The following excerpt is from the speech attributed to Calgacus by the historian Tacitus in the Agricola:

“Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands beyond us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. And thus in war and battle, in which the brave find glory, even the coward will find safety. Former contests, in which, with varying fortune, the Romans were resisted, still left in us a last hope of succour, inasmuch as being the most renowned nation of Britain, dwelling in the very heart of the country, and out of sight of the shores of the conquered, we could keep even our eyes unpolluted by the contagion of slavery. To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain’s glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous. But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace. ”

Calgacus is not mentioned during or after the battle and he is not named as one of the hostages Agricola took with him after putting the Caledonians to flight. Both Calgacus and the speech may be figments of Tacitus’s invention.

Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands beyond us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. And thus in war and battle, in which the brave find glory, even the coward will find safety. Former contests, in which, with varying fortune, the Romans were resisted, still left in us a last hope of succour, inasmuch as being the most renowned nation of Britain, dwelling in the very heart of the country, and out of sight of the shores of the conquered, we could keep even our eyes unpolluted by the contagion of slavery. To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain’s glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous. But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.
—   TacitusAgricola 29-38
...solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant... —Calgacus

Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.


Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.


The excerpt is from the speech attributed to Calgacus by the historian Tacitus in Agricola 30. Calgacus gave it before the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 83).

According to Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117), a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire, Calgacus was a chieftain of the Caledonian Confederacy. Caledonia was the Latin name given by the Romans to the land in today’s Scotland.  The first century Scottish chieftan fought the Roman army of Gnaeus Julius Agricola—Tacitus’s father-in-law and a Roman general—at the Battle of Mons Graupius. His name, Calgacus, can be as interpreted as Celtic meaning, “possessing a blade.”

The only historical source that features him is Tacitus’ De vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Agricola), which describes Calgacus as “the most distinguished for birth and valour among the chieftains.”

image

19th century sketch of Calgacus delivering his speech to the Caledonians.


Cumberland’s men were responsible for the worst reign of English terror ever seen in the Highlands. They chased the survivors of the battle back into the hills, burning and looting as they went. Women and children were turned out to starve, and the men shot down where they stood—with no effort to find out whether they’d ever fought for Charlie. One of the Duke’s contemporaries said of him, ‘He created a desert and called it peace’—and I’m afraid the Duke of Cumberland is still rather noticeably unpopular hereabouts.


Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon.


Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, was best remembered after Culloden as “Butcher” Cumberland.



The outcome of the Battle of Mons Graupius was, according to Tacitus, a success for the Romans, but there were no evidence to support the claim. The Caledonians were never neutralised despite Agricola’s long governorship in Caledonia. There was an absence of archaeological evidence to illustrate the casualties, or oral legends or traditions were never inherited by Scottish descendants describing such a battle—especially one of such magnitude.

It was believed by some historians, though bitterly, that Tacitus may have fabricated their victory. However, it was not for naught. Agricola was Tacitus’s father-in-law and therefore, was undeniably biased towards the subject of his history. Agricola was awarded triumphal honours and was offered another governorship in a different part of the empire.

Allegedly, the account of the battle (simply put, a slaughter which ended in the Caledonian army of 30,000 fleeing from the 15,000 Romans at the battlefield) was a complete contradiction to Caledonian warfare experienced by later Roman expeditions. Caledonian strategy was almost exclusively Guerrilla warfare, which included fort raids, ambushes and other hit and run tactics. Roman military doctrine found these tactics frustrating to deal with because they had to spread their forces out. The lightly armoured and fast-moving Caledonian skirmishers and horsemen with their knowledge of the terrain easily outran and outmanoeuvred marching Roman columns, ambushed isolated elements and then disappearing again before reinforcements arrived. Tacitus, in fact, described the fustrations experienced by the Romans during their campaign!

Clearly, the Caledonians understood they had little chance of winning and sought to delay an engagement until Agricola had penetrated deep into their territory. In Agricola’s defence, he may have advanced far enough to threaten their vital interests, then retreated as this strategy was, no doubt, formulated with the such an end in mind, thus, ending the battle at Mons Graupius.

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Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.
—  Speech atributed to Calgacus.  TacitusAgricola 29-38
tangible stream

To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A colloquial translation from Tacitus’s Agricola, attributed to the Caledonian Chieftain Calgacus, the little ditty at the top of this post was originally written in Latin (as you’d imagine). The original goes like this – Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis…

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