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Tacitus's page; perhaps he wrote his histories from memory, perhaps from Agricola's diaries.... we'll simply never know.
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A superb image, taken from the website of the Ermine Street Guard; what Tacitus may have looked like.

GAIUS CORNELIUS TACITUS was born in 55AD, and after recieving the standard Roman education he was soon recognised as a great orator. He survived the civil wars, and in 97AD, after many years as a Senator, he was made Consul; the highest honour in Rome. He served in that esteemed position for fifteen years, and eventually 'retired' as the Governor of Asia. He had survived the turbulent reigns of nine Emperors.

TACITUS WRITINGS are acknowledged as the best of the period and chronicled the complete 'histories' of Rome, which are accepted today as the standard texts. In 97AD, however, he published his first manuscript; the biography of his father-in-law; Julius Agricola. Even today it is not known for certain if Tacitus ever set foot in Britain to see the events first hand, but it is widely accepted that he did not; writing the biography from Agricola's many diaries. A coin of the period.

EMPEROR DOMITIAN'S MURDER in 96AD seems to have given Tacitus the freedom he required to begin his writing career. Julius Agricola, had been dead for four years, and Tacitus acted the perfect son-in-law, publishing a lengthy biography of Agricola's life and career. The Emperor himself was implicated in Agricola's untimely death, and the possibility that the biography was published as a political attack cannot be discounted. It seems to be no coincidence that Tacitus began to write after Domitian's murder; even a consul of Rome needed to be careful when critisising his Emperor. The Emperor Domitian; murdered in 96AD by a conspiracy involving several senators and his own wife.

TACITUS LATER used his "Annals Of Rome" as a channel for his political views. In these huge works. he does not hide the fact that he is disturbed by the power of the Emperor, and lays the foundations for many changes in the political structure of Rome.

THE BIOGRAPHY OF AGRICOLA, his first text, is no different. It is a heavily biased piece of writing of the life of Tacitus' father in law. Agricola is said to have no character flaws, to be of outstanding moral fortitude and a perfect father, husband, statesman and soldier. He writes... "Agricola was dignified, thoughtful, austere, and yet often merciful... without harshness, pride or the greed of gain." The text is flowered with such powerful passages, that Agricola is painted as almost god-like. Like the perfect leader, every military move is witnessed and led by Agricola himself. As a lasting devotion to his father-in-law, Tacitus writes well... "Agricola would... learn from the skillful, keep pace with the bravest, and avoid nothing from fear"

However; back to the story... These are the facts;
  • The ONLY documentation from the Roman invasion of Scotland was written by the Roman Governor's son-in-law, some years after the events took place.
  • The Romans fought for four years without completely defeating the native confederacy.
  • Tacitus writes of a great battle where the Romans were outnumbered 30,000 to 20,000, but still won the day decisively.
  • Tacitus records the casualties as 10,000 enemy dead, 360 Romans dead.
  • After such a "resounding success", Agricola is re-called to Rome to face an ungrateful Emperor.
  • After such a large scale military operation, the Romans leave their hard-won ground and retreat back to the English border.
  • They maintain that frontier for 30 years, then are forced to build Hadrian's wall.

Hadrians Wall. 72 miles of wall, castles and signal towers.


After such a successful military campaign, followed by such a crushing military victory, why did the Romans retreat?

Why leave a natural frontier 35 miles long, to defend an unnatural one, 70 miles long?

To understand the situation fully, we must investigate both Agricola's military objectives and the prevailing political climate in Rome.

Click below to go to the next part of the story; Agricola; the soldier-governor.

Click here to go to the next part of the story; Agricola.