Teutoburg Forest: The battle that saved our common law
September 1, 2023 | View PDF
2,014 years ago, around the 9th of September of 9 A.D., two events were happening that would change the world.
In Galilee, a Child was growing up who would die on a Cross for the sins of the world.
And 1,500 miles to the northwest, in Teutoburg Forest of northern Germany, some 18,000 Germanic warriors were waiting in grim silence as the 17th, 18th, and 19th Roman legions drew near. Little did they realize that the blood they would spill that day would decide the future of Western civilization and win freedom and preserve common law and republican government for thousands of years to come, that our Founding Fathers would fight for the same freedom in 1776, and that we would fight for the same freedom against federal tyranny today.
For centuries these Germanic warriors and their ancestors had dwelt in these forests, worshipping their pagan gods, living by the old virtues of valor in battle, keeping one’s word, and hospitality to strangers, and. practicing decentralized government under laws that protected individual rights -- a system they would eventually bequeath to us.
But now they faced a threat from the south. As the Roman Republic gave way to the Empire, Rome had expanded its power. Some of the German tribes south of the Rhine had acquiesced to Rome’s centralizing authority. Rome now looked across the Rhine and claimed northeastern Germania for its own.
The central tool of Roman expansion was perhaps the most disciplined army the world had ever seen. The Roman legions fought in the maniple formation which was similar to the Greek phalanx but more flexible, and their main weapons were short two-edged swords called gladii and rectangular shields which, when locked together in formation, made the maniple almost impregnable. The three legions combined had 15,000 – 20,000 men.
The Germanic warriors were a citizen army of all able-bodied freemen. They were strong and courageous, but they lacked the training or the weaponry of the Romans. They charged in a wedge formation, and their weapons consisted of spears, battle-axes, and a long broadsword that was more powerful than the gladius but less effective in close infighting. They fought effectively as small groups but were unused to fighting together in large armies.
But this time they were united behind a charismatic leader, a Cheruscan prince of northern Germania named Arminius (Luther would give his name the Germanic form, Hermann). Raised as a hostage in Rome, Hermann became an army officer and learned Roman strategy and tactics.. But his heart was with his Germanic kinfolk, and he left Rome as a young man and returned to his people.
Hermann knew his Germanic warriors could not match the Romans in open combat, but he also knew the Romans were unused to fighting in forests and marshes. So he laid careful plans for an ambush.
Hermann caused a rumor to reach the Roman General Varus that two northern towns had openly rebelled, so Varus brought his legions across the Rhine to subdue them. They followed a road through Teutoburg Forest, and between Kalkriese Hill on the south and the Great Bog on the north the road was so narrow that Varus could march his men only eight abreast, so his army was stretched out for miles. At this point, perhaps, God Who is sovereign over human affairs intervened by sending a torrential downpour, although Hermann and his men probably attributed the rain to Donner (Thor) and Tyr.
And so, behind earthen ramparts on Kalkriese Hill, the Germanic warriors waited in stoic silence. As Peter S. Wells wrote in The Battle that Stopped Rome:
Some of the older men, who had fought against the Roman legions during the campaigns of Drusus, Ahenobarbus, and Tiberius, or who had lost kinsmen in battles with those armies, hated the Romans with passion and were eager to attack the troops and to kill as many as they could. But most were frightened, even terrified, and the prospect of confronting the dreaded legions in face-to-face combat.
At Hermann’s signal, the Germans attacked with volleys of thousands of spears, and within seconds thousands of Romans lay dead or dying. With a deafening war-cry the Germans charged into the Roman ranks, dealing death with their battle-axes and broadswords. The battle is said to have continued for three days, but the outcome was decided in the first hour. Over 15,000 Roman soldiers were killed; fewer than a thousand made it back across the Rhine. German losses were about 500 dead, 1,500 wounded.
As a result of Teutoburg Forest, northern Germany and Scandinavia remained forever free of the centralizing influence of Roman law. They continued their Teutonic common law tradition, complete with jury trials and protection for individual rights.
Five centuries later, the Angles and Saxons of northern Germany and the Jutes of Denmark crossed the Channel and brought their system of common law to Britain, which became Angle-land or England.
In the following centuries the Anglo-Saxons became Christians. The redeeming work of the Child of Nazareth, and the freedom won by the Germanic warriors, fused together into the English common law. In 890 A.D., when King Alfred the Great prepared his law code for England, the Book of Dooms, he began it with the Ten Commandments and interspersed Scripture passages throughout the text. This same common law was preserved with the Magna Charta, reasserted in the English Bill of Rights, brought to America by pilgrim and puritan colonists, defended in the War for Independence, and enshrined in the United States Constitution.
Meanwhile, back on the continent, Luther revived the memory of Hermann and made him a symbol of Germanic resistance. The northern princes followed Luther, not only because they agreed with his Reformation doctrines, but also because Luther stood for the decentralized principles of the old Germanic common law against the attempts of the Holy Roman Emperor to impose Roman law upon them.
Today, atop Kalkriese Hill in Teutoburg Forest, stands a pavilion with a statute of Hermann the Liberator, facing south and waving a sword of defiance against Rome.
In the German-American community of New Ulm, Minnesota, a 32-foot statue of Hermann stands atop the Hermann Heights Monument, defiantly holding his sword aloft as he faces east toward Rome (and also toward Washington, D.C.).
Teutoburg Forest was more than a great military victory. It preserved and made possible the expansion of our constitutional heritage of Anglo-American common law.
And now, the Biden Administration seeks powers that would dwarf anything the Roman emperors imagined and that would make our constitutional system a thing of the past..
May God give us a leader like Hermann the Liberator! We need his likeness today!