When the Romans got naughty

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The Teutoburg Battle , first printed in 1849 with illustrations by Ernst Fröhlich
Text and melody version by Max Friedlaender (around 1920)
Common melody version today
Original melody: The Hussites moved before Naumburg

When the Romans got naughty is a German student and folk song . Joseph Victor Scheffel publishedthe text, a humorous narrative of the Varus Battle , in1849 under the title Die Teutoburg Battle . The melody known today goes back to a march by Josef Gungl in 1841through various stages of processing.

Text history

The battle in 9 AD, in which the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus with three legions , up to 20,000 soldiers in total, was defeated by a Germanic army led by the Cheruscan prince Arminius ("Hermann"), was a popular narrative motif of the emerging German national consciousness . Klopstock had edited the event for the theater as early as 1769, Kleist in 1808 ( The Hermannsschlacht ). After the wars of liberation against Napoleon in 1813–1815, Hermann rose to become a folk hero who was the first to repel foreign rule from abroad.

At the same time, ridicule was raised about the German nonsense that abused history in the age of monarchical restoration and reaction . Heinrich Heine treated the battle in Germany in 1844 with this in mind . A winter fairy tale . The Hermann Monument in Detmold , which was started in 1838 as a National Monument, but that was until autumn 1846 pedestal completed, then stopped the construction.

Joseph Victor Scheffel (1826–1886) was a law student in Munich , Berlin and Heidelberg from 1843 , and from 1847 a legal candidate in his home town of Karlsruhe . As a student he had already sent verses to the Münchner Fliegende Blätter , which were printed in 1847. He sent his poem As the Romans got naughty on October 31, 1848; it should have been made in the same year. It was printed in 1849 in Fliegende Blätter No. 229 with eight illustrations by Ernst Fröhlich .

The 22-year-old Scheffel put neither national pathos nor criticism of nationalism in his poem; it was a student fool, a “lost song” and “abnormal epic”, as he called it in his cover letter to the editorial staff of the Fliegende Blätter. The song Die Hussiten vor Naumburg , which Karl Seyferth wrote in the same spirit in 1832, served as a model . Scheffel took over meter and melody.

The Römer-Lied caricatures the Varus Battle in stanzas 1–12 with witty rhymes and deliberate anachronisms and contrasts the bloody drama of the events with expressions from everyday language: The Romans, who have become impudent, march into musty northern Germany, thirsty for conquest, and emerge from the Duster forest under the slogan " With God for the prince and fatherland " attacked by the Cheruscans. During the great murder, Varus gets into a swamp and allows himself to be pierced from behind, "since everything is gone". The following two-trophic interlude from the cruel end of the right-wing candidate Scaevola , who is nailed to his corpus juris , is obviously a self-mockery of Scheffel. While Hermann invites his Cheruscans to a big breakfast, Emperor Augustus in Rome , who is eating a peacock when the news arrives, calls out his proverbial “ Redde legiones! “- which his German slave Schmidt secretly smiles at.

The 13th stanza read in 1849:

"And in honor of the stories you
want to erect a monument
, the pedestal is already there, but
who pays for the statue
only knows God in heaven!"

The song quickly became popular among students. Two additional stanzas appeared early on, for which Scheffel's authorship is possible but not certain, one for the Cherusker breakfast and one as a conclusion, both emphatically beer-loving:

"Hui, there was Westphalian ham,
beer as much as you wanted to drink, He
also remained a hero when drinking, but
his wife Thusneld
Soff as a house servant as well."

"Who succeeded in this song?
A student sang it.
In Westphalia he drank a lot, so he made it
out of national
feeling. "

In the 1860s the pressure for a German nation-state grew stronger again, and hopes were now more and more directed towards the Kingdom of Prussia and its military victories. In 1869 King Wilhelm visited the unfinished Hermann monument. This and the victory over France and the founding of the Empire in 1871 gave the monument project a strong boost. On August 16, 1875, it was inaugurated as an anti-French and anti-Roman monument in the spirit of the new empire.

At the same time, Scheffel's student sulk became a national festival song. The closing stanza has been replaced by an updated text, the author of which is unknown but which was authorized by Scheffel:

“And in honor of the stories
a monument was erected;
Germany's strength and unity.
Now proclaim it far and wide:
'May they only come!' "

On the occasion of the inauguration ceremony, large numbers of picture sheets with the song were printed. Scheffel, who was ennobled in 1876, had proposed further text changes in the spirit of solemn festivity, but these were not taken into account for printing reasons. The song was hardly changed in many song books of the early 20th century.


The melody of Karl Seyferths Die Hussiten moved before Naumburg remained associated with Scheffel's Teutoburger-Schlacht-Lied for decades. In the commemorative publication for the nineteenth-century celebration of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 1909, this way of singing is given as an alternative melody.

When the unveiling ceremony of the Hermann monument was due in 1875, the Dortmund music dealer and occasional composer Ludwig Teichgräber (1840–1904) composed a movement for solo, choir and piano to Scheffel's lyrics. He used a melody that he had developed from the song Who was probably ever as cheeky as Mayor Czech , a hit song about the assassination attempt by Heinrich Ludwig Tschech on Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1844 and his melody on Josef Gungls March Kriegers-Lust went back. In Teichgräber's version, the "simserim-sim-sim, täterä-ta-ta, wau-wau-wau, schnädderädäng" appears for the first time, which reinforces the humorous aspect in the sense of mocking the Welsch invaders. This melody was also slightly modified later.


  • Detlev Hellfaier: From the “lost song” to the festive song: Joseph Victor von Scheffel's “The Teutoburg Battle” . In: Lippische Mitteilungen aus Geschichte und Landeskunde 79 (2010), pp. 171–191 ( online version )

Web links

Commons : When the Romans got naughty  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. liederprojekt.org
  2. Chapter XI
  3. digitized version
  4. Work of a "loiter", a lazy student ( Etymological Dictionary of German )
  5. ^ The Hussites in the General German Kommersbuch
  6. Variant: "drank walkyren-like "
  7. picture in Kladderadatsch
  8. Festschrift 1909 , p. 59
  9. Earliest melody evidence