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The Agricola and The Germania

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Author: Tacitus

Published: February 28th 1971 by Penguin Books (first published 98)

Format: Paperback , 174 pages

Isbn: 9780140442410

Language: English


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The Agricola is both a portrait of Julius Agricola - the most famous governor of Roman Britain and Tacitus' well-loved and respected father-in-law - and the first detailed account of Britain that has come down to us. It offers fascinating descriptions of the geography, climate and peoples of the country, and a succinct account of the early stages of the Roman occupation, n The Agricola is both a portrait of Julius Agricola - the most famous governor of Roman Britain and Tacitus' well-loved and respected father-in-law - and the first detailed account of Britain that has come down to us. It offers fascinating descriptions of the geography, climate and peoples of the country, and a succinct account of the early stages of the Roman occupation, nearly fatally undermined by Boudicca's revolt in AD 61 but consolidated by campaigns that took Agricola as far as Anglesey and northern Scotland. The warlike German tribes are the focus of Tacitus' attention in the Germania, which, like the Agricola, often compares the behaviour of 'barbarian' peoples favourably with the decadence and corruption of Imperial Rome.

30 review for The Agricola and The Germania

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    ...there are no more nations beyond us; nothing is there but waves and rocks, and the Romans, more deadly still than these - for in them is an arrogance which no submission or good behaviour can escape. Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness bo ...there are no more nations beyond us; nothing is there but waves and rocks, and the Romans, more deadly still than these - for in them is an arrogance which no submission or good behaviour can escape. Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of "government"; they create a desolation and call it peace... From Calgacus' address to the Caledonians p80-81 Coming to Tacitus' eulogy of his father-in-law Agricola after reading Visions of Glory the elements that will be recycled into Christian Hagiography stand out. The way in which the person, Agricola in this case, is an ideal type, distinct and apart already in childhood from "the temptations of evil companions" p54. If he had ever, like Saint Augustine, stolen fruit from an orchard, the fact would have had no place in this life which is dedicated to the ideal of moderation, and also perfection as a soldier, an official, and a Roman. However, being Roman is problematic. Tacitus view of Rome is pessimistic in that very few people ever seem to measure up to his conception of the true Roman (and as in The Histories sometimes these people are known only by their penchant to commit suicide in the appropriate manner to prove a point), I have no doubt that Tacitus would have condemned Romulus for drinking milk out of a cup instead of suckling directly from a she-wolf as he did as a youth. Rome is continually going to the dogs, but arrival is postponed only because of the occasional appearances of figures like Agricola. Agricola is of course: modest, conscientious, leads from the front, hard fighting and above all thoroughly appropriate in his behaviour as exemplified in his grief over the death of his son: he accepted this blow without either parading the fortitude of a stoic or giving way to passionate grief like a woman p79. The negative poles of behaviour for Tacitus are being passionate "like a woman" or being like some kind of some kind of fancy pants namby pamby philosopher type. For Tacitus, just like Goldilocks, the mean is golden. Yet while the true Roman as an individual is moderate and conscientious, Rome as a political culture is presented by Tacitus as enslaving, corrupt and decadent. To mirror Agricola, Tacitus invents the figure of Calgacus (view spoiler)[by which I mean there may have really been a single person in command of the Caledonians called Calgacus or not, the only evidence for his existence comes from this book in which the point of his existence is to give a rallying speech to the Caledonians before battle which denounces Roman imperialism. This strikes me more as a literary conceit than as a potential historical fact> Calgacus means "swordsman" - & so probably isn't even a name, just an unfamiliar sounding word, appropriated to create a suitable foil for the hero of the story (hide spoiler)] , as commander of the Caledonians in a battle which is presented as the high point of Agricola's governorship of Britain (78-84 AD), to present this negative view of Roman as political, Imperial, culture. The battle itself then becomes the clash between those negative values and the positive values embodied in Agricola himself, which inevitably triumph. He marshals his troops with care, is resolute and anticipates the moves of the enemy and thus achieves victory over superior numbers with minimal casualties (at least among his own men). Tacitus' view of the natives is that they can be noble savages, as his Caledonians are presented here, yet at the same time they are stupid - like the cohort of Usipi who desert the Romans but who lack the technical skills to allow them to convert their noble aspirations into practical effect. They can also be seduced into slavery: the population was gradually led into the demoralising temptations of arcades, baths, and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilisation', when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement p73. According to Tacitus the natives are like children, they lack foresight and willpower to maintain their traditional values (in contrast to Agricola)(view spoiler)[ if one glances forward in time one sees this attitude was not unique to ancient Rome (hide spoiler)] . In common with the later Christian hagiography there is a golden hazy vagueness over the details. The moral of the story is the morality of Agricola as the hero figure. We know more about the details of Agricola's campaigning in modern Scotland from archaeology and aerial photography than from Tacitus' account which in that sense is not biographical but intended to be exemplary. The history of Britannia, that distant province of the Roman Empire, is so obscure that every word in Tacitus' eulogy for his Father-in-Law, the soldier and later Governor, Agricola has been turned over repeatedly, yet the effort only invites further questions. When one of the leaders of the Caledonians makes a great set piece speech to his warriors denouncing Roman imperialism and colonisation you read and wonder how much this is Tacitus imagining what a barbarian resisting the Romans ought to say and how much this is Tacitus reminding his audience of the simpler, martial virtues of the ancient Romans (view spoiler)[ it is a nice bit of rhetoric and reminds me of Heart of Darkness, back in the sepulchral city they talk of peace, out in the field the reality is devastation (hide spoiler)] . Equally the resistance of barbarians to the Romans might be an allusion to the lack of resistance of the Roman political elite to the tyranny of the Emperor Domitian. Agricola is not free to pursue a martial career and to bring glory to Rome - military success could be the forerunner of an attempt to seize power so the careers of officals and old Roman military virtues are kept carefully clipped by the cautious Emperor, so Agricola doesn't get to invade Ireland, something he can only fantasize about. Even so, Agricola is conspicuous in his dignity and thus through his early death spared the tyranny which his son-in-law lived through. * * * The Germania is an account of the tribes living beyond the Rhine later famous for praising the purity of German blood and descent, but here I imagine Tacitus speaking to the Good Old Boys at the Gentlemen's club. The idealised foreigner is a mirror reflecting what the Romans ought to be. At least what members of the senatorial elite, all old money and of good families with impeccable ancestries, might think looking at an Imperial government operated by freed slaves with the most dubious antecedents. The Germans are held up as a model in their marriage customs, funerals and their public assemblies. It's hard to see this as anything other than a condemnation of the kind of ways of love and modern life described by Ovid in The Love Poems and the idealisation of the how things used to be back in the early Republic when men were manly, martial and virtuous and Roman women were no less martial and virtuous, if not quite as manly as their menfolk. Any similarity with actual Germans, at least in the parts describing the 'Germans' generally rather than specific tribes, may well be entirely co-incidental! When reading Tacitus making a joke (presumably) about the tribe ruled by women that this was not just below freedom but worse than slavery I can't help thinking that he is invoking the spirit of Cleopatra and the memories of Livia and Agrippina. The place of the proper Roman Matron was to inspire their menfolk to proper virtuous behaviour and not, horror of horrors, exercise power on their own behalf and own interests. Tacitus also briefly mentions the punishment of those who were drowned in bogs inside wicker cages. Some of the bog bodies dug up in recent times have had been found covered in branches (though I believe one of these was a young girl which appears to contradict Tacitus' testimony that this was a punishment reserved for "cowards, shirkers, and sodomites" p111). And there are occasional finds that support Tacitus' descriptions including, again on a bog body, a man's long hair knotted at the side of his head (possibly what we call a Suebian knot)(view spoiler)[ I saw some documentary on the battle of the Teutoburger Wald featuring re-enactment societies, unfortunately they had to delay the start of the battle because the Germans were still getting their hair ready, plainly for all that fastening your cloak with a thorn business, sartorially being a barbarian was far tougher than one might think (hide spoiler)] . The tribe specific descriptions show something of societies in flux. Different in some ways already from Caesar's descriptions of Germans in The Conquest of Gaul, probably influenced by the spreading Roman empire and merchants bringing wine and other fine luxuries north to exchange for slaves and amber. The interest and enjoyment of these works is that they are so short and slight. Their purpose and audience so tightly bound with the use of the material that you can poke and prod at them endlessly. Not quite what the author intended, but fun none the less.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace. Tacitus as Graham Greene. Whether offering a biography or an anthropological survey, Tacitus remains both terse and eloquent, all the way with a taste that all is certainly going to shit. I liked both pieces equally, I was struck in the latter by what I fathomed to be the respect shown for the Nasser of the They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace. Tacitus as Graham Greene. Whether offering a biography or an anthropological survey, Tacitus remains both terse and eloquent, all the way with a taste that all is certainly going to shit. I liked both pieces equally, I was struck in the latter by what I fathomed to be the respect shown for the Nasser of the Danube. The first section, a portrait of his father-in-law can't help but appear regal in defeat.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Gustafson

