[33.1] Excēpēre ōrātiōnem alacrēs, ut barbarīs mōris, fremitū cantūque et clāmōribūs dissonīs. Iamque agmina et armōrum fulgōrēs audentissimī cuiusque prōcursū; simul īnstruēbātur aciēs, cum Agricola quamquam laetum et vix mūnīmentīs coercitum mīlitem accendendum adhūc ratus, ita disseruit: [33.2] 'septimus annus est, commīlitōnēs, ex quō virtūte et auspiciīs populī Rōmānī, fide atque operā nostrā Britanniam vīcistis. Tot expedītiōnibus, tot proeliīs, seu fortitūdine adversus hostēs seu patientiā ac labōre paene adversus ipsam rērum nātūram opus fuit, neque mē mīlitum neque vōs ducis paenituit. [33.3] Ergō ēgressī, ego veterum lēgātōrum, vōs priōrum exercituum terminōs, fīnem Britanniae nōn fāmā nec rūmōre, sed castrīs et armīs tenēmus: inventa Britannia et subācta. [33.4] Equidem saepe in agmine, cum vōs palūdēs montēsve et flūmina fatīgārent, fortissimī cuiusque vōcēs audiēbam: "quandō dabitur hostis, quandō manūs?" Veniunt, ē latebrīs suīs extrūsī, et vōta virtūsque in apertō, omniaque prōna victōribus atque eadem victīs adversa. [33.5] Nam ut superāsse tantum itineris, ēvāsisse silvās, trānsīsse aestuāria pulchrum ac decōrum in frontem, ita fugientibus perīculōsissima quae hodiē prosperrima sunt; neque enim nōbīs aut locōrum eadem nōtitia aut commeātuum eadem abundantia, sed manūs et arma et in hīs omnia. [33.6] Quod ad mē attinet, iam prīdem mihi dēcrētum est neque exercitūs neque ducis terga tūta esse. Proinde ut honesta mors turpī vītā potior, ita incolumitās ac decus eōdem locō sita sunt; nec inglōrium fuerit in ipsō terrārum ac nātūrae fīne cecidisse.

Overview: The effect of the speech of Calgacus; Agricola on his side exhorts his men: "For six years we have been associated as general and army to our mutual satisfaction; you have been longing for a chance at the foe; now he is before you; there is no safety in retreat; victory is our only hope." (Stuart)  The speech of Agricola (ch. 33.2-34.3) is pitted, point for point, against that of Calgacus. Here, as there, the situation is represented as critical; there is an appeal to the valor of the soldiers, the rewards of victory and the dire consequences of a defeat are dwelt upon in both. Finally a supreme confidence in the outcome, based upon former achievements, and a depreciation of the enemy, are expressed by both speakers. This perfect parallelism of structure would be alone sufficient to stamp both speeches as works of the imagination. The address of Agricola, however, unlike that of Calgacus, may have had some historical background (see note ch. 29.1), although its contents teem with rhetorical commonplaces … . The most noteworthy rhetorical features are: anaphora; asyndeton; antithesis; fullness of expression; libration; poetic and epigrammatic expressions; ditrochaic clausula; cretic clausula. (Gudeman); this chapter begins on f. 61v of the codex Aesinas.


alacrēs: “enthusiastically”; a standing description for the effect of a general's exhortation. See note on chapter 35.2; also, Caesar, BG 1.41.1, before the battle with Ariovistus, hac oratione habita ... summa alacritas innata est. (Stuart)

ut barbarīs mōris: sc. est. Moris is a sort of possessive genitive, “belongs to the custom,” or “comes under the head of custom.” We should say “is the custom” (which is also the usual Latin idiom, ut mos est). (Pearce) [A&G 343]  mōris: so ch. 39.1; 42.4 and elsewhere in Tacitus. … The more usual mos est, e.g. ch. 25.3; 40.4. (Gudeman)

fremitū ... clāmōribūs dissonīs: a typical Roman description of the noisy onset of barbarians. (Stuart)  fremitū cantūque et clāmōribūs: the same collocation (-que  et), e.g. ch. 32.1 with similar synonymic combinations being exceedingly common. (Gudeman)

