Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gnaeus Julius Agricola

Also known as: Cneius Juluis Agricola, Gnus Julius Agricola, Gaus Julius Agricola, Gaes Julius Agricola

Birth: June 13, 40 in Forum Julii, France
Death: August 23, 93 in France
Nationality: Roman
Occupation: general

Roman general Gnaeus Julius Agricola is best known for his conquests of Britain, from 77 to 84 AD; after putting down a revolt during the reign of emperor Titus, he imbedded Roman culture while serving as Britain's governor. His son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, chronicled Agricola in The Agricola, his extensive work about the man's exploits. "Many of the great men of old will be drowned in oblivion, their name and fame forgotten. Agricola's story has been told to posterity and by that he will live," Tacitus said, as R. H. Barrow recorded in The Romans.

Career Swift, Productive After Parents Death

Agricola was born at Forum Julii in the Province of Gallia Narbonensis in southern France, where his father, Julius Graecinus, was praetor; historians have linked his mother, Julia Procilla, to an aristocratic family in southern Gaul. As noted on the Roman-Britain.org website, "Agricola...was following the customary career-path known as the cursus honorum which was thus opened to him. This 'way of honour' was instituted in the early republic, and took a young-man of the Roman senatorial class through a series of traditional posts, both military and civil, which culminated in the highest prize of republican Rome, the post of consul."

Both of his parents were later killed, Graecinus by Emperor Gaius Caligula, and Procilla, on her own estate, by troops working for Emperor Otho. Graecinus had risen to senator and was a noteworthy speaker and philosopher, according to Roman-Britain.org, but was sentenced to death for not prosecuting Marcus Silanus.

"But the deaths of his parents had little effect on Agricola's career, which was swift and productive," Matthew Bunson wrote in The Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire.

Served in Britain

Agricola spent his apprenticeship as a tribune in Britain, as quaestor in Asia (64), a legate in Britain (71-73), a legate of Aquitania (74-77) and as a consul. Emperor Vespasian, impressed with his skills, appointed him to the latter, and Agricola became governor of Britain in 78. He married Domitia Decidiana and their daughter married Tacitus.

Agricola served in Britain from 77 to 84; he conquered the Ordovices in north Wales and the Druid stronghold of Mona island (now Anglesey, part of Wales), "reportedly massacring the island's inhabitants who were of the Druid faith," the British Broadcasting Corporation wrote in a profile of Agricola. In 79-80, Agricola cemented Roman military control of the Forth-Clyde line after moving to Scotland and ultimately helped the Roman Empire establish its northernmost penetration. In all, he conquered North Wales, the Tay and Newstead.

Quelled Rebellion

During the reign of emperor Titus, Agricola put down a rebellion by the British. "While stifling the revolt, Agricola's men sailed around Britain, and for the first time Europeans learned that Britain is an island," Paul A. Zoch wrote in Ancient Rome: An Introductory History.

When Titus died after only a two-year reign, Domitian became emperor, who, according to Roman-Britain.org, may have been jealous of Agricola's success, and ordered the general back to Rome. Agricola declined an offer to serve as proconsul in Asia, and spent his last eight years in retirement. He died in 93.

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