    For fans of the great Roman historian Tacitus who gave us "The Histories" and "The Annals," his two short works, "Agricola" and "Germania" will give you a mild fix. "Agricola" is a short biography of Tacitus' father-in-law, Julius Agricola, who was governor of Britannia. This is the beginning of Tacitus' writing career and many have suggested that it was the funeral oration he could never deliver since he was posted elsewhere in the empire at the time Agricola's death. Therefore, it is hardly an For fans of the great Roman historian Tacitus who gave us "The Histories" and "The Annals," his two short works, "Agricola" and "Germania" will give you a mild fix. "Agricola" is a short biography of Tacitus' father-in-law, Julius Agricola, who was governor of Britannia. This is the beginning of Tacitus' writing career and many have suggested that it was the funeral oration he could never deliver since he was posted elsewhere in the empire at the time Agricola's death. Therefore, it is hardly an objective history,but it still full of delicious minutiae about both Rome and Britain for the insatiable nerd. "Germania" is a much more useful account of the various customs and tribes of Rome's northern adversary. We also begin to see the flourish of Tacitus' graceful writing style. These two works were a warm-up for Tacitus' amazing career. The accompanying footnotes by J.B. Rives are indispensable additions to the text. The reader will be constantly flipping back-and-forth. Again, these works are for the devout history nerd, not the casual reader, so this nerd still awards five stars for these brief books simply because Tacitus is one of my rock stars!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Evan Leach

    Tacitus is most famous for his Histories and Annals, but three of his shorter works also survive. The Agricola and Germania are his first books, published in AD 98. Agricola The Agricola is a short biography of Tacitus’ father-in-law. Gnaeus Julius Agricola served as governor of Britain from 77-85 and conquered much of Wales, northern England, and even Scotland. Most of the book is concerned with Agricola’s exploits in Britain, and as background it provides a connected history of Britain from 55 Tacitus is most famous for his Histories and Annals, but three of his shorter works also survive. The Agricola and Germania are his first books, published in AD 98. Agricola The Agricola is a short biography of Tacitus’ father-in-law. Gnaeus Julius Agricola served as governor of Britain from 77-85 and conquered much of Wales, northern England, and even Scotland. Most of the book is concerned with Agricola’s exploits in Britain, and as background it provides a connected history of Britain from 55 BC to AD 83. For history buffs, this is pretty cool. The Agricola is the fullest surviving account of the early Britons, and provides readers with a great look at the Roman conquest of (most of) the island. Agricola progressed well past the future site of Hadrian’s Wall and had come tantalizingly close to subduing all of Britain before he was recalled by Domitian in 85: There’s all sorts of fun stuff here, from Boudica’s revolt to the Battle of Mons Graupius, where Agricola finally defeated the Scots. This battle acts as the grand finale to the Agricola, and features some great speechwriting in the Thucydides style. Check out part of the speech which Tacitus puts in the mouth of the Scottish leader, attempting to fire up the troops before the battle: ”It is no use trying to escape [the Romans] arrogance by submission or good behavior. They have pillaged the world: when the land has nothing left for men who ravage everything, they scour the sea. If an enemy is rich, they are greedy, if he is poor, they crave glory. Neither East nor West can sate their appetite. They are the only people on earth to covet wealth and poverty with equal craving. They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the lying name of ‘empire.’ They make a desert and call it ‘peace.’” …kind of reminds one of another pissed-off Scotsman, doesn’t it? FREEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOMMMM!!! Germania The Germania is the oldest Western ethnographic study. It is an examination of Germany, both the country and its people. This was of great interest to the Romans of the time, as the German tribes were Rome’s most dangerous enemies. This makes for a bit less juicy reading than the Agricola, but it’s still very interesting as a look into what Germany was like in the age of antiquity. As you might expect, Tacitus gets less factual and more fanciful as he drifts further away from the Roman frontier and into the far east, but for the most part he appears to have been pretty well informed. Interestingly, the Germania has been called one of the 100 most dangerous books ever written, thanks to a short section (in Ger. 4) where Tacitus innocently notes: ”I myself accept the view of those who judge that the peoples of Germany have never been contaminated by intermarriage with other nations and that the race remains unique, pure, and unlike any other.” This was all fine and dandy until 19th century thinkers started using Tacitus as support for their theories of German racial superiority, which eventually turned into fuel for Nazi race theorists, which no doubt would have surprised Tacitus to no end. Conclusion Tacitus’ style, with its epigrams and other little random asides, is a real pleasure to read. These works are both quite short (about 30 pages a piece), and extremely interesting for history lovers. If you are at all interested in British or German history during the 1st century, you will really enjoy this book. 4 stars, recommended!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    I don't read a lot of classics anymore (probably from having to binge on them in grad school) but these short works were both engaging and enjoyable. Like a lot of ancient writers, Tacitus is something of a jack of all trades. He doesn't simply write history, or political commentary or cultural/anthropological observation, but moves between those things fluidly in an epoch before each of those styles was more or less confined to its own genre. His descriptions of the British and the Germans are I don't read a lot of classics anymore (probably from having to binge on them in grad school) but these short works were both engaging and enjoyable. Like a lot of ancient writers, Tacitus is something of a jack of all trades. He doesn't simply write history, or political commentary or cultural/anthropological observation, but moves between those things fluidly in an epoch before each of those styles was more or less confined to its own genre. His descriptions of the British and the Germans are important, not simply for being some of the first any human being wrote about those peoples, but also because he shows them from the perspective of a detached (and often bewildered) outsider.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    An interesting and well written volume containing Tacitus' first 2 works. Agricola is a brief biography of Tacitus' father in law, Julius Agricola, and The Germania is a short ethnographical study into the people's and tribes of Germany. An interesting insight into Roman knowledge of central/eastern Europe at the time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Falk

