Agricola, Gnaeus Julius
After the visits of Julius Caesar
to Britain nearly 100 years passed before the Romans returned. In the year
AD 43 the emperor Claudius I ordered an invasion of
Britain. No doubt he expected an easy prey; this small island would soon
be conquered and made to accept Roman rule and Roman ways. In this he was
optimistic; the Britons resisted fiercely and, although in a pitched battle
they were no match for the disciplined and experienced Roman legions, they
withdrew to the mountains of Wales and the northern parts of the country,
and carried on guerilla warfare – setting ambushes and making sudden
|During his invasion of Scotland, Agricola gained
a great victory over the Picts at a place called Mon Graupius. Today
it is not certain where this is, but the Grampain Mountains have been
named after it.
The center of resistance was the Druids who realized that Roman rule meant
the end of their power. They were always stirring up the Britons and urging
them to rebel. In AD 61, a terrible year in Britain's
history, the Roman governor, Suetonius, decided to put an end to these trouble-makers;
they were hunted down to their headquarters in Anglesey and slaughtered.
But while this was going on, a rebellion under Queen Boadicea broke out
in the east of Britain; London was captured and over 70,000 people were
massacred. Only just in time did Suetonius gather together all the Roman
troops in Britain. In the battle that followed the Romans were, as always,
victorious. They did not hesitate to take a terrible revenge, and another
The next 17 years were an unhappy period in British history. Always British
tribes were rebelling and then being fearfully punished. It seemed that
the Romans would never pacify these fierce islanders; it even looked at
one moment as if the Britons might be exterminated. But then came a change.
The rebellions died down and the Britons began gradually to adopt Roman
This really began when Julius Agricola became governor in AD
78. At first he waged war relentlessly; Wales was finally subdued and then
he turned north. So far the Romans had proceeded no further than a line
stretching from Chester to Lincoln. Beyond this line many of the Britons
had withdrawn and were making frequent raids on Roman settlements. Agricola
saw that there would be no peace until this danger was removed. He advanced
as far as the Tyne and then on into Scotland (then called Caledonia). He
didn't have to worry about his lines of communication, as he was being supplied
by sea. He then thought about an invasion of Ireland, but decided instead
to push on further north. However, when after the battle of Mons Graupius
he saw the Picts setting fire to their homes and preparing to withdraw to
yet another mountain stronghold, he realized that the conquest of Caledonia
would have to be left to another year. He was quite convinced that the whole
of Britain would have to be conquered, and he had already sent a fleet round
the Orkneys (thereby proving for the first time that Britain was an island).
However, soon afterwards he was recalled to Rome. The emperor was jealous
of him and was unwilling to add even more provinces to his enormous empire.
|Agricola was the father-in-law of the great Roman
historian Tacitus, who described his works and achievements in Britain.
Here he is seen writing his Annals.
Julius Agricola was much more than a great general. He did far more important
work in Britain than defeating the Picts. For he, more than any other Roman
governor, made friends with the Britons and persuaded them to give up their
savage ways and adopt the more civilized customs of Rome. He induced many
of them to abandon their lairs in the forest and to live in towns; these
were built in Roman fashion with temples, market squares, and colonnades.
He started schools in Britain and brought over schoolmasters from abroad
to teach in them. The Britons were taught better methods of agriculture,
how to build Roman houses (villas), and, very important, how to build roads.
In time Britain was to become one of the most contented of the Roman provinces
and was to enjoy over 300 years of peace and prosperity. It was under Agricola
that this Golden Age began.
|Important dates in Romano-British
||Julius Caesar's first visit to Britain
||Claudius's invasion of Britain
||Rebellion of Boudicia
||Agricola governor of Britain
||Romans leave Britain