September 07, 2009

Agricola's methods

Tacitus provides us in his analysis of Agricola's role as governor in Britain with a template for how he, Tacitus, thought that Rome should carry out its government. He was keenly aware of the vulnerability of Rome's position: like most empires up to our own day, the Romans maintained very few soldiers in the countries they occupied when compared to the vast multitudes that those soldiers held in check (Mattingley ed Agricola para 15). Hence empire always was in part a confidence trick, an imposition upon the 'native' population that they beleived was both in their own interest and also not in their interest to overthrow. Tacitus gives us some examples of how Romans before Agricola subued the Britons, using Cogidubnus (Mattingley ed Agricola para 14) a local King to maintain discipline or with military victories either by Caesar, Claudius or later commanders. But Tacitus leaves us in no doubt that a subtler analysis is needed of the ways that peace could be maintained- for him no less than for us the Roman empire was a vast problematic. Indeed his purpose went further for having discovered, thanks to the reigns of Galba and Vitellius, the enormous power of the Roman army, it was also the historian's purpose to detect how the Roman army retained discipline. Rome rode two tigers- the army and the province- and Tacitus's story in Agricola is a story about how one governor at one point in time managed to subdue both.

Tacitus defines what Agricola offered to the Britons in terms that we have already seen. An enfeebled populace was less likely to resist the imposition of Roman power- taught to be slaves, the Britons like the Gauls or even the Italians before them might learn to enjoy and yearn for the imperial yoke. Tacitus understood this: he tells us that in the winter months Agricola took time to plan amenities as he 'had to deal with a people living in isolation and ignorance and therefore prone to fight. His object was to accustom them to a life of peace' (Mattingley ed. Agricola para 21). Agricola was brutal with those that opposed him and yet with those that supported him he was clement (Mattingley ed. Agricola para 20). He sought to bring the Britons into the world of Rome, hoping to corrupt them from their military valour. Tacitus stresses that this came alongside good governance and a cultural education, Agricola sought to wipe out the British tongue replacing it with Latin and to get the sons of chieftans to take places in his court. He sought to replace a martial scale of value with a peaceful one- a British definition of patriotism with a Roman one. For Tacitus this process of cultural assimilation to the norms of peace from the virtues of barbaric independence was the means by which Rome's colonies survived- it was also as he commented elsewhere the means by which her armies became effeminate and eventually tossed by the ambition of the Caesars.