    It’s not for nothing that Tacitus is considered both the greatest historian as well as one of the greatest prose stylists to write in Latin, and even reading him in translation (I read Mattingly's) it’s easy to understand why. I really liked his dry, terse style of writing. My main reason for picking up this book was that it included Germania, but Agricola proved to be a very positive surprise, and both of these works have their unique qualities. In Agricola, the juxtaposition of the speech by C It’s not for nothing that Tacitus is considered both the greatest historian as well as one of the greatest prose stylists to write in Latin, and even reading him in translation (I read Mattingly's) it’s easy to understand why. I really liked his dry, terse style of writing. My main reason for picking up this book was that it included Germania, but Agricola proved to be a very positive surprise, and both of these works have their unique qualities. In Agricola, the juxtaposition of the speech by Calgacus (a chieftain) to the Caledonian army, with that of Agricola to the Roman troops before the battle of Mons Graupius works really well as a literary device, and had the effect of almost transporting me back in time. In his biography of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, his father-in-law, Tacitus focuses on his achievements in Britain, and contrasts this to the politically oppressive climate back in Rome - in an age "so savage and hostile to merit" (Ch. 1.) "We have indeed set up a record of subservience. Rome of old explored the utmost limits of freedom; we have plumbed the depths of slavery, robbed as we are by informers even the right to exchange ideas in conversation." (Ch. 2.) Both Agricola and Germania are short works, and both were written in 98 CE, which is a good reason to combine them in one volume. They also both take us to the frontiers of the Roman empire, and far beyond that in the case of Germania. And of course, they both contain criticism of the decline of Roman moral values, against which the virtus of Julius Agricola and the “noble savages” of Germania is contrasted. - "No one in Germany finds vice amusing, or calls it 'up-to-date' to seduce and be seduced. (...) Good morality is more effective in Germany than good laws are elsewhere." (Ch. 19.) I was struck by the similarities of the Assemblies of the Germanic tribes as they are described by Tacitus, and the Things of the Norse societies: "When the assembled crowd thinks fit, they take their seats fully armed. Silence is then commanded by the priests, who on such occasions have power to enforce obedience. (...) If a proposal displeases them, the people shout their dissent; if they approve, they clash their spears. To express approbation with their weapons is their most complimentary way of showing agreement." (Ch. 11.) And likewise in his description of the customs of Germanic hospitality – and not to forget their feasting: "The Germans are not cunning or sophisticated enough to refrain from blurting out their inmost thoughts in the freedom of festive surroundings, so that every man's soul is laid completely bare. On the following day the subject is reconsidered, and thus due account is taken of both occasions. They debate when they are incapable of pretence, but reserve their decision for a time when they cannot well make a mistake." Tacitus’ comments are often remarkably astute, and adds a lot to his vivid descriptions of the Germanic people and their ways. The original title of Germania is "De origine et situ Germanorum (On the Origin and Geography of the Germans)", and from Ch. 28 onwards, Tacitus turns from describing the character and customs of the Germanic people to that of the various Germanic tribes and their locations. He also gives due attention to their respective religious practices, and, as well, their military strengths and weaknesses and their tactics. Tacitus laments the fact that it is taking so long to conquer Germany ("a total of two hundred and ten years. (...) In this long period much punishment has been given and taken." (Ch. 37.) And he goes on to state that: "The freedom of Germany is capable of more energetic action than the Arsacid despotism." It is a fascinating journey that ends with the Fenni, who are described as "astonishingly savage and disgustingly poor", although as well: "Unafraid of anything that man or god can do to them, they have reached a state that few human beings can attain: for these men are so well content that they do not even need to pray for anything." (Ch. 46.) Tacitus is unsure of whether to class them with the Germans or the Sarmatians, but under any circumstance, their degree of freedom nevertheless wins them a nod of approval. We may at this point be far from the virtus, the qualities of bravery, found in e.g. Agricola, Calgalus and the different Germanic tribes, but, even at the very end of this book, and having reached the sea "that is believed to be the boundary that girdles the earth", Tacitus still finds barbarian virtue (or virtue in the barbarian) - and he avoids speculation: "What comes after them is the stuff of fables... On such unverifiable stories I shall express no opinion." We know little of Tacitus’ sources for Germania, but clearly he must have reflected on their veracity. I can’t help wondering how he might have commented about Scandinavia had he had better access to information about the lands and tribes so far north. It is likely that his Suiones "right out in the sea" were inhabiting present-day southern Sweden. He states that "They are powerful not only in arms and men but also in fleets. The shape of their ships differs from the normal in having a prow at each end, so that they are always facing the right way to put in to shore", but then goes on to say that they don’t use sails, which might just as well be another of Tacitus’ attempts at generalization - as he admits to when describing the physical characteristics of the Germans: "always the same: fierce-looking blue eyes, reddish hair, and big frames" (Ch. 4), and that's not the only example I can think of. Maybe he did get "the stuff of fables" mixed up with his facts in a few instances in Germania; and likewise e.g. the speech of Calgalus in Agricola is most certainly Tacitus’ own invention, but those instances of inaccuracy and/or 'author's license' need not be held against him. For a large part, Tacitus is confirmed by archaeology and other literary sources. Add to that his own literary genius. Both works are thoroughly engaging on several levels, and gives a unique glimpse into the Roman mind - of course that of Tacitus especially - as well as the British and Germanic tribes at the end of the 1st century CE. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    Penguin Classics edition, translated by Harold Mattingly; introduction, notes & revision by J.B. Rives I'm not a big fan of the Romans, so it's unsurprising that one of the few Roman texts I've read cover to cover isn't even about the Romans themselves - it's mostly about barbarians. I read most of this book a while ago, and I thought it contained a quote I was going to use here, Tacitus saying something to the effect that people who were more interested in barbarians than in civilisation were me Penguin Classics edition, translated by Harold Mattingly; introduction, notes & revision by J.B. Rives I'm not a big fan of the Romans, so it's unsurprising that one of the few Roman texts I've read cover to cover isn't even about the Romans themselves - it's mostly about barbarians. I read most of this book a while ago, and I thought it contained a quote I was going to use here, Tacitus saying something to the effect that people who were more interested in barbarians than in civilisation were merely bored. (This perhaps being some predilection of decadent Roman youth.) But I've just skimmed right through Germania and the introduction, and it's not there, so it must have been in something else I read around the same time. Anyway, I was amused that there were people like me so very long ago. Though when I say Germania is not even about the Romans, it's only ostensibly not about the Romans. One of the most common opinions on it has been is that the text is more or less a front for discussing Roman virtues and vices: the barbarian is what the Roman is not; usually he is not as good as the Roman, but some aspects of his life may be praiseworthy in comparison with degenerate Romans of today. Rives sensibly incorporates archaeological evidence into his introduction and notes, and shows that it's going too far to say that Germania is merely a superimposition of Roman values, and not at all an ethnography of tribes on the borders of the Empire: in some cases we can indeed corroborate Tacitus’ observations with evidence from other sources. The real difficulty is that in the absence of such corroboration we simply cannot judge where Tacitus’ account is reliable and where it is not. A few of the examples supported by archaeological evidence: the discovery of the site of the Battle of Teutoberg Forest; the houses of the Germani, and "In Tacitus’ day there were certainly sub-Neolithic peoples living in northern Scandinavia and the eastern Baltic, and some second-hand report about a people like this probably lies behind his account here." The last would be the Fenni, who end the work, Tacitus' narrative having been moving further and further from the Empire and therefore mentioning progressively less Roman-like societies. (One shouldn't assume they were in Finland, as Tacitus was necessarily vague about locations, not having visited the peoples himself, and besides, tribal groupings moved around a fair bit during the Roman era and the Migration Period, and weren't always in the locations now associated with their names.) The Fenni sound like a favourite daydream of Rousseau or an anarcho-primitivist. (More obscurely, they reminded me of a couple of the characters in Estonian historical fantasy novel about the advent of agriculture, The Man Who Spoke Snakish; the author surely read Germania as part of his research.) The Fenni are astonishingly wild and disgustingly poor. They have no arms, no horses, no homes. They eat wild plants, dress in skins and sleep on the ground. Their only hope is in their arrows, which, for lack of iron, they tip with bone. The same hunt provides food for men and women alike; for the women go everywhere with the men and claim a share in securing the prey. The only way they can protect their babies against wild beasts or rain is to hide them under a makeshift network of branches. To this the young men return, this is the haven for the old. Yet they count their lot happier than that of those who groan over field labour, sweat over house building and venture in hope and fear their own and other men’s fortunes. They care for no one, man or god, and have gained the ultimate release: they have no needs, not even for prayer. Their level of technology is of course the antithesis of Rome's - and less obviously, this level of equality between the sexes was also unRoman, and may have sounded reprehensible to Tacitus' audience. I put off reading Germania for an unnecessarily long time - it's actually very short, and very interesting. And I found I didn't mind at all that I was hearing about these peoples through a Roman filter. It was thrilling to be standing right on the edge of recorded history, peering through the mist. The only nuisance was the need to look at maps all the time, to check probable locations for the tribes, as well as the concrete locations of outlying Roman provinces and battle sites. (But then I also think most novels should contain maps.) ---- Agricola I read only to finish the volume and therefore tick off another finished book on Goodreads. It has some stuff about Agricola's governorship in Britain and the Romans' relations with British tribes - it's a source of evidence about Boudicca and Cartimandua - but if you're British and are halfway interested in history, you've probably heard all these bits quoted several times before, in other books, in museums and on TV programmes (possibly narrated by Tony Robinson). The mentions of Britain are couched within general biography and praise of Agricola, Tacitus' father-in-law. He was a shrewd and lucky man who was successful during a sometimes despotic period of Empire. (It's not very lucky to die at 53 today, but given how many of Agricola's contemporaries were executed, it seemed a fair innings in context.) When I wasn't bored by Agricola, I was sometimes amused. For a minute near the beginning, I found myself, by reflex, noting things that would offend some modern readers and which I therefore felt an obligation to mention in a review. Then I burst out laughing at this. It's the Romans FFS. I don't think anyone reads a Roman writer not expecting him to be colonialist and sexist. Later, I kept thinking that the whole thing was written a lot like an extended case study in a self-help manual for business success: how to be respected, get ahead, and keep your head when all around are losing theirs (or perhaps being poisoned). I may not have enjoyed Agricola much, but I'd highly recommend this edition as a whole from a historical viewpoint. (Different translations may be preferable for classical studies.) It could be even better if it were updated regularly with info on new archaeological discoveries, but its general principles give an idea of what to look for, and the introduction and notes are fascinating if you're reading Germania out of interest in European prehistory. 5 stars for Rives.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Agricola was a Roman general who stamped out a revolt by native Britons to stay free from Roman control in 84 C.E. Tacitus fully understood the revolutionary mindset and, with his rhetorical training, has the rebels deliver a rousing speech worthy of Fred Hampton. Naturally, Agricola's counter speech is about law, order, and the pettiness of those who oppose the objectivity of superior might. Then, the battle ensues! The Germania, on the other hand, is about the strange freedom-loving Germans du Agricola was a Roman general who stamped out a revolt by native Britons to stay free from Roman control in 84 C.E. Tacitus fully understood the revolutionary mindset and, with his rhetorical training, has the rebels deliver a rousing speech worthy of Fred Hampton. Naturally, Agricola's counter speech is about law, order, and the pettiness of those who oppose the objectivity of superior might. Then, the battle ensues! The Germania, on the other hand, is about the strange freedom-loving Germans during the 1st century C.E. who are just about inscrutable in terms of character from the position of Tacitus, especially their bizarre judicial system based on mutual agreement between litigants rather than a judge deciding between lawyers. As brief sketches of history by one of the greatest writers of all time, these monographs provide interesting portals into how empire views those strange people over there.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  11. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Curious

