21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2003
This volume is made up of two important works from the Roman empire. The first is a biography of Agricola, who was the most succesful Roman governor of the Britons and the second piece is an account of the Germanic race, both written by Tacitus, who was the son-in-law of Agricola.
'The Agricola' shines a light on the Britons and tells their story to the wider world for the first time. It is in this slim volumne that we learn of the tribes who resisted Roman invasion and we meet Calgacus, the first Caledonian to be recorded a place in history. The speech which Tacitus attributes to this warrior is one of the most poignant I have ever heard. On the eve of battle against the Roman legions, Tacitus places some wonderful words of liberty in his mouth. Of the might of Rome Calgacus says, "To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of government; they create a desolation and call it peace".
Why would Tacitus invent a speech which is so critical of the empire he represents? Perhaps he felt guilty because the Caledonians were not beaten in the battle as we have been led to believe. Perhaps the battle never even took place. Of the empire and those it enslaved, Tacitus is very honest. He speaks about how certain Britons embraced Roman life and its arcades and banquets and tells us that "the unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilization', when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement".
'The Germania' is an account of the characteristics and customs of the tribes which stretch from Denmark in the north west to Lithuania in the north east and right down to modern day Romania, so it is not limited to the tribes which make up modern Germany.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2012
The Agricola and the Germania are the first works written by Cornelius Tacitus completed in 98 AD. Tacitus, a Roman senator and Governor of Asia 112-113 AD, is one of the best known historians of his era. The Agricola is a biography of the life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Governor of Britain from 78-84 AD. Agricola seems to have had an illustrious career and had been a successful governor, but as Agricola's son-in-law, Tacitus is a biased source. The Germania describes the characteristics of the various German tribes. Tacitus is unlikely to have visited the tribes himself so his information is most likely based on the research of others and hearsay. While his reliability is sometimes questionable, these are some of the earliest descriptions of Britons and Germans that we have and of historical value. You also get some insight into the administration of Roman Britain and the pacification of the Britons. The Agricola and the Germania are both sprinkled with Tacitus's commentary on Rome. Tacitus has a low opinion of the current state of Roman society. He frequently admires the unspoiled qualities of the barbarians as compared to his morally questionable countrymen. Tacitus's style and flair make these works easy to read, even amusing at times.
This version of the book was translated by Harold Mattingly with revisions by S. A. Handford. Mattingly's introduction is rather long, but informative. Mattingly provides background into Tacitus, a summary of the conquest of Britain, more details of Agricola 's campaigns. For Germania, Mattingly gives a condensed review of Rome's conflict with the German tribes. Mattingly points out some of Tacitus's errors, but on the whole considers his works credible. Some notes are provided at the end of the book, but they are not footnoted, which I found annoying. One map each of Britannia and Germania as they were at this period are provided. The map of Germania is extremely difficult to read and of little value.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2001
Tacitus writes from the perspective of a Roman citizen, at a time when Rome ruled the known world. To a fan of Roman history, the book is a delight to read, with short, descriptive paragraphs.
The information given allows the reader to build a mental picture of Roman ruled Germany and Britian, with a strong Roman bias. History may have given us a more balanced picture of events, but this book is a true classic for all it represents.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2008
The Germania is Tacitus's description of the tribes inhabiting Germania, the area to the north of the Roman empire including modern Germany but also several other areas. It is pretty unremarkable apart from his charming description of a battle between two of the tribes: "they even gratified us with the spectacle of a battle, in which above sixty thousand Germans were slain not by Roman arms, but, what was still grander, by mutual hostilities, as it were for our pleasure and entertainment". Lovely.
The Agricola is a far more civilised work, his biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, governor of Britannia and conqueror of Scotland. From a literary point of view it is remarkable for the stirