The names Varini (Tacitus), Varinnae (Pliny the Elder), or Viruni (Ptolemy), Varni or ? (Procopius), Wærne/Werne (Widsith) and Warnii (Lex Thuringorum) probably refer to a little-known Germanic tribe. The name supposedly meant "defenders", "living by the river" ((from the Indo-European root * uer- 'water, rain, river'). They originally lived in northern Germany, but may have moved to the west during the Migration Era. In English they were called Werns or Warns. They are often called Warni and Warini in Modern English. The earliest mention of this tribe appears in Tacitus' Germania, where he wrote:
(Original Latin) "Reudigni deinde et Aviones et Anglii et Varini et Eudoses et Suardones et Nuithones fluminibus aut silvis muniuntur. Nec quicquam notabile in singulis, nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehi populis arbitrantur. ..." --Tacitus, Germania, 40.
(English translation) "There follow in order the Reudignians, and Aviones, and Angles, and Varinians, and Eudoses, and Suardones and Nuithones; all defended by rivers or forests. Nor in one of these nations does aught remarkable occur, only that they universally join in the worship of Herthum (Nerthus); that is to say, the Mother Earth."--Tacitus, Germania, 40, translated 1877 by Church and Brodribb.
Pliny the Elder wrote Germanorum genera quinque: Vandili, quorum pars Burgodiones, Varinnae, Charini, Gutones meaning that there were five Germanic races: the Vandals whom the Burgundians were part of, the Varinnae, the Charini and the Gutones (Goths).
On Ptolemy's map, the or Viruni are placed in the area of Mecklenburg, next to the Teutoniari, where one of the main rivers is Warnow and a town is called Warnemünde. When the Slavs arrived, they called themselves the Varnes, perhaps having assimilated remaining Varni. The town (Virunum) has been identified as present Drawsko Pomorskie.
The Warini were likewise mentioned in passing by Procopius who wrote that when the Heruls (Eruli) had been defeated by the Lombards, they returned to Scandinavia (Thule). They crossed the Danube (Ister), passed the Slavs (Sclaveni) and after a barren region, they came to the ?. After these Warni they passed the Dani, and crossed the sea. In Scandinavia, they settled beside the Geats (Gautoi). Talking of his own time, however, Procopius situates the Varni north and east of river Rhine, bordering the Franks. Their king Hermegisclus had made a strategic alliance with the Frankish ruler Theudebert I, marrying his sister Theudechild. As the king died, the satraps compelled his son Radigis to marry his stepmother. The son, however, was already engaged with a British queen, who crossed the North Sea with an army of 400 ships and 100.000 men, seeking retaliation. Radigis was caught hiding in a wood not far from the mouth of the Rhine and had no other choice than to marry his fiancée. In fact, the term Warini might have been used for all Germanic tribes outside the realm of the Franks. Others, however, are critical about Procopius reliability. Modern scholars claim that the area north of the Rhine may have been under Frankish control during the greater parts of the 6th and 7th centuries, at least since the defeat of the Danish sea-king Hygelac in 526.
The Warini are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith as the Wærne or Werne.
|Þeodric weold Froncum, þyle Rondingum,||Theodric ruled the Franks, Thyle the Rondings,|
|Breoca Brondingum, Billing Wernum.||Breoca the Brondings, Billing the Werns.|
|Oswine weold Eowum ond Ytum Gefwulf,||Oswine ruled the Eow and Gefwulf the Jutes,|
|Fin Folcwalding Fresna cynne.||Finn Folcwalding the Frisian-kin.|
The name Billing, mentioned in Widsith, might be related to the ancestors of the Saxon Billung-family.
The Warini also appear in a 9th-century legal codex, Lex Angliorum, Werinorum hoc est Thuringorum (Law of the Angles and Warini, that is, of the Thuringians), which has much in common with Frankisch, Frisian and Saxon law codes. Recent research suggests that they were part of a Thuringian federation, which dominated Northern Germany from Atilla's death in 453 to the middle of the 6th century when they were crushed by the Franks. Their military fame might explain why the names of the Warini and Thuringians have been mentioned in a much wider area, extending even beyond the Rhine. Their home country seems to have been the district between the rivers Saale and Elster, which was called Werenofeld (around Eisleben). According to the chronicle of Fredegar the Varini rebelled against the Francs in 595 and were bloodily defeated 'so that few of them survived'.