    I read only Germania, translated by Sir William Peterson. The descriptions of the Germany people of the time is at times very cute in sections! The descriptions of the houses is one of sweetest. They each have their own homes that seem more like hobbit houses than anything else. There's a few lines that could be taken out of context to mean something terrible & only proves that folks can always find a way to distort things to suit their views. Overall, it doesn't seem exceptionally different fro I read only Germania, translated by Sir William Peterson. The descriptions of the Germany people of the time is at times very cute in sections! The descriptions of the houses is one of sweetest. They each have their own homes that seem more like hobbit houses than anything else. There's a few lines that could be taken out of context to mean something terrible & only proves that folks can always find a way to distort things to suit their views. Overall, it doesn't seem exceptionally different from any other ancient writing. There's talk of war, social customs and farming. I'm glad to have read it because it does show how much things can be blown out of proportion to suit goals of propaganda. I'd recommend if if you're interested in ancient German history that may or may not be accurate. What's interesting is if you read it looking for racism, you'll be able to find some. If you read it as an ancient work, it doesn't stand out from other ancient works in any exceptional way. These ancient people were similar to others of the time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Adam Calhoun

    Tacitus is one of the great Roman historians, and reading the Agricola and the Germania one can understand why. Displaying a very readable style, Tacitus provides insight into contemporary life and civilizations of the Roman world. This is a collection of two books, the Agricola and the Germania. The Agricola is a biography of his father-in-law, interleaved with descriptions of Roman Britain. The Germania is a later book describing the Germans. Of the two, the Germania is probably more interestin Tacitus is one of the great Roman historians, and reading the Agricola and the Germania one can understand why. Displaying a very readable style, Tacitus provides insight into contemporary life and civilizations of the Roman world. This is a collection of two books, the Agricola and the Germania. The Agricola is a biography of his father-in-law, interleaved with descriptions of Roman Britain. The Germania is a later book describing the Germans. Of the two, the Germania is probably more interesting to non-experts. It's fascinating reading about Germanic life two millenia ago, and how Romans viewed German life. Agricola can be a bit more dry, more interesting to those who know a lot about Rome and really want to understand more subtle aspects of Roman life; a lot of this book will slip past you if you don't already have enough background knowledge. But there is a reason that they are considered Classics.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Smiley

