) led the resistance to Roman conquest of Germania during the years 9-16 CE. Likely raised as a child hostage in Rome, Arminius gained command of a German auxiliary cohort in the Roman army.Posted on the Rhine, Arminius served under the command of Governor Publius Q. Varus. Varus' task was to complete the conquest of Germania but his rough-handed methods and demands for tax incited the tribes into revolt. Seeing his countrymen oppressed by the Romans, Arminius became the leader of the rebels. In 9 CE Arminius lured Varus into an ambush in the Teutoburg Forest. Varus fell on his sword as his legions were decimated around him. It was one of Rome's worst defeats and caused Emperor Augustus to abandon the conquest of Germania.
Nevertheless, the Roman hero Germanicus continued to lead campaigns of retribution. Arminius suffered defeats but won the war, when Germanicus was recalled to Rome by the new emperor Tiberius. Having successfully liberated and defended Germania against the Romans, Arminius next squared off against Maroboduus, the powerful king of the Marcomanni.Defeating Maroboduus, Arminius had become the most powerful leader in Germania. Arminius aspired to be king but many tribal factions resented his authority. Betrayed by his relatives, Arminius was killed in 19 CE.


Born c. 18 BCE, Arminius was the eldest son of the Cherusci chief Segimer. To secure peace with Rome, Segimer is thought to have surrendered both Arminius and his younger brother Flavus to Rome as child hostages. Raised like noble Romans, the brothers learned Latin and the Roman way of war. Most likely both brothers fought beside the legions under Tiberius ClaudiusNero, stepson of Emperor Augustus, suppressing the huge Pannonian and Illyrian revolts of 7-9 CE.
Around 8 CE Arminius was transferred to the Rhine to serve under Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. Varus' mission was to turn Germania Magna (Greater Germany), the tribal territories east of the Rhine, into a full-fledged Roman province. The tribes had largely been pacified in the Tiberius' campaigns of 4-5 CE. Tiberius had achieved more by negotiations and diplomacy than had been gained by two decades of warfare. Varus, however, demanded tribute and treated the natives like slaves. Soon the tribes simmered with revolt.
Coin inscribed VAR(us)

Coin inscribed VAR(us)

Varus trusted and liked his charismatic auxiliary commander, Arminius, who was also a useful liaison with the tribal nobility.During the summer 9 CE, Varus marched his army of three legions and supporting auxiliaries from Vetera (Xanten) on the Rhine into central Germania. Varus' army took the route along the Lippe River and from there north to the western regions of the Weser Hills. He built a camp on the upper Weser River, right in the middle of Cherusci territory. Varus collected tribute and meted out Roman justice and law, and tribesmen came to trade at the huge Roman camp. For Arminius, however, it meant a chance to reunite with his family, and soon Arminius and Segimer sat together at Varus' table, assuring him all was well.


Arminius and Segimer's goodwill was but a farce, meant to fool Varus until it was time to throw off the Roman yoke. Although the Cherusci had received federated status within the empire, to Arminius it was clear that his people were not treated as equals. As he saw it, Rome took Germania's youths to fight in Rome's armies and the people were fleeced of what little wealth they possessed. The Romans even destroyed the land itself, cutting down the timber of ancient and sacred forests. Arminius met the chieftains in a secret glade to plot the Romans' demise.


Arminius knew that the legions would not go down easily. The huge Roman camp dwarfed the local villages, and its fortifications made the legionaries near invincible. The legionaries had better armor, weapons, and discipline than the Germanic warriors, the vast bulk of which were farmers. The nobles did have bands of well-armed personal retainers, but these were relatively few in number. To defeat the legions, Arminius united the tribes. He would lure Varus and his legions into the Teutoburg Forest. There the difficult terrain favored Arminius' lighter-armed, quick and nimble Germanic warriors.
Not all the Germanic chiefs were ready to give up the privileges they received from Rome. Arminius' uncle Inguiomerus opted to stay neutral while the herculean Segestes even revealed the conspiracy to Varus. Varus, however, thought Segestes' warning as nothing more than slander. Varus was well aware that Segestes did not like Arminius because Arminius had his eye on Thusnelda, Segestes' daughter, who was already betrothed to somebody else.
With the approach of fall, the Roman army prepared to march back to their winter quarters on the Rhine. At this time news arrived of a tribal revolt to the northwest. Arminius suggested that instead of taking the usual route to the Rhine via the Lippe Varus should take a different route north of the Weser Hills. That way he could crush the insurrection on the way. Varus took the bait and marched his three legions, auxiliaries, and supporting staff into the Teutoburg Forest.


