Saturday, September 17, 2005

Gnaeus Julius Agricola (AD 40 - 93)

The life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola is known to us today because his son-in-law, the famous Roman historian, Tacitus, left a detailed biography of the Roman general. Agricola is recorded in British history because he conquered parts of Wales and Scotland but he won other impressive titles including Quaestor in Asia (AD 64), People's Tribune (AD 66) and Praetor (AD 68).
It was during the civil war of AD 69 that Agricola supported Vespasian, who in turn appointed him commander of a force headed for the British Isles. Eight years later, Agricola was made Governor of Britain. In between he returned to Rome in AD 73 and served as Governor of Aquitania for three years. Back in Britain, Agricola set about conquering more remote regions in northern England, Scotland and Wales.
According to Tacitus he crossed the Menai Straits to take Anglesey, reportedly massacring the island's inhabitants who were of the Druid faith. Tacitus doesn't spare us the details, giving a vivid account of wild-haired women and barbarian Druids who created a formidable line on the shore opposite the mainland. The Druids were nonetheless conquered and their base on Mona (modern-day Anglesey) was broken up.
From AD 79-80, Agricola moved north to Scotland where he consolidated Roman military control of the Forth-Clyde line. He was the one who masterminded the building of a string of forts across the country from west to east. From AD 81 - 83, Agricola campaigned north of the Forth-Clyde line and confronted the Caledonii (under Calgacus) at the battle of Mons Graupius. Although the result was indecisive, Agricola's effort paved the way for the creation of the most northerly legionary fortress of the Roman Empire at Inchtuthill in Perthshire.


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