    3.75 stars I often came across this title in bookshops but I had no motive in reading it, I asked myself what's the use of reading such a boring title with respect to the fame of Tacitus. Eventually, I was sorry for such a rash decision due to my seeming ignorance. One of the reasons, I think, is that we should take his narratives on both books first written in Latin into account as they would inform and guide their readers in the 21st century to know more and better understand first "the career 3.75 stars I often came across this title in bookshops but I had no motive in reading it, I asked myself what's the use of reading such a boring title with respect to the fame of Tacitus. Eventually, I was sorry for such a rash decision due to my seeming ignorance. One of the reasons, I think, is that we should take his narratives on both books first written in Latin into account as they would inform and guide their readers in the 21st century to know more and better understand first "the career of his father-in-law, probably the most famous of the governors of Roman Britain, and contains the first detailed account of the British Isles," and second "a study of the character of the German tribes" (back cover) as depicted some 19 centuries ago. At last, last October I found this paperback in the Dasa BookCafe (http://www.dasabookcafe.com/) and liked its classic front cover but I still kept it unread till early last month. I decided to have a go with its first book Agricola (without 'The' inside on page 51) and found it illuminatingly rewarding; however, after some pages I had to stop somewhere and returned to read its informative, lengthy introduction as the essential foundation since both classified as ancient history have long been written around A.D. 98 by Tacitus, one of the great Roman historians (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus...). So from the gap of 1921 years up to now, it is imperative that their readers for their better understanding on the man and the tribe should gain crucial knowledge from its introduction before reading his two books that miraculously cover the fields of ethnography and geography as we can see from its following 14 topics in the introduction: I Tacitus II Agricola, the Man III Agricola, the Book IV Tacitus's Account of Britain V Britain before Agricola VI Agricola's Governorship VII Britain after Agricola VIII The Army of Britain IX Germania, the Book X Germany and Rome in History XI The Early Roman Empire XII The Constitution of the Empire XIII The Provinces of the Empire XIV The Army and Fleet of the Empire To continue . . .

  14. 5 out of 5

    david

    56-120 ADE Cicero. Philostratus. Seneca. Juvenal. Quintilian. And now, Tacitus. (I’m leaving aside many others) Tacitus, one of the earliest chroniclers of the Common Era, wasted no time in his sixty-odd earthly years, to reveal his hatred of the Jews. Matzoh anyone? An activist I am not. But we all read and it is difficult to un-understand. His mien, interestingly enough, was not uncommon among scholars during and directly after his day in the sun without SPF 50. His two compositions included here a 56-120 ADE Cicero. Philostratus. Seneca. Juvenal. Quintilian. And now, Tacitus. (I’m leaving aside many others) Tacitus, one of the earliest chroniclers of the Common Era, wasted no time in his sixty-odd earthly years, to reveal his hatred of the Jews. Matzoh anyone? An activist I am not. But we all read and it is difficult to un-understand. His mien, interestingly enough, was not uncommon among scholars during and directly after his day in the sun without SPF 50. His two compositions included here are “The Germany” and “Agricola of Tacitus (The father-in-law of Mr. T).” Incredible and precise depictions of the day. A stellar writer and one of two guys I have learned of who actually witnessed and wrote about Jesus Christ. The other guy I am thinking of is Flavius Josephus, but there may be others. A scholar I am not. Oft times I found the descriptions of the people during this epoch amusing through his words. And his deconstruction on wars and the fighting between the ancient communities or states of his era I found fascinating. And yet, predictable. We all have limited time on this earth so what’s the rush to kill one another? Maybe that is the gift of years; The ownership that societies are unable to change. And to be okay with that. An interesting read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melora

    Excellent! Birley's introduction and end notes were wonderful. I can't speak to the accuracy of the translation, but it was extremely readable (and he does discuss some translation issues in the notes). Agricola was interesting, especially toward the end, and Germany was wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the speeches (Calgacus got the best one (Agricola, 30)); "People and Customs" in Germany, with Tacitus's not-so-veiled jibes at Roman decadence; and Tacitus's epigrammatic observations at the end Excellent! Birley's introduction and end notes were wonderful. I can't speak to the accuracy of the translation, but it was extremely readable (and he does discuss some translation issues in the notes). Agricola was interesting, especially toward the end, and Germany was wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the speeches (Calgacus got the best one (Agricola, 30)); "People and Customs" in Germany, with Tacitus's not-so-veiled jibes at Roman decadence; and Tacitus's epigrammatic observations at the end of many chapters.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Locky

    Short, fascinating accounts of the Britons and barbarian tribes of Germania through the perspective of Roman historian (among other titles) Tacitus. It's truly a treasure to have such writings survive for nearly 2,000 years. On a side note, I don't read introductions to such books anymore. I find it much more agreeable to read the text myself and draw my own conclusions, rather than have someone else try to justify actions of the time to fit a politically correct narrative as I've unfortunately e Short, fascinating accounts of the Britons and barbarian tribes of Germania through the perspective of Roman historian (among other titles) Tacitus. It's truly a treasure to have such writings survive for nearly 2,000 years. On a side note, I don't read introductions to such books anymore. I find it much more agreeable to read the text myself and draw my own conclusions, rather than have someone else try to justify actions of the time to fit a politically correct narrative as I've unfortunately encountered several times previously. Also, the introduction alone is 49 pages long, while both Agricola and Germania are a total of 57 pages.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    packing of two works - the agricola, a biography/eulogy of the most prominent roman governor of britain, and germania, a detailed account of the various german tribes, their customs and culture. really fascinating stuff and very readable prose, i'm going to have to make my way through more roman/greek history books as they've been sitting on my shelf neglected for years

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Donaghue

    What to say? It is one of the classics in the field of Roman ethnography, a fascinating account of the peoples of Germania and, to a much lesser extent, Britannia. Writing with brevity, this book was a joy to read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Z. J. Pandolfino

