Two thousand years ago, around the 9th of September of A.D. 9, two events were happening that would change the world. In Galilee, a Child was growing up who would die on a cross for our sins.
The other event is far less known but very significant today. In the Teutoburg Forest of northern Germany, some 18,000 Germanic warriors waited 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 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 Obama tyranny today.
For centuries these pagan Germanic warriors and their ancestors had dwelt in these forests, 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 noble Roman Republic gave way to an Empire of Caesars, 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 their own.
Roman expansion was effected by perhaps the most disciplined military the world had ever seen. They fought in the maniple formation, which was similar to the Greek phalanx but more flexible, and their main weapons were short two-edged swords (gladii) and rectangular shields that, when locked together in formation, made the maniple almost impregnable. The three legions combined had 15,000 to 20,000 men.
The Germanic warriors, however, were a citizen army of all able-bodied freemen. They were large, 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 on this day they were united behind a charismatic leader, a Cheruscan prince of northern Germania named Arminius (Martin 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 Cheruscan 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 ill-suited to combat in forests and marshes. So he laid careful plans for an ambush.
Hermann caused a rumor to reach the Roman Gen. 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. Behind earthen ramparts on Kalkriese Hill, the Germanic warriors waited in silence.
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.
Although the battle lasted for three days, 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 and 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 A.D. 890, 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.
In New Ulm, Minn., 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.). New Ulm residents will celebrate the 2000th Anniversary of Teutoburg Forest Sept. 17-20 with a similar celebration in Hermann, Mo., Sept. 19-27.
Teutoburg Forest was more than a great military victory. It preserved and made possible the expansion of our constitutional heritage of Anglo-American law.
And now, the Obama 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!
John Eidsmoe and Ben DuPré serve as legal counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law, a religious-liberties organization in Montgomery, Ala.