Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Publius Quinctilius Varus

Publius Quinctilius Varus (ca.46 BC-9 AD) was a Roman politician and general under Augustus Caesar, mainly remembered for having lost three Roman legions and his own life when attacked by Germanic leader Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (in Germania).

Varus was a patrician, born to an aristocratic but long impoverished and unimportant family. His father was Sextus Quinctilius Varus, a senator aligned with the conservative republicans in the civil war against Julius Caesar. He survived their defeat and was involved in Caesar's assassination, but committed suicide after the battle of Philippi (43 BC). Despite his father's political choices, Varus became a supporter of Caesar's heir, Octavianus later known as Augustus Caesar. He was married to Vipsania, daughter of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and became a personal friend of both Agrippa and Octavian. When Agrippa died, it was Varus who delivered the funeral eulogy. Thus, his political career was boosted and his cursus honorum finished as early as 13 BC, when he was elected consul as junior partner of Tiberius, Augustus' step-son and future emperor.

Between 8 and 9 BC, following the consulship, Varus was governor of the Africa province, one of the few still outside the control of Octavianus. After this, Varus went to the important province of Syria, where he had four legions under his command. By then he was a competent governor and a trusted servant of the emerging Roman Empire. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the swift action of Varus against a messianic revolt in Judaea after the death of the client king Herod the Great in 4 BC.

Following the governorship of Syria, Varus returned to Rome and there remained for the next few years. His political career appeared to reach an halt. In these years, Varus married Claudia Pulchra, a grand-niece of Octavianus, which shows that he still enjoyed political favour.

In the first years of the 1st century Rome's political and military life was concentrated in Germania, the area north of Gaul and east of the Rhine river. Tiberius, his brother Drusus, and Germanicus conducted a long campaign in the region and subdued several Germanic tribes, such as the Cherusci. In 7 AD, the region was pacified and Varus was appointed to govern Germania.

In 9 AD, Varus was stationed in the East a summer camp near the Weser River with his three legions, the seventeenth, the eighteenth and the nineteenth, when news arrived about a growing revolt in the Rhine area to the west. Despite several warnings, Varus believed because Arminius, the man who appealed for his help, was a Romanised Germanic prince, commander of an auxiliary cavalry unit. But this was a mistake. Arminius was indeed planning an ambush, and he attacked the three legions in the battle of the Teutoburg Forest on September 9 (near modern Osnabruck). The Romans were entirely slaughtered, including the three legions, the cavalry and the camp followers. The Germans also took the Eagles (battle standards) of the legions, a major insult to Roman pride, since the standards were considered minor deities. Varus was said to have taken his own life, although this is impossible to verify, since there were no survivors. His head was cut and sent to Rome.

Teutoburg was one of Rome's biggest military catastrophes and upset Octavianus very much. After his death, Varus was made the scapegoat for Octavianus' difficulties in Germany. However, Varus' head was buried in the mausoleum of his Octavianus' family, suggesting that the emperor did not keep a grudge against him.