    “They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of ‘government’; they create a desolation and call it peace.” Contrary to what you may think, Tacitus does not use such rhetoric to describe the Britons, or the Germans, or any other northern European peoples his countrymen found uncivilized in the first century CE. In fact, in the strictest sense, Tacitus does not use these words at al “They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of ‘government’; they create a desolation and call it peace.” Contrary to what you may think, Tacitus does not use such rhetoric to describe the Britons, or the Germans, or any other northern European peoples his countrymen found uncivilized in the first century CE. In fact, in the strictest sense, Tacitus does not use these words at all; they come from the chieftain Calgacus, a Caledonian noble, in a speech to British rebels before the climactic battle of the Agricola. In the speech, Calgacus decries Roman imperialism: the Romans are “pillagers of the world” (raptores orbis), they covet both riches and poverty, and their rapaciousness is never satisfied. Indeed, even the barren island of Britain, so far from the seven hills of Rome, has drawn their imperialistic avarice. After all, writes Tacitus, with “destiny driving our empire upon its appointed path” (urgentibus imperii fatis), the Roman mission of conquest will inexorably reach the ends of the earth. “They create a desolation and call it peace” (ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant), Tacitus has Calgacus proclaim, and I am put in mind of a quote from Saint Augustine, who asks rhetorically in his City of God, “What are kingdoms except great robberies?” (quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia). The two men, while separated by many hundreds of years, both share a low estimation of justice in an earthly state like Rome’s res publica. And they both, in rather different ways, criticize their own society. From a Christian like Augustine, we perhaps expect such rhetoric; Roman officials persecuted Christians on-and-off over hundreds of years, and Christianity itself places so much emphasis on that which is not of this world. Tacitus, however, stands out. He was a Roman senator, an accomplished orator, and as Roman as any upper-class citizen of the first century could be. He ascended the cursus honorem, quietly suffered the tyrannical emperor Domitian for fifteen bloody years, and wrote copiously about Rome’s imperial history. Yet across that literary corpus, his critical eye never wavers; however silent he may have been while Domitian executed his senatorial peers, he almost never let an opportunity pass in subsequent years to put quill to parchment and call out Roman hypocrisy. The Agricola and the Germania were Tacitus’s first publications. They are short, which is part of the reason his subtle invective is so memorable. The Agricola describes the public life of Tacitus’s father-in-law, a man of distinction who was responsible for much of the post-Claudian conquest of Britain. It is perhaps most noteworthy not for its subject—for while important, the life of Agricola hardly captivates audiences—but for the window Tacitus offers into life under a bad emperor, one whose jealousy led him to recall Agricola at his finest hour and, in effect, force him to retire. Beyond this, the Agricola is famous because Tacitus puts forth his own ostensible critique of Roman imperialism. The process of “Romanization,” through which “the [British] population was gradually led into the demoralizing temptations of arcades, baths, and sumptuous banquets,” Tacitus equates to the loss of liberty. “The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as ‘civilization,’” he writes, “when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement.” At other times, such as in the quote cited earlier, Tacitus uses Agricola’s British enemies as a mouthpiece to voice an unpopular view of Roman national character. The pax Romana, Augustus’s most laudable achievement, Tacitus calls a “desolation” (solitudinem), clearly less disillusioned about the nature of Roman conquest than many of his senatorial peers. Of course, the question about whether Tacitus really means it still poses difficulties. Calgacus technically calls the Roman peace a desolation, not Tacitus, and irrespective of whether Tacitus faithfully reproduces Calgacus’s speech, he makes the deliberate authorial decision to voice such sentiments via a British chieftain. Is this a clever way to avoid imperial censorship and hide his true position? Or does he simply do his best to channel what many British nobles probably felt about Rome’s imperial ambition? The Germania is a very different text from the Agricola, yet no less distinct in its outlook. Written in the same ethnographical tradition pioneered by Herodotus, the Germania sets out to describe the customs and traditions of a people with whom Rome had a complicated relationship, to say the least. Germanic tribes called the Cimbri and Teutoni defeated several consular armies before Gaius Marius put an end to their destructive migration in 101 BCE, and in 9 CE, at the famous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Germans led by Arminius massacred three legions, their auxiliaries, and their general, Publius Quinctilius Varus, in the worst military disaster of the principate. In Tacitus’s own time, Rome had mostly abandoned its Augustan mission to extend the frontier to the Elbe River; the Rhine would have to be sufficient to keep the Germanic tribes at bay. Yet the Germanic threat never quite disappeared from the Roman imagination, and as Marcus Aurelius could attest, it was sometimes disturbingly real. We moderns can learn a lot from Tacitus in the Germania. He makes a sincere attempt to understand another culture, not in order to condemn that culture, but to valorize its people and their customs. Yes, he sometimes reverts to baseless stereotypes that undermine his authority on other matters. Yes, he sometimes makes distasteful pronouncements about the intellectual capacities of the Germans he otherwise praises so highly. Yet on the whole, Tacitus’s ethnographical task necessitates real empathy in order to comprehend this barbarus—that is, truly unfamiliar—area of the world. To put it another way, Tacitus is no ethno-nationalist, if you see what I mean. Most notable, I think, are his comments at the very end of the Germania. Tacitus is describing the Fenni, whom he claims are “astonishingly savage and disgustingly poor.” They are itinerant hunter-gatherer types who practice equality among the sexes; “the women support themselves by hunting, exactly like the men,” Tacitus makes a point to tell us. And while he seems fundamentally repulsed by their strange way of life, he nevertheless stresses that, “unafraid of anything that man or god can do to them, they have reached a state that few human beings can attain: for these men are so well content that they do not even need to pray for anything.” In other words, the Fenni, completely lacking the “demoralizing temptations of arcades, baths, and sumptuous banquets,” are profoundly happy. Free from the yoke, resolute in their particular way of life, these Germans need no prophetesses, no augurs, no rituals of supplication. Whether or not this was true is beside the point. The point is that Tacitus believes it so, and that he mentions their singular state of contentment at the very end of his monograph, its pride of place. Is there, beneath the ethnographic veneer, a sense of longing for a simpler way of life, away from palace intrigues and informers? If so, Tacitus dispenses with such sentiment immediately. Onward with the ethnographical account. “What comes after [the Fenni] is the stuff of fables,” he continues. “Hellusii and Oxiones with the faces and features of men, the bodies and limbs of animals. On such unverifiable stories I shall express no opinion.” So ends the Germania.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laszlo Szerdahelyi

