Publius Quinctilius Varus

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For other uses, see Varus.

Publius Quinctilius Varus[1] (46 BC Cremona, Roman Republic – 9 Germania) was a Roman General and Politician[2] under the first Roman emperor Augustus. Varus is generally remembered for having lost three Roman legions and taking his own life when attacked by Germanic leader Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

Family Background, Early Life, & Early Political Career[edit]

Varus was born into the gens, Quinctilia. Although he was a Patrician by birth, his family was aristocratic but was long-impoverished and unimportant. His paternal grandfather Sextus Quinctilius Varus was a Roman Senator.[3] His father also named Sextus Quinctilius Varus, was a Roman Senator served as a Quaestor in 49 BC.[4] This Sextus aligned with the Senatorial Party in the civil war against Gaius Julius Caesar.[5] Although Sextus survived the defeat, it is unknown whether he was involved in the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar and committed suicide after the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC.[6] The mother of Varus was a daughter from the first marriage of the consul Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor,[7] who later married Octavia the Younger, one of the sisters of Octavian who became the first Roman emperor Augustus. Varus had three sisters. They were probably all younger based on when they started having children, so it seems likely he was born at least four years before his father’s suicide.[8]

Despite Varus’ father political allegiances, he became one of the supporters of the heir of Julius Caesar, Octavian. When Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa died in early 12 BC, Varus delivered his funeral eulogy.[9] His political career was boosted and his cursus honorum finished as early as 13 BC, when he was elected consul with Tiberius, the stepson and successor of Augustus.

Marriages & Children[edit]

Varus was married three times and his first wife is unknown.[10] In 14 BC, Varus married as his second wife Vipsania Marcella Agrippina.[11][12] Vipsania Marcella was a daughter of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Claudia Marcella Major,[13] hence she was a great-niece to Augustus. Varus became a personal friend to Marcus Agrippa and Augustus.

When Vipsania Marcella died, Varus married again to Claudia Pulchra.[14] She was a daughter of Claudia Marcella Minor and the Roman consul of 12 BC, Marcus Valerius Messalla Appianus.[15] Her maternal grandparents were the consul Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor and Octavia the Younger, sister of Augustus. Hence she was a grand-niece of Augustus.[16] His marriage to Pulchra shows that Varus still enjoyed political favor. Pulchra bore Varus a son, a called younger Publius Quinctilius Varus.[17] Through their son, they may had further descendants.

Political career[edit]

As Lugdunum I (RIC 230), countermarked "VAR" (Varus).

In 8-7 BC, Varus governed the province of Africa.[18] Later he went to govern Syria from 7/6 BC until BC with four legions under his command, where he was known for his harsh rule and high taxes. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the swift action of Varus against a messianic revolt in Judaea after the death of Roman Client King Herod the Great in 4 BC. After occupying Jerusalem, he crucified 2000 Jewish rebels and may have thus been one of the prime objects of popular anti-Roman sentiment in Judaea. (Josephus, who made every effort to reconcile the Jewish people to Roman rule, felt it necessary to point out how lenient this judicial massacre had been.) Indeed, at precisely this moment the Jews, nearly en masse, began a full-scale boycott of Roman pottery (Red Slip Ware).[19] Thus, the archaeological record seems to verify mass popular protest against Rome because of Varus' cruelty.

Following the governorship of Syria, Varus returned to Rome and remained there for the next few years. Between 10 BC to 6, Tiberius, his brother Drusus, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus and Germanicus conducted long campaigns in Germania, the area north of the Upper Danube and east of the Rhine, in an attempt at a further major expansion of the Roman Empire's frontiers and a shortening of its frontier line. They subdued several Germanic tribes, such as the Cherusci. In 6, the region was declared pacified and Varus was appointed to govern Germania. Tiberius, who would later succeed Augustus as Roman Emperor, left the region to deal with the Great Illyrian Revolt.

