Tacitus and Roman Britain: with special reference to de vita Agricolae.

Rogan, John (1981). Tacitus and Roman Britain: with special reference to de vita Agricolae. BPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000fcbe


In order to understand the writings of Tacitus which deal with Roman Britain we need to know something of his ideas expressed in the totality of his verbs and also correlate them with our knowledge of Roman Britain derived from other sources, including archaeology and provincial administration.

Section 1 deals with Tacitus the man and his ideas: - his origins probably in an equestrian family living in Gallia Narbonensis; his rise in the senatorial order to high office and acquisition of a great reputation as an orator. It was a great career which spanned the “terror” of Domition and the coup which brought Trojan to power. These events worked his spirit. In the midst of these times he turned to historical writing, which proved to be a suitable vehicle for the expression of his ideas.

Section 2 examines the Agricolae, the subject of which was his own father in law. It is something of a “tract for the tired” as well as a guide to successful governorship, which might not get the rewards that might have been expected. Agricola must be seen, however, within the context of provincial administration, and the senatorial cursus, both of which are examined.

Section 3 studies Tacitus’s references to the geography, anthropology and ethnography of Britain, our dependence on this material continues to be great (except in the matter of geography).

Section 4 reviews the material covering the province before the accession of Vespasian.

Section 5 studies the province under the Flavians up to the recall of Agricola, with an examination of the fate of northern conquests.

Tacitus remains our principle literary source for the history of the province. Archaeology sheds light on matters where Tacitus is silent or where his text has been lost; but for the most part wherever Tacitus can be checked by such remains or from other sources his essential veracity is vindicated.

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