    Tacitus is one of the great Roman historians and one of the Roman authors from whom we have an image of the people of Germania and Britain, aka the classic bearded, ''savage'' barbarian through his works ''The Agricola'', which is essentially a funeral eulogy to his father in law and governor of Britain and ''The Germania'' a brief ethnographic rundown of the Germanic tribes, their customs, religion as well as political, military and economic life. Now, considering the xenophobia of the Romans, s Tacitus is one of the great Roman historians and one of the Roman authors from whom we have an image of the people of Germania and Britain, aka the classic bearded, ''savage'' barbarian through his works ''The Agricola'', which is essentially a funeral eulogy to his father in law and governor of Britain and ''The Germania'' a brief ethnographic rundown of the Germanic tribes, their customs, religion as well as political, military and economic life. Now, considering the xenophobia of the Romans, sense of superiority and their habit for exterminating and assimilating other people, I find Tacitus little to be trusted in his description of the Britons and Germans, largely because this is done from the perspective of a colonial conqueror who uncannily resembles the later British and French colonialists, for whom their violence and might of arms is a kind of justification for their paternalistic attitude to the ''natives'' whom they must ''civilize'' and ''induce good morals''. I find this proto-colonial attitude interesting as further down the line the same approach is taken on by politicians, explorers, anthropologists and various European colonial administrators, so it's interesting to see how these supremacist attitudes have a common, ancient root. It's also worth nothing Tacitus' disregard for geographical and historical facts, like the fact that he thinks Spain lies to the west of Ireland as well as his many poetic additions and anecdotal stories, like the speech of the Caledonian chieftain Calgachus, to the bag of doubts about his writings. However, what is to be noted in both works, is the way in which Tacitus projects traditional Roman values in the context of what he and many other of his contemporaries saw as a decay of values and virtues in the favor of decadance and indolence in the Roman Empire. Furthermore, there is a little political powerplay, as The Agricola is a sharp attack on the former emperor Domitian. This last part is controversial, Domitian, albeit unpopular with the patrician class from which Tacitus was drawn was quite popular amongst the plebeian Roman and his role as a tyrant and autocrat seems to be highly debatable. Especially in the Germania, where although criticizing the Germanic tribes for their primitive ways of being unruly, petty, warlike and uncaring of progress other than glory and honor finds it especially admirable that they have strong and chaste marriage bonds,where women are loyal and hardworking their modest lifestyle and avoidance of luxury and bravery in battle. All kind of hearkening back to the good old days of the Republic and the ideal Roman virtues. Furthermore, there is a brief and disturbing approach to race where he ascribes the strength and valor of the Germans to their racial purity of not mixing with other races.(one can easily imagine Himmler getting giddy over this one). Finally, in describing the Battle of Mons Graupius, where Agricola defeated an alliance of Caledonian tribes,the speech of Calgachus serves as interesting form of self-reflection on the expansionist drives of the Romans, which clearly is a fabrication of Tacitus as he was not present at the battle and at best might have been passed down to him through hearsay if it happened at all, but that offers a very interesting introspection and even self-criticism. If had he been a Christian, or be wrought by some very un-Roman thoughts, one might even consider that he might be lamenting the excessive greed, violence and destruction of the Roman lust for conquest as is exemplified in this part of Calgachus's speech: But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    TACITUS – (born: 55/57 died :?) Agricola – Germania. These first writings by Tacitus are two minor works and were written around 89 to 99, after Domitian’s death, when Nerva became emperor. Agricola was Tacitus’s father in law, who had died about four years before, a victim of Domitian. When this work was completed it could have been considered an Ode or a Lament for Agricola. The story extends largely into a scientific, geographical and ethnographical description of Britain. For seven years, fierc TACITUS – (born: 55/57 died :?) Agricola – Germania. These first writings by Tacitus are two minor works and were written around 89 to 99, after Domitian’s death, when Nerva became emperor. Agricola was Tacitus’s father in law, who had died about four years before, a victim of Domitian. When this work was completed it could have been considered an Ode or a Lament for Agricola. The story extends largely into a scientific, geographical and ethnographical description of Britain. For seven years, fierce battles of conquest and strict Roman Administration were taking place under the command of this great leader of the roman legions. At last the reader is taken to the end of the known world at the north of the British Island, Caledonia and even Thule, near a Mount Grampian, where the last thirty thousand bravely resisting ‘Britons’ are mercilessly wiped out. Descriptions of the battle and the harangues of the leaders are very similar in the book of Julius Cesar ‘The War of the Gaul’s’. Tacitus could have used some inspirations to enhance the merits of Agricola for the glory of the status of his hero, in memoriam. After his return to Rome, Agricola got no compliments, the tyrannical emperor Domitian got jealous and had him eliminated. However, the story was certainly a moral appeal to the Roman reader. Germania is treated as a separate subject. There is no evidence that Tacitus had any first-hand knowledge of Germania, or that he had been posted there in a military or administrative function. It is assumed that this work is an inspired fiction, based on previous literature, likely by the works of Julius Cesar, Pline the Elder, Tite-live, and Posidonius. The work is presented as a scientific study, with no legends or mythology. He establishes a list of known and living German tribes and populations and proceeds geographically from the Rhine and the Danube up to the interior unknown limits of Roman knowledge. However, his writings make use of common ethnographical descriptions, which are applied by ancient authors indifferently to any barbarian population. He carries on in the same style with moral interpretations, folklore traditions on marriage, funerals and general festivities and comes to a conclusion of a Germanic Population having conserved all the virtues present in Ancient Rome, but in Rome now lost in decadent civilization. The story is again a moral mirror presented to the Roman reader. To the modern western world, this book has had a surprising impact. The Latin text ‘Germaniae Descriptio’ had been re-discovered in the 15th century in Italy and used by the pope to address the Germans, appealing to their ‘historical’ human qualities, to help fight the Turks. In 1472 the script is printed in Germany and with immediate success was reprinted six times, until 1509. A Professor Johann Celtis is using the document for teaching at the University of Vienna. The notion of ‘Germanity’ is born and from there Tacitus’s booklet progressed to being The Bible of “Germanenforschung”, the research for German Cultural Origins. Could anybody have imagined a more surprising and certainly unintended influence of Literature on history?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Felix

