Agricola: the Significance in Military and Cultural Terms

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What is the short term significance of Agricola in Roman Britain?

The understanding of the short term significance of Agricola in Roman Britain is heavily dependent on historical texts and what they tell us. According to these historical texts there is no denying that Agricola was of short term significance in military and cultural terms, but the degree of his significance comes into question according to each individual historian opinion. Most of the knowledge we have on Agricola comes from his son in law Tacitus. Leading to the inference that this would affect the general opinion on Agricola, as the only substantial information we have on him is faultlessly positive. It could be suggested that this unblemished depiction of Agricola would somehow influence the way in which his degree of significance militarily and culturally would be viewed, effectively causing his significance to be overestimated. This suggestion is supported by historians such as Russell and Laycock that suggest our understanding of Agricola’s short term significance is tainted by the picture painted of him for us by Tacitus.

Tacitus made his thoughts clear that Agricola was the best type of man from the beginning. He suggests that the tender care of his mother played a huge part in him being sheltered from the temptations of evil companions. Tacitus also put this down to the fact that Agricola had “sound instincts”1. He was described by Tacitus as someone that did nothing for show, a man that was not lazy and wanted to make himself known to the army. He would learn from the skilful and would associate himself with the bravest of men. He did not appear to be scared of anything, ideally the model soldier. He served his military apprenticeship to the satisfaction of “Suetonius Paulinus a hard working and sensible officer”2. Suggesting that from the beginning, Agricola was set up to be a model leader and of great significance to anywhere he went in terms of military operations. “Agricola moderated his energy and restrained his ardour, that he might not grow too important, for he had learnt to obey, and understood well how to combine expediency with honour.”3 This quote from the Agricola shows that Agricola was a focused character and did his job well, he was determined in everything he did and had clear intentions. Qualities such as this were significant to Romans because there was deep rooted crisis. Roman armies had been defeated and the struggle that started out for safety was becoming for victory. Agricola was so important to the Romans because “his soul was penetrated with a war like renown”4. According to Tacitus it was at a time when this kind of character was scarcely found. Tacitus credited his passion, in an age where “a sinister construction was put upon distinction and great reputation was as dangerous as a bad one”5. Romans finally had someone that they could depict as the beacon of light they finally had some hope. The positive telling of Agricola’s character would have been largely significant in terms of boosting the morale of the Roman army and changing social opinion. We have evidence of this through the size of the Roman army. According to Tacitus, the army consisted of around 11,000 and they were facing armies of up to 30,000.6 These statistics are supported by the historian D.Mattingly in his book “An Imperial Possession”7. The fact that the Roman army were winning battles against armies almost three times their size indicates that Agricola would have been able to motivate them effectively. If his character was anything that Tacitus portrayed it as, his winning attitude would have no doubt influenced the people working under him. Tacitus states that he set an example for those under him, writing that he was no loose cannon and respected his military career. He did not use his military status to “foridly enjoy himself” and continually go on leave. According to Tacitus, every one of these skills has given him a passion for glory,...
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