[18.1] Hunc Britanniae statum, hās bellōrum vicēs mediā iam aestāte trānsgressus Agricola invēnit, cum et mīlitēs velut omissā expedītiōne ad sēcūritātem et hostēs ad occāsiōnem verterentur. Ordovicum cīvitās haud multō ante adventum eius ālam in fīnibus suīs agentem prope ūniversam obtrīverat, eōque initiō ērēcta prōvincia. [18.2] Et quibus bellum volentibus erat, probāre exemplum ac recentis lēgātī animum opperīrī, cum Agricola, quamquam trānsvecta aestās, sparsī per prōvinciam numerī, praesūmpta apud mīlitem illīus annī quiēs, tarda et contrāria bellum incohātūrō, et plērīsque cūstōdīrī suspecta potius vidēbātur, īre obviam discrīminī statuit; contractīsque legiōnum vēxillīs et modicā auxiliōrum manū, quia in aequum dēgredī Ordovicēs nōn audēbant, ipse ante agmen, quō cēterīs pār animus similī perīculō esset, ērēxit aciem.  [18.3] Caesāque prope ūniversā gente, nōn ignārus īnstandum fāmae ac, prout prīma cessissent, terrōrem cēterīs fore, Monam īnsulam, cuius possessiōne revocātum Paulīnum rebelliōne tōtīus Britanniae suprā memorāvī, redigere in potestātem animō intendit. [18.4] Sed, ut in subitīs cōnsiliīs, nāvēs dēerant: ratiō et cōnstantia ducis trānsvēxit. Dēpositīs omnibus sarcinīs lēctissimōs auxiliārium, quibus nōta vada et patrius nandī ūsus, quō simul sēque et arma et equōs regunt, ita repente inmīsit, ut obstupefactī hostēs, quī classem, quī nāvēs, quī mare expectābant, nihil arduum aut invictum crēdiderint sīc ad bellum venientibus. [18.5] Ita petītā pāce ac dēditā īnsulā clārus ac magnus habērī Agricola, quippe cui ingredientī prōvinciam, quod tempus aliī per ostentātiōnem et officiōrum ambitum trānsigunt, labor et perīculum placuisset. [18.6] Nec Agricola prōsperitāte rērum in vānitātem ūsus, expedītiōnem aut victōriam vocābat victōs continuisse; nē laureātīs quidem gesta prōsecūtus est, sed ipsā dissimulātiōne fāmae fāmam auxit, aestimantibus quantā futūrī spē tam magna tacuisset.

    Overview: Agricola arrives in Britain; he surprises his soldiers and the Britons as well by taking the field against the rebellious Ordovices when the season is almost gone; the chastisement of this tribe is followed up by the conquest of Mona in the face of great difficulties. Agricola with his usual modesty refrains from magnifying his exploits. (Stuart); this chapter begins on f. 57r of the codex Aesinas.


    hunc: as has been related in chapters 13-17. (Stuart)

    bellōrum vicēs: "military successes and failures" (literally "vicissitudes incurred in wars"), a pointed restatement of hunc ... statum. (Damon)

    mediā iam aestāte: the summer of 77 CE (for the date see Introduction). (Damon) [INTXRF]; he arrived about September; see below transvecta aestas.  (Gudeman)

    mīlitēs ... occāsiōnem: observe the libration of clauses. (Gudeman)

    velut: “in the belief that.” (Stuart); used like tamquam; see note on 15.1. (Gudeman)  velut omissā expedītiōne: “in the idea that there was to be no campaign that year,” because Agricola did not arrive until midsummer. (Pearce)  

    ad occāsiōnem verterentur: “were preparing for a surprise.” In 22.3 it is implied that the winter was the favourite time for an attempt to surprise the Roman garrisons. (Pearce)  ad occāsiōnem: as in chapter 14.3. (Stuart)  verterentur: here, as often in Tacitus, with the force of a middle. (Gudeman) [A&G 156a]

    Ordovicum: the Ordovices were a tribe dwelling in the central and northern parts of Wales. They are mentioned as allies of Caractacus, king of the Silures. (Gudeman)

    ālam: in the military organization of the Empire, an ala was a troop of cavalry 600-1000 strong. (Gudeman)

    agentem: agere is often used absolutely by Tacitus with the meaning “to be on duty,” “to be stationed.” (Pearce); “stationed,” a military term. (Gudeman)

    prope ūniversam: Tacitus generally thus modifies expressions that may seem exaggerated. See below, 18.3; Hist. 1.50.3 prope eversum orbem; 1.80.1 prope urbī excidio fuit. (Gudeman)

    ērēcta: sc. erat, “was in a state of excitement.” Generally erectus is used with a defining phrase, such as ad spem. (Pearce); sc. est. (Gudeman); with erat, erecta functions as an adjective, with est, as a perfect passive participle. (Damon)


    quibus bellum volentibus: “those who favored war."  (Stuart); a rare extension of the dative of reference with a complement imitated from the Greek τοῦτο βουλομένῳ μοι ἐστι. The dative quibus denotes that the persons are interested in the war, and volentibus in agreement adds the form which the interest assumes. (Pearce) [A&G 378.2 note]

    probāre ... opperīrī: historic infinitives. (Pearce)  

    probāre exemplum: "they regard the action (of the Ordovices) as a fit pattern." (Stuart); "tested his conduct, style of warfare." (Gudeman); the explanation of Stuart is more convincing here. While probāre can mean both “approve” and “test,” Woodman notes that the presence of probāre exemplum at Ann. 4.43.5 supports Stuart’s translation. (Lahiri)

    ac: adds an important limitation of the preceding, “and yet.” (Pearce); “and at the same time.” For the force of the conjunction, see note on ch. 10.2 and 9.3 (et). (Gudeman)

    animum opperīrī: “were waiting to test the temper” (before following the example of revolt). (Pearce)  recentis lēgātī animum opperīrī: "awaited what kind of spirit the newly arrived legate would show." This pregnant use of opperīrī occurs repeatedly in Tacitus. The more warlike Britons wanted to make trial of Agricola's military qualities by occasional attacks, before they ventured upon a general uprising, but his energetic movements thwarted this waiting policy. (Gudeman)

    trānsvecta: sc. est. Tacitus has also omitted forms of esse with the next two subjects of this clause. (Damon); the normal force of this verb is illustrated in 18.4, ratiō et cōnstantia ... trānsvēxit. It is here equivalent in meaning to transacta. (Stuart); a Tacitean metaphor found only here and Hist. 2.76.3. See Introd. p. xxxvii, i. (Gudeman)

    numerī: military units of greater or less size serving apart from the main army under the command of a single officer. (Stuart); “detachments,” a post-Augustan military term. (Gudeman)

    praesūmpta: “taken for granted,” lit., “enjoyed in anticipation.” For the classical animō praecipere (Dräger). (Pearce)  praesūmpta ... quiēs: the omissa expedītiō mentioned above, due probably to the absence of the legate Frontinus, who had returned to Rome in 77, led the soldiers to believe that they would enjoy a similar rest in the present year. The three asyndetic groups constitute a climax, the increasing amplification corresponding to the relative importance of each statement. (Gudeman)

    tarda et contrāria: neuter plurals. (Stuart); "all matters involving delays and obstacles." The two terms are in apposition with the preceding clauses. tarda, in a transitive sense, is poetic and ... in prose apparently only here. (Gudeman)

    suspecta: i.e. regions suspected of hostile designs. (Gudeman)

    potius: goes closely with videbatur, as a predicate adjective. (Damon); here an adjective, not adverb. (Pearce); "the best plan." Our idiom requires the superlative, for cūstōdīrī suspecta or ire obviam discrīminī was not the only alternative, but the comparative is often so used both in Greek and Latin. (Gudeman)

    vidēbātur: translate “it seemed.” Passive forms of videō with this meaning have a dative complement, here plerisque. (Lahiri) [A&G 375b]

