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Useful Notes / Julius Agricola

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Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a Roman Governor and General. He was responsible for much of the conquest of Roman Britain, as well as holding various other positions over his 53 year life.

Agricola was born in the colonia of Forum Julii in Gallia Narobensis (what is now Fréjus, France). His parents were Gallo-Romans from senatorial families, his father was a praetor and a member of the Roman Senate, his grandfathers were both Roman Governors, and his ancestors were local Gauls who adopted Roman Culture and Customs after the Gallic Wars. He was raised by his mother, Julia Procilla, as his father Lucius Julius Graecinus was put to death by Emperor Caligula for refusing to prosecute Marcus Junius Silanus.


Julius Agricola began his career as a military tribune serving in the staff of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (then Governor of Britain) between the years of 58 and 62. He helped suppress Boudica's Rebellion in the year 61.

After his mentor Suetonius was dismissed as Governor, Agricola returned to Rome in 62. There he married Domitia Decidiana, and fathered a son with her. In 64 Agricola was appointed a quaestor and served in the Province of Asia under Proconsul Lucius Salvius Otho Titanus. While there he fathered a daughter, Julia Agricola, but his son died.

In 66 he was tribune of the plebs and in 68 he was a Praetor, where Governor Galba ordered him to take inventory of the temple treasures. Later that year Nero committed suicide and the Year of Four Emperors began. Agricola's mother was murdered by Otho's fleet, so Agricola threw his support behind Vespasian.


Once Vespasian won the Crown, Agricola returned to Britain as commander of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix in Britain. He replaced Marcus Rocius Coelius, who used the Legion to mutiny against the Governor of Britain (this time Marcus Vettinus Bolanus). In 71 Bolanus was replaced as Governor with Quintus Petillius Cerialus. As Cerialus was more aggressive than his predecessor, Agricola was again fighting against Breton Tribes (this time the Brigantes).

In 73, Agricola was granted the rank of patrician and appointed Governor of Gallia Aquitania for 3 years.

In 76 he was recalled to Rome and appointed consul. A year later his daughter married Tacitus and Agricola was appointed to the College of Pontiffs.

He returned to Britain a third time in 77, this time as Governor. He arrived to discover that the Ordovices wiped out the Roman Cavalry stationed in Northern Wales, and so he subdued them. Next he moved North and conquered the Island of Mona (what is now Anglesey) - something his mentor Suetonius attempted to do before being forced to withdraw by Boudica's Rebellion.


Next he invaded Caledonia (what is now Scotland), and in 79 he pushed his armies to the Firth of Tay and built some forts - one of which might be the fort at Eginhaugh in Midlothian.

In 81, Agricola might have lead an expeditionary force to Ireland and won a skirmish against locals there. He gave refuge to an exiled Irish King, and might have been planning an invasion. However, for whatever reason this never panned out.

In 82, Agricola raised a fleet and encircled the tribes beyond the Forth. The Caledonians attacked the camp of Legio IX Hispania at night, but Agricola and his Roman Cavalry routed them. Because of this he decided to push further north. Agricola had another son, but he died within a year.

In 83 Agricola faced an army of over 30,000 Caledonians lead by Calgacus at the Battle of Mons Graupius (likely in Bennachie in Aberdeenshire). Agricola put his auxiliaries in the front line, kept his legions in reserve, and relied on close-quarters fighting to nullify the strength of the Caledonian slashing swords. 10,000 of the Caledonians, and 360 of the Romans, died in that battle. He took hostages from the Caledonian Tribes, instructed the prefect to sail around the Northern Coast of Britain, and might have marched to the Northern Coast of Britain and established a Roman Fort in Cawdor near Inverness.

In 85, Agricola was recalled from Britain after an abnormally long term as Governor. Tacitus claims Domitian recalled him out of jealousy of his accomplishments. Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the second highest military honor a Roman could receive), but he never held a military or civil post again despite his renown and experience. He was offered the Governorship of Africa but declined it, either due to illness or the scheming of Emperor Domitian. He died in 93, at age 53, in his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis.

Appearances in popular culture:

  • His son in law Tacitus wrote On the Life and Character of Julius Agricola in 98 AD. Considering the author was known to embellish details, and was married to Agricola's daughter, this should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • He is also sometimes mentioned in stories about Boudica's Rebellion.

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