Photo Gallery The Myth of Hermann the German

In September 9 AD, Germanic tribesmen slaughtered three Roman legions in a battle that marked the "big bang" of the German nation and created its first hero -- Hermann. The country is marking the 2,000th anniversary with restraint because the myth of Hermann remains tainted by the nationalism that led to Hitler.
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The Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD represents the birth of the German nation and is commemorated in this gigantic monument to the German tribal chieftain, Arminius or Hermann, completed in 1875 near the town of Detmold.

Foto: David Crossland
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The presumed site of the battle was discovered near the village of Kalkriese in northwestern Germany, close to the city of Osnabrück, in the late 1980s. It is has been a major archaeological site for the past two decades.

Foto: David Crossland
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Part of an earthen wall was found at Kalkriese which tied in with Roman accounts of how Germanic warriors lured the legions into a bottleneck between a morr and a wooded hill. The wall was built to aid the German ambush. Some of the wall has been restored to show what it would have looked like in that fateful September.

Foto: David Crossland
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Susanne Wilbers-Rost, the chief archaeologist at Kalkriese, has helped uncover more than 5,000 artifacts including spear tips, crushed skulls and metal parts from Roman body armor.

Foto: David Crossland
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Hermann, portrayed as a blond, musclebound warrior, featured in more than 50 operas and plays during the 18th and 19th centuries. Nationalists turned the Germanic leader into an icon to help them forge unity in the face of such perceived enemies as the Vatican, the French and the Jews.

Foto: David Crossland
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The excavations have revealed evidence of a complete defeat of the Roman army and some 10,000 to 12,000 of Rome's finest legionnaires were slaughtered. Archaeologists have found many small items such as buckles, hinges, connecting parts of body armor and chain mail -- things torn off when the Germans were stripping the Romans as they lay dead or wounded. "You can only imagine this kind of brutal stripping of the dead when the defeat was total, when no Romans survived,” says Wilbers-Rost.

Foto: David Crossland
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The likely path the Romans took through the forest has been marked out with metal plates at Kalkriese. The popular myth was that Hermann united the German tribes and drove the Romans out. The facts tell a different story though, say historians.

Foto: David Crossland
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Some 100,000 people visit Kalkriese and its adjoining museum each year. This year, the 2,000th anniversary of the battle, is likely to see a sharp increase in visitor numbers because there has been intense media coverage of Hermann and the battle.

Foto: David Crossland
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The people of Detmold are proud of their association with Hermann. The Hermann Monument on a hill near the town remains a big tourist attraction. But the myth of Hermann has paled since World War II and is set to go on waning. What remains, historians say, is the experience of how history can be invented and turned into propaganda.

Foto: David Crossland