The life of Gnaeus Julius
Agricola is known to us today because his son-in-law, the famous
Roman historian, Tacitus, left a detailed biography of the Roman
general. Agricola is recorded in British history because he
conquered parts of Wales and Scotland but he won other impressive
titles including Quaestor in Asia (AD 64), People’s Tribune (AD
66) and Praetor (AD 68).
It was during the civil war of AD
69 that Agricola supported Vespasian, who in turn appointed him
commander of a force headed for the British Isles. Eight years
later, Agricola was made Governor of Britain. In between he
returned to Rome in AD 73 and served as Governor of Aquitania for
three years. Back in Britain, Agricola set about conquering more
remote regions in northern England, Scotland and Wales.
According to Tacitus he crossed
the Menai Straits to take Anglesey, reportedly massacring the
island’s inhabitants who were of the druid faith. Tacitus doesn’t
spare us the details, giving a vivid account of wild-haired women
and barbarian druids who created a formidable line on the shore
opposite the mainland. The druids were nonetheless conquered and
their base on Mona (modern-day Anglesey) was broken up.
From AD 79-80, Agricola moved
north to Scotland where he consolidated Roman military control of
the Forth-Clyde line. He was the one who masterminded the building
of a string of forts across the country from west to east. From AD
81-83, Agricola campaigned north of the Forth-Clyde line and
confronted the Caledonii (under Calgacus) at the battle of Mons
Graupius. Although the result was indecisive, Agricola’s effort
paved the way for the creation of the most northerly legionary
fortress of the Roman Empire at Intuthill in Perthshire.
Recalled to Rome, Agricola lived
in retirement, having refused the proconsulship of Asia. He died
in AD 93.