    īre obviam discrīminī: see 14.4 terga occāsiōnī patefēcit. In both instances the verb is used literally, and the noun in the dative metaphorically. (Pearce)

    vēxillīs: i.e. the sparsī numerī mentioned above, detached from their legions and serving under their own standards, the vexilla, not the regular signa of the army to which they belonged. (Gudeman)

    in aequum: “into the plain.” (Gudeman)

    ipse ante agmen: sc. incēdēns. On this means of encouragement, see ch. 35.4Caes. BG 1.25.1Sall. Cat. 59.1. (Gudeman); the style is very compressed here. (Pearce). 

    quō = ut eo, to express purpose. The antecedent is the action alluded to in ipse ante agmen. (Damon); generally used with a comparative in final clauses. (Pearce) [A&G 531.2]

    ērēxit aciem: "led his army up the hill," a military phrase common in Livy and Tacitus. (Gudeman) 


    nōn ignārus īnstandum fāmae: he realized the wisdom of making the most of the éclat he had won by following up his advantage. See Maharbal's remark to Hannibal, Livy, 22. 51.4: "You know how to conquer; you do not know how to use your victory." Caesar made a similar comment about Pompey after the battle of Dyrrachium. (Stuart)  instandum famae: sc. esse. Esse must also be supplied with revocatum in the next sentence and with invictum in 18.4. (Damon); i.e. that he must maintain the prestige already won. (Pearce)  non ignarus, etc.: i.e. Agricola was not unmindful of the necessity, recognized by all great generals in history, that a victory must be quickly followed up. prout prīma cessissent = secundum prīmum ēventum, which might be defeat or victory, but the former contingency, as terrorem shows, is intentionally not taken into account, as being improbable in so great a general, while the subjunctive with prout is used to imply that Agricola himself was too confident of success to allow the other alternative to enter into his calculations. (Gudeman)

    prout ... cessissent: the subjunctive verb shows that this clause belongs to the indirect statement introduced by non ignarus. It is part Agricola's thought process, not a truism asserted by the author. (Damon)  [A&G 592 and 583]  cessissent: for processissent. Tacitus is given to using the simple for the compound verb. (Stuart)

    terrorem ceteris fore: a somewhat surprising conclusion of the sentence. We expect, "so will be the issue of the rest of the combat." Tacitus takes the defeat of the Britons for granted. (Stuart)  terrorem: we should expect a neutral word, e.g. ēventum, but it is implied that Agricola's first operations had caused panic (caesā ... prope ūniversā gente). (Pearce)

    possessiōne: “seizure.” (Stuart); “occupation,” the noun being derived from possīdo, not possideo. (Gudeman)

    suprā memorāvī: viz. ch. 14.3. (Gudeman)

    animō intendit: “he intended.” See II.E in Lewis and Short’s definition, as well as II.B.2 for the more common animum intendere. (Lahiri)


    ut in subitīs cōnsiliīs: the thought is not fully expressed. The meaning is: just as some essential is usually lacking in plans hastily conceived, in this case ships were lacking. (Stuart)  ut in dubiīs cōnsiliīs = ut fit i. d. c, as will happen in ill-matured plans, dubiīs being already in a measure implied in animō intendit as contrasted with statuit above. On this elliptical ut, see note on 11.1. (Gudeman)  subitīs: subitīs is in the principal manuscript, rediscovered in 1902. Gudeman, who published before this rediscovery, has the reading of its defective copies here, dubiīs. For more, see Introduction. (Lahiri)

    ratio: “resource,” as shown by the following sentence. (Pearce)  ratio et constantia: “generalship and determination.” On the ellipsis of sed, see Introd. p. xxxi, #5; on the singular predicate, see note on 4.6. (Gudeman)

