P. Attius Varus was one of Pompey's generals during the Great Roman Civil War, holding North Africa against Caesar's lieutenants in the first year of the war, thus ensuring that the Pompeian leaders still had a base after their defeat at Pharsalia in the following year.
In the years before the outbreak of the civil war Varus had served as praetor and then as propraetor of Africa. At the start of the Civil War he was posted in Picenum, on the east coast of Italy, at the head of a sizable army. He took up a position at Cingulum (modern Cingoli), before moving to the coast at Auximum (modern Osimo). Caesar, who was advancing down the eastern coast of Italy, decided to move towards Auxiumum to deal with this threat.
Although this was an area that should have been loyal to Pompey, the citizens of Auximum made it clear to Varus that they wouldn't resist Caesar. Varus was forced to abandon his position and attempt to escape to the south. Just after leaving the city Varus's men were caught by Caesar's advance guard, and forced to turn and fight. At this point most of Varus's men deserted him, many choosing to join Caesar.
The news of this setback caused a panic in Rome, arriving as it did just after Pompey had left to join his army in Apulia, at the far eastern tip of Italy (the heel of the shoe). Meanwhile Varus escaped south-east, joining Pompey. When Pompey decided to leave Italy and cross to Greece to raise a larger army, Varus decided to move to Africa. He quickly took control of the province, which was then being ruled by a legate of the current governor, Considius Longus, and used the contacts he had made while serving as propraetor was able to raise two legions.
Soon after this Pompey and the Senate sent L. Aelius Tubero to take over as governor of the province. Varus refused to allow him to land, and remained in control.
Having taken control of Italy, Caesar decided to lead his main army to Spain, while at the same time sending other armies to secure parts of the Empire. C. Curio was given four legions, including two that had come over to Caesar during his march down Italy, and was ordered to clear the Pompeians out of Sicily and North Africa. Sicily quickly fell to him, and he then led two legions over to North Africa.
Varus decided to make a stand outside the city of Utica, believing that Curio's two legions could be persuaded to change sides for a second time. This was not the case, and Varus suffered a minor defeat outside the city (battle of Utica, 49 BC). He was forced to retreat into the city, where he was besieged (siege of Utica, 49 BC).
The siege was lifted by Juba I, king of Numidia, who defeated Curio at the battle of the Bagradas River (49 BC). Most of Curio's men were killed in this battle, but the survivors and those men who had been left at his camp surrendered to Varus. Soon after this Juba arrived at Utica, seized the Roman prisoners and killed them all. Varus was either unable or unwilling to prevent this.
Varus remained in command in North Africa until after Pompey's defeat at Pharsalia (48 BC). While Pompey fled to Egypt and his death most of his surviving senior supports fled to Africa. Scipio took over the supreme command, while Varus was given command of the fleet. He had some success in this role, destroying some of Caesar's ships at Adrumentum, but once again the main Pompeian army was defeated in battle (this time at Thapsus). Varus escaped from this disaster, sailing to join Pompey's son Cn. Pompey in Spain.
At first Varus retained command of his fleet, but he was defeated by C. Didius in a naval battle off Carteia (46 BC), and was forced to move on shore to join the Pompeian army. He was thus present at the final battle of the civil war, the battle of Munda (17 March 45 BC). He was killed during the battle, beheaded and his head brought to Caesar.