Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Langobards and the Battle of the Teutoborg Forest - Part III

A new book, 'Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest' (Adrian Murdock; 2009), states in it's product description: "Over four days at the beginning of September AD 9, half of Rome's Western army was ambushed in a German forest and annihilated. Three legions, three cavalry units and six auxiliary regiments—some 25,000 men—were wiped out. It dealt a body blow to the empire's imperial pretensions and was Rome's greatest defeat. No other battle stopped the Roman empire dead in its tracks. From the moment of the Teutoburg Forest disaster, the Rhine, rather than the Elbe as the Romans had hoped, became the limit of the civilized world. Rome's expansion in northern Europe was checked and Rome anxiously patrolled the Rhineland borders, awaiting further uprisings from Germania. Although one of the most significant and dramatic battles in European history, this is also one that has been largely overlooked. Drawing on primary sources and a vast wealth of new archeological evidence, Adrian Murdoch brings to life the battle itself, the historical background, and the effects of the Roman defeat as well as exploring the personalities of those who took part."

I wanted to note here, a quote from the History Channel's computer graphic-animated documentary of the battle. One quote was as follows:

"The Romans feared the forest as a wild and uncivilized place. They believed that the great oak forest of the north marked the edge of the world. A hundred years later, in (regarding) the events that we're discussing, Tacitus, writing his 'Germania', talks about some mythical part human-part animal figures. So there are areas deep in the interior of Germany which are almost perceived as mythical to the Roman elite. For the German tribes, the forest trees often marked sacred places. The Christmas tree we bring into our home each year, is a reminder of those beliefs."

There is a lot to look at and dissect here. The heavy forests of the Rhineland were, in Roman times, almost perceived as what people thought of in more recent history as like the Congo Basin or the Amazon jungle. A wild, uncivilized, unpredictable, rugged, remote, and scary place. A place ripe with mythology. Germany was, in ancient times, how we might think of the landscape of say Washington or British Columbia.

Even though this quote was merely a quick sidetrack in the documentary, it was a glimpse into some important directions. When they mentioned the Christmas tree, they were talking about Wotanism. I was going to put "they were basically talking about Wotanism," but that wouldn't be accurate. It WAS entirely about Wotanism (called Odinism today). Although we grew up with the idea of it being a Christmas tradition, it predates Christianity by many thousands of years. When they said that it was "a reminder of those (Wotanist) beliefs," that's not necessarily true. We have forgotten this part of our history. When I say "we," I mean "the West," "Europeans," "Americans," etc. There are many examples of where Christianity co-opted pagan holidays and traditions with a new Christian one, rather than try to deconstruct it. To overlap it, or drown it out.

Needless to say, as part of the aftermath of this Roman-German war, Germany retained it's language and culture, while France, for example, adopted the Latin language and Roman customs. Had the Romans been successful, they would have fully intended to take over Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, etc. The monuments to this battle, in both Germany and Minnesota, are, ironically built upon what most would say are "Roman columns." I don't think that is quite as ironic as one might think. Those were actually "Etruscan columns" in origin.

One more quote from the documentary cryptically references Wotanism. Regarding the time just after the Teutoburg massacre: "Those taken prisoner were dragged to ponds deep in the forest, where their throats were cut, and their bodies thrown in the water as a sacrifce to the forest gods." "Forest gods?" Those were Wotanist gods.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Langobards and the Battle of the Teutoborg Forest - Part II

Edward Peters, the editor of the book 'History of the Lombards', gave his take on this subject in the first footnote of 'Book I, Chapter VII:

"Scoringa, according to Miillenhoff's explanation in which Bluhme concurs, is "Shoreland" (see Schmidt, 43). Bluhme considers it identical with the later Bardengau, on the left bank of the lower Elbe where the town of Bardowick, twenty-four miles southeast of Hamburg, perpetuates the name of the Langobards even down to the present time. Hammerstein (Bardengau, 56) explains Scoringa as Schieringen near Bleckede in the same region. Schmidt (43) believes that the settlement in Scoringa has a historical basis and certainly, if the name indicates the territory in question, it is the place where the Langobards are first found in authentic history. They are mentioned in connection with the campaigns undertaken by Tiberius against various German tribes during' the reign of Augustus in the fifth and sixth year of the Christian era, in the effort to extend the frontiers of the Roman empire from the Rhine to the Elbe (Mommsen, Romische Geschichte, V, 33). The Langobards then dwelt in that region which lies between the Weser and the lower Elbe. They were described by the court historian Velleius Paterculus (II, 106), who accompanied one of the expeditions as prefect of cavalry (Schmidt, 5), as "more fierce than ordinary German savagery,'' and he tells us that their power was broken by the legions of Tiberius.

"It would appear also from the combined testimony of Strabo (A. D. 20) and Tacitus (A, D. 117) that the Langobards dwelt near the mouth of the Elbe shortly after the beginning of the Christian era, and were in frequent and close relations with the Hermunduri and Semnones, two great Suevic tribes dwelling- higher up the stream. Strabo (see Hodgkin, V, 81) evidently means to assert that in his time the Hermunduri and Langobards had been driven from the left to the right bank. Ptolemy who wrote later (100-161) places them upon the left bank. Possibly both authors were right for different periods in their history (Hodgkin, V, 82). The expedition of Tiberius was the high-water mark of Roman invasion on Teutonic soil, and when a Roman fleet, sailing up the Elbe, established communication with a Roman army upon the bank of that river, it might well be thought that the designs of Augustus were upon the point of accomplishment, and that the boundary of the empire was to be traced by connecting the Danube with the Elbe. The dominions of Marobod, king of the Marcomanni, who was then established in Bohemia, would break the continuity of this boundary, so the Romans proceeded to invade his territories. An insurrection, however, suddenly broke out in Illyricum and the presence of the Roman army was required in that region.

"So a hasty peace was concluded with Marobod, leaving him the possessions he already held. It required four successive campaigns and an enormous number of troops (Mommsen, Rom. Gesch., Vol. V, pp. 35-38) to suppress the revolt. While the Roman veterans were engaged in the Illyrian war, great numbers of Germans led by Arminius, or Hermann, of the Cheruscan tribe rose in rebellion. In the ninth year of our era, Varus marched against them at the head of a force composed largely of new recruits. He was surprised and surrounded in the pathless recesses of the Teutoburg forest and his army of some twenty thousand men was annihilated (id., pp. 38-44). It is not known whether the Langobards were among the confederates who thus arrested the conquest of their country by the Roman army, although they dwelt not far from the scene of this historic battle. They were then considered, however, to belong to the Suevian stock and were subject, not far from this time, to the king of the Marcomanni, a Suevian race (id., p. 34; Tacitus Germania, 38-40; Annals, II, 45), and king Marobod took no part in this war on either side as he had made peace with the Romans. The defeat of Varus was due largely to his own incompetency and it would not appear to have been irretrievable when the immense resources of the Roman empire are considered.

"Still no active offensive operations against the barbarians were undertaken until after the death of Augustus and the succession of Tiberius, A. D. 14, when in three campaigns, the great Germanicus thrice invaded Germany, took captive the wife and child of Arminius, defeated the barbarians in a sanguinary battle, and announced to Rome that in the next campaign the subjugation of Germany would be complete (Mommsen, id., pp. 44-50). But Tiberius permitted no further campaign to be undertaken. The losses suffered by the Romans on the sea as well as on land had been very severe, and whether he was influenced by this fact and by the difficulty of keeping both Gaul and Germany in subjection if the legions were transferred from the Rhine to the Elbe, or whether he was actuated by jealousy of Germanicus, and feared the popularity the latter would acquire by the subjugation of all Germany, cannot now be decided, but he removed that distinguished commander from the scene of his past triumphs and his future hopes, sent him to the East on a new mission, left the army on the Rhine divided and without a general-in-chief, and adopted the policy of keeping that river as the permanent boundary of the empire (id., p. 50-54). Thus the battle in the Teutoburg forest resulted in the maintenance of German independence and ultimately perhaps in the overthrow of the Roman empire itself by German barbarians.

