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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: Publius Quinctilius Varus - Rebel? 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Publius Quinctilius Varus - Rebel?  (Read 1829 times)
sejanus
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« on: July 10, 2003, 01:19:41 pm »

Hi all Smiley,

I've recently gone back to studying the Teutoburger Wald Massacre, and I've noticed a few  things which people have overlooked:

Countermarks
The most widely known countermark of Varus was the monogram of VAR, P VAR, or Q VAR.  But at the Kalkriese site, the place where the massacre supposedly happened, they have also found a number of coins with a different countermark - a star/wheel blotting out the face of Augustus.  This could perhaps be a mistake for one example, but almost every one of these "wheels" is smack dab on the face.  This, even if accidental, was considered damnatio and the perpetrator would be promptly killed.  Also, it was very unusual for governors to put any countermarks with there name whatsoever on a coin, much less on the face of the emperor.

Coins
Varus also minted coins of himself.  This, though more common than countermarks, was also quite unusual, especially as he put his face on the obverse and Augustus on the reverse or not on the coin at all.  Other rebels minted their own coins as well - from Aureolus to the Anglo-Saxon Aethelberht.  But this is not cause for suspicion in many cases, as other governors did this as well.  But still, one must wonder what the thought behind these coins was.......

Governorship
He was governor of three provinces - Africa, Syria, the Germania.  In Syria he, according to the historians of the time, "came as a poor man to a rich province, and left Syria a poor province as a rich man".  Indeed, he was notorious for pocketing much of the income.  Could this be as to fund a rebellion?  Probably not.  Most governors of the time did this.
In his governorship of Germany, he wished to exapnd the borders of his province beyond the Rhine, and thus marched with his three legions into Germania and began a take-over.  Julius Caesar did the exact same thing as governor of Gaul, since only Transalpine-Gaul was under Roman control, he went from coast to coast to coast conquering and getting money.  Varus also allegedly pocketed much of the Germanian income as well.  And with three of the best legions, totally loyal to him, he was obviously a formidable entity in Roman politics.

Politics
So, if Varus was causing such a problem, why didn't Augustus simply have him murdered or executed for treason or extortion?  Simply because Varus was related to Augustus.  Varus had married the aging emperor's grandniece in probably an attempt at attaining higher status in Rome.  But this also saved him from any charges or possible murder.  Augustus was no fool.  He simply assigned the power lusting Varus to a governorship that would prove to be quite a challenge.  And, though Augustus probably wanted Varus dead or out of the way, he did want the legions to remain loyal to Rome.  But this would never come to pass.

The Massacre
In late Autumn Varus left the fortress of Aliso on the Lippe river to go north, no one knows why but some have speculated that he was trying to find winter quarters, quelling a small rebellion in the north, or just going out to conquer some more.  In any case it seems that he made the fatal mistake of stringing all three legions and 10,000 followers in a single-file line to get through the dense Teutoburger Wald.  The 27-year-old Arminius, Varus' guide, chief of the Cherusci, and supposed friend, was with the stretched out roman force.  Arminius made excuses to leave and rode into the forest.  Minutes later the Germans attacked from all sides and massacred the Romans.  The slaughter went on for 3 days and in the end, 19,000 to 28,000 Romans were brutally slaughtered.  Only 11 escaped.  Varus committed suicide at the final "killing ground".  Later, the Cherusci dug up the ambitious general's corpse and
mutilated it, ulimately sending the head to Marbodus, chieftan of the Marcomanni, who had stayed out of this expulsion of the Romans at Teutoburg.  He later sent the head to Augustus who, when hearing the horrendous news, banged his head against a doorpost shouting "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!"


So, the question is, was Varus planning a coo?  If so, did Augustus send him to Germany on purpose?  I'm frankly not sure, but I'd love to hear other people's take on this. Smiley


Sejanus
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sejanus
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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2003, 01:21:47 pm »

For more information about the Varus Disaster, go to:
http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Salon/2385/background.html
http://www.ancient-times.com/articles/varus/varus_links.html
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Alex
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« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2003, 01:51:26 pm »

Vey interesting! Especially with the countermarks.  Why did he need to countermark the coins anyway ?! Its not like Augustus was dead or in the middle of a reform, was he?

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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2003, 03:12:07 pm »

Since Augustus was alive, his coins surely weren't in the state that normally justified a countermark; there wouldn't have been any question of their needing anything to verify their status as legal tender. So if varus wasn't up to something, there doesn't seem much point. I wouldn't have thought Varus' status as an in-law would have done much to protect him in that family though. Rather too many of them died mysteriously, whatever the truth of their deaths.