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest[edit]

In September 9, Varus was preparing to leave his summer headquarters in Vetera (today Xanten) and march the three legions with him, the Seventeenth, the Eighteenth and the Nineteenth, to Moguntiacum (Mainz today), when news arrived from the Germanic prince Arminius (a Roman citizen and leader of an auxiliary cavalry unit) of a growing revolt in the Rhine area to the West. Ignoring a warning from Segestes not to trust Arminius, Varus marched his forces behind the latter's lead.

Not only was Varus' trust in Arminius a terrible misjudgement, but Varus compounded it by placing his legions in a position where their fighting strengths would be minimized and those of the Germanic tribesmen maximized. Arminius and the Cherusci tribe along with other allies, had skilfully laid an ambush, and in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in September at Kalkriese (East of modern Osnabrück), the Romans marched right into it.

The heavily forested, swampy terrain made the infantry manoeuvres of the legions impossible to execute and allowed the Germanic fighters to defeat the legions in detail. On the third day of fighting, the Germans overwhelmed the Romans at Kalkriese Hill, North of Osnabrück. Accounts of the defeat are scarce, due to the totality of the defeat, but Velleius Paterculus 2.118 ff testifies that some Roman cavalrymen abandoned the infantry they were supposed to be supporting and fled to the Rhine, but were intercepted by the Germanic tribesmen and killed. Varus himself, upon seeing all hope was lost, committed suicide (Vell. 2.119.3; Flor. 2.30.38; Dio 56.21). Arminius cut off his head and sent it to Bohemia as a present to King Marbod of the Marcomanni, the other most important Germanic leader, whom Arminius wanted to coax into an alliance, but Marbod declined the offer and sent the head on to Rome for burial.

Some captured Romans were caged and burned alive (see Edward Gibbon); others were enslaved or ransomed. Tacitus Ann. 1.61 and Florus 2.30.37-39 reports that the victorious Germanic tribes tortured and sacrificed captive officers to their gods on altars that could still be seen years later. The Romans did later recover the lost legions' eagles (Tac. Ann. 1.60.4, 2.25.2; Dio 60.8.7), two of them in 15, 16 and the third in 42. See Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The Romans never again attempted to conquer Germania east of the Rhine despite the successful expeditions of Germanicus in 14.

Aftermath[edit]

So great was the shame, and the ill luck thought to adhere to the numbers of the Legions, that XVII, XVIII and XIX never again appear in the Roman Army's order of battle. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was keenly felt by Augustus, darkening his remaining years. According to the biographer Suetonius, upon hearing the news, Augustus tore his clothes, refused to cut his hair for months and, for years afterwards, was heard, upon occasion, to moan, "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my Legions!" ("Quintili Vare, legiones redde!").[20] Varus was the author of the clades Variana.[21]

Gibbon describes Augustus' reaction to the defeat as one of the few times the normally stoic ruler lost his composure. Varus' political legacy in Rome was destroyed and the government blamed him for the defeat.[22] His son's chances for a political career were ruined. Tiberius himself fell under severe criticism for recommending Varus as the governor of Germany. Tiberius, according to Gaius Stern, was forced to sacrifice his friend and former brother-in-law to save his career.[23] Furthermore, Varus himself had been one of the figures on the Ara Pacis, but the figure is lost today.

Stern has proposed that common citizens vandalized the Ara Pacis by damaging Varus in anger over their lost loved ones, leaving the regime, who had blamed Varus uncertain whether to fix the damage.[24] Approximately 40 years after Varus' death, a general under Claudius, Pomponius Secundus, raided Germany and by chance rescued a few POWs from Varus’ army. Claudius welcomed them home after so many years, and their sad stories aroused much pity.[25]

In Fiction[edit]