"It marked the beginning of the turn of the tide in Roman conquest and Roman dominion, for although the empire afterwards grew in other directions yet behind the dike here erected, the forces gradually collected which were finally to overwhelm it when it became corrupted with decay. When the legions of Varus were destroyed, the head of the Roman commander was sent to Marobod and his cooperation solicited. He refused however to join the confederated German tribes, he sent the head to Rome for funeral honors, and continued to maintain between the empire and the barbarians, the neutrality he had observed in former wars. This refusal to unite in the national aspirations for German independence, cost him his throne. " Not only the Cheruscans and their confederates " says Tacitus (Ann. II, 45) "who had been the ancient soldiery of Arminius, took arms, but the Semnones and Langobards, both Suevian nations, revolted to him from the sovereignty of Marobod . . . . The armies (Ch. 46) . . . . were stimulated by reasons of their own, the Cheruscans and the Langobards fought for their ancient honor or their newly acquired independence, and the others for increasing their dominion." This occurred in the seventeenth year of our era. Marobod was finally overthrown, and took refuge in exile with the Romans, and it was not long until Arminius, accused of aspiring to despotic power, was assassinated by a noble of his own race (Mommsen, id. 54-56).

"After his death the internal dissensions among the Cheruscans became so violent that the reigning family was swept away, and in the year 47 they asked the Romans to send them as their king the one surviving member of that family, Italirus, the nephew of Arminius, who was born at Rome where he had been educated as a Roman citizen. Accordingly Italicus, with the approval of the emperor Claudius, assumed the sovereignty of the Cheruscans. At first he was received with joy, but soon the cry was raised that with his advent the old liberties of Germany were departing and Roman power was becoming predominant. A struggle ensued, and he was expelled from the country. Again, the Langobards appear upon the scene, with sufficient power as it seems to control the destiny of the tribe which, thirty-eight years before, had been the leader in the struggle for independence, for they restored him to the sovereignty of which he had been despoiled by his inconstant subjects (Tacitus Annals, XI, 16, 17). These events and other internal disturbances injured the Cheruscans so greatly that they soon disappeared from the field of political activity (Mommsen, id., 132). During the generations that followed there was doubtless many a change in the power, the territories and even the names of the various tribes which inhabited Germania Magna, but for a long time peace was preserved along the frontiers which separated them from the Roman world (id., p. 133). It is somewhat remarkable that none of those events appear in the Langobard tradition as contained in the pages of Paul."

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Langobards and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest - Part 1

Did the Langobards participate, as part of a Germanic tribal federation, in the Battle of the Teutoburg forest, which ambushed and annihilated a Roman Legion of 18,000 in one of the most important battles of all time? If they did partake, it would have an element of bizarre, as this battle took place in 9 A.D., 559 years prior to the Langobards successfully invading and conquering most of the Italian peninsula.

The Teutoburg Forest is a range of low, forested mountains in the German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. The lands west of the Rhine River were part of the Roman Empire. The lands east of the Rhine, and especially between the Rhine and the Elbe River, were long a big problem area for the Romans in as far as their expansion and imperialism was concerned. It was inhabited by many fierce Germanic tribes. We know that, despite their relatively small numbers, the Langobards where noted by the Romans to be particularly fierce even by the standards of of this region. It's a little difficult to imagine them missing out on a battle for German sovereignty and freedom.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (described as clades Variana by Roman historians) took place in A.D. 9 (probably lasting from September 9 to September 11) when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius, ("Hermann" in German) the son of Segimer of the Cherusci, ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus. The battle began a seven-year war which established the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years, until the decline of the Roman influence in the West. The Roman Empire made no further concerted attempts to conquer Germania beyond the Rhine.

Upon hearing of the defeat, the Emperor Augustus, according to the Roman historian Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, showed signs of near-insanity, banging his head against the walls of his palace and repeatedly shouting Quintili Vare, legiones redde! ('Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!'). The three legion numbers were never used again by the Romans after this defeat, unlike other legions that were restructured — a case unique in Roman history. From the time of the rediscovery of Roman sources in the 15th Century, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest has been seen as a pivotal clash which ended Roman expansion into northern Europe.

