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Roman General - Gnaeus Julius Agricola

Updated on November 2, 2009

Gnaeus Julius Agricola (40-93 A.D.), general and governor of Roman Britain. His career, typical for a competent administrator of imperial Rome, was eulogized by his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, in the Agricola. Agricola was born in Forum Julii, now Frejus, in Provence, France. Thus he typified imperial provincials, rising to high posts. Through his ability and connections he became a quaestor in Asia, senator, tribune of the plebs, praetor, consul, pontifex, and legate (governor) of Aquitania. In each office he showed intelligence, integrity, and political common sense.

His career centered mainly in Britain, however. In 61, Agricola, as tribunus militum (staff officer), joined a victorious attack on the Druid stronghold on Mona (Anglesey) and then faced a widespread revolt led by Queen Boadicea (Boudicca). Though the Romans had to with­draw from the cities, their disciplined legions annihilated 80,000 Britons. The victory broke the anti-Roman confederacy but turned Roman policy for a decade from expansion to consolidation.

In the civil wars of 68-69, Agricola declared for Vespasian, and from 71 to 73 he was legate of the XX Legion in Britain. Vespasian had reactivated the aggressive policy in Britain, and Agricola proved his generalship in hard fighting against the powerful Brigantes. From 78 to 84 he was legate of Britain. Like other able legates before him he made great strides in Romanizing conquered Britain, building cities, schools, and roads and cultivating Roman ways. He crushed a revolt in Wales and Mona and established permanent order in the mountainous region. He next secured Britain's west coast with a strategically engineered chain of forts and roads. The emperor Domitian then authorized campaigns in the Scottish Highlands. At Mons Graupius, in 84, Agricola defeated the Scots, who retreated to the Highlands. Total conquest of Scotland seemed possible; but Domitian, awarding Agricola high honors, recalled him to Rome and withdrew legionnaires from Britain to fight on the Rhine. This ended the Flavian advance in Britain. Agricola's forts were gradually abandoned and north Britain remained independent. He left a legacy of military security, conscientious administration, and Romanization that drew Britain more firmly into the empire.


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