    lēctissimōs auxiliārium: picked men from the cohorts of auxiliary troops attached to Agricola's army. They were presumably Batavians, a German folk whose skill in the maneuvers here described is often mentioned by ancient writers. (Stuart); probably Batavi, who would be able to recognize the fording-places from the experience gained in their swampy country. Dräger compares 29.2 and thinks Britons are meant, but Agricola is not likely to have had a corps raised from this district. (Pearce); "specially selected auxiliaries." Probably British (see ch. 29.2), for, if the Batavians in Agricola's army were meant (see ch. 36.1), lēctissimōs would be out of place, as they were all known as good swimmers. (Gudeman) 

    nōta vada: sc. erant. (Damon); familiarity with these particular waters is not implied; the meaning is that they were experienced in crossing fords in general, and knew how to cope with currents, pick out the best ways, etc. (Stuart)  quibus nōta vada, etc.: "to whom the fords were known (being natives) and who possessed a special skill of swimming." Both nōta and proprius are used predicatively. See Introd. p. xxv. (Gudeman)  patrius: the prowess of the Germans in swimming was proverbial amongst the Romans. See, for example, Hist. 4.12.3. (Stuart)  patrius: this is the reading of the principal manuscript; Gudeman's proprius (see note above) is based on the corrupt text of its copies. (Damon)

    ita repente inmīsit: ita belongs to the verb, tam having to be supplied with repente, — "he sent them in such a manner and that suddenly." (Gudeman)

    quī ... quī ... quī: the anaphora portrays vividly the possibilities as they presented themselves to the minds of the Britons. (Stuart)  quī classem, quī nāvēs, quī mare: a descending climax, strongly marked by anaphora, mare, i.e. navigation, as opposed to land travel. ... Translate: “who expected to see a fleet, or at least ships, or some kind of floating craft.” (Gudeman)  mare: summing up in general the nature of the anticipated attack — in fine, a formal movement by sea. (Stuart)  mare expectābant: a strange and sweeping expression to represent what must have been to the Britons the strange fact of the sea being turned, as it were, into dry land. (Pearce)

    crēdiderint: perfect subjunctive of absolute fact in a consecutive clause. (Stuart) [A&G 485.c]; the so-called historical perfect subj. after ut is especially common in Tacitus and Suetonius. (Gudeman)

    clārus ac magnus habērī: a Sallustian expression; e.g. Cat. 53,1; Iug. 92.1. (Gudeman)


    quippe cui: "evidently a person to whom." (Stuart); gives the reason for the judgement formed of Agricola. (Pearce); for the more usual ut quī does not occur elsewhere in Tacitus. (Gudeman)

    ingredienti: "on his entrance"; a use of the present participle already encountered in chapter 9.1. (Stuart)

    officiorum ambitum: “canvassing for ceremonial honors,” conferred by the provincials. (Stuart); “canvassing for marks of attention” from the provincials. See note on 9.3. (Pearce); “official visits in full regalia.” (Gudeman)


    nec: with both usus and vocabat. It might have negatived singly either usus or vocabat. The sense is the only guide. (Pearce)

    in vānitātem: see in iactationem, 5.2. (Pearce)

    victōs continuisse: substantive infinitive, "keeping the conquered in bounds." (Stuart) [A&G 453]; the direct object of vocabat. (Pearce)  victoriam vocabat victos: on the alliteration, see Introd. p. xxviii, #13. (Gudeman)

    laureātīs: sc. litterīs. So in 28.1 liburnicās with ellipse of naves. (Pearce); the laurel, being the symbol of martial victories, was sent with the official reports which commanders forwarded to the emperor. The elliptical phrase seems to occur only here and Hist. 3.77.3. (Gudeman) 

    famae famam: observe a favorite device of Latin word arrangement, the juxtaposition of different forms of the same word. (Stuart)

    aestimantibus: ablative absolute with the noun omitted. The subject is general. (Stuart); probably ablative absolute with subject unexpressed, or it may be dative, like trānsgressīs, 10.3 (where see note). (Pearce); i.e. people reasoned that a still greater future was in store for a man who could be reticent about achievements so noteworthy. The construction is probably an elliptical dative rather than an ablat. abs.; see note ch. 34.2 penetrantibus. (Gudeman)

    quantā ... tacuisset: one of the concise Latin constructions where the words which bear the main stress of the sentence are grammatically subordinated. We should say rather, “what his hopes for the future must be, when he had,” etc. (Pearce)

    spē: “the expectations entertained by Agricola.” (Stuart)

    tam magna: more emphatic than tanta and comparatively rare. (Gudeman)