Arminius rode away from the plodding Roman column after he told Varus that he was off to gather more reinforcements.Reinforcements came, not just from the Cherusci but also from the Marsi, the Bructeri, and from other tribes as well. They did not come to aid the Romans, though, but to destroy them. Segestes, however, remained loyal to Rome. He even tried holding Arminius captive for a while but was forced to release him. Having little choice, Segestes threw his lot in with the rebels.
The weather also turned against the Romans who were caught in a thunderstorm on the second day. Mud and puddles, overflowing creeks, and fallen branches slowed down wheel, hoof, and foot. Then the skirmishing attacks began. The barbarians showered the Romans with javelins and sling stones; striking at soldiers, civilians, and pack animals alike.Seasoned centurions tried to restore order and counter-attack but the terrain jumbled up Roman formations and their heavy armor made the legionaries too slow. Arminius was likely in the thick of it, personally leading the most critical attacks, as well as taking time co-ordinate the deployment of the various tribal forces along the Roman route.
The weary Romans were able to entrench themselves for a night of much-needed rest. Varus was aware that Arminius had betrayed him and that he was faced with a major uprising. However, the way ahead seemed far shorter than backtracking to the Lippe. The next day Varus pressed on, abandoning most of his heavy and surplus equipment to lighten the load. At times the weather improved, at times the woods gave way to fields of long grasses, but the attacks continued.
Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Battle of Teutoburg Forest

At least the legions were able to find suitable ground for their marching camp. By the end of the third day, Varus' army had reached the edge of Kalkrieser Berg (mountain), part of the northern extremities of the Weser Hills, which protruded into the Great Moor. Behind them, along the 12-20 mile (18-30 km) passage of the Roman column, lay thousands of their dead. During the night, the barbarians stormed the Roman camp and tore the breastwork to pieces. Varus fell on his sword before the last legion line protecting him was overwhelmed.
Probably due to premature looting by the tribesmen, a sizable Roman contingent managed to fight its way out. At first, it seemed that the survivors eluded any pursuer, but then the path ahead narrowed with the marsh on one side and an earth embankment on the other. A wall of stakes and interlaced branches topped the embankment and behind it more barbarians waited. The Romans desperately tried to break through but were repulsed. Fleeing into the marsh, all but a handful of were hunted down.


Arminius addressed his victorious men and mocked the Romans. The tribesmen took terrible vengeance on the captured Romans, torturing and sacrificing their victims while slavery awaited the remainder. As an illustration of his own power, Arminius sent Varus' head to Maroboduus, the mighty King of the Marcomanni who dwelt in the area of today's Czech Republic.
Arminius next targeted the Roman fort of Aliso on the Lippe, where he displayed the heads of slain legionaries to the defenders. The camp commander answered with a volley of arrows, and though Arminius assaulted the camp, he could not take it. During a stormy night, the Romans managed to break out but abandoned the accompanying civilians to the enemy.
Kalkriese Face Mask

Kalkriese Face Mask

News of the destruction of three legions reached Emperor Augustus along with the head of Varus, courtesy of Maroboduus. An irate Augustus shouted, "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions" ( Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, II. 23). In light of the disaster in the Teutoburg, the Clades Variana, Augustus abandoned the conquest of Germania. Tiberius conducted minor offensives into Germania in 10 and 11 CE and then returned to Rome. With the elderly Augustus of failing health, Tiberius needed to ensure his own succession and so left behind his nephew Germanicus Julius Caesar to command the two armies guarding the Rhine frontier.


