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The Romans

Publius Quintilius Varus

... or Publius Quinctilius Varus which is a different spelling of his name. He entered into a typical career in the civil service. In 22 BC he probably accompanied Augustus to the Orient.  In 13 BC he became consul - along with the future Emperor Tiberius. Between 6 BC and 4 BC he was the Roman governor of the province Syria. In Palestine, he crushed the riots by force of arms which occurred after King Herod’s death. Jerusalem was occupied and Herod’s sons were appointed as rulers of parts of the kingdom. The historian Velleius Paterculus alleges that above all Varus ruthlessly became rich at the expense of the wealthy province Syria. He writes: »As a poor man he came to the rich Syria and as a rich man he left the poor Syria.«

In 7 AD he was sent to Germania to become its governor. He began to implement – more or less carefully – the Roman tax system and jurisdiction. According to the ancient historians, this caused the Germanic rebellion led by Arminius.

Arminius had been serving as an officer in the Roman Army for a long time. He was a Roman citizen and was promoted to a Roman equestrian. Arminius was so well acquainted with Varus that when the Cheruscan Segestes warned him on the eve of the imminent rebellion, he simply did not believe him. He rather complied with the request of the Germanic troops who pretended to be in need of military assistance. Instead of directly returning to the hibernal camp near the Rhine – as he had initially planned – he took a detour through uncharted territory in order to help the allegedly troubled Germanic troops and fell into their ambush.

When Varus realised that the defeat was inevitable and that there were many casualties and a great loss of equipment, he chose to commit suicide. This decision seemed to be more honourable to him than becoming a prisoner. His father had done the same in a similar hopeless situation. After his death the Roman soldiers could not even bury him. Instead, the Germanic combatants decapitated his head and sent it to Marbod who subsequently forwarded it to the Emperor Augustus in Rome. Augustus’ esteem with regard to Varus was expressed by the fact that he ceremoniously buried the disembodied head despite the shameful defeat.

In the ancient history books Varus is retrospectively blamed for the origin of the insurgence and the defeat of the Roman Army. It cannot be determined today whether this judgement is substantially true. Perhaps the motivation for this evaluation was the desire to find someone to blame for the disaster, someone who could not contradict anymore.