Hermann (circa 18 BC – 19 AD) was a German tribesman in Roman service, whose switching of sides against the Romans had far-reaching historic impact, and made him a Roman villain and a German national hero. His gigantic statue and memorial, the Hermannsdenkmal, stands today near Detmold in Westphalia, close to the site of his betrayal.
Hermann rose to command an auxiliary cohort in the Roman army. He gained the respect of his employers, who bestowed Roman citizenship and high social status upon him. He was posted to the Rhine, where he served under Publius Quinctilius Varus, a Roman general married to a niece of the emperor Augustus, who ordered Varus to conquer and pacify Germania.
Varus’ arrogant treatment of the Germans, however, caused them to revolt, and Hermann decided that his loyalty lay with his people rather than his paymasters. In 9 AD, acting as guide for Varus and his army as they returned from campaigning to winter quarters, Hermann suggested a shortcut through a hilly and heavy forested region, and lured them into an ambush in the Teutoburg Forest in which three legions were annihilated. To avoid capture, Varus committed suicide.
The disaster shocked Rome, and in its aftermath, Augustus went into mourning, let his beard grow out, and took to banging his head against the wall while wailing “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!” Roman plans for expansion into Germania were halted and never resumed, and Germania eventually became a springboard and highway for the barbarians who demolished the empire.