[28.1] Eādem aestāte cohors Usipōrum per Germāniās cōnscrīpta et in Britanniam trānsmissa magnum ac memorābile facinus ausa est. Occīsō centuriōne ac mīlitibus, quī ad trādendam disciplīnam inmixtī manipulīs exemplum et rēctōrēs habēbantur, trēs liburnicās adāctīs per vim gubernātōribus ascendēre; et ūnō rem negānte suspectīs duōbus eōque interfectīs, nōndum vulgātō rūmōre ut mīrāculum praevehēbantur. [28.2] Mox ad aquam atque ūtensilia raptum ubi dēvertīssent, cum plērīsque Britannōrum sua dēfēnsantium proeliō congressī ac saepe victōrēs, aliquandō pulsī, eō ad extrēmum inopiae vēnēre, ut īnfirmissimōs suōrum, mox sorte ductōs vēscerentur. [28.3] Atque ita circumvectī Britanniam, āmissīs per īnscītiam regendī nāvibus, prō praedōnibus habitī, prīmum ā Suēbīs, mox ā Frīsiīs interceptī sunt. Ac fuēre quōs per commercia vēnumdatōs et in nostram usque rīpam mūtātiōne ementium adductōs indicium tantī cāsūs inlūstrāvit.

Overview: The desertion of a cohort of the Usipi; they sail around the coast of Britain, and make good their escape to the Continent. (Stuart); this chapter begins on f. 60r of the codex Aesinas.


eādem aestāte: 83 CE. This episode of the Usipi is a digression pure and simple, introduced for its intrinsic interest. (Stuart); on Tacitus's object in telling the story of this adventure, which a modern writer would probably have given in a footnote, see Introd. p. xiv. (Gudeman)

cohors: a cohort of auxiliary troops numbered theoretically 500 men (quingenaria) or 1,000 (miliaria). These numbers were variable, as is the case with units of organization in modern armies. By far the greater number of cohorts known to us belonged to the former class. (Stuart)

Usipōrum: the Usipi, called also Usipetes ... . In the time of Tacitus, they lived near the confluence of the Lippe and the Rhine. (Stuart); a German tribe who in Tacitus's time were close neighbors of the Tencteri dwelling on the Rhine, near the modern Mayence. They were in all probability subdued in the early part of the year by Domitian in his war against the Chatti, and immediately sent as auxiliaries to the British legions. (Gudeman)

trānsmissa: in accordance with the natural principle that auxiliary troops should be removed from the home associations which would keep alive their patriotism. (Pearce)

magnum ac memorābile: an exceedingly frequent alliterative collocation. (Gudeman)

facinus: “deed,” a so-called vocabulum medium like eventus and valetudo, the context or some attributive determining whether it is used in a good or bad sense. (Gudeman)

occīsō centuriōne et militibus: observe the singular predicate with two subjects, the verb usually preceding in such cases. This is particularly frequent in ablative absolutes, the predicate here agreeing with the nearer noun. (Gudeman) [A&G 419]  militibus: experienced soldiers of the legion who were aligned with the recruits to instruct them in the drill and in the use of arms. (Stuart); sc. legionariis. ... Dio Cass. 66.20 speaks of the murder of a tribune and centurions. (Gudeman)

exemplum et rēctōrēs: the personal noun joined to the abstract, on which see Introd. p. xxxiv, #1. (Gudeman)  exemplum ... habēbantur: “were attached as.” (Pearce)  habēbantur: “were serving.” (Stuart); “were employed.” In this and kindred uses of habere Tacitus seems to have followed Sallust. (Gudeman)

liburnicās: sc. naves, the full form occurring only twice in Tacitus. They were light war vessels, with only two banks of oars, and carried a mast amidships. The pattern, long, narrow, pointed at both ends, was taken from the Liburnians, a piratical tribe on the coast of Dalmatia. (Gudeman)

ascendēre: sc. Usipi. The verb is either a third person plural syncopated perfect form, comparable to venere (28.2) and fuere (28.3), or (with a short e) a historical infinitive of ascendo. (Fox) [A&G 463]; the point of departure cannot be determined. It may have been Uxellodunum, the modern Ellenborough, near Maryport, on the Cumberland coast, or more probably Galloway. (Gudeman)

ūnō rem negānte: this emendation, one of many here, is based on absence of steersmen suggested by inscitiam regendi at 28.3. For the manuscript's uno remigante see lines 18-19 in the left-hand column. (Damon)  ūnō regente remigantes: a conjecture... . We cannot tell surely what Tacitus wrote. Translate: “rowing under the guidance of one steersman.”  (Stuart)

suspectīs: they were doubtless suspected of intentions to escape or to steer the vessels to some Roman port so that the deserters might be recaptured. (Stuart)

nōndum vulgātō rūmōre: i.e. the news of their defection had not yet spread, so that those who saw them were at a loss to understand either their sudden appearance or their destination. (Gudeman)

ut mīrāculum: “to the amazement of the natives,” explained by nondum vulgato rumore. (Pearce); people on the coast who had not heard of the mutiny were unable to account for the presence of the ships in those waters. (Stuart)

praevehēbantur: Tacitus elsewhere uses prae for praeter in this and similar verbal compounds, but here it is perhaps best taken in its regular sense, signifying their helpless drifting along, the want of pilots placing them at the mercy of wind and wave. (Gudeman)


