Varus was a Roman general and consul commanding a Roman army in Germany in 13 AD, during the long reign of Augustus Caesar (q.v.). He and his three legions fell into a trap laid by the cleverest of the Teutonic commanders, Arminius, in the middle of an almost boundless wood called the Teutoburg (near what is now Bielefeld)
‘Arminius’ is of course the Latinized version of the German commander’s name – Hermann. He was born around 19 BC and died in 19 AD. He was a superb tactician and a master of the surprise attack, so young that many German historians like to compare him with Alexander, and they may have a point.
Using geographical knowledge of his own country, his instincts, and intelligence he had received about the divisive character of Varus, he arranged the trap in the forest late in the summer of 9 AD. Three Roman legions and Varus were extinguished in the carnage that followed the successful springing of the trap. The worst humiliation for Caesar Augustus was that the almost holy standards, symbols of Rome’s victories, were lost with Varus. To the day of his death Augustus would bemoan to himself, “Give me back my standards, Varus!”
The defeat ruined the Emperor’s plans for invasion of the country lying between the Elbe and Rhine rivers. Arminius was chief of the Cherusci tribe. Very young, he had been in the service of the Romans and had earned equestrian rank and citizenship.
A few years after Teutoburg he also defeated Germanicus Caesar, though the latter captured his wife. He who might have been the German Alexander was murdered by his own people but he remained a German national hero until at least the 20thcentury.
Tacitus wrote of him that ‘he was undoubtedly the liberator of Germany. He was assassinated at 38 years of age, making him about four years older than Alexander when he died of wounds and illness. One must comment that in Arminius’s day the idea of a ‘united Germany’ had not occurred to him. Germanywas not fully ‘united’ until after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.