agmina: “marching bands.” The Caledonians did not preserve formal alignment, i.e. acies, as did the Romans. (Stuart); sc. conspiciebantur, or some such word. Translate “troops in motion.” (Pearce)

fulgōrēs: sc. adspiciebantur. On the ellipsis of a verb of seeing, see note on Introd. p. xxxi #6. The plural of fulgor is very rare, and was probably due to agmina. Translate: “Marching columns, each with flashing arms, were seen.” (Gudeman)

audentissimī cuiusque prōcursū: an ablative of cause (explaining fulgores). Translate by a clause, “as the boldest darted out from the line.” (Pearce) [A&G 404]  prōcursū: the ablative of 'attendant circumstance' is particularly frequent in Tacitus. (Gudeman) [A&G 420 #5

simul ... cum: “no sooner ... than.” (Gudeman)

coercitum: the perfect passive participle here takes the place of a missing adjective in -bilis. (Gudeman) [A&G 164.3a]

adhūc: post-classical for insuper. (Pearce); “still further.” See note on ch. 29.4. (Gudeman)

ita disseruit: Tacitus might have obtained a report of what was actually spoken on this occasion. Such, however, was not the practice of the rhetorical historians. The speech reveals the conventional features of its kind. (Stuart)


septimus: Roman computation included the year reckoned to. (Stuart)

commīlitōnēs: “comrades”; an intimate mode of salutation affected by Julius Caesar in addresses to his army. We are told that for the sake of discipline Augustus restored to currency the more distant term milites. Soldier-emperors, such as Galba and Trajan, revived the conciliatory commilitones. (Stuart)

auspiciīs imperiī Rōmānī: “under the direction of the Imperial Government of Rome”; a more general way of saying, “under the direction of Roman emperors.” Agricola's tenure of the command of Britain extended from the reign of Vespasian through the reign of Titus and into the reign of Domitian. (Stuart); Seiler suggests that the abstract imperii is put for the concrete imperatoris, because the seven years had been served under three different emperors. As the Emperor was commander-in-chief, all victories were won under his auspices, and he alone could claim the “triumph.” (Pearce)  virtūte et auspiciīs imperiī Rōmānī, etc.: the imperium Romanum is here ... personified for the evident purpose of avoiding the name of the emperor, usual in these formulae, for otherwise the credit for the great victory would have been given directly to Domitian. That Agricola is made to identify himself with his army (nostra) is in perfect keeping with the modesty of his character. (Gudeman); the instrumental ablative expression is unparalleled and often emended. The notes above explain how it may be understood as written. For discussion of repairs see Woodman ad loc. (Damon)

fortitūdine, etc. ... patientiā, etc.: refer chiastically to expeditionibus and proeliis, as do me militum and vos ducis, for the conspicuous behavior of the soldiers in battle had already been sufficiently emphasized by fide atque opera nostra vicistis. (Gudeman)

fide: at first thought a word used more fittingly to describe the attitude of the army. Here it has the meaning of protection or guardian care exercised by a commander. (Stuart)

expedītiōnibus ... proeliīs: a sort of ablative of “time when” with paenituit. (Pearce) [A&G 423,1]

adversus ... nātūram: refers to the difficulties of the march, see note on 25.1. (Pearce)

ipsam rērum nātūram: “creation itself.” Recall the tempestates, ch. 22.1; other obstacles to the advance are mentioned in the present chapter. (Stuart)  rērum nātūram: “the forces of nature.” (Gudeman)

paenituit: with accusative of the person feeling regret and genitive of the source of regret. (Damon) [A&G 354b]