Germanicus was only a few years younger than Arminius and in many ways his Roman counterpart. In the aftermath of Augustus' death and Tiberius' succession, the legions of Germania Inferior (the lower Rhine) revolted. Germanicus put down the rebellion, having to pay the legions to stand down. He channeled the frustration of the legionaries against the Germanic tribes, to avenge the Clades Variana. Germanicus started off in 14 CE by massacring Marsi villages and then fending off a dangerous tribal counter-attack.
Arminius meanwhile was faced with a belligerent Segestes, who redeclared himself for Rome. Early in 15 CE, Arminius besieged Segestes' stronghold but was forced to retreat when Roman legions came to Segestes' aid. Segestes and his family were escorted to the safety of the Roman forts on the Rhine. Among them was Thusnelda, who against her father's wishes had married Arminius and was carrying his child. Tacitus relates Arminius' reaction to the loss of his pregnant wife:
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. "Noble the father," he would say, "mighty the general, brave the army which, with such strength, has carried off one weak woman. Before me, three legions, three commanders have fallen. Let Segestes dwell on the conquered bank...one thing there is which Germans will never thoroughly excuse, their having seen between the Elbe and the Rhine the Roman rods, axes, and toga. If you prefer your fatherland, your ancestors, your ancient life to tyrants and to new colonies, follow as your leader Arminius to glory…" (Tacitus, Annals, I.59)
Arminius' emotional appeals further unified and roused the tribes. His powerful uncle Inguiomerus finally joined the war against Rome.
Germanicus' next offensive was an all-out-assault on the Bructeri, involving four legions, 40 additional cohorts and two mobile columns. The lands were devastated, one of the legion eagle standards lost in the Teutoburg was recovered, and the site of the Varus disaster was found. Burying all the bones of their fallen countrymen proved too great a task for even the legions.
Seeking vengeance, Germanicus advanced east toward the Cherusci. Outnumbered, Arminius fell back into the wilderness.Arminius lured the Roman cavalry into a deadly ambush in a swamp, but the legions came to the rescue in the nick of time.Short on supplies, Germanicus broke off the campaign and with four legions returned to his fleet on the Ems. The other half of the army, commanded by Aulus Caecina Severus, returned via the old Roman land route known as the 'Long Bridges' first pioneered by Lucius D. Ahenobarbus 18 years ago.
The 'Long Bridges' led through swampy ground, perfect for ambushes, which Arminius was quick to exploit. Arminius struck at Caecina's column while it was repairing a causeway. In a harrowing battle, Caecina was barely able to lead his army into a defensive position. The next morning, Arminius personally spearheaded the attack. He came close to inflicting a total defeat on Caecina when the tribesmen started looting. Caecina was able to fight his way out and find dry ground to entrench himself for the night. Arminius wisely wanted to wait until Caecina's army was again on the march and vulnerable. Inguiomerus, however, thought the Romans a beaten enemy and incited the overzealous chiefs and warriors into a night assault. Thinking the battle won, the tribesmen were overwhelmed and scattered when the Romans boldly sallied forth at the right moment. The defensive victory allowed Caecina to safely reach the Rhine.


In 16 CE Germanicus decided to alleviate his supply problems by embarking his entire army on a gigantic fleet of 1,000 ships.Arminius tried to retain the initiative by attacking a Roman fort on the Lippe, forcing Germanicus to delay his summer offensive and come to the rescue with six legions. Arminius was driven off, and Germanicus returned to the Rhine where he reinforced his army with Batavian cavalry from the Rhine Island, led by their chief Chariovalda. The Roman fleet sailed to the sea, east along the Mare Germanicum (North Sea) coast and up the River Ems. Disembarking, Germanicus led his army cross country, further east, towards the Weser and Cherusci territory.
Standing on the eastern bank of the Weser, Arminius came to face his brother Flavus, who was with Germanicus' army, across the river. A scar and empty eye socket disfigured Flavus' face. Arminius called across the water, taunting Flavus as to what Rome had given him for his disfigurement. Flavus proudly spoke of the battle, of rewards, and of the justice and the mercy of Rome. Arminius retorted with words of ancestral freedoms, the gods of the north, and their mother who was praying for Flavus to come back to their side. Each brother was deaf to the other. An enraged Flavus had to be physically restrained from plunging his steed into the water to fight his brother.
Arminius commanded over too few troops to seriously challenge Germanicus' river crossing, but his Cherusci ambushed the Batavians and slew their chief, Chariovalda. Falling back before Germanicus' column, Arminius gathered his army in the sacred wood of Hercules (the Roman name given to the German Donner and Scandinavian Thor ). With Inguiomerus at his side, Arminius spoke to his assembled warrior: "Is there anything left for us but to retain or freedom or die before we are enslaved?" (Tacitus, Annals, II. 15)
Out from beneath the great forest strode forth the tribal warriors. Before them, the ground sloped down towards the Idistaviso plain, skirted by a bend in the Weser River. There the Roman army drew up; cohort after cohort of auxiliaries and of eight legions. Germanicus himself rode up with two cohorts of Praetorian Guards. The two forces clashed on the plain in a fierce battle. Arminius slashed his way through the Roman archers but was beset from all sides by auxiliaries. Arminius' face was smeared in blood as his horse broke through and carried him to safety. The battle ended in a resounding Roman victory.Barbarian casualties were heavy, scattered across the plain and into the forest beyond.
Arminius had suffered a defeat but was far from finished. Tribesmen were still arriving, more than making good his losses. He would make another stand in what was the battle of the Angrivarii barrier; a vast breastwork marking the border between the Angrivarii and the Cherusci between the Weser River and a forest. The Germans fiercely defended the barrier and drew the Romans into a confusing forest battle. Roman siege engines at last burst through the barrier. In the forest, Roman shield walls pushed the tribesmen against a swamp to their rear. His wound still hampering him, Arminius was less active. Inguiomerus led the attack but was unable to prevent another Roman victory.
Map of Celtic and Germanic Tribes

