This is a variorum commentary on Tacitus' Agricola. (The term "variorum" refers to a compilation made "with the notes of various editors," cum notis variorum.) The notes were selected and assembled by undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania during the academic year 2015/16, then vetted, edited, and occasionally supplemented by me (see further below). It was designed to complement an excellent recent commentary on the Agricola (A. J. Woodman, Tacitus: Agricola [with C. S. Kraus]. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), which was the textbook for the class. The notes presented here offer help on syntax, advice about translation, basic background on the historical actors and events, and brief comments about style and textual problems. Much more on all of these topics and on the Agricola as a work of literature is found in the Woodman/Kraus commentary. The process of producing this commentary and its features are described in the present Preface. Information on the historical Agricola and Tacitus, and on biography as a literary genre, is given in the other sections of the introductory matter.


The Agricola, Tacitus' biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, has long been a popular classroom text (for a recent discussion see Kraus 2015). More than a dozen "school" editions were produced in English in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The commentaries in these editions generally provide helpful guidance on points of syntax and translation, but the classrooms they were designed for are long gone. The present commentary contains a selection of notes from three of these school editions, those by Alfred Gudeman (1899), J. W. E. Pearce (1901), and D. R. Stuart (1909). (The originals are available as .pdfs on the respective Introduction pages.)

The DCC commentary was produced collaboratively by the students in an upper-level Latin class at the University of Pennsylvania (Latin 309, fall 2015, taught by Cynthia Damon). The students chose the commentaries to be excerpted by comparing sixteen of them and identifying the cluster of three that, collectively, provided the most useful and efficient notes. Not the fullest—for full coverage we turned to the 2014 commentary mentioned above—but the most useful and efficient for the purpose of understanding the Latin text. (The criteria of utility and efficiency determined the selection of Gudeman's 1899 commentary in preference to the 1928 version, in which he added a large number of parallel passages.) The notes of all three commentaries were assembled sentence by sentence for the forty-six chapters of the Agricola, with each student taking responsibility for two or three chapters. This mass of material was then streamlined. Repetitions were removed, of course, as was material deemed unhelpful by the majority of the class: passages in untranslated Greek and Latin, parallels from English literature, outdated translations and attitudes, and so on. Where necessary, new notes were written. By the end of the semester we had a rough draft of the entire commentary. Two students from the class, Patricia Fox and Ray Lahiri, worked further on the project during the summer of 2016 with the support of undergraduate research grants from Penn's Price Lab for Digital Humanities. Their tasks included editing the notes, supplying macrons for the lemmata, adding links to external resources such as grammars and gazetteers, moving material to the DCC platform, and generating the vocabulary lists, among other things. I supplied the text and links to the manuscript images, finalized the commentary, and wrote this preface. In this phase of the project the DCC team, especially Chris Francese and Bret Mulligan, provided invaluable guidance and support.


  • Notes are credited to their author by surname. Most of the notes were taken from the abovementioned commentaries by Gudeman, Pearce, and Stuart, but some were added by members of the Latin 309 class: Louis Capozzi, Patricia Fox, Cole Jacobson, Ray Lahiri, Connor McKeon, Allison Resnick, Janelle Sadarananda, and Cynthia Damon. Other commentators are very occasionally cited; references are given in the Bibliography. For many words or phrases two or more notes are provided, separated by semicolons. In most cases the notes are complementary, and they are arranged so that syntax analysis comes first, followed by notes that offer help on translation, and notes that supply historical or literary background. References and links to a standard Latin grammar ("Allen and Greenough", abbreviated A&G) have been supplied. Where our commentators disagree on the syntactic analysis, as they occasionally do, the links to A&G facilitate consideration of the alternatives. For many passages the notes offer a range of translations from literal to elegant.
  • Dates and citation formats have been modernized. Thus dates are BCE or CE, and references to the text of the Agricola are by chapter and sentence number (e.g., 30.4 for the famous phrase ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant); the original commentators cited the text by the line numbers in their own editions. The chronology of Agricola's career—particularly the dates of his seven campaigning seasons in Britain and return to Rome—is based on evidence external to the text and remains a matter of dispute. We supply below the dates now preferred by historians; these are a year earlier than those given by our commentators. For readers of the Agricola the chronology that matters most is the place of the seven campaigning seasons of his proconsulship of Britain within Agricola's overall career (see chapters 6-9), and especially the premature conclusion of that career (see chapter 42). On both of these points Tacitus is exceptionally clear.
  • Ellipses indicate the omission of material within the excerpted portion of a note. Omissions from the beginning or end of a note are not signaled.
  • Macrons were added to the text and lemmata with the help of Johan Winge’s Macronizer. For the endings, these were verified against the syntax.
  • Highlighted lemmata signal spots where the reading in the text is problematic or disputed. (See "Text.")
  • Vocabulary lists for each chapter give principal parts and short definitions for words not in the DCC Core List. Chapter-by-chapter lists of Core Vocabulary words are provided on the Vocabulary page. Haverford’s Bridge also provides a tool for the creation of customized vocabulary lists. On the Vocabulary page you will also find a document containing the complete vocabulary list for the Agricola from the commentary by W. C. Flamstead Walters (1899), as well as a .pdf of that commentary.
  • An articulated text is provided in addition to the text in traditional paragraph form, as an aid to reading. This version can be found in .jpg format through the "media" tab, in an aspect ratio that makes the images useful as PowerPoint slides for in-class reading. The articulated text is also available in .pdf and .docx format in the Text section of the Introduction. Words that Tacitus elided--for details on Tacitus' brevity of expression see the section on Brachyology in Gudeman's Introduction--are supplied in parentheses in the articulated text; most of them are forms of esse.
  • Audio files of the text were prepared by Christopher Francese and are accessible in the "media" tab.
  • Place names mentioned in the Notes are linked to their page in the Pleaides gazetteer
  • Photographs of the codex Aesinas are accessible via the "media" tab for the relevant chapters of our text, courtesy of Harvard Library. The Agricola occupies items 106-134 in the sequence of photographs; the ninth-century folios are items 114-130
Suggested Citation

Cynthia Damon, "Preface," in C. Damon, Tacitus: Agricola. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-947822-09-2.