Tacitus: The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola
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Chapter 1. To bequeath to posterity a record of the deeds and characters of distinguished men is an ancient practice which even the present age, careless as it is of its own sons, has not abandoned whenever some great and conspicuous excellence has conquered and risen superior to that failing, common to petty and to great states, blindness and hostility to goodness. But in days gone by as there was a greater inclination and a more open path to the achievement of memorable actions, so the man of highest genius was led by the simple reward of a good conscience to hand on without partiality or self-seeking the remembrance of greatness. Many too thought that to write their own lives showed the confidence of integrity rather than presumption. Of Rutilius and Scaurus no one doubted the honesty or questioned the motives. So true is it that merit is best appreciated by the age in which it thrives most easily. But in these days, I, who have to record the life of one who has passed away, must crave an indulgence, which I should not have had to ask had I only to inveigh against an age so cruel, so hostile to all virtue.
Chapter 2. We have read that the panegyrics pronounced by Arulenus Rusticus on Paetus Thrasea, and by Herennius Senecio on Priscus Helvidius, were made capital crimes, that not only their persons but their very books were objects of rage, and that the triumvirs were commissioned to burn in the forum those works of splendid genius. They fancied, forsooth that in that fire the voice of the Roman people, the freedom of the Senate, and the conscience of the human race were perishing, while at the same they banished the teachers of philosophy, and exiled every noble pursuit, that nothing good might anywhere confront them. Certainly we showed a magnificent example of patience; as a former age had witnessed the extreme of liberty, so we witnessed the extreme of servitude, when the informer robbed us of the interchange of speech and hearing. We should have lost memory as well as voice, had it been as easy to forget as to keep silence.
Chapter 3. Now at last our spirit is returning. And yet, though at the dawn of a most happy age Nerva Caesar blended things once irreconcilable, sovereignty and freedom, though Nerva Trajan is now daily augmenting the prosperity of the time, and though the public safety has not only our hopes and good wishes, but has also the certain pledge of their fulfillment, still, from the necessary condition of human frailty, the remedy works less quickly than the disease. As our bodies grow but slowly, perish in a moment, so it is easier to crush than to revive genius and its pursuits. Besides, the charm of indolence steals over us, and the idleness which at first we loathed we afterwards love. What if during those fifteen years, a large portion of human life, many were cut off by ordinary casualties, and the ablest fell victims to the Emperor's rage, if a few of us survive, I may almost say, not only others but our ownselves, survive, though there have been taken from the midst of life those many years which brought the young in dumb silence to old age, and the old almost to the very verge and end of existence! Yet we shall not regret that we have told, though in language unskillful and unadorned, the story of past servitude, and borne our testimony to present happiness. Meanwhile this book, intended to do honor to Agricola, my father-in-law, will, as an expression of filial regard, be commended, or at least excused.
Chapter 4. Gnaeus Julius Agricola was born at the ancient and famous colony of Forum Julii. Each of his grandfathers was an Imperial procurator, that is, of the highest equestrian rank. His father, Julius Graecinus, a member of the Senatorian order, and distinguished for his pursuit of eloquence and philosophy, earned for himself by these very merits the displeasure of Gaius Caligula. He was ordered to impeach Marcus Silanus, and because he refused was put to death. His mother was Julia Procilla, a lady of singular virtue. Brought up by her side with fond affection, he passed his boyhood and youth in the cultivation of every worthy attainment. He was guarded from the enticements of the profligate not only by his own good and straightforward character, but also by having, when quite a child, for the scene and guide of his studies, Massilia, a place where refinement and provincial frugality were blended and happily combined. I remember that he used to tell us how in his early youth he would have imbibed a keener love of philosophy than became a Roman and a senator, had not his mother's good sense checked his excited and ardent spirit. It was the case of a lofty and aspiring soul craving with more eagerness than caution the beauty and splendor of great and glorious renown. But it was soon mellowed by reason and experience, and he retained from his learning that most difficult of lessons--moderation.
Chapter 5. He served his military apprenticeship in Britain to the satisfaction
of Suetonius Paullinus, a painstaking and judicious officer, who, to test
his merits, selected him to share his tent. Without the recklessness with
which young men often make the profession of arms a mere pastime, and without
indolence, he never availed himself of his tribune's rank or his inexperience
to procure enjoyment or to escape from duty. He sought to make himself
acquainted with the province and known to the army; he would learn from
the skilful, and keep pace with the bravest, would attempt nothing for
display, would avoid nothing from fear, and would be at once careful and
vigilant. Never indeed had Britain been more excited, or in a more
critical condition. Veteran soldiers had been massacred, colonies burnt,
armies cut off. The struggle was then for safety; it was soon to be for
victory. And though all this was conducted under the leadership and direction
of another, though the final issue and the glory of having won back the
province belonged to the general, yet skill, experience, and ambition were
acquired by the young officer. His soul too was penetrated with the desire
of warlike renown, a sentiment unwelcome to an age which put a sinister
construction on eminent merit, and made glory as perilous as infamy.
Chapter 6. From Britain he went to Rome, to go through the regular course of office, and there allied himself with Domitia Decidiana, a lady of illustrious birth. The marriage was one which gave a man ambitious of advancement distinction and support. They lived in singular harmony, through their mutual affection and preference of each other to self. However, the good wife deserves the greater praise, just as the bad incurs a heavier censure. Appointed Quaestor, the ballot gave him Asia for his province, Salvius Titianus for his proconsul. Neither the one nor the other corrupted him, though the province was rich and an easy prey to the wrongdoer, while the proconsul, a man inclined to every species of greed, was ready by all manner of indulgence to purchase a mutual concealment of guilt. A daughter was there added to his family to be his stay and comfort, for shortly after he lost the son that had before been born to him. The year between his quaestorship and tribunate, as well as the year of the tribunate itself, he passed in retirement and inaction, for he knew those times of Nero when indolence stood for wisdom. His praetorship was passed in the same consistent quietude, for the usual judicial functions did not fall to his lot. The games and the pageantry of his office he ordered according to the mean between strictness and profusion, avoiding extravagance, but not missing distinction. He was afterwards appointed by Galba to draw up an account of the temple offerings, and his searching scrutiny relieved the conscience of the state from the burden of all sacrileges but those committed by Nero.
Chapter 7. The following year inflicted a terrible blow on his affections
and his fortunes. Otho's fleet, while cruising idly about, cruelly ravaged
Intemelii, a district of Liguria; his mother, who was living here on her
own estate, was murdered. The estate itself and a large part of her patrimony
were plundered. This was indeed the occasion of the crime. Agricola, who
instantly set out to discharge the duties of affection, was overtaken by
the tidings that Vespasian was aiming at the throne. He at once joined
his party. Vespasian's early policy, and the government of Rome were directed
by Mucianus, for Domitian was a mere youth, and from his father's elevation
sought only the opportunities of indulgence. Agricola, having been sent
by Mucianus to conduct a levy of troops, and having done his work with
integrity and energy, was appointed to command the 20th Legion, which had
been slow to take the new oath of allegiance and the retiring officer of
which was reported to be acting disloyally. It was a trying and formidable
charge for even officers of consular rank, and the late praetorian officer,
perhaps from his own disposition, perhaps from that of the soldiers, was
powerless to restrain them. Chosen thus at once to supersede and to punish,
Agricola, with a singular moderation, wished it to be thought that he had
found rather than made an obedient soldiery.
Chapter 8. Britain was then under Vettius Bolanus, who governed more mildly than suited so turbulent a province. Agricola moderated his energy and restrained his ardor, that he might not grow too important, for he had learnt to obey, and understood well how to combine expediency with honor. Soon afterwards Britain received for its governor a man of consular rank, Petilius Cerialis. Agricola's merits had not room for display. Cerialis let him share at first indeed only the toils and dangers, but before long the glory of war, often by way of trial putting him in command of part of the army, and sometimes, on the strength of the result, of larger forces. Never to enhance his own renown did Agricola boast of his exploits; he always referred his success, as though he were but an instrument, to his general and director. Thus by his valor in obeying orders and by his modesty of speech he escaped jealousy without losing distinction.
Chapter 9. As he was returning from the command of the legion, Vespasian admitted him into the patrician order, and then gave him the province of Aquitania, a preeminently splendid appointment both from the importance of its duties and the prospect of the consulate to which the Emperor destined him. It is a common belief that soldiers lack the finer points of intelligence; and indeed the law of the court-martial, knowing no appeal and proceeding bluntly to its usually summary decisions, gives no scope to the chicanery of the law-courts. But Agricola, even in dealing with civilians, had enough good sense to be natural and just. He made a clear division between hours of business and relaxation. When the provincial courts demanded attention, he was dignified, serious and austere, though still inclined to mercy. When duty had had its due, he put off the official pose; harshness, arrogance and greed had long ceased to be part of his make-up. He succeeded where few succeed; he lost no authority by his affability, no affection by his sternness. To mention incorruptibility and self-denial in a man of his calibre would be to insult his virtues. The desire for fame is often a secret weakness even of the good, but Agricola never courted fame by advertisement or intrigue. Scorning all rivalry with his colleagues, all bickering with the procurators, he deemed it no triumph to override others, but ignominious to be overborne himself. He was kept in this command for less than three years and then called home to the immediate prospect of the consulship. Public opinion insisted that the province of Britain was intended for him, not because he said anything to suggest it, but because he was obviously the right man. Rumor is not always at fault; it may even prompt a selection. In his consulship he betrothed to me, in my early manhood, his daughter, a girl of rare promise, and after its close gave her to me in marriage. Immediately afterwards he received the command of Britain, coupled with the priestly office of pontifex.
Chapter 13. The Britons themselves submit to the levy, the tribute and the other charges of Empire with cheerful readiness, provided that there is no abuse. That they bitterly resent; for they are broken in to obedience, not to slavery. The deified Julius, the first Roman to enter Britain with an army, did indeed intimidate the natives by a victory and secure a grip on the coast. But though perhaps he hinted to posterity how the island might be won, it was not his to bequeath. After him came the Civil Wars, with the leading men of Rome fighting against their country. Even when peace returned, Britain was long out of mind. The deified Augustus spoke of this as 'policy', Tiberius called it 'precedent'. Gaius Caesar unquestionably planned an invasion of Britain; but his quick fancies shifted like a weathercock, and his vast efforts against Germany ended in farce. The deified Claudius was responsible for-reviving the plan. He sent over legions and auxiliaries and chose Vespasian as his coadjutor-the first step towards his future greatness. Nations were subdued, kings captured, and the finger of fate pointed to Vespasian.
Chapter 15. For the Britons, freed from their repressions by the absence
of the dreaded legate, began to discuss the woes of slavery, to compare
their wrongs and sharpen their sting in the telling. 'We gain nothing by
submission except heavier burdens for willing shoulders. Once each tribe
had one king, now two are clamped on us-the legate to wreak his fury on
our lives,the procurator on our property. We subjects are damned in either
case, whether our masters quarrel or agree. Their gangs of centurions or
slaves, as the case may be, mingle violence and insult. Nothing is any
longer safe from their greed and lust. In war it is the braver who takes
the spoil; as things stand with us, it is mostly cowards and shirkers that
rob our homes, kidnap our children and conscript our men. Any cause is
good enough for us to die for-any but our country's. But what a mere handful
our invaders are, if we reckon up our own numbers. The Germans, reckoning
so, threw off the yoke, and they had only a river, not the Ocean, to shield
them. We have country, wives and parents to fight for; the Romans have
nothing but greed and self-indulgence. Back they will go, as the deified
Julius went back, if only we can rival the valor of our fathers. We must
not be scared by the loss of one battle or even two; success may foster
the spirit of offence, but it is suffering that gives the power to endure.
The gods themselves are at last showing mercy to us Britons in keeping
the Roman general away, with his army exiled in another island. For ourselves
we have already taken the most difficult step-we have begun to plot. And
in an enterprise like this there is more danger in being caught plotting
than in taking the plunge.'
Chapter 16. Goaded by such mutual encouragements, the whole island rose under the leadership of Boudicca, a lady of royal descent-for Britons make no distinction of sex in their leaders. They hunted down the Roman troops in their scattered posts, stormed the forts and assaulted the colony itself, in which they saw their slavery focused; nor did the angry victors deny themselves any form of savage cruelty. In fact, had not Paulinus, on hearing of the revolt, made speed to help, Britain would have been lost. As it was, he restored it to its old obedience by a single successful action. But many guilty rebels refused to lay down their arms out of a peculiar dread of the legate. Fine officer though he was, he seemed likely to abuse their unconditional surrender and punish with undue severity wrongs which he insisted on making personal. The government therefore replaced him by Petronius Turpilianus. They hoped that he would be more merciful and readier to forgive offenses to which he was a stranger. He composed the existing troubles, but risked no further move before handing over his province to Trebellius Maximus. Trebellius was deficient in energy and without military experience, but he governed his province like a gentleman. The barbarians now learned, like any Romans, to condone seductive vices, while the intervention of our Civil Wars gave a reasonable excuse for inactivity. There was, however, a serious outbreak of mutiny, for the troops, accustomed to campaigns, ran riot in peace. Trebellius fled and hid to escape his angry army. His self-respect and dignity compromised, he now commanded merely on sufferance. By a kind of tacit bargain the troops kept their license, the general his life, and the mutiny stopped short of bloodshed. Vettius Bolanus, likewise, as the Civil War still ran its course, declined to disturb Britain by enforcing discipline. There was still the same paralysis in face of the foe, the same lack of discipline in the camp-only Bolanus was a decent man, with no sins to make him hated, and had won affection where he lacked authority.
Chapter 18. Such was the state of Britain, such the vicissitudes of war that Agricola found waiting for him when he crossed the Channel with the summer half spent, a season when campaigning seems to be over and our troops tend to relax, while our enemies seek to profit thereby. Shortly before his arrival the tribe of the Ordovices had almost wiped out a squadron of cavalry stationed in their territory, and this initial stroke had excited the province. The war-party welcomed the lead, and only waited to test the temper of the new legate. The summer was far spent, the irregulars were scattered over the province, the legionaries were assuming that there would be no more fighting that year. Everything, in fact, combined to hamper or thwart a new campaign, and many were in favor of simply watching where the danger lay. In spite of all, Agricola decided to go and meet the threat. He drew together detachments of the legions and a small force of auxiliaries. As the Ordovices did not venture to meet him in the plain, he marched his men into the hills, himself in the van, to lend his own courage to the rest by sharing their peril. Thus he cut to pieces almost the whole fighting force of the nation. But he realized that he must not lag behind his reputation and that the success of his first enterprises would decide how much his other enemies would fear him. He decided, therefore, to reduce the island of Anglesey, from the occupation of which Paulinus had been recalled by the revolt of all Britain, as I described in an earlier chapter. The plan was hastily conceived, and there was no fleet at hand; the resource and resolution of the general had to take the troops across. Agricola picked out the best of his auxiliaries, who had experience of fords and had been trained at home to swim with arms and horses under control beside them, and made them discard their whole equipment. He then launched them on a surprise attack, and the enemy, who had been thinking in terms of fleet, ships and naval warfare, completely lost their heads. What could embarrass or defeat a foe who attacked like that? They sued for peace and surrendered the island; and Agricola, in a flash, found himself enjoying reputation and respect. Had he not, at his very first entrance to the province, deliberately chosen a difficult and dangerous enterprise, at a time usually devoted to pageantry and ceremonial visits? Yet Agricola would not let success tickle his vanity. He had kept under control a conquered people; he would not represent that as a campaign of conquest. He did not even use laurel-wreathed dispatches to announce his achievement; but his very refusal to recognize his fame increased it. Men gauged his splendid hopes for the future by his reticence over so grand a triumph.
Chapter 19. Agricola, however, understood the feelings of a province and had learned from the experience of others that arms can effect little if injustice follows in their train. He resolved to root out the causes of war. Beginning with himself and his staff, he enforced discipline in his own household first-a task often found as difficult as the government of a province. He made no use of freedmen or slaves for official business. He would not be influenced by personal feelings, recommendations or petitions in choosing his centurions and men. The best, he was sure, would best justify his trust. He knew everything, but did not always act as if he knew. He could condone minor offenses, but had no kind of mercy for major ones. Some times he would omit to punish and be satisfied by a change of heart. He preferred to appoint to official positions and duties men whom he could trust not to transgress, rather than punish the transgressor. He eased the levy of corn and tribute by distributing the burden fairly, and cancelled those charges, contrived by profiteers, which were more bitterly resented than the tax itself. The provincials had actually been compelled to wait at the doors of closed granaries, buy back their own corn and pay farcical prices. Delivery was ordered to destinations off the map or at a great distance, and states that had permanent quarters of troops close by them had to send to remote and inaccessible spots, until a service that should have been easy for all ended by benefiting a few scoundrels only.
Chapter 20. By checking these abuses in his very first year of office, Agricola gave men reason to love and honor peace. Hitherto, through the negligence or arbitrariness of former governors, it had been as much feared as war. But when summer came and he had concentrated his army, he was present everywhere on the march, praising discipline and checking stragglers. He himself chose the sites for camps, himself reconnoitred estuaries and woods; and all the time he gave the enemy no rest, but constantly launched plundering raids. Then, when he had done enough to inspire fear, he turned to mercy and proffered the allurements of peace. As a result, many states which had till then maintained their independence abandoned their resentful mood and accepted the curb of garrisons and forts; and so skillfully and thoroughly was the whole operation carried through that no fresh acquisition in Britain ever came off with so little challenge as this.
Chapter 21. The following winter was spent on schemes of the most salutary kind. To induce a people, hitherto scattered, uncivilized and therefore prone to fight, to grow pleasurably inured to peace and ease, Agricola gave private encouragement-and official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and private mansions. He praised the keen and scolded the slack, and competition to gain honor from him was as effective as compulsion. Furthermore, he trained the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts and expressed a preference for British natural ability over the trained skill of the Gauls. The result was that in place of distaste for the Latin language came a passion to command it. In the same way, our national dress came into favor and the toga was everywhere to be seen. And so the Britons were gradually led on to the amenities that make vice agreeable-arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. They spoke of such novelties as 'civilization', when really they were only a feature of enslavement.
Chapter 22. The third year of campaigning opened up new nations, for
the territory of tribes as far as the estuary named Tanaus was ravaged.
Our army was seriously buffeted by furious storms, but the enemy were now
too terrified to molest it. There was even time to spare for the establishment
of forts. It was observed by experts that no general had ever shown a better
eye for ground than Agricola. No fort of his was ever stormed, ever capitulated
or was ever abandoned. They were protected against long protracted siege
by supplies renewed every year. And so winter in these forts had no terrors.
Frequent raids were made, and every commandant could look after himself.
