The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/To His Army in Scotland

Reported by Tacitus.

4103529The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — To His Army in ScotlandGnaeus Julius Agricola



(84 A.D.)

Born in 37 A.D., died in 93; father-in-law of Tacitus; served in many campaigns in Britain and France, carrying the Roman conquest as far as the northern boundary of Perth and Argyll.

It is now the eighth year, my fellow soldiers, in which, under the high auspices of the Roman empire, by your valor and perseverance you have been conquering Britain. In so many expeditions, in so many battles, whether you have been required to exert your courage against the enemy, or your patient labors against the very nature of the country, neither have I ever been dissatisfied with my soldiers, nor you with your general. In this mutual confidence, we have proceeded beyond the limits of former commanders and former armies; and are now become acquainted with the extremity of the island, not by uncertain rumor, but by actual possession with our arms and encampments. Britain is discovered and subdued. How often, on a march, when embarrassed with mountains, bogs, and rivers, have I heard the bravest among you exclaim, "When shall we descry the enemy? When shall we be led to the field of battle?"

At length they are unharbored from their retreats; your wishes and your valor have now free scope, and every circumstance is equally propitious to the victor, and ruinous to the vanquished. For, the greater our glory in having marched over vast tracts of land, penetrated forests, and crossed arms of the sea, while advancing toward the foe, the greater will be our danger and difficulty if we should attempt a retreat. We are inferior to our enemies in knowledge of the country, and less able to command supplies of provision; but we have arms in our hands, and in these we have everything. For myself, it has long been my principle, that a retiring general or army is never safe. Not only, then, are we to reflect that death with honor is preferable to life with ignominy, but to remember that security and glory are seated in the same place. Even to fall in this extremest verge of earth and of nature can not be thought an inglorious fate.

If unknown nations or untried troops were drawn up against you, I would exhort you from the example of other armies. At present, recollect your own honors, question your own eyes. These are they who, the last year, attacking by surprise a single legion in the obscurity of the night, were put to flight by a shout—the greatest fugitives of all the Britons, and, therefore, the longest survivors. As in penetrating woods and thickets the fiercest animals boldly rush on the hunters, while the weak and timorous fly at their very noise; so the bravest of the Britons have long since fallen. The remaining number consists solely of the cowardly and spiritless, whom you see at length within your reach, not because they have stood their ground, but because they are overtaken. Torpid with fear, their bodies are fixed and chained down in yonder field, which to you will speedily be the scene of a glorious and memorable victory. Here bring your toils and services to a conclusion; close a struggle of fifty years[2] with one great day; and convince your countrymen, that to the army ought not to be imputed either the protraction of the war or the causes of rebellion.[3]


  1. Delivered in 84 A.D. on the eve of the battle of the Grampian Hills. Reported by Tacitus. The Revised Oxford translation.
  2. The expedition of Claudius into Britain occurred in the year of Rome 796, from which, to the period of this engagement of the Grampian Hills, forty-two years had elapsed.
  3. Tacitus remarks that, "While Agricola was yet speaking, the ardor of the soldiers declared itself; and as soon as he had finished, they burst forth into cheerful acclamations, and instantly flew to arms. Thus eager and impetuous, he formed them so that the center was occupied by the auxiliary infantry, in number 8,000 and 3,000 horse were spread in the wings."