Arminius, also known as Armin or Hermann (Possibly Eminjoz in proto Germanic) (18 BC/17 BC in Magna Germania; AD 21 in Germania) was a chieftain of the Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. His influence held an allied coalition of Germanic tribes together in opposition to the Romans but after after decisive defeats to the Roman general Germanicus, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius, his influence waned and he was assasinated on the orders of rival Germanic chiefs. Although Arminius was ultimately unsuccessful in forging unity among the Germanic tribes, the loss of the Roman legions in the Teutoburg forest had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic tribes and on the Roman Empire. Germanicus' campaign was the last major Roman military effort east of the Rhine.

The Hermannsdenkmal (German for Hermann monument) is a monument located in North Rhine Westphalia in Germany in the Southern part of the Teutoburg Forest, which is southwest of Detmold in the district of Lippe. It stands on the densely forested and 386 m tall Teutberg in the ring fortification located there, which is called Grotenburg.

The monument commemorates the Cherusci war chief Hermann or Armin (Latin: Arminius) and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in which the Germanic tribes under Arminius recorded a decisive victory in 9 AD over three Roman legions under Varus.

The sword has the following inscription:

Deutsche Einigkeit, meine Stärke - meine Stärke, Deutschlands Macht.
German unity (is) my strength - my strength (is) Germany's might.

It's important to note that the Germanic tribes of this time were fighting the good fight for their lands, their culture, and their freedom against what amounted to a self-appointed global dictatorship in the form of the Roman Empire.

The Hermann Heights Monument is a statue erected in New Ulm, Minnesota. The statue depicts Hermann the Cheruscan, also known by the Latin name Arminius, but locals refer to the statue as Herman the German. The only National Register of Historic Places property of its kind in Minnesota, the monument remains an impressive remembrance of German ancestry for many Minnesotans. Visitors to the statue can climb the spiral staircase to an observation platform at the base of the statue, which commands a view of the town and the Minnesota River Valley below.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Alberto da Giussano and Barbarossa - Part I: Movie Trailer

Above is an eight minute trailer for the upcoming release of 'Barbarossa', a movie by Renzo Martinelli. "Barbarossa" ("redbeard") was the nickname for the ruthless Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. Barbarossa invaded and fought numerous wars in the Po River region. One of the heroes of the opposition to him was Alberto da Giussano, a legendary Guelph warrior during the wars of the Lombard League against Barbarossa. His image is utilized by the Northern League party today. He is seen as the image of the warrior raising the sword to the sky, on the party's emblems. This new movie opens sometime in October in Italy, and probably will be released in the United States a month or two after that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Visions of a beautiful Tuscan girl

This entry is about a particular person. A real person. There are others like her, but she stands out in my mind. The image of her is imprinted in my memory, almost like a dream. Not "dreamy," but like a real dream. A dream about the spirit of a person, a real person, but which feels so much like a dream.

I would rather not use her name, so lets just call her Belinda. I was about eleven years old, and it was in the seventies. I had a boyhood friend who had moved to St. Francis Wood, one of San Francisco's most exclusive neighborhoods. It was roughly located in the southwest corner of the city. It was a mini-mansion, constructed in the manner that houses were in the early part of the twentieth century. Rock solid. The walk-in closets were the same size as my bedroom at home. By this time, San Francisco's affluent community had become an odd, and probably unhealthy mix of political ideologies, but in any case was one which didn't really fit the stereotypical image of snobbishness. For example, it wasn't a gated community, and the children more-or-less mixed freely with children from other socio-economic levels in the surrounding areas.

My friend's older sister soon made a new friend in her new neighborhood. Belinda was about seventeen years old, from a wealthy Tuscan-descended family. She was a girl-next-door beauty, with a body type similar to a younger Kate Winslet. About 5'7", and femininely big-boned. Her personality, in hindsight, reminds me of the character "Blair" from the television show 'The Facts of Life, although not quite as gregarious. She dressed in a classy manner, generally wearing light colored clothing, almost always wearing pants, and usually dressed in slightly overly-loose sizes. Probably self-conscious about her weight, and I might add, mistakenly so.