The enemy were baffled and near despairing. They could no longer retrieve
the losses of the summer by the gains of the winter, but were equally hard
pressed in both seasons. Agricola was never greedy in stealing the
credit for other men's work. Every centurion and prefect found in him an
honest witness to his merit. By some accounts, he could be very bitter
in reprimand; and certainly he was as nasty to the wrong kind of man as
he was nice to the right. But his anger left no secret residue, and you
had no need to fear his silence. He thought it more honorable to hurt than
Chapter 29. At the beginning of the summer Agricola suffered a grievous personal loss in the death of the son who had been born the previous year. This cruel blow drew from him neither the ostentatious stoicism of the strong man nor the loud expressions of grief that belong to women. He had also war to help to relieve his sorrow. He sent his fleet ahead to plunder at various points and thus spread uncertainty and terror, and, with an army marching light, which he had reinforced with the bravest of the Britons and those whose loyalty had been proved during a long peace, reached the Graupian Mountain, which he found occupied by the enemy. The Britons were, in fact, undaunted by the loss of the previous battle, and welcomed the choice between revenge and enslavement. They had realized at last that common action was needed to meet the common danger, and had sent round embassies and drawn up treaties to rally the full force of all their states. Already more than 30,000 men made a gallant show, and still they came flocking to the colors--all the young men and those whose 'old age was fresh and green', famous warriors with their battle honors thick upon them. At that point one of the many leaders, named Calgacus, a man of outstanding valor and nobility, summoned the masses who were already thirsting for battle and addressed them, we are told, in words like these:
Chapter 30. 'Whenever I consider why we are fighting and how we have
reached this crisis, I have a strong sense that this day of your splendid
rally may mean the dawn of liberty for the whole of Britain. You have mustered
to a man, and to a man you are free. There are no lands behind us, and
even the sea is menaced by the Roman fleet. The clash of battle--the hero's
glory-- has become the safest refuge for the coward. Battles against Rome
have been lost and won before--but never without hope; we were always there
in reserve. We, the choice flower of Britain, were treasured in her
most secret places. Out of sight of subject shores, we kept even our eyes
free from the defilement of tyranny. We, the last men on earth, the last
of the free, have been shielded till today by the very remoteness and the
seclusion for which we are famed. We have enjoyed the impressiveness of
the unknown. But today the boundary of Britain is exposed; beyond us lies
no nation, nothing but waves and rocks and the Romans, more deadly still
than they, for you find in them an arrogance which no reasonable submission
can elude. Brigands of the world, they have exhausted the land by their
indiscriminate plunder? and now they ransack the sea. The wealth of an
enemy excites their cupidity, his poverty their lust of power. East and
West have failed to glut their maw. They are unique in being as violently
tempted to attack the poor as the wealthy. Robbery, butchery, rapine, with
false names they call Empire; and they make a wilderness and call it peace.
Chapter 31. 'We instinctively love our children and our kinsmen above all else. These are torn from us by conscription to slave in other lands. Our wives and sisters, even if they are not raped by Roman enemies, are seduced by them in the guise of guests and friends. Our goods and fortunes are ground down to pay tribute, our land and its harvest to supply corn, our bodies and hands to build roads through woods and swamps--all under blows and insults. Slaves, born into slavery, once sold, get their keep from their masters. But as for Britain, never a day passes but she pays and feeds her enslavers. In a private household it is the latest arrival who is always the butt of his fellow slaves; so, in this establishment, where all the world have long been slaves, it is we, the cheap new acquisitions, who are picked out for extirpation. You see, we have no fertile lands, no mines, no harbors, which we might be spared to work. Courage and martial spirit we have, but the master does not relish them in the subject. Even our remoteness and seclusion, while they protect, expose us to suspicion. Abandon, then, all hope of mercy and at last take courage, whether it is life or honor that you hold most dear. The Brigantes, with only a woman to lead them, burned the colony, stormed the camp and, if success had not made them grossly careless, might have cast off the yoke. Let us, then, uncorrupted, unconquered as we are, ready to fight for freedom but never to repent failure, prove at the first clash of arms what heroes Caledonia has been holding in reserve.
Chapter 32. 'Can you really imagine that the Romans' bravery in war comes up to their wantonness in peace? No! It is our quarrels and disunion that have given them fame. The reputation of the Roman army is built up on the faults of its enemies. Look at it, a motley agglomeration of nations, that will be shattered by defeat as surely as it is now held together by success! Or can you seriously think that those Gauls or Germans-and, to our bitter shame, many Britons too!-are bound to Rome by genuine loyalty or love? They may be lending their life-blood to foreign tyrants, but they were enemies of Rome much longer than they have been her slaves. Apprehension and terror are weak bonds of affection; once break them, and, where fear ends, hatred will begin. All that can goad men to victory is on our side. The enemy have no wives to fire their courage, no parents ready to taunt them if they run away. Most of them have no country, or, if they have one, it is not Rome. See them, a scanty band, scared and bewildered, staring blankly at the unfamiliar sky, sea and forests around! The gods have given them, spellbound prisoners, into our hands. Never fear the outward show that means nothing, the glitter of gold and silver that can neither avert nor inflict a wound. In the ranks of our very enemies we shall find hands to help us. The Britons will recognize our cause as their own, the Gauls will remember their lost liberty, the rest of the Germans will desert them as surely as the Usipi have just done. They have nothing in reserve that need alarm us-only forts without garrisons, colonies of grey-beards, towns sick and distracted between rebel subjects and tyrant masters. Here before us is their general, here his army; behind are the tribute, the mines and all the other whips to scourge slaves. Whether you are to endure these for ever or take summary vengeance, this field must decide. On, then, into action and, as you go, think of those that went before you and of those that shall come after.'
Chapter 33. This speech was received with enthusiasm, expressed, as barbarians express it, by shouting, singing and confused applause. Bodies of troops began to move and arms blazed, as the adventurous sallied out in front, and all the time their battle-line was taking shape. Agricola's soldiers were in good heart and fretting at confinement within their defenses. For all that, he felt it desirable to put the final edge on their courage and addressed them thus: 'This is the seventh year, comrades, that you by your valor, by the divine blessing on Rome and by my loyal efforts have been conquering Britain. All these campaigns, all these battles, have made great demands: on courage in face of the enemy, on patient toil in face of Nature herself; but, in all, I have had no complaint to make of my men nor you of your general. And so we have passed the limits that held back former legates and their armies. Our grip on the ends of Britain is vouched for, not by report or rumor, but by our encampment there in force. Britain has been discovered and at the same time subdued. How often on the march, when you were making your weary way over marshes, mountains and rivers, have I heard the bravest of you exclaim, "When shall we find the enemy? When shall we come to grips?" Well, here they come, dislodged from their lairs. The field lies open, as you so bravely desired it. An easy path awaits you if you win, but a hard and uphill one if you lose. The miles of hard marching behind you, the woods you have threaded, the estuaries you have crossed-all redound to your credit and honor, while you keep your eyes to the front; but, if once you retreat, present assets become deadly liabilities. We have not the exact local knowledge that our enemy has, we have not his abundant supplies; but we have our hands and our swords in them, and, with that, we have all that matters. For myself, I made up my mind long ago that no army and no general can safely turn their back. It follows, then, that a death of honor is better than a life of shame, and safety and renown are to be sought in the same field; and, if we must perish, it would be no mean glory to fall where land and nature end.
Chapter 34. 'If you were confronted by strange nations and an unfamiliar army, I would quote the example of other armies to encourage you. That is not the case; you need only recall your own battle-honors, only question your own eyes. These are the men who last year took advantage of night-time to attack a single legion, only to be broken by your battle-cry. These are the Britons with the longest legs-the only reason they have survived so long. When we used to plunge into the woods and thickets, all the brave beasts charged straight at us, the timid and passive slunk away at the mere sound of our tread. It is just the same now. The flower of Britain has fallen long since; what is left is a pack of spiritless cravens. You have indeed got them at last; but you have caught them-they never meant to stand. It is only extreme danger and deadly fear that have rooted them to this spot, where you may gain a great and memorable victory. Have done with campaigning, crown fifty years with one day of splendor, convince Rome that, if wars have dragged on or been permitted to revive, her soldiers were not to blame!'
Chapter 36. The fighting began with exchanges of missiles, and the Britons
showed both courage and skill in parrying our shots with their great swords
or catching them on their little shields, while they themselves rained
volleys on us. At last Agricola called upon the four cohorts of the Batavi
and the two of the Tungri to close and fight it out at the sword's point.
The manoeuvre was familiar to those old soldiers, but most inconvenient
to the enemy with their small shields and unwieldy swords-swords without
a thrusting point, and therefore unsuited to the clash of arms in close
fighting. The Batavi began to rain blow after blow, push with the bosses
of their shields and stab at their enemies in their face. They routed the
enemy on the plain and pushed on uphill. This provoked the rest of our
cohorts to drive in hard and butcher the enemy as they met him. Many Britons
were left behind half dead or even unwounded, owing to the very speed of
our victory. Our cavalry squadrons, meanwhile, had routed the war chariots,
and now plunged into the infantry battle. Their first onslaught was terrifying,
but the solid ranks of the enemy and the roughness of the ground soon brought
them to a standstill. The battle now looked anything but favorable to us,
with our infantry precariously perched on the slope and jostled by the
flanks of the horses. And often a stray chariot, its horses panic-stricken
without a driver, came plunging in on flank or front.
Chapter 37. The Britons on the hill-tops had so far taken no part in the action, and had had leisure to note the smallness of our numbers with contempt. They now began to make a slow descent and envelop our victorious rear ranks. But Agricola had anticipated just such a move, and threw in their path four squadrons of cavalry,which he was keeping in hand for emergencies. He thus broke and scattered them in a rout as severe as their assault had been gallant. The tactics of the Britons now recoiled on themselves. Our squadrons, obedient to orders, rode round from the front and fell on the enemy in the rear. The spectacle that followed over the open country was awe-inspiring and grim. Our men followed hard, took prisoners and then killed them, as new enemies appeared. On the enemy's side each man now followed his bent. Some bands, though armed, fled before inferior numbers, some men, though unarmed, insisted on charging to their deaths. Arms, bodies, severed limbs lay all around and the earth reeked of blood; and the vanquished now and then found their fury and their courage again. Indeed, when they reached the woods, they rallied and profited by their local knowledge to ambush the first rash pursuers. Our excess of confidence might even have led to no inconsiderable disaster. But Agricola was everywhere at once. He ordered the cohorts to rally, discard their equipment and ring the woods like hunters. Where the woods were denser, dismounted cavalry went in to scour them; where they thinned out, the cavalry did the work. But the Britons, when they saw our ranks steady and firm and the pursuit beginning again, simply turned and ran. They no longer kept any formation or any touch with one another, but deliberately broke into small groups to reach their far and trackless retreats. Only night and exhaustion ended the pursuit. Of the enemy some 10,000 fell, on our side 360, among whom was Aulus Atticus, the prefect of a cohort, who in his young enthusiasm was carried by the charge of his horse deep into the ranks of the enemy.
Chapter 39. The news of these events, although reported by Agricola in his dispatches in the most exact and modest terms, was received by Domitian with the smile on his face that so often masked a secret disquiet. He was bitterly aware of the ridicule that had greeted his sham triumph over Germany, when he had bought up slaves to have their dress and hair made up to look like prisoners of war. But now came a genuine victory on the grand scale. The enemy dead were reckoned by thousands. The popular enthusiasm was immense. There was nothing Domitian need fear so much as to have the name of a subject exalted above that of his prince. He had only wasted time in silencing forensic eloquence and all that was distinguished in the civil career, if another man were to snatch his military glory. Talents in other directions could at a pinch be ignored; but the quality of a good general should be the monopoly of the emperor. Such were the anxieties that vexed him and over which he brooded till he was tired--a sure sign in him of deadly purpose; finally, he decided to store up his hatred for the present and wait for the first burst of popular applause and the enthusiasm of the army to die down. Agricola, you see, was still in possession of Britain.
Chapter 40. Domitian therefore gave instructions that the external distinctions of triumph, the honor of a splendid statue and all the other substitutes for the triumph itself should be voted to Agricola in the Senate, coupled with a most flattering address; further, the impression was to be conveyed that the province of Syria, then vacant through the death of Atilius Rufus, the ex-consul, and always reserved for men of mark, was intended for Agricola. It was very commonly believed that one of the freedmen in Domitian's closest confidence was sent with dispatches offering Agricola Syria, but with instructions to deliver them only if he were still in Britain. The freedman, it is said, met Agricola's ship in the Channel and, without even seeking an interview, returned to Domitian. The story may be true, or it may be a fiction; at least it suits Domitian's character. Agricola, meanwhile, had handed over a province peaceful and secure to his successor. In order not to signalize his arrival in Rome by the publicity of a crowded welcome, he avoided the attentions of his friends and entered the city by night. By night, too, he went, in accordance with instructions, to the palace. He was welcomed with a perfunctory kiss and then dismissed, without a word of conversation, to join the crowd of courtiers. Agricola was anxious to tone down the military reputation which so easily offends civilians by displaying other qualities. He drank deep of peace and repose. He was modest in his dress, an affable companion, never seen with more than one or two friends. The result was that the majority who usually measure great men by their self-advertisement, after a close survey of Agricola, were left asking why he was famous; very few could read his secret aright.
Chapter 41. Often during this period Agricola was denounced to Domitian behind his back, often behind his back acquitted. His danger did not arise from any charge against him or any complaint from a victim of his injustice, but from the Emperor's hatred of Merit, Agricola's own fame and that deadliest type of enemy, the singers of his praises. And, indeed, the fortunes of Rome in those ensuing years were not such as to permit Agricola to be forgotten in silence. One by one came the loss of all those armies in Moesia and Dacia, in Germany and Pannonia, through the rash folly or cowardice of their generals, the taking by storm and capture of all those captains and their cohorts. It was no longer the frontier and the Danube line that were in question, but the permanent quarters of the legions and the maintenance of the Empire. So, as loss was piled on loss, and year after year was signalized by death and disaster, public opinion began to clamor for Agricola to take command. His energy, his resolution and military expertness were universally contrasted with the general irresolution and cowardice. Domitian's own ears, we may be sure, were stung by the lash of such talk. The best of his freedmen spoke out of their loyal affection, the worst out of malice and spleen; but all alike infuriated an emperor who was so ready to go wrong. And so Agricola was driven headlong by his own virtues and the vices of others to where glory lay over the edge of a precipice.
Chapter 42. At last the year arrived in which Agricola was due to draw
for the proconsulship of Africa or Asia; and, with the execution of Civica
still fresh in memory, Agricola was not without warning nor Domitian without
precedent. Agricola was approached by some of the Emperor's confidants
with the straight question whether he meant to take a province. They began
with somewhat guarded praises of the life of peaceful retirement, went
on to promise their good services should Agricola care to decline, and
finally, throwing off the mask, pleaded and threatened in direct terms,
until he was ready to go with them to Domitian. The Emperor had his hypocrite's
part prepared. He put on a majestic air, listened to Agricola's request
to be excused, and, after granting it, allowed Agricola to thank him, with
never a blush for so odious a concession. He did not, however, assign
him the proconsular salary, usually offered in such cases and given by
himself in some-perhaps from annoyance that Agricola had not asked for
it, perhaps out of very shame, not wishing to appear to have bought an
abstention which he had imposed. It is a sin peculiar to man to hate his
victim. Yet even Domitian, prone as he was to plunge into fury and only
the more inexorable if he tried to hide it, was appeased by the measured
wisdom of Agricola, who declined, by a defiant and futile parade of freedom,
to court the fame that must mean his fall. Let it be clear to those who
insist on admiring insubordination that even under bad emperors men can
be great, and that a decent regard for authority, if backed by ability
and energy, can reach that peak of honor that many have stormed by precipitous
paths, winning fame, without serving their country, by a melodramatic death.
Chapter 43. The end of his life was, of course, a bitter blow to us, his kindred, and a sorrow to his friends; but it deeply affected others outside his circle and even complete strangers. The masses and the commons of Rome, usually so bent on their own concerns, flocked to his house to enquire and gossiped in the markets and clubs. When his death was announced there was no one to exult, no one to forget too readily. The sense of pity was quickened by the persistent rumor that he had been poisoned. We have no definite evidence--that is all that I can say for certain. I must add, however, that throughout the whole of his illness there were more visits from prominent freedmen and Court physicians than is usual even with emperors, whose visits are regularly paid by proxy. Perhaps it meant genuine concern, perhaps mere espionage. On the day of his death the critical stages of his decline were certainly reported by a line of couriers, and no one could believe that tidings need be brought so quickly if they were unwelcome. However, Domitian made a decent show of genuine sorrow; he was relieved of the need to hate, and he could always hide satisfaction more convincingly than fear. It is quite certain that he was genuinely delighted when Agricola's will was read in public; he left Domitian as co-heir with his good wife and loving daughter. Domitian took it as a deliberate compliment. His soul was so blinded and corrupted by incessant flattery that he could not realize that no good father makes any emperor but a bad one his heir.
Chapter 44. Agricola was born on June 13th in the third consulship of Gaius Caesar; he died in his fifty-fourth year on August 23rd in the consulship of Collega and Priscinus. Should posterity care to know what he looked like, he was attractive rather than impressive. There was a lack of forcefulness in his features, but abundant charm of expression. You could see at a glance that he was a good man, you were tempted to believe him a great one. Cut off though he was in the middle of a life of splendid promise, measured by glory his life was absolutely complete. He had wholly realized those true blessings which reside in a man's own character. He had held the consulship, he bore the ornaments of triumph; what more could fortune contrive for him? He had no taste for vast wealth, while a handsome competence had fallen to his lot. We may count him blessed, then, who left a widow and daughter to survive him, who, in the full enjoyment of his great position, at the height of his fame, leaving kinsmen and friends secure, escaped by death from the wrath that was to come. Happy he, had he been permitted to see the dawn of this blessed age and the principate of Trajan, a prospect of which he often spoke to us in wistful prophecy! Yet it was no small consolation for his untimely loss that he missed those final days, when Domitian no longer left interval or breathing space, but, with a succession of blows so continuous as to give the effect of one, drained the last strength of the Roman state.
Chapter 45. Agricola did not live to see the senate-house under siege, the senators hedged in by soldiers, and that one fell stroke that sent so many a consular to death, so many a noble lady to exile or flight. A single victory was all that was yet credited to Carus Mettius, the screech of Messalinus was still confined to debate in the Alban fortress and Massa Baebius was at that very moment in the dock. Soon, Helvidius was to be led to prison by our hands, we were to send Mauricus and Rusticus to their several fates, Senecio was to drench us with his innocent blood. Even Nero forbore to witness the abominations he ordered. Under Domitian more than half our wretchedness consisted in watching and being watched, while our very sighs were scored against us, and the blanched faces of us all were revealed in deadly contrast to that one scowling blush behind which Domitian sheltered against shame. Happy you, Agricola, in your glorious life, but no less happy in your timely death. We have the testimony of those who enjoyed your conversation at the last that you met death with a cheerful courage. You seemed glad to be doing your best to spare Domitian the guilt of killing you. But your daughter and I have suffered more than the pang of a father's loss; we still grieve that we could not tend your illness, cheer your failing powers and take our fill of fond look and embrace. We could not have failed to catch some words of admonition to be engraved forever in our hearts. It was our special sorrow, our peculiar hurt, that through the accident of our long absence from Rome, we had lost him four years before he died. All, more than all, dear Father, was assuredly done to honor you by the devoted wife at your side; but there were tears due to you that were not shed and, as the night fell, there was something for which your closing eyes looked in vain.
Chapter 46. If there is any place for the souls of the pious, if, as the wise men think, great souls do not perish with the body, quiet, O Father, be your rest! May you call us, your household, from feeble regrets and unmanly mourning to contemplate your virtues, in presence of which sorrow and lamentation become a sin! May we honor you in better ways--by our admiration, by our undying praise, even, if our powers permit, by following your example! That is the true honor, the true affection of souls knit close to yours. To your daughter and widow I would suggest that they revere the memory of a father and a husband by continually pondering his deeds and sayings, and by cherishing his spiritual, above his physical, presence. Not that I would place an absolute ban on likenesses of marble or of bronze. But the image of the human face, like that face itself, is feeble and perishable, whereas the essence of the soul is eternal, never to be caught and expressed by the material and skill of a stranger, but only by you in your own living. All in Agricola that won our love and admiration abides and shall abide in the hearts of men, through endless ages, in the chronicles of fame. For oblivion will efface the memory of many of the great men of old as though without glory or nobility: Agricola, his story told and handed down to posterity, will survive.
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