nōn fāmā nec rūmōre: “our occupation is not a matter of reputed achievement or vague report.” (Stuart); “not by talking of it and guessing at it, but by occupying it in arms.” (Furneaux); this is evidently intended to contrast with Calgacus's remark in ch. 30.3, terrarum ... extremos ... sinus famae ... defendit, Agricola asserting that they occupy finem Britanniae already, not by the mere wish being father to the thought, but by actual possession, and unlike Caesar, qui potest videri ostendisse posteris (sc. Britanniam) non tradidisse (ch. 13.1). Fama and rumor are distinguished, in that the former is vague, intangible, not traceable to any human agent, while the latter implies some definite opinion or information which lacks authority or substantiation; it is the more specific term, fama the more general, both being often combined. (Gudeman)

castrīs et armīs: the two terms balance fama nec rumore, and correspond to expeditionibus and proeliis respectively. (Gudeman)

inventa: sc. est. (Damon); “disclosed to view.” (Stuart); “really discovered,” now that it is known in its whole length and breadth. (Pearce)

Britannia: on the position of the subject between the two predicates, see Introd. p. xxvi #4. (Gudeman)


flūmina, etc.: observe the alliteration. (Gudeman)

manūs: sc. dabuntur. Manus, in the plural, can be used as a short-hand for "hand-to-hand fighting" or "battle"; the soldiers are imagined as speaking here. At 23.3 and 33.5 the idea is more fully expressed with manus et arma; similarly 36.1, mucrones et manus. Manus is an emendation for the manuscript's animus (see line 8 of the left-hand column). Other emendations are possible, including adimus (see note below). (Damon)  adimus: “come at them.” Adimus is a conjecture for the meaningless animus of the Mss. The present is used vividly for the future, as is often the case in English. In Latin this usage is very frequent in questions and in colloquial speech generally. Tacitus thus makes the soldiers speak in a fashion grammatically true to life. (Stuart)

veniunt: “well, they are coming on.” On the emphatic position of the predicate, see Introd. p. xxvi#3. (Gudeman)

vōta virtūsque in apertō: sc. sunt. (Damon); “prayers and prowess have free play.” The meaning, expressed with Tacitean brevity, is that their wishes are now realized and they have a chance to display their valor in a pitched battle. (Stuart); “it is now open to you to realize your vows and display your valour.” The phrase is used pointedly in contrast to latebris. In aperto, which strictly only suits virtus, is used with vota by zeugma. (Pearce); “your vows and your valor have full scope.” The Latin is fond of such alliterative collocations. See note on Introd. p. xxviii #13. (Gudeman)

prōna: see note on pronum, ch. 1.2. (Pearce)  omniaque prōna victōribus ... victīs adversa: observe the alliterative antithesis, on which see Introd. p. xxviii #13. (Gudeman)


superāsse ... pulchrum: sc. est. The three infinitives here form a collective subject for the implied main verb, est, which links this subject with the predicate adjectives pulchrum and decorum. (Damon) [A&G 452]  superāsse tantum itineris: note the double chiasmus. The antithetical clauses are also in chiastic order. (Gudeman)

in frontem: “when the foe is ahead,” contrasting with fugientibus. (Stuart); has only a vague grammatical construction. It depends roughly on the understood datives superantibus, evadentibus, transeuntibus suggested by the infinitives above. (Pearce); = progredientibus, which was avoided for euphonic reasons, fugientibus following. The phrase is unparalleled, but in often has the meaning towards, and the term was probably coined on the analogy of terga praebere, which signifies flight in battle, even without the addition of hostibus. On the ellipsis of sed, extremely common in antitheses of this kind, see Introd. p. xxxi #5. (Gudeman)

neque enim, etc.: the speaker here admits what Calgacus had asserted, ch. 31.2. (Gudeman)

manūs et arma: see ch. 25.3, and Introd. p. xxx #17. (Gudeman)

in hīs omnia: sc. posita sunt. (Pearce)


dēcrētum est: “it is my long-standing conviction.” (Stuart); “I have held,” a very rare, possibly colloquial, meaning. (Gudeman)

terga tūta esse: "flight is not safe," a commonplace. (Gudeman)