She was just slightly snobbish, yet at the same time she was approachable. In other words, for example, her reaction to something she didn't like could almost induce a grin from a male observer. There was a certain warmth about her, and her behavior was consistent. She was a good young girl, and a good person. Her face was slightly full, perfect ivory skin and features, brown eyes, with thick full-bodied straight dark brown hair. Cute without being "cutsy-looking," but to me, definitely beautiful inside and out. She was like a person that you would wish to get closer with, but are afraid of overstepping your bounds. She seemed to prefer a little space between her and any mild acquaintances, yet again, there was something about her that made one want to get closer. In other words, she was a naturally attractive person who didn't necessarily want the attention.

In hindsight, she really reminds me of those old Italian movies, which always seemed to have that "perfect young Italian woman," which were usually of central Italian (Tuscan or Roman) background. To me, she wasn't overly friendly when we would come into contact, but occasionally surprised me with an affectionate hand on the shoulder, almost like a big sister figure. Although I was too young to understand my feelings, I really liked her. I would look up at her sometimes when she was talking to her friend, speaking with excited expressions about fashion or some other topic that would interest teenage girls, and would sort've blush. Because she wasn't excitable all the time, it added to her beauty when she was.

Although fancy in her manner, there was nothing at all fake about her. She was basically the same person at all times. A very genuine and dignified person. She didn't at all fit the stereotype of what some would call "Italian or Greek," or resembling any other ethnic group. She was a pure-hearted Tuscan girl, probably the most beautiful women in the world. I mean, there are probably women that are more "sexier," but I'm speaking of refined and beautiful women.

I recall one time Belinda's parents drove to a property they owned, and I'm guessing that they had purchased recently. Making the trip were Belinda, her mother, my friend and I, and his sister. I think that her mother was driving just to take a closer look at the property and the old house on it. I think Belinda's father was busy running his business during this weekday during our summer vacation. It was located in what I'm guessing was West Marin Country, which is north of San Francisco on the coast. Although a world away, it was a fairly easy drive from their house, up Nineteenth Avenue, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and up the coast on Highway 1. It must have made a very nice short getaway from the city.

The property, from the best of my memory, was within view of the ocean, in a mountainous area. The ocean view was obstructed most of the time from the woods and heavy brush. I couldn't find any image online which reminded me of Belinda, so I used one of what somewhat resembles the house, and how it looked in the overgrowth. I guess that nobody had been living in the house for a good while. There was a lot of overgrowth, but it had very good potential. It was located in a very unspoiled area, and really nicely tucked away off of the road, but within close proximity of the little town. I don't recall of the exact location, or the name of the town.

When we arrived, we pulled around the side of the house, to a small courtyard area in the back, where the detached garage was. When we got out, the mother opened up the house and the garage door, then went inside to inspect the interior more closely. I suppose to decide what work had to be done. The two groups of us separated, and we explored the general area. A short while later, Belinda came out of the garage. She was dressed down, by her standards. She was with her friend. They seemed to be in a very good mood, probably also seeing the potential in a new place to hang out that summer, and in the future. It's funny to look back as adults, and think about people that we just looked up and stared at when we were children. Belinda wasn't always especially talkative and smiley, but she was at that moment. She was happy. I looked up at her. Her hair looked slightly lighter as the sun glistened between the trees on her. To me, in the purest sense, she was so beautiful. Although a young girl, she could at times have a grand aura around her, like a Florentine Princess.

After that, we had gone off again and hiked for awhile. It was probably 2 P.M. or so now. We were in the house. It was well lighted, with plenty of windows, but the trees kept it shaded. So it was a mix of light and shade in and around the house during a sunny day. The mother was doing some cleaning. We had all stopped in the town a little earlier for lunch. My sense of what happened in chronological order is off a little, as I recall that pleasant day. A short while later, we went out in the backyard again. We walked into the garage. The girls were doing some sweeping. I can recall smirking slightly as I noticed Belinda's expressions of overreaction to the overabundance of dust and dirt. The garage had a separate room, which I'm guessing that Belinda saw some potential in, as a clubhouse of sorts.

I seem to have come to the end of my story. There's no real ending here, but I can say that we should try to look a little harder and closer at those around us. To try to look through the flaws that we all possess, and really see the gems around us and appreciate them. I can think of people in my past that I really wish I would have kept in contact with.