Numismatic and History Discussions > History and Archeology

Publius Quinctilius Varus - Rebel?


Hi all :),

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

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.

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.......

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.

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. :)


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?

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.

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. ::)
                                             LordBest. 8)


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