proinde ut ... potior: sc. est. (Damon)  proinde: see note on proinde, chapter 32.4. Logically the word introduces incolumitas ... sunt; the sentence honesta ... potior being in thought equivalent to a causal clause, explaining decus. (Stuart); the natural sequence of thought is as follows: “Flight (terga) is not safe; therefore the path of glory (i.e. a bold resistance) is also the path of safety.” But this sequence is broken into by the sentence et honesta mors ... potior, which suggests death instead of safety as the reward of resistance. This sentence (suggested by the mention of flight just before, which would lead to a mors turpis) would in English be subordinated: “Therefore, though an honourable death is preferable to a life of disgrace, yet,” &c. (Pearce); = itaque. (Gudeman)

eōdem locō sita sunt: i.e. a noble death for one's country or a glorious victory depends upon the issue of this battle. (Gudeman)

fuerit: the sense requires this to be taken as potential subjunctive rather than as future-perfect indicative. (Pearce) [A&G 445, 478]; best taken as future perfect. (Gudeman) [A&G 478]; the future-perfect indicative denotes an action as completed in the future, whereas the potential subjunctive suggests an action in the immediate future is possible. Both moods deal with futurity, but it is whether the action is presented as having been completed or simply possible that distinguishes the two. E.g. “Nor will it have been undignified to have fallen ...” or “Nor would it be undignified to have fallen ... .” (Fox) [A&G 445, 478]   

in ipsō terrārum ac nātūrae fīne: “at the very limit of the land, yes, of the world.” The end of the land is thought of as marking the "jumping-off place" of the earth. (Stuart); observe the skill with which Tacitus establishes the transition to the next chapter, the present phrase naturally suggesting novae gentes and ignota acies. See note on ch. 23.1. (Gudeman)  terrārum ac nātūrae fīne: “on the very confines of land, nay, of the world itself.” The second term emphasizes terrarum, the ac being epexegetic. See note on ch. 26.1. (Gudeman)

alacer alacris alacre: eager, excited

fremitus –ūs m.: clamor

cantus –ūs m.: singing

dissonus –a –um: confused in sound, dissonant

fulgor –ōris m. or fulgur –ūris n.: flash

prōcursus –ūs m.: forward movement

īnstruō īnstruere īnstrūxī īnstrūctus: draw up

Agricola –ae m.: Agricola

mūnīmentum –ī n: fortification

coerceō coercēre coercuī coercitus: to constrain, restrain

accendō accendere accendī accēnsus: to fire, kindle

disserō disserere disseruī dissertus: to speak, make speech

septimus –a –um: 7th

commīlitō –ōnis m.: fellow-soldier

auspicium auspicī(ī) n.: divination; (pl.) auspices

Rōmānus –a –um: Roman

fidēs –eī f.: loyalty

Britannia –ae f.: Britain

expedītiō –ōnis f.: active service, expedition, campaign

fortitūdō fortitūdinis f.: bravery, courage

patientia patientiae f.: endurance, patience

paenitet paenitēre paenituit: to regret (+acc. and gen.)

terminus –ī m.: endpoint, limit

rūmor rūmōris m.: story, report

subigō subigere subēgī subāctum: to subdue

equidem: indeed

palūs –ūdis f.: marsh, swamp

fatīgō fatīgāre fatīgāvī fatīgātus: to wear out

latebra –ae f.: hiding-place, hole

extrūdō –trūdere –trūsī –trūsum: to thrust out

apertus aperta apertum: open

prōnus –a –um: easy

tantum: so much (+ gen.)

ēvādō ēvādere ēvāsī ēvāsus: to pass through, escape

aestuārium –ī n.: estuary, firth, tidal creek

decōrus –a –um: honorable

perīculōsus –a –um: dangerous

prōsper – or more frequently – prōsperus –a –um: favorable

nōtitia ae f.: knowledge

commeātus commeatūs m.: provisions

abundantia –ae f.: abundance, lavishness

attineō attinēre attinuī attentum: to hold near, delay, stretch towards; (attinet) pertain

prīdem: (with iam) long since

proinde: accordingly

potior potius: better, preferable (comparative of potis)

incolumitās –ātis f.: safety

inglōrius –a –um: without honor, without fame

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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/33