Thursday, 12 January 2012

Britain with the Roman eyes

Tacitus gives in his Agricola the same kind of treatment to Britain as he gave to Germania to the areas inside and outside the Roman Empire in the area of the modern Germany. However, ultimately Agricola is not a description of Britain as a geographic area or the history of Britain or its tribes but a biography of a general Agricola, a family member of Tacitus (Agricola was his father-in-law). Nevertheless, at the same time as listing the achievements of Agricola as a soldier and a governor of Britain Tacitus ends up giving a summary of the key events of the establishment and rooting of Roman power over Britain and the beginning of a ‘Pax Romana’ on this island as well.

The weather conditions of Britain became quite clear already from the Caesar’s unlucky expedition to these shores when his fleet suffered in a poor weather and storms. The Romans would not return for another hundred years or so but stayed at home licking their wounds and counting the lost ships. Not that they weren’t busy and more successful elsewhere.

Already during the Roman times there was a clear distinction between Britannia and Caledonia, England and Scotland, with the border lying approximately in the area of the Clyde and Forth. “Britannia, insularum quas Romana notitia complectitur maxima”, Britain was the largest island known to the Romans. Under Agricola the Romans proved that Britannia was an island. They also observed the powerful tides in some areas that enter some of the rivers; a clear reference to the situation near Bristol. Many of the qualities of Britain seem to be watery since the productivity of the land is mentioned to be related to the moisture of both soils and heavens. Similarly, the sky is noted to be mostly overcast with continuous rain but at least the climate was not cold (although no wine or olives could be grown).

'Alea jacta est - popular Latin and Roman literature' in Leicester at Vaughan college on Tuesdays at 10.30am-12.30pm from February 21, 2012 (6 sessions). This course is FREE for unemployed and people on means-tested benefits (T&C apply), others pay £40.20. Further information and enrolment by phone 0116 251 9740 or e-mail

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