201. The Agricola, and The Germania, by Tacitus (98 AD)

“Even under bad emperors, men can be great”  Agricola, page 95

Plot:  Two short works, the first a biography and eulogy of Agricola, Governor of Britain from 78-84 AD, and Tacitus’ father-in-law ; and the second a description of the various Germanic tribes known to the Romans.

My version of these two works is published together in one volume by Penguin Classics, translated by Harold Mattingly, and revised by S. A. Handford.  (ISBN 0140442413)

 My thoughts:


More idolatory than biography or history; Tacitus paints Agricola as a tough but fair general who is not afraid to lead his forces into battle, but knows when to keep his head down as far as jealous paranoid Emperors go.

“his spirit was possessed by a passion for military glory – a thankless passion in an age in which a sinister construction was put upon distinction and a great reputation was as dangerous as a bad one”     Agricola, page 55

 Famous for providing a description of Roman Britain in the days of conquest – a second stepping stone on the path of the written history of Britain after Julius Caesar’s efforts in The Gallic Wars, it offers imaginary speeches by Queen Boudicca and a nameless Caledonian general to provide voice to the native tribes.

I hadn’t realised that the Romans had sortied much above the Hadrian’s Wall area, assuming they drew the line there and built the wall to save themselves the trouble of chasing Scotsmen (sorry, Caledonians) up and down the glens.

 Of course, some things never change  😉

“The climate is wretched, with its frequent rains and mists”     Agricola, page 62


Tacitus describes the Germans as a single race, warlike and highly moral, intemperate and  lazy. He also names and defines the various tribes, where they live and their differences from each other.

This edition was originally published in 1948 and the British editor/translator cannot resist drawing some comparisons between ancient and modern Germany in his notes. Understandable perhaps immediately post-WWII but not very scholarly.

Favourite lines/passages:

“And so the population was gradually led into the demoralizing temptations of arcades, baths, and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as ‘civilization’, when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement.”   Agricola, p. 73

Personal rating:  Agricola 5/10, Germania 4/10


  1. Excuse me, thank you very much! I think you’ll find it was the Scots chasing the weasly cowardly Romans! They were so scared of us they built TWO walls – I live more or less on top of the Antonine Wall. My ancestors were clearly the ones that finally scared those sandal-wearing softies off…


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