    Britannia –ae f.: Britain

    status statūs m.: state, condition

    vicis vicis f.: change, succession

    aestās aestātis f.: summer

    trānsgredior –gredī –gressus sum: to cross, come over

    Agricola –ae m.: Agricola

    omittō omittere omīsī omissus: to neglect, pass over

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

    sēcūritās –ātis f.: sense of ease

    occāsiō occāsiōnis f.: opportunity

    Ordovices –um m.: Ordovices, a British tribe

    adventus adventūs m.: arrival

    āla ālae f.: squadron of horse

    ūniversus –a –um: the entire

    obterō –terere –trīvi –trītum: to crush, annihilate

    ērigō ērigere ērēxī ērēctus: to raise, rouse

    opperior opperīrī oppertus/opperitus sum: to wait to see

    trānsvehō trānsvehere –vēxī –vectum: (of time, deponent) to pass by, elapse

    praesūmō –sūmere –sūmpsī –sūmptus: to take for granted

    quiēs quiētis f.: rest, quiet

    contrārius –a –um: opposed, disadvantageous

    incohō –āre –āvī –ātum: to begin

    custōdiō custōdīre custōdīvī custōdītus: to guard

    suspiciō suspicere suspexī suspectus: to suspect

    videor vidērī vīsus sum: to seem

    obviam: towards, to meet (+ dat.)

    discrīmen discriminis n.: danger

    contrahō contrahere contrāxī contractus: to draw together, muster

    vexillum –ī n.: standard, flag, (of a unit of soldiers) detachment

    modicus modica modicum: moderate

    dēgredior dēgredī dēgressus sum: to come down, descend

    ērigō ērigere ērēxī ērēctus: to set up, send up

    ūniversus –a –um: the entire

    īgnārus –a –um: ignorant

    īnstō īnstāre īnstitī īnstatūrus: to press upon (dat.)

    prout: according as, just as

    terror terrōris m.: fear

    Mona –ae f.: Anglesey

    possessiō possessiōnis f.: occupation, seizure

    Paulīnus –ī m.: Paulinus

    rebelliō –ōnis f.: renewal of war, outbreak, revolt

    memorō memorāre memorāvī memorātus: to relate, mention

    redigō redigere redēgī redāctum: to render, bring (+ in)

    subitus –a –um: sudden

    cōnstantia cōnstantiae f.: firmness, steadiness, determination

    trānsvehō trānsvehere –vēxī –vectum: to transport

    dēpōnō dēpōnere dēposuī dēpositus: to lay aside

    sarcina –ae f.: baggage

    auxiliāris –e: auxiliary; (as a noun) auxiliary troops

    vadum –ī n.: shallow, ford

    patrius –a –um: national

    nō nāre nāvī: to swim

    repente: suddenly

    immittō immittere immīsī immīssus: to fling upon, let loose

    obstupefaciō –facere –fēcī –factus: to amaze

    arduus –a –um: difficult

    invictus –a –um: invincible

    dēdō dēdere dēdidī dēditus: to surrender

    ostentātiō –ōnis f.: display

    ambitus –ūs m.: going round, canvassing

    trānsigō trānsigere trānsēgī trānsāctum: to pass

    prōsperitās prōsperitātis f. : success

    vānitās –ātis f.: personal display

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

    laureātus –a –um: wreathed with laurel leaves

    prōsequor prōsequī prōsecūtus sum: to follow up, report

    dissimulātiō dissimulātiōnis f.: concealment, supression

    aestimō aestimāre aestimāvī aestimātus: value, test, judge

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    Suggested Citation

    Cynthia Damon, Tacitus: Agricola. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-947822-09-2. https://dcc.dickinson.edu/tacitus-agricola/18