    I never read any Tacitus before I picked up this volume. I had imagined, to my shame, that the prowess of Tacitus as a writer had been exaggerated. I don't mean to say that I rejected any claims of his excellence outright - merely that I have heard so many times that Tacitus is among the greatest - if not the greatest - prose stylist of the Roman era, and also that he is one of the greatest prose stylists in any language ever. Claims like this are instantly easy to disbelieve. One hears them freq I never read any Tacitus before I picked up this volume. I had imagined, to my shame, that the prowess of Tacitus as a writer had been exaggerated. I don't mean to say that I rejected any claims of his excellence outright - merely that I have heard so many times that Tacitus is among the greatest - if not the greatest - prose stylist of the Roman era, and also that he is one of the greatest prose stylists in any language ever. Claims like this are instantly easy to disbelieve. One hears them frequently about most authors of substantial literary note. It just seems to border on the impossible and if one takes these statements at face value, one should surely be heading for disappointment... right? In my view, Tacitus lived up to his incredibly formidable reputation. I've heard before that for students of Latin, Tacitus is one of the hardest authors of antiquity to approach. His style is dense, rigorous, and brief. And these adjectives definitely apply to the two short works contained in this slim volume: Agricola, an account of the life of the remarkable individual Gnaeus Julius Agricola serving as a kind of eulogy, and Germania, an account of the practices and beliefs on the people of Germany. These may not sound like the most thrilling topics, but Tacitus writes about them in a way that seemingly no other author is capable. To mention incorruptibility and self-restraint in such a man would be an insult to his excellent character. He did not court fame either, which is a temptation even for good men, by parading his virtues or by intrigue. He avoided rivalry with colleagues and disputes with procurators, for he considered it no kind of glory to win and demeaning to be worsted. After being kept in this governership for less than three years, he was recalled with the immediate prospect of a consulship. He was accompanied by a rumour that Britain was to be given to him as a province. There had been nothing in his own conversation on this topic, rather it was because he seemed the right man. Rumour is not always wrong. Sometimes it even determines the choice. Agricola is exactly the sort of moderate man that Rome seemed to lack for much of Tacitus's life. After the mad reign of Nero, and the chaos of the Year of the Four Emperors, it's easy to see why Tacitus - or indeed many men in the empire - would treat such a man with veneration. I'm planning to read Tacitus's Histories next - partly because it came next by date of composition, and partly because having recently read Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars, I'm left wanting to know more about the tumultous years of of 69 and 70 AD. Suetonius is a remarkable author, but his treatment of this complex yet short period is surely brief.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes. Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote. Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes. Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote. Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him. The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero. While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany. This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east. Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience. Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together. Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing. Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section. It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did. Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors. These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I have finished Agricola. This translation has given no problems; it is easy to understand. This was a short biography of G. Julius Agricola's early private and public life, army, and his progression through the cursus honorum. All through this biography, Agricola is pictured as quite a paragon. Of course, Tacitus was his son-in-law and he wrote it as a tribute. I felt, also, Tacitus' genuine filial affection throughout. A short history of Britannia and Britons followed. In the eighth year of Ag I have finished Agricola. This translation has given no problems; it is easy to understand. This was a short biography of G. Julius Agricola's early private and public life, army, and his progression through the cursus honorum. All through this biography, Agricola is pictured as quite a paragon. Of course, Tacitus was his son-in-law and he wrote it as a tribute. I felt, also, Tacitus' genuine filial affection throughout. A short history of Britannia and Britons followed. In the eighth year of Agricola's office as governor of Britannia, a large-scale battle was fought at Mons Graupius [85 AD] between Romans and Caledonians, with motivating speeches by both the British leader of the Caledonian Confederacy, Galgacus, and by Agricola beforehand. Marvelous description of the final battle. Agricola's life post-Britain, and his death. He escaped the most horrendous years of Domitian's rule. I detected a note of an envious "Lucky man!" in Tacitus if I read between the lines. I read the online version from Fordham University. Tacitus' Germania is basically a short ethnographic treatise on Germania and her various tribes. Touched upon are: origin of the German peoples; their appearance, including the distinctively topknotted Suevians; customs and culture of each tribe, in general and individually. Tacitus is very impressed with their marriage customs and lack of adultery, as well as their adherence to generous hospitality. He does deplore what he sees as their sloth, laziness, and their love of war to take by force what they want instead of working for it. The online Gutenberg version in the Gordon translation was to the point and very readable.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    A bit of a let down, but that's because I was really excited to read these works, and, well, meh. I suspect that that isn't Tacitus' fault. These books, by and large, should be easy to understand, given a few historical notes. The editor, unfortunately, pitches this somewhere between Cambridge green & gold depth notes and everyday reader notes. There are notes to tell you what Tacitus doesn't say, rather as if we need to be told that (having just read the section in which he doesn't say x, y and A bit of a let down, but that's because I was really excited to read these works, and, well, meh. I suspect that that isn't Tacitus' fault. These books, by and large, should be easy to understand, given a few historical notes. The editor, unfortunately, pitches this somewhere between Cambridge green & gold depth notes and everyday reader notes. There are notes to tell you what Tacitus doesn't say, rather as if we need to be told that (having just read the section in which he doesn't say x, y and z). On the other hand, there are notes outlining the history of scholarship on various points. And then, on one of the more famous cruces (on supposed collective ownership of land, and on usury), there's a note telling us that the epigram in question is called absurd by another scholar... and nothing else. My suspicion is that Mr Birley, who obviously knows everything there is to know about Tacitus, got sick of Marxist readers saying this is a book all about communism, and decided to respond with arrogance and dismissiveness. Whatever. The more important problem is that both the introduction and the notes make this harder to read, not easier. Maybe a different edition would be a better choice. Agricola is either a poorly thought through love letter to his father-in-law, or a richly ironic depiction of the intelligent man's life under the Roman Empire; Germany either a dull catalogue of more or less unknown peoples, or a vicious indictment of Roman excess. Or maybe they're both both. I choose the latter option.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    Germania is the middle work in this trio of writings. As a lover of all types of culture both past and present, I enjoyed Tacitus' thorough description of every aspect of ancient German culture. Of course, this area encompasses broad swaths of Europe that includes many tribes which include the Celts as well as several others whose names are not remembered today. We have a record of how they dressed, lived their daily lives, reasons for invasion and war and family life. If these day to day descrip Germania is the middle work in this trio of writings. As a lover of all types of culture both past and present, I enjoyed Tacitus' thorough description of every aspect of ancient German culture. Of course, this area encompasses broad swaths of Europe that includes many tribes which include the Celts as well as several others whose names are not remembered today. We have a record of how they dressed, lived their daily lives, reasons for invasion and war and family life. If these day to day descriptions of other people groups from a long time past, written in a fluid style interest you, I recommend reading Tacitus' account. The account is not long and I read it in one sitting. The other value is knowing the background of a race who played a significant role in Roman life, both as a slave class, bodyguard to Caesars (particularly Caligula), and ultimate invaders and defeaters of that tremendous Empire. In other words, this work is a great supplement to scholars of ancient Roman History. The Life of Agricola was also a quick read but not as interesting. It is very fragmented with only bits of chapters. Here Tacitus writes about his father-in-law who was the general of the army that invaded and maintained Britain. There is a lot of speech making and pontificating about the greatness of Agricola and his army, although Tacitus can also be surprisingly critical of his wife's father. For the rest of my review cut and paste the following link to my blog post: http://sharonhenning.blogspot.com/201...

  27. 4 out of 5

    AB

    first off I have to begin by saying that I'm very much so biased by my love and appreciation of Tacitus' style of writing history. As a student of classical history I have gained a liking of Tacitus that is greater than any other classical historian. Having worked with Agricola before, I enjoyed the opportunity to finally sit down and read it in full. Agricola (And to some extent Germany) provide the reader with a unique view of the development of a Roman historians style. Both works abound wit first off I have to begin by saying that I'm very much so biased by my love and appreciation of Tacitus' style of writing history. As a student of classical history I have gained a liking of Tacitus that is greater than any other classical historian. Having worked with Agricola before, I enjoyed the opportunity to finally sit down and read it in full. Agricola (And to some extent Germany) provide the reader with a unique view of the development of a Roman historians style. Both works abound with tacitean epigrams. Reading these works also gives you a feeling for two important features of his later works, these being his apprehension of the princeps and Empire and his characteristic "it may be x or it could be y" style of argument. As for Germany, this was a relatively new work for me. More akin to something you would see in Herodotus it was very different from what I would think Tacitus would write. It still had his characteristic writing style but it's more ethnographic subject was new. It is not something that I would advise skipping over though, especially if you decide to read other histories. It's a good companion to Caesars Gallic war and even Tacitus Histories and annals, both of which deal with the peoples mentioned in this enthography. The Oxford edition provided copious footnotes and cross references to other Romans who dealt with similar subjects as well as to some of the most important works by modern Roman historians.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John Carter McKnight

    Four rather than five stars: while The Agricola is brilliant and searing, The Germania really isn't terribly interesting. The translator's introductory material is excellent and interesting, which is not always the case with Penguin Classics, which tend to the excruciatingly arid. The Agricola might be the best political biography - as opposed to biography of a politician - ever. Tacitus writes like his hair's on fire, from the set-piece speeches of the opposing generals at the Battle of Mons Gr Four rather than five stars: while The Agricola is brilliant and searing, The Germania really isn't terribly interesting. The translator's introductory material is excellent and interesting, which is not always the case with Penguin Classics, which tend to the excruciatingly arid. The Agricola might be the best political biography - as opposed to biography of a politician - ever. Tacitus writes like his hair's on fire, from the set-piece speeches of the opposing generals at the Battle of Mons Graupius to the sword-dance of his description of Agricola's last days as an honorable man intolerable to a corrupt regime. Agricola was one of Rome's best generals, but neither venal nor an imperial pretender, perhaps the only safe alternatives in an era of widespread corruption and intrigue. Tacitus's biography is an attempt to answer the question of how to be an honorable public figure in an age where honor is a general threat: ultimately his own answer, a retreat from public office into the role of historian of better days, was a move more smoothly executed than that of his father in law Agricola.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matthew W

    I only read "The Germania." It is good to know that the ancient Germans didn't back down on a good fight (especially after some Alcohol). If only the modern day German would experience atavism and regain what they have lost! Tactius also thought the Germans to be of "pure blood." Nice.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Takipsilim

    Not only among the earliest accounts of British and German history, but also one of the most fixating and important narratives to survive from antiquity. Tacitus' start as a historian began with these two classics.

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