  • I, Claudius (1934) by Robert Graves, a novelization of the reigns of the first four emperors. Varus does not actually appear in the novel, but his defeat by the Germans is an important event.
  • The Iron Hand of Mars (1994) by Lindsey Davis; fourth book of the mystery series set during the reign of Vespasian, a portion of the novel occurs in the Teutoburger Wald.
  • Give Me Back My Legions! (2009) by Harry Turtledove, which details the events leading up to the battle, including a great deal of background information on Varus himself.
  • Total War: Rome II (2013), a strategy game set during the Roman Empire, allows players to recreate the historical Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which includes depictions of Varus himself as Roman general in command.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  2. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  3. ^ genealogy of Quinctilius Varus by D C O’Driscoll
  4. ^ genealogy of Quinctilius Varus by D C O’Driscoll
  5. ^ Caes. BC 1.23, 2.2.28.1.
  6. ^ Vell. Pat. 2.71.2.
  7. ^ genealogy of Quinctilius Varus by D C O’Driscoll
  8. ^ His sisters were all called Quinctilia. One sister married Publius Cornelius Dolabella, consul of 35 BC; another sister married the Roman Senator Sextus Appuleius (II) and another sister married Lucius Nonius Asprenas, consul of 36 BC. The sister who married Lucius Nonius Asprenas from her marriage, has descendants traceable to the early 4th century
  9. ^ Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy, p. 146
  10. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  11. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  12. ^ Severy, Augustus and the Family at the Birth of the Roman Empire, p.p.64-5
  13. ^ Severy, Augustus and the Family at the Birth of the Roman Empire, p.p.64-5
  14. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  15. ^ Lightman, A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women, p.205
  16. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  17. ^ Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg, p.65
  18. ^ Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy (1986), 320.
  19. ^ 66 A.D. – The Last Revolt (DVD). History Channel.
  20. ^ Suetonius, Vita Divi Augusti 23; Dio 55.23, see also Vell. Pat. 2.117-124; Suet. Div. Aug.49; Dio 55.18-24.
  21. ^ Seager, Tiberius, p.173
  22. ^ Suet. Tib.18.1; see also the Vell. Pat. 2.117. Both historians preserve "the official version"
  23. ^ Gaius Stern, "Varus’ Legacy After Teutoburger Wald: Roman POWs, Tiberius, and the Ara Pacis," CAMWS 2009, Minneapolis, MN.
  24. ^ Gaius Stern, "Varus’ Legacy After Teutoburger Wald: Roman POWs, Tiberius, and the Ara Pacis," CAMWS 2009, Minneapolis, MN.
  25. ^ Tac. Ann. 12.27.

Sources[edit]

  • genealogy of Quinctilius Varus by D C O’Driscoll
  • J. R. Abdale, Four days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg (Google eBook), Trafford Publishing, 2013
  • M. Lightman & B. Lightman, A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women, Infobase Publishing, 2008
  • R. Seager, Tiberius (Google eBook), John Wiley & Sons, 2008
  • Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest (Hardcover) by Adrian Murdoch, Hardcover: 256 pages, Publisher: Sutton Publishing (June 14, 2006), ISBN 0-7509-4015-8, ISBN 978-0-7509-4015-3
  • B. Severy, Augustus and the Family at the Birth of the Roman Empire, Routledge, 2004
  • The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest by Peter S. Wells, W. W. Norton & Company, October 2003, ISBN 0-393-02028-2, ISBN 978-0-393-02028-1
  • A Roman Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson, 1995 Oxford Paperback Reference
  • R. Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy, Oxford University Press, 1989
  • Compendium of Roman History (Res gestae divi Augusti) by Velleius Paterculus, Harvard University Press; 1924. Brief mention of the Varus Disaster by the author, who was serving as a staff officer with Tiberius in Pannonia at the time.
  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Modern Library
  • Annals by Tacitus (various editions). Summarizes reports of later Romans who found the battlefield.
  • The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves, 1957, Penguin Books; Also available from Project Gutenberg: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Complete

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Augur
Consul of the Roman Empire
13 BCE
Succeeded by
Marcus Valerius Messalla Appianus and Quirinius