Map of Celtic and Germanic Tribes

Arminius had lost another battle but not the war. Roman casualties were severe, the legionaries and auxiliaries were worn out and their supplies were in all likelihood nearly exhausted. Disaster struck on the sea voyage home, a storm wreaking havoc on both ships and troops. Even so, Germanicus was able to muster enough troops to inflict a terror campaign upon the Chatti and Marsi.
Against Germanicus' protests, Emperor Tiberius decided to call an end to the fruitless and costly campaigns. There would be no resumption of the war in 17 CE. Germanicus was honored with a lavish triumphal march. Among the displayed captives were Arminius' wife Thusnelda and their toddler son, Thumelicus.


Arminius now held sway over much of Germania, his only rival was Maroboduus, King of the Marcomanni. According to Tacitus, "the title of king rendered Maroboduus hated among his countrymen, while Arminius was regarded with favor as the champion of freedom" (Tacitus, The Annals, II. 88). As a result, the Langobardi and Semnones went over from Maroboduus to Arminius. Inguiomerus, however, joined Maroboduus.
Both Arminius and Maroboduus assembled their armies to meet in battle. In a pre-battle speech, Arminius boasted of his victory over the legions and called Maroboduus a traitor. Maroboduus, in turn, bragged that he held off Tiberius' legions, though in truth they had been diverted by the Pannonian rebellion. Maroboduus also falsely claimed that it was Inguiomerus who had brought about Arminius' victories. Both armies deployed and fought in Roman fashion, with units keeping to their standards, following orders, and keeping forces in reserve. After a hard fought battle it was Maroboduus who fled to the hills.His lands beset by other tribes, Maroboduus found asylum in Rome.
Arminius now had no rival in Germania. However, many tribesmen resented any authority and Arminius' ambitions to be their king. In 19 AD a Chatti chief came to Rome offering to poison Arminius. Rome refused, telling the chief that Rome took vengeance in battle and not by "treason or in the dark" (Tacitus, Annals, II. 88). Later that year, after tribal in-fighting that raged back and forth, Arminius was killed after being betrayed by his relatives. Tacitus left a poignant tribute to Arminius:
He was unmistakably the liberator of Germany. Challenger of Rome - not in its infancy, like kings and commanders before him, but at the height of its power - he had fought undecided battles, and never lost a war... To this day, the tribes sing of him. (Tacitus, The Annals, II. 88)
As a military leader, Arminius showed intelligence, bravery, and charisma. He understood both the limitations and advantages of his own men and of his enemy. Arminius made skillful use of local terrain to defeat what was a superior trained and equipped enemy. Arminius also used his Roman training to improve the battlefield tactics of his own troops. In battle, he personally led attacks and was able to unite the tribes even after suffering tactical defeats. Arminius' victory in the Teutoburg forest and his resistance to Germanicus kept the Germanic tribes free of Roman dominion. Centuries later, their freedom would make possible the emergence of the nations of Germany, France, and England.


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