One of the sources (I'm not sure which one) says that Varus offended his allies by his arrogant attitude, and this seems to have led to the disaster. As you say, though, he wasn't doing anything Caesar hadn't done, and Augustus didn't have much in the way of legitimacy. You could be right.
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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2003, 09:19:35 pm »

He may have been planning a coup, but there is no way it would have got off the ground. According to his contemporaries he was breathtakingly incompetant. I find it hard to believe the legions woudl have followed this idiot against such a universally popular leader as Augustus, who although was more of a political genius than a military genius, woudl still have whomped anyone bar Agrippa and Germanicus. Roll Eyes
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sejanus
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« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2003, 10:23:59 am »

That didn't stop other rebels. Roll Eyes Wink
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« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2003, 10:25:27 am »

I cant think of any other high profile rebel who was blatently incompetant to begin with. Tongue Most revels showed great military sckill, were declared emperor by their troops, the ngot killed when another chappies showed even greater military skill. Wink
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« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2003, 11:10:14 am »

Still, I wonder why he countermarked over Augustus' portrait. Embarrassed  That was a crime punishable by death. Undecided
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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2003, 11:11:45 am »

Cos he was in the middle of the distant provinces, in some cases over the border in a region suffering chronic cash shortages and the chances of Augustus hearing about it were remote. Wink OR he may have had permission, we dont know. He went with specific orders from Auggy.
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« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2003, 11:14:55 am »

It frankly sounds highly unlikely that Augustus would have asked him to deface his coins. Roll Eyes  And those countermarks over his face were also only done in Eastern Gaul/Germany - bordering Italy.  He would have heard about it. Wink  the only countermarks done in Syria only had his name. Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2003, 11:20:13 am »

Yeah, im just saying we dont enough to do anything more than vaguely speculate why. Smiley It just seems unlikely Varus would have the imagination for a coup. Certainly he didnt have the ability to inspire anyoneto follow him. Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2003, 11:23:28 am »

Yea.....but from what I read it seems as though the three legions were fervantly loyal to him. Smiley
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« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2003, 11:27:02 am »

Meh, i got teh impression they thought he was an aristocratic git.
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« Reply #13 on: July 11, 2003, 11:43:31 am »

But what are 3 legions anyway ? Hardly enough to take on Augustus....  He could have called 20 or more from the east...  
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« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2003, 11:45:32 am »

Exactly, not to mention their woudl have been another 4 or 5 on the Rhine which culd have moved in an whomped his anatomy. Smiley
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« Reply #15 on: July 11, 2003, 11:47:17 am »

On the Rhine means they were his too.... So now he 8-9 aces.  Still, Augustus had more east of Italy, plus Rome itself...
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« Reply #16 on: July 11, 2003, 11:48:50 am »

Nah, the Rhine legion each had their own commanders, while Varus was the chief commander ofa three legion strike force. The other commanders would have been closer to Augustus and as military men, probably realised he was a git who wouldnt succeed. Smiley
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« Reply #17 on: July 11, 2003, 11:50:39 am »

Not 20 - at least not at this point in Roman history. Smiley  There were perhaps 20-25 legions or less across the whole Roman empire at this time - many of which badly beaten by uprisings and wars with the Parthians.  There were a lot of rebellions in the Dalmatia/Illyricum region at this time, which used a great deal of the men.  And since they were fightingthe Parthians off in the East Augustus couldn't spare any troops.  And after the Varus disaster Augustus only had a few legions to spare to protect Gaul from German invasion - and in fact had to recruit men from Rome itself within a very short time.  Surely he would have pulled back any legions from the Easst to protect Gaul, especially considering he was in complete desperation at this point since he feared that the Germans would stream across the Rhine.  Rome's first line of defence to the North was decimated with Varus.  

Varus may very well have not been planning a coup.  But I want to know why else he would be defacing Augustus' portrait. Undecided
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« Reply #18 on: July 11, 2003, 11:53:18 am »

Yeah, at this stage Augustus had cut back on the total amount of legions. But, the empire would have been at stake, better to recall as many legions as possible and possibly have some provinces damaged, lost ones coudl be taken back later, than lose the empire to an incompetant git. Smiley
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« Reply #19 on: July 11, 2003, 11:58:13 am »

Does anyone know why else Varus would be defacing Augustus' portrait? Huh  Rebellion is the only thing I could think of - any other comments are welcome. Smiley
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« Reply #20 on: July 11, 2003, 01:29:02 pm »

Assuming that he was planning to rebel, why do something which effectively announced it in advance? It could be a case of someone who simply didn't like Augustus and thought he was too powerful to be attacked, showing his resentment. Is there any evidence that this carried the death penalty in Augustus' time? the images of living people on coins were an innovation then, after all.
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bruce61813
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« Reply #21 on: July 11, 2003, 03:56:54 pm »

Quote from: Sejanus on July 11, 2003, 11:14:55 am
It frankly sounds highly unlikely that Augustus would have asked him to deface his coins. Roll Eyes  And those countermarks over his face were also only done in Eastern Gaul/Germany - bordering Italy.  He would have heard about it. Wink  the only countermarks done in Syria only had his name. Smiley
 Since we are playing with suppositions - The coins were purposely defaced - if they were lost or stolen they would be marked anywhere else in the empire and easily disallowed. In the case of the lost Legions they could be stopped from trade, and would have to be melted and re-struck, or even sent to a legal imperial mint for rework.

Bruce
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sejanus
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« Reply #22 on: July 13, 2003, 04:33:33 pm »

In other words.....? Huh
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