Marcus Terentius Varro

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An imagined portrait of an elderly Varro. Before 1923, artist unknown Marco Terenzio Varrone.jpg
An imagined portrait of an elderly Varro. Before 1923, artist unknown

Marcus Terentius Varro ( Latin:  [ˈmaːrkʊs t̪ɛˈrɛn̪t̪ijʊs ˈwarːoː] ; 116–27 BC) was one of ancient Rome's greatest scholars and a prolific author. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus [ˈwarːoː reaːˈt̪iːnʊs] to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus.



Varro was born in or near Reate (now Rieti) [1] to a family thought to be of equestrian rank, and always remained close to his roots in the area, owning a large farm in the Reatine plain, reported as near Lago di Ripa Sottile, [2] until his old age. He supported Pompey, reaching the office of praetor, after having been tribune of the people, quaestor and curule aedile . [3] He was one of the commission of twenty that carried out the great agrarian scheme of Caesar for the resettlement of Capua and Campania (59 BC). [3]

Statue of Marcus Terentius Varro in Rieti Statua di Marco Terenzio Varrone (Rieti) 02.jpg
Statue of Marcus Terentius Varro in Rieti

During Caesar's civil war he commanded one of Pompey's armies in the Ilerda campaign. [4] He escaped the penalties of being on the losing side in the civil war through two pardons granted by Julius Caesar, before and after the Battle of Pharsalus. [5] Caesar later appointed him to oversee the public library of Rome in 47 BC, but following Caesar's death Mark Antony proscribed him, resulting in the loss of much of his property, including his library. As the Republic gave way to Empire, Varro gained the favour of Augustus, under whose protection he found the security and quiet to devote himself to study and writing.

Varro studied under the Roman philologist Lucius Aelius Stilo, and later at Athens under the Academic philosopher Antiochus of Ascalon. Varro proved to be a highly productive writer and turned out more than 74 Latin works on a variety of topics. Among his many works, two stand out for historians; Nine Books of Disciplines and his compilation of the Varronian chronology . His Nine Books of Disciplines became a model for later encyclopedists, especially Pliny the Elder. The most noteworthy portion of the Nine Books of Disciplines is its use of the liberal arts as organizing principles. [6] Varro decided to focus on identifying nine of these arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical theory, medicine, and architecture. Using Varro's list, subsequent writers defined the seven classical "liberal arts of the medieval schools". [6]

In 37 BC, [7] in his old age, he also wrote on agriculture for his wife Fundania, writing a "voluminous" work De re rustica (also called Res rusticae)—similar to Cato the Elder's similar work De agri cultura—on the management of large slave-run estates. [8]


Fasti Antiates Maiores, an inscription containing the Roman calendar. This calendar predates the Julian reform of the calendar; it contains the months Quintilis and Sextilis, and allows for the insertion of an intercalary month Roman-calendar.png
Fasti Antiates Maiores, an inscription containing the Roman calendar. This calendar predates the Julian reform of the calendar; it contains the months Quintilis and Sextilis , and allows for the insertion of an intercalary month

The compilation of the Varronian chronology was an attempt to determine an exact year-by-year timeline of Roman history up to his time. It is based on the traditional sequence of the consuls of the Roman Republic—supplemented, where necessary, by inserting "dictatorial" and "anarchic" years. It has been demonstrated to be somewhat erroneous but has become the widely accepted standard chronology, in large part because it was inscribed on the arch of Augustus in Rome; though that arch no longer stands, a large portion of the chronology has survived under the name of Fasti Capitolini.


Varro's literary output was prolific; Ritschl estimated it at 74 works in some 620 books, of which only one work survives complete, although we possess many fragments of the others, mostly in Gellius' Attic Nights . He was called "the most learned of the Romans" by Quintilian, [9] and also recognized by Plutarch as "a man deeply read in Roman history". [10]

Varro was recognized as an important source by many other ancient authors, among them Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Virgil in the Georgics, Columella, Aulus Gellius, Macrobius, Augustine, and Vitruvius, who credits him (VII.Intr.14) with a book on architecture.

