Agri'cola, Gnaeus Julius
is one of the most remarkable men whom we meet with in the times of the first twelve emperors of Rome, for his extraordinary ability as a general, his great powers, shewn in his government of Britain, and borne witness to by the deep and universal feeling excited in Rome by his death (Tac. Agric.
43), his singular integrity, and the esteem and love which he commanded in all the private relations of life.
His life of 55 years (from June 13th, A. D. 37, to the 23rd August, A. D. 93) extends through the reigns of the nine emperors from Caligula to Domitian.
He was born at the Roman colony of Forum Julii, the modern Fréjus in Provence. His father was Julius Graecinus of senatorial rank; his mother Julia Procilla, who throughout his education seems to have watched with great care and to have exerted great influence over him.
He studied philosophy (the usual education of a Roman of higher rank) from his earliest youth at Marseilles. His first military service was under Suetonius Paulinus in Britain (A. D. 60), in the relation of Contubernalis. (See Dict. of Ant.
p. 284a.) Hence he returned to Rome, was married to Domitia Decidiana, and went the round of the magistracies; the quaestorship in Asia (A. D. 63), under the proconsul Salvius Titianus, where his integrity was shewn by his refusal to join the proconsul in the ordinary system of extortion in the Roman provinces; the tribunate and the praetorship,--in Nero's time mere nominal offices, filled with danger to the man who held them, in which a prudent inactivity was the only safe course. By Galba (A. D. 69) he was appointed to examine the sacred property of the temples, that Nero's system of robbery (Sueton. Ner.
32) might be stopped.
In the same year he lost his mother; it was in returning from her funeral in Liguria, that he heard of Vespasian's accession, and immediately joined his party. Under Vespasian his first service was the command of the 20th legion in Britain. (A. D. 70.) On his return, he was raised by the emperor to the rank of patrician, and set over the province of Aquitania, which he held for three years. (A. D. 74-76.)
He was recalled to Rome to be elected consul (A. D. 77), and Britain, the great scene of his power, was given to him, by general consent, as his province.
In this year he betrothed his daughter to the historian Tacitus; in the following he gave her to him in marriage, and was made governor of Britain, and one of the college of pontiffs.
Agricola was the twelfth Roman general who had been in Britain; he was the only one who completely effected the work of subjugation to the Romans, not more by his consummate military skill, than by his masterly policy in reconciling the Britons to that yoke which hitherto they had so ill borne.
He taught them the arts and luxuries of civilised life, to settle in towns, to build comfortable dwelling-houses and temples.
He established a system of education for the sons of the British chiefs, amongst whom at last the Roman language was spoken, and the Roman toga worn as a fashionable dress.
He was full seven years in Britain, from the year A. D. 78 to A. D. 84.
The last conquest of his predecessor Julius Frontinus had been that of the Silures (South Wales); and the last action of Agricola's command was the action at the foot of the Grampian hills, which put him in possession of the whole of Britain as far north as the northern boundary of Perth and Argyle. His first campaign (A. D. 78) was occupied in the reconquest of Mona (Anglesea), and the Ordovices (North Wales), the strongholds of the Druids; and the remainder of this year, with the next, was given to making the before-mentioned arrangements for the security of the Roman dominion in the already conquered parts of Britain.
The third campaign (A. D. 80) carried him northwards to the Taus, 1
probably the Solway Frith; and the fourth (A. D. 81) was taken up in fortifying and taking possession of this tract, and advancing as far north as the Friths of Clyde and Forth.
In the fifth campaign (A. D. 82), he was engaged in subduing the tribes on the promontory opposite Ireland.
In the sixth (A. D. 83), he explored with his fleet and land forces the coast of Fife and Forfar, coming now for the first time into contact with the true Caledonians. They made a night attack on his camp (believed to be at Loch Ore, where ditches and other traces of a Roman camp are still to be seen). and succeeded in nearly destroying the ninth legion; but in the general battle, which followed, they were repulsed.
The seventh and last campaign (A. D. 84) gave Agricola complete and entire possession of the country, up to the northernmost point which he had reached, by a most decided victory over the assembled Caledonians under their general Galgacus (as it is believed, from the Roman and British remains found there, and from the two tumuli or sepulchral cairns) on the moor of Murdoch at the foot of the Grampian hills.
In this campaign his fleet sailed northwards from the coast of Fife round Britain to the Trutulensian harbour (supposed to be Sandwich), thus for the first time discovering Britain to be an island.
He withdrew his army into winter quarters, and soon after (A. D. 84) was recalled by the jealous Domitian.
On his return to Rome, he lived in retirement, and when the government either of Asia or Africa would have fallen to him, he considered it more prudent to decline the honour.
He died A. D. 93; his death was, as his biographer plainly hints, either immediately caused or certainly hastened by the emissaries of the emperor, who could not bear the presence of a man pointed out by universal feeling as alone fit to meet the exigency of times in which the Roman arms had suffered repeated reverses in Germany and the countries north of the Danube. Dio Cassius (66.20) says expressly, that he was killed by Domitian.
In this account we can do no more than refer to the beautiful and interesting description given by Tacitus (Agric.
39-46) of his life during his retirement from office, his death, his person, and his character, which though it had no field of action at home in that dreary time, shewed itself during the seven years in which it was unfettered in Britain, as great and wise and good. (Tacitus, Agricola.
There is an epigram of Antiphilus in the Greek Anthology (Anth. Brunck.
2.180) upon an Agricola, which is commonly supposed to refer to the celebrated one of this name.