Gnaeus Julius Agricola

Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a Roman Italo-Gallic general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. Much of our knowledge of him comes from the writings of his son-in-law Tacitus, the De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, along with detailed archaeological evidence from northern Britain.

Gnaeus Julius Agricola Governor of Britannia from 77/8AD to 83/4

“His apprenticeship to war was in Britain …” Tacitus Agricola 5.1

Meanwhile war had again broken out in Britain, and Gnaeus Julius Agricola overran the whole of the enemy’s territory there. He was the first of the Romans to discover the fact that Britain is surrounded by water. It seemed that some soldiers rebelled, and after slaying the centurions and a military tribune took refuge in boats, in which they put out to sea and sailed round the western portion of the country just as the wind and the waves chanced to carry them ; and without realizing it, since they approached from the opposite direction, they put in at the camps on the first side again. Thereupon Agricola sent others to attempt the voyage around Britain, and learned from them, too, that it was an island. “As a result of these events in Britain Titus received the title of imperator for the fifteenth time. But Agricola for the rest of his life lived not only in disgrace but in actual want, because the deeds which he had wrought were too great for a mere general. Finally, he was murdered by Domitian for no other reason than this, in spite of his having received triumphal honours from him.”We are most fortunate in that the son-in-law of this Roman general was the famous Latin historian Cornelius Tacitus, who documented the rise of the Roman empire in his justly famous Histories and Annals, but was also to immortalise his father-in-law in a biography entitled The Agricola. The entire text of this work has survived, and most of it is available by clicking here.

Above text from Cassius Dio’s History of Rome LXVI.xx.1-3 – Epitome of Xiphilinus, translated by E. Cary.


An Abbreviated Biography

13th June 40AD Agricola born at Forum Julii in the Province of Gallia Narbonensis (Fréjus, on the Mediterranean coast of Provence in south France), his father Julius Graecinus was praetor in the same year, and his mother Procilla is thought to have come from an aristocratic family in southern Gaul.
58-62AD Tribunus Laticlavius in Britain on the headquarters staff of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (governor 58-61AD) during the revolt of the Iceni and the Trinovantes led by Boudicca. He subsequently served on the staff of his successor Publius Petronius Turpilianus (governor 61/2-3AD).
c.63AD Married Domitia Decidiana, the daughter of Domitius Decidianus.
64AD Quaestor in Asia province, serving under governor Salvius Titianus.
66AD Tribunus Plebis at Rome.
68AD Praetor at Rome.
69AD Declared for Vespasian after his mother was killed by the soldiers of Vitellius.
71-4AD Legatus Legionis in Britain under Quintus Petillius Cerialis (governor 71-73/4AD), in command of Legio XX Valeria who were stationed at this time at Wroxeter in Shropshire.
74-7AD Elected a patrician and sent to govern the peaceful province of Aquitania.
77AD Consule Suffectus in Rome. Cornelius Tacitus marries his daughter.
78-84AD Legatus Augusti Pro-Praetore in Britain:
78AD Defeated the Ordovices tribe in north Wales and conquered the Druid stronghold of Mona (Anglesey).
79AD Consolidated the north-west of England by forts and garissons.
80AD Advanced north-east by the eastern route as far as the Tay.
81AD Consolidated the Forth-Clyde line by the establishment of forts.
82AD Advanced along the west coast through Galway and Ayrshire.
83AD Consolidated the area around and to the north of the Tay, initiating the building of a new legionary fortress for the Twentieth at Inchtuthil, and for the first time encountered setbacks; the Caledonians tried to storm the camp of the Ninth Legion and a cohort of Usipi mutinied and sailed around the north of Britain.
84AD Advanced to the neighbourhood of the Moray Firth where he crushed the Caledonians in a decisive battle at Mons Graupius. In this year his unprecedented successes incurred the attention of the emperor Domitian, who, perhaps jealous of his success, ordered him back to Rome where he was granted triumphal insignia though not actually afforded a triumph, which was reserved for members of the imperial family.
23rd Aug. 93AD Gnaeus Julius Agricola died on his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis aged fifty-three, after spending the last eight years of his life in enforced retirement.

Gnaeus Julius Agricola – The Epigraphic Evidence

RIB 229a St. Albans, Hertfordshire Burn 27 Chester, Cheshire RIB 793 Hardknott Castle, Cumbria

St Albans, Hertfordshire RIB 229.A [dated: 79 or 81] IMP TITO CAESARI DIVI VESPASIANI F VESPASIANO AVG PM TR P VIIII IMP XV COS VII DESIG VIII CENSORI PATER PATRIAE ET CAESARI DIVI VESPASIANI F DOMITIANO COS VI DESIG VII PRINCIPI IVENTVTIS ET OMNIVM COLLEGIORVM SACERDOTI CN IVLIO AGRICOLA LEGATO AVG PRO PR MVNICIPIVM VERVLAMIVM BASILICA ORNATA “For the Emperor Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, son of the Divine Vespasian, ‘High Priest’, granted the tribunician powers nine times, hailed Imperator in the field fifteen times, consul seven times, designated consul for an eighth term, censor, ‘Father of the Fatherland’, and to Caesar Domitianus, son of the Divine Vespasian, consul six times, designated consul for a seventh term, ‘Prince of Youth’, and to all the priestly brotherhoods, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power, adorned the Verulamium basilica”. This fragmentary inscription was recovered from the forum at Verulamium, which has been alternately dated 79AD or 81, and may be taken as evidence that Agricola supported a civil advancement scheme, which he probably supervised during the winter seasons.

Chester, Cheshire Burn 27; RIB II [dated: 79AD] IMP VESP VIIII T IMP VII COS CN IVLIO AGRICOLA LEG AVG PR PR “Imperator Vespasian nine times and Imperator Titus seven times consul.¹ For Gnaeus Julius Agricola, pro-praetorian legate of the emperor”. This text was recorded on lead water pipes from the original timber-built fortress at Deva.

Hardknott Castle, Cumbria RIB 793 [undated] AGRICOLA COII “Assemble with Agricola”. This enigmatic text may be associated with Julius Agricola’s 79AD campaign season through the lands of the Brigantes and the Carvetii. However, this stone may equally be assigned to Sextus Calpurnius Agricola, who governed Britain in the 160AD’s.