His only complete work extant, Rerum rusticarum libri tres (Three Books on Agriculture), has been described as "the well digested system of an experienced and successful farmer who has seen and practised all that he records." [11]

One noteworthy aspect of the work is his anticipation of microbiology and epidemiology. Varro warned his contemporaries to avoid swamps and marshland, since in such areas

...there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, but which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and cause serious diseases. [12] [13] [14]

Extant works

Plan of the birdhouse at Casinum designed and built by Varro Birdhouse at Casinum.jpg
Plan of the birdhouse at Casinum designed and built by Varro

Known lost works

Most of the extant fragments of these works (mostly the grammatical works) can be found in the Goetz–Schoell edition of De Lingua Latina, pp. 199–242; in the collection of Wilmanns, pp. 170–223; and in that of Funaioli, pp. 179–371.

Related Research Articles

Latin literature includes the essays, histories, poems, plays, and other writings written in the Latin language. The beginning of Latin literature dates to 240 BC, when the first stage play was performed in Rome. Latin literature would flourish for the next six centuries. The classical era of Latin literature can be roughly divided into the following periods: Early Latin literature, The Golden Age, The Imperial Period and Late Antiquity.

Petronia gens Ancient Roman family

The gens Petronia was a plebeian family at ancient Rome. This gens claimed an ancient lineage, as a Petronius Sabinus is mentioned in the time of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the Roman kings, but few Petronii are mentioned in the time of the Republic. They are frequently encountered under the Empire, holding numerous consulships, and eventually obtaining the Empire itself during the brief reign of Petronius Maximus in AD 455.

Publius Terentius Varro Atacinus was a Roman poet, more polished in his style than the more famous and learned Varro Reatinus, his contemporary, and therefore more widely read by the Augustan writers. He was born in the province of Gallia Narbonensis, the southern part of Gaul with its capital at Narbonne, on the river Atax, for his cognomen Atacinus indicates his birthplace.

Terra (mythology) Roman deity

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Tellus Mater or Terra Mater is a goddess of the earth. Although Tellus and Terra are hardly distinguishable during the Imperial era, Tellus was the name of the original earth goddess in the religious practices of the Republic or earlier. The scholar Varro (1st century BC) lists Tellus as one of the di selecti, the twenty principal gods of Rome, and one of the twelve agricultural deities. She is regularly associated with Ceres in rituals pertaining to the earth and agricultural fertility.

Columella 1st century AD Roman writer on agriculture

Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella was a prominent writer on agriculture in the Roman empire.

Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius, also known as Palladius Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus or most often just as Palladius, was an ancient writer who wrote in Latin, and is dated variously to the latter 4th century or first half of the 5th century AD. He is principally known for his book on agriculture, Opus agriculturae, sometimes known as De re rustica.

The gens Terentia was a plebeian family at ancient Rome. Dionysius mentions a Gaius Terentilius Arsa, tribune of the plebs in 462 BC, but Livy calls him Terentilius, and from inscriptions this would seem to be a separate gens. No other Terentii appear in history until the time of the Second Punic War. Gaius Terentius Varro, one of the Roman commanders at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, was the first to hold the consulship. Members of this family are found as late as the third century AD.

Quintus Valerius Soranus was a Latin poet, grammarian, and tribune of the people in the Late Roman Republic. He was executed in 82 BC while Sulla was dictator, ostensibly for violating a religious prohibition against speaking the arcane name of Rome, but more likely for political reasons. The cognomen Soranus is a toponym indicating that he was from Sora.

Nenia Dea

Nenia Dea was an ancient funeral deity of Rome, who had a sanctuary outside of the Porta Viminalis. The cult of the Nenia is doubtlessly a very old one, but according to Georg Wissowa the location of Nenia's shrine (sacellum) outside of the center of early Rome indicates that she didn't belong to the earliest circle of Roman deities. In a different interpretation her shrine was located outside of the old city walls, because it had been custom for all gods connected to death or dying.

Axia (gens) families from Ancient Rome who shared Axius nomen

The gens Axia, also spelled Axsia, was a plebeian family at Rome during the final century of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. The gens does not appear to have been particularly large or important, although at least some of the family were reasonably wealthy.

The gens Modia was a minor family at Ancient Rome, known from a small number of individuals.

The gens Sextilia was a plebeian family at ancient Rome. The first member of this gens to achieve prominence was Gaius Sextilius, consular tribune in 379 BC. None of the family obtained the consulship, but they endured throughout Roman history from the early Republic into imperial times.


In ancient Roman religion, the indigitamenta were lists of deities kept by the College of Pontiffs to assure that the correct divine names were invoked for public prayers. These lists or books probably described the nature of the various deities who might be called on under particular circumstances, with specifics about the sequence of invocation. The earliest indigitamenta, like many other aspects of Roman religion, were attributed to Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome.

Fundania (gens)

The gens Fundania was a plebeian family at Ancient Rome, which first appears in history in the second half of the third century BC. Although members of this gens occur well into imperial times, and Gaius Fundanius Fundulus obtained the consulship in BC 243, the Fundanii were never amongst the more important families of the Roman state.

The gens Hirria was a minor Roman family, appearing in history during the final century of the Republic, and in Imperial times. It is chiefly remembered as the result of Gaius Hirrius, a farmer of lampreys in the time of Caesar.

The gens Luciena was a minor family at Rome. Members of this gens are first mentioned in the final century of the Republic.

Georg Goetz

Georg Goetz was a German classical philologist, known for his scholarly treatment of Plautus and Varro.

Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum was one of the chief works of Marcus Terentius Varro . The work has been lost, but having been substantially quoted by Augustine in his De Civitate Dei its contents can be reconstructed in parts. To a lesser extent, quotes from the work have also been transmitted by other authors, including Pliny, Gellius, Censorinus, Servius, Nonius, Macrobius, Priscian.

Quintus Fulvius Lippinus, Fulvius Lippinus for short was an enterprising Roman farmer from the first century BC. He lived in the Roman region of Tarquinia, today's Italian Tuscany. His dealings are described in the Rerum rusticarum libri III by Marcus Terentius Varro, and a century later in Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia.


  1. "Marcus Terentius Varro | Roman author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  2. "LacusCurtius • Varro On Agriculture – Book I". Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  3. 1 2 Baynes, Thomas Spencer (1891). The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature. C. Scribner's sons.
  4. Caesar; Damon, Cynthia (2016). Civil War. Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0674997035.
  5. Prioreschi, Plinio (1996). A History of Medicine: Roman medicine. Horatius Press. ISBN   978-1888456035.
  6. 1 2 Lindberg, David (2007). The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 137. ISBN   978-0-226-48205-7 . Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  7. Flower, Harriet I., director de la publicación. (2014). The Cambridge companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge University Press. p. 177. ISBN   978-1-107-66942-0. OCLC   904729745.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. Flower, Harriet I., director de la publicación. (2014). The Cambridge companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge University Press. p. 193. ISBN   978-1-107-66942-0. OCLC   904729745.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. Quintilian. "Chapter 1". Institutio Oratoria. Book X. Verse 95.
  10. Plutarch. Life of Romulus. New York: Modern Library. p. 31.
  11. Harrison, Fairfax (1918). "Note Upon the Roman Agronomists". Roman Farm Management. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 1–14 [10].
  12. Varro, Marcus Terentius (2014) [1934]. De Re Rustica. Loeb Classical Library. I.12.2 via Bill Thayer's Website.
  13. Thompson, Sue (March 2014). "From Ground to Tap" (PDF). The Mole: 3 (sidebar). Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  14. Hempelmann, Ernst; Krafts, Kristine (October 2013). "Bad Air, Amulets and Mosquitoes: 2,000 Years of Changing Perspectives on Malaria". Malaria Journal. 12: 232. doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-232. ISSN   1475-2875. PMC   3723432 . PMID   23835014.
  15. "Marcus Terentius Varro | Roman author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  16. Wilmanns, Augustus (1864). "II:97". De M. Terenti Varronis Libris Grammaticis. Gutenberg . Berlin: Weidmann. Marcellus autem ad quem haec uolumina misit quis fuerit nescio.
  17. Several people called Marcellus lived during Varro's time. The identity of this one is unclear. [16]

Further reading