Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gnaeus Julius agricola (40-93), Conqueror of Britain

Julius Agricola

Statue of Gnaeus Julius Agricola erected in 1894 at the Roman Baths

British Campaigns of Agricola, 78 – 84

In AD84 the expeditionary force led by Agricola, including the men of the Ninth, finally met the Caledonian tribes in open battle, under the Picts' own brilliant commander, Calgacus, 'The Swordsman'

Gnaeus Julius Agricola (June 13, 40 – August 23, 93) was a Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. His biography, the De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, was the first published work of his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and is the source for most of what is known about him.

Although Gnaeus Agricola is remembered for his conquests of the British Isles, most of the information on him comes from notes taken by his son-in-law, the famed Roman historian Tacitus, which appeared in the work Agricola. He was born on 13 June a.d. 37 in Forum Julii, in the province of Gallia Narbonensis (now Frejus, in the area of Provence, France), the son of Julius Graecinus, a praetor (a magistrate with judicial duties). When he was 18, he was made a tribunus laticlavius (military tribune) on the military staff of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who served as governor of Britain from a.d. 58 to 61. He also served on the staff of Paulinus’s successor, Publius Petronius Turpilianus. After marrying, Agricola was made a quaestor (a magistrate with financial powers), considered the first step in a career in the Roman governmental hierarchy. In 66 he was advanced to the office of people’s tribune, and two years later he became a praetor peregrinus (a judicial magistrate who decided cases between foreigners).

In a.d. 69, when a civil war broke out in Rome, Agricola sided with Vespasian against the Emperor Vitellius. Vespasian was victorious, and he rewarded Agricola by naming him legatus legionis (commander of a legion [today’s general]). He commanded the 20th Legion in Britain, serving under the governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis. Agricola was given the status of a patrician when he returned to Rome in 73 and served for a short time as governor of Aquitania (a.d. 74–77). In 77, he was named a consul as well as legatus augusti pro-praetore, or governor, of Britain. It was during this period that Agricola rose to become a major military leader. From 78 until 84, he fought numerous tribes in England and Wales. In 78, Roman forces decisively defeated the Ordovices tribe in northern Wales and routed the Druids on the island of Ynys Mon (today’s Anglesey) off the northwestern coast of Wales. Using these victories, Agricola colonized England with a series of garrisons. Marching northward and westward into Scotland and Wales, his forces took more territory under their control, and he established a frontier of posts between the firths of Clota and Bodotria (now the Clyde and Forth rivers). In 83, the Caledonians tried to destroy Roman forces, but the Romans crossed the Forth and Agricola defeated them at Mons Graupius (now Ardock) in 84. A legacy of Agricola’s campaign is the Roman fortress at Inchtuthil (near Dunkeld), built that year.

Agricola was recalled from Britain in 85, after an unusually long tenure as governor. Tacitus claims that Domitian ordered his recall because Agricola's successes outshone the Emperor's own modest victories in Germany. The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is unclear: on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the highest military honours apart from an actual triumph); on the other, Agricola never again held a civil or military post, in spite of his experience and renown. He was offered the governorship of the province of Africa, but declined it, whether due to ill health or (as Tacitus claims) the machinations of Domitian. In 93 Agricola died on his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis aged fifty-three.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

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