Addenda to Agricola

Calgacus’ Speech

Tacitus, Agricola 29–32.

Among the many leaders one named Calgacus was distinguished alike by courage and high birth. Facing the assembled multitude as they clamoured for battle, he is said to have addressed them as follows:
“When I consider the causes of the war and our desperate position, I have great confidence that this day of your union will be the beginning of freedom for the whole of Britain. No man of us has ever tasted slavery. There is no land beyond us, and even the sea is no safe refuge since we are threatened by the Roman fleet. In battle and arms, then, lie alike the brave man’s glory and the coward’s safest refuge. Those who fought with varying fortune against the Romans in former battles always felt that a hope of rescue lay in us. They knew us for Britain’s noblest, dwellers in her inmost sanctuary, who never see the slavish shores [i.e. Gaul], and keep our eyes unpolluted from the infection of tyranny. We live on the confines of land and of liberty. Our remote seclusion and our obscurity have so far saved us. But now the very bounds of Britain are laid bare, and everything unknown is valued the more. There are no tribes beyond: nothing but the waves and rocks, and – worse enemies still – the Romans, whose arrogance it is vain to parry by obedience and discipline. They plunder the whole world: and having exhausted the land, they now scour the sea. If an enemy is rich, their greed is for gain; if he is poor, it is for glory; and neither East nor West can satisfy them. They are the only people in the world who covet wealth and want with equal greed. To robbery, murder, and pillage they give the false name of Empire, and when they create desolation they call it Peace.
“Nature has willed that men should love best their children and their nearest kin. Our children are carried off by conscription into foreign slavery: our wives and sisters, if they escape the enemy’s lust, are debauched under a pretence of friendship and hospitality. Our goods and fortunes go in taxes, our fields and the year’s yield in requisitions of corn, our very bodies and hands to build roads through woods and marshes, amid blows and insults. Slaves that are born to their position are sold once for all, and their masters feed them. Britain pays for its own enslavement every day, and feeds its masters every day. In a household the last newcomer is a butt among his fellow slaves. So it is with us. In this old household of the world we are the worthless newcomers who are marked out for destruction. For we have neither fertile lands nor mines nor harbours that they might keep us to work them: and Imperialists do not welcome courage and untamed spirit in their subjects. Besides, our remoteness and seclusion, while they give safety, also provoke suspicion. So you must put aside all hope of mercy and take courage all of you, both those who value glory and those who value life. The Brigantes, with a woman at their head, burnt a colony [colonia], stormed a camp, and, had not success blunted their energy, might have flung off the yoke.[*] We are strong and unconquered: we shall not live to repent of our liberty: let us show now in the first encounter what manner of men Caledonia has kept in store.
“Do you believe that the Romans will be as brave in war as they are wanton in peace? It is by our quarrels and disunion that they have won fame: they turn the faults of the enemy to the glory of their own army. But that army is recruited from widely different nations. Success holds it together: defeat will disband it – unless indeed you think there can be any bond of loyalty or attachment to Rome among Gauls and Germans and — I am ashamed to say it – Britons too, who, though they may lend their blood to a foreign tyrant, have yet been his enemies longer than they have been his slaves. Fear and terror form poor ties of affection. Remove these, and hatred will begin where fear ceases. All the incentives to victory are on our side. The Romans have no wives to fire their courage, no parents to upbraid their flight. Most of them have no fatherland – or at best a foster-father. They are few, they are frightened, they are ignorant of the country; they peer round them in alarm at sky and sea and woods: all is strange to them. Caught as in a trap, bound hand and foot, the gods have delivered them into our hands. Do not be alarmed by the mere sight of them: the glitter of gold and silver can neither shield them nor wound us. We shall find our forces in the enemy’s own line. The Britons will recognize our cause as their own, the Gauls will recall their former freedom. The other Germans will desert them as the Usipi have recently done. Nor have we aught to fear beyond this army: their forts are empty, their colonies full of old men, and their towns are weak and disunited between disobedient subjects and tyrant masters. On this side you have a general [i.e. Calgacus] and an army: on that side tributes and mines and all the other penalties of slavery, which you must either endure for ever or once for all avenge: it is for this field to decide. On then into battle, and as you go think both of your ancestors and of your descendants.”

Agricola’s Speech

Tacitus, Agricola 33–34.

… [Agricola] addressed them as follows:
“My fellow soldiers, it is now the seventh year that, thanks to your bravery, under the auspices of Rome, together with my own loyal labours, you have been conquering Britain. In all these campaigns, in all these battles, whether courage was needed in facing the enemy, or patient labour against the forces of Nature, I have had no cause to repent of my soldiers nor you of your general. So you and I have passed beyond the frontiers which former governors and previous armies knew. The utmost end of Britain is no longer a matter of report or rumour: we hold it by force of arms. Britain has been both discovered and subdued. Often upon the march, when marshes and mountains and rivers tried your patience, I used to hear cries from the bravest among you: “When shall we get at the enemy?”  “When shall we have a battle?”  Here they come, thrust from their lairs: the way lies open – your courage can fulfil your prayers. All the conditions are for us if we conquer; but those same conditions would be against us in defeat. To have accomplished such a march, to have penetrated forests and crossed estuaries, gives us glory so long as we march forward; but in retreat our very success would be our danger. For we have not the same knowledge of the country as the enemy, nor the same abundance of supplies: we have our hands and our swords, and in these lies everything. For myself, I have long ago made up my mind that neither army nor general can safely show their backs [i.e. retreat]. Besides, an honourable death is better than a life of dishonour: safety and glory go hand in hand. Nor will it be inglorious to fall on the very confines of the land and of Nature.
“Had you been faced by new tribes and an unknown force, I would have encouraged you by the example of other armies. But now – recall your own glories, question your own eyes. These are the men who last year stealthily attacked one of the legions under cover of night — the men whom you crushed by a mere shout. These are the runaways of Britain: that is why they have survived so long. You know that when you penetrate into woods and thickets all the bravest animals rush out against you, while the timid and slothful are driven away by the mere sound of your feet. So it is with the Britons: the bravest have fallen long ago: there remains but a mob of quaking cowards. You have found them at last, but do not think that they have turned at bay: they are caught in a trap. Despair and the extremity of fear have rooted them to this spot, where you may win a glorious and memorable victory. Have done with campaigns: crown fifty years with one great day:[*] show the State that the delays of the war and the causes of rebellion can never be laid to the charge of the army.”
Tacitus appears to be confusing his royal ladies. Boudica (the widow of a king) famously led, her own tribe, the Iceni, “the Trinovantes and others” (Annals XIV, 31) in a rebellion against the Romans, during which the colonia of Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex) was destroyed, and the 9th Legion was roundly defeated and forced to escape to its camp (it was not actually stormed). It is extremely unlikely that the “others” included the Brigantes, whose Queen Cartimandua was unswervingly loyal to Rome. (The notion is sometimes floated that Tacitus was deliberately attributing the confusion to Calgacus, since he might be expected to be more familiar with the Brigantes than the, somewhat remote, Iceni. This seems a rather contrived possibility, however, and it is probably simply a slip-up by Tacitus.)
It was actually only forty years since the Claudian invasion. Perhaps at some stage in the text’s transmission the Roman numeral XL (40) has been copied as just L (50).