The Varni (Procopius), Varini (Tacitus), Varinnae (Pliny the Elder), Wærne/Werne (Widsith) and Warnii (Lex Thuringorum) probably refer to a little-known Germanic tribe. The name would have meant the "defenders". They lived in northern Germany. They are often called Warni and Warini in English. The earliest mention of this tribe appears in Tacitus' Germania, where he wrote:
(Original Latin) "Reudigni deinde et Aviones et Anglii et Varini et Eudoses et Suardones et Nuithones. Nec quicquam notabile in singulis, nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehi populis arbitrantur. ..." --Tacitus, Germania, 40.
(English translation) "There follow in order the Reudignians, and Aviones, and Angles, and Varinians, and Eudoses, and Suardones and Nuithones; all defended by rivers or forests. Nor in one of these nations does aught remarkable occur, only that they universally join in the worship of Herthum (Nerthus); that is to say, the Mother Earth."--Tacitus, Germania, 40, translated 1877 by Church and Brodribb.
Pliny the Elder wrote Germanorvm genera qvinqve: Vandili, qvorvm pars Bvrgodiones, Varinnae, Charini, Gvtones meaning that there were five Germanic races: the Vandals whom the Burgundians were part of, the Varinnae, the Charini and the Gutones (Goths).
It is likewise mentioned in passing by Procopius who wrote that when the Heruls (Eruli) had been defeated by the Lombards, they returned to Scandinavia (Thule). They crossed the Danube (Ister), passed the Slavs (Sclaveni) and after a barren region, they came to the Varni. After the Varni they passed the Dani, and crossed the sea. In Scandinavia, they settled beside the Geats (Gautoi). Procopius: Book VI, xv.
They also appear in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith as the Werns.
|þeodric weold Froncum, þyle Rondingum,||Theodric ruled the Franks, Thyle the Rondings,|
|Breoca Brondingum, Billing Wernum.||Breoca the Brondings, Billing the Werns.|
|Oswine weold Eowum ond Ytum Gefwulf,||Oswine ruled the Eow and Gefwulf the Jutes,|
|Fin Folcwalding Fresna cynne.||Finn Folcwalding the Frisian-kin.|
On Ptolemy's map, they are placed in the area of Mecklenburg, where one of the main rivers is Warnow and a town is called Warnemünde. They were crushed by the Franks in 595. When the Slavs arrived, they called themselves the Varnes, perhaps having assimilated remaining Varni.