Gnaeus Julius Agricola - Important Figures in History

A statue of Julius Agricola in Finland.
A statue of Julius Agricola in Finland.

Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a 1st century Gallo-Roman general who was among the most successful in Roman history and was responsible for the Roman conquest of Britain. Agricola’s reign as Governor of Britain was a great success, and it was during his reign that Roman culture was introduced to Britain.

5. Early Life

Gnaeus Julius Agricola was born on June 13th in the year 40 AD in Forum Julii, a Roman outpost in Gallia Narbonensis in present-day Frejus, France. Agricola was born to an influential family with his father, Lucius Julius Graecinus, being a praetor who was also a member of the Roman Senate in the year when Agricola was born. Agricola was of Gaul heritage with his ancestors being Romanised Gauls. His paternal and maternal grandfathers had both served as imperial governors. Agricola’s mother was known as Julia Procilla, and according to Tacitus, a Roman historian and Agricola’s son-in-law had a fond affection for her son. Agricola obtained his education in Massilia (present-day Marseille) where he had an interest in philosophy.

4. Career

Gnaeus Julius Agricola began his career in 58 AD at the age of 18 and served as a military tribune in Britain under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus until 62 AD. During his time under Suetonius, he was actively engaged in the suppression of the Boudicca uprising of 61 AD. Agricola returned to Rome in 62 AD and was later appointed as a quaestor in 64 AD, serving under proconsul Lucius Salvius Otho Titianus in the province of Asia. In June, 68 AD Agricola was appointed as praetor where he took inventory of temple treasures as a directive from Galba, then Governor of Spain. After the ascension of Vespasian on the Roman emperor throne, Agricola was sent to England as commander of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix where he installed discipline amongst the troops and quelled several uprisings in England until 73 AD when his command ended. Agricola would later serve as Governor of Britain from 77 AD until 85 AD when he was recalled by the emperor back to Rome.

3. Major Contributions

During his time in command of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, Gnaeus Julius Agricola was able to consolidate Roman rule in England which had been plagued with numerous uprisings and was able to suppress the Brigantes in northern England. Agricola was also engaged in instilling discipline in the Roman troops which had fallen out of favor with Rome after the predecessor commander Marcus Roscius Coelius stirred up a mutiny against the Governor of Britain, Marcus Vettius Bolanus. During his reign as Governor of Britain, Agricola was able to defeat the Ordovices from North Wales in 77 AD.

2. Challenges

After the deposition and subsequent death of Emperor Nero in 68 AD, the Roman Empire was plunged into a civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors after which Galba claimed the empire. During this period, Agricola’s mother was killed by Otho’s marauding fleet. Otho, who had claimed the throne after killing Galba, was later defeated by Vitellius. During his reign as governor of Britain, Agricola conducted many successful military campaigns which made the then emperor, Domitian quite jealous and recalled Agricola from Britain and was to return to Rome at night.

1. Death and Legacy

Gnaeus Julius Agricola died in 93 AD in his estates in Gallia Narbonensis. While the exact cause of his death is unknown, speculations attribute his death to poisoning by the emperor. Agricola went down in history as one of the most successful military tacticians of the Roman Empire with his conquests in Britain against the Caledonians enlarging the Roman Empire and helped spread Roman culture through the introduction of Romanizing measures in Britain.


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