ūtensilia: an emendation that substitutes the technical term for "necessities" for the manuscript's utilla (see notes below). The text of this sentence is badly garbled (see lines 22-23 in the left-hand column). (Damon)  ūtilia: “necessaries of life.” (Stuart); sc. cetera, “other necessaries of life.” On the ellipsis, see note ch. 6.4, inania honoris. (Gudeman)

raptum: supine. (Pearce) [A&G 508-9]  raptum ubi dēvertīssent: an emendation for the manuscript's meaningless raptis se-. Other emendations are possible. (Damon)

congressi: sc. sunt. (Damon)

ad extrēmum: “finally.” (Stuart)

eō ... inopiae: go together, ad eam inopiam.
 (Pearce)  inopiae: partitive genitive.
 (Stuart) [A&G 346.a4]

vēscerentur: here used transitively; generally used intransitively with ablative of means.
 (Pearce) [A&G 408]; Tacitus also uses fungor and potior with the accusative. This construction, which was characteristic of early Republican Latin, was rehabilitated by the prose writers of the Empire. (Stuart)


circumvectī Britanniam: they started from the west of Scotland, north of the Clyde, sailed round the north of Scotland, and were then driven eastwards to the mouth of the Elbe (where some Suebian tribes dwelt). From here they made their way westwards to the Frisii on the north coast of Holland. (Pearce); their point of departure was on the western coast. They may have been quartered with the troops which Agricola had massed as a preliminary to the invasion of Ireland. Although Tacitus does not tell us whether they sailed north or south, the former conclusion is more tenable. The survivors reached the western bank of the Rhine (28.3: in nostram ... ripam) at the end of their wanderings, a fact which indicates that they came from the north. Also we are told elsewhere that Agricola took the hint of the insular character of Britain from their voyage. Vessels of the Roman fleet must have sailed around southern England long before. Indeed these very Liburnae must have performed the voyage unless we suppose that they were built on the western coast, an unlikely surmise. The adjectives magnum ac memorabile also accord better with the supposition of a northern route. (Stuart)

per īnscītiam regendī: at the most they had but one pilot for the three ships, and he may not have been familiar with the German coast. Or possibly he had not survived the various perils of the voyage. (Stuart)

ā Suēbīs: literally, “wanderers,” a generic name applied by Tacitus to many different tribes inhabiting the greater part of Germany. The reference here is to some stock settled in north western Germany near the mouth of the Elbe. (Stuart)  Suēbīs ... Frīsiīs: Suebi, according to Tac. Germ. 38, was a collective designation for many tribes who occupied the greater part of Germany and led a more or less nomadic life; hence their name, which means “wanderers.” A Suebic offshoot was settled by Augustus in Flanders, and these are the people probably alluded to here. The Frisii occupied the territory a little to the southwest, stretching from the eastern mouth of the Rhine to the Ems. (Gudeman)  mox ā Frīsiīs: those who escaped the Suebi fell foul of the Frisians. (Stuart)

per commercia: “in the course of traffic.” (Pearce)

in nostram usque rīpam: the Gallic bank. (Stuart); i.e. the left bank of the Rhine. This proves that Tacitus conceived the Usipi to have sailed from the west around Scotland, for on any other supposition the adventurers would have reached the Roman boundary before they were shipwrecked and captured by the more northern Suebi and Frisians. (Gudeman)

mūtātiōne ementium: "by passing through the hands of different purchasers." (Stuart); “commercial exchange.”  (Gudeman)

indicium: “recital.” (Stuart); “the story.” (Pearce)

inlūstrāvit: “made famous”; fuere quos is followed by the indicative because Tacitus had several definite survivors in mind. (Stuart); the indefinite phrase sunt qui is generally followed by the subjunctive. (Pearce) [A&G 535a

aestās aestātis f.: summer

Usipī, –ōrum m.: Usipi, a Germanic people

Germānia –ae f.: Germany, the Roman province; (pl.) Upper and Lower Germany

cōnscrībō cōnscrībere cōnscrīpsī cōnscrīptus: to enroll, conscript

Britannia –ae f.: Britain

trānsmittō –ere –mīsī –missus: to send across

memorābilis –e: worth recording, famous

centuriō centuriōnis m.: centurion

immisceō –miscuī –mixtus: to intermingle

manipulus –ī m.: maniple, company of 2 centuries

rēctor –ōris m.: guide

liburnica –ae: (sc. navis) a fast cruiser

adigō adigere adēgī adāctus: to force, compel

gubernātor –ōris m.: navigator

suspīciō –spicere –spexī –spectum: suspect

vulgō vulgāre vulgāvī vulgātus: to publish, spread abroad

rūmor rūmōris m.: story, report

mīrāculum –ī n.: wonder, apparition

praevehor –vehī –vectus sum: to sail past

ūtēnsilia –ium n.: necessities

dēvertō dēvertere dēvertī dēversum: to turn from

Britannī –ōrum m.: Britons

dēfēnsō –sāre –sāvī –sātum : to defend

congredior congredī congressus sum: to meet

inopia inopiae f.: want, poverty

īnfīrmus –a –um: weak

vēscor vēscī: to feed on (here with acc.)

circumvehor circumvehī circumvectus sum: to sail round

īnscītia –ae f.: ignorance, inexperience

praedō praedōnis m.: pirate

Suēbī –ōrum m. pl.: the Suebi (a Germanic tribe)

Frisiī, –ōrum m. : Frisii, a people of Northern Europe

intercipiō –cipere –cēpī –ceptus: to catch

commercium –iī n.: trade, interchange, commercial dealings

vēnumdo –dare –dedī –datus: to sell

mūtātiō –ōnis f.: exchange

emō emere ēmī ēmptus: to buy

indicium indici(ī) n.: sign, indication, report

illūstrō illūstrāre illūstrāvī illūstrātus: to illuminate, make famous

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Suggested Citation

Cynthia Damon, Tacitus: Agricola. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-947822-09-2. http://dcc.dickinson.edu/tacitus-agricola/28