Agricola Administration Reforms (78AD)

As winter approached, Agricola focused on reforming the civil administration—a task essential for a provincial governor, especially during wartime winters. Tacitus notes Agricola’s understanding of the British temperament and his learning from previous governors’ experiences that mere force was ineffective without fair governance. He aimed to eliminate the causes of conflict, particularly addressing the abuses in levies, both monetary and in goods like grain, for army use.

Next, with thorough insight into the feelings of his province, and taught also, by the experience of others, that little is gained by conquest if followed by oppression, he determined to root out the causes of war

Cornelius Tacitus: Agricola XIX

The governor had jurisdiction over these matters, likely due to their military relevance, but cooperation with the financial service was crucial to prevent bureaucratic disputes over departmental responsibilities.

He lightened the exaction of corn and tribute by an equal distribution of the burden, while he got rid of those contrivances for gain which were more intolerable than the tribute itself. Hitherto the people had been compelled to endure the farce of waiting by the closed granary and of purchasing corn unnecessarily and raising it to a fictitious price. 

Cornelius Tacitus: Agricola XIX

It was revealed that some camp-commandants and senior centurions had been exploiting these systems for profit. For instance, centurions would demand corn at inconvenient times for the locals but opportune for the army. This would lead to intimidation and ultimately a ‘solution’ where the army would ‘find’ the corn, sell it to the tribe, and then accept it back for the requisition. In this scheme, the corn never moved from the granaries, and the Britons’ payments ended up in the officials’ pockets. Another tactic involved instructing a tribe near a legionary base to deliver its quota across Britain to another legion. The exact profit-making mechanism in this scenario is unclear, but it might have been used as retribution against resistant communities or as a means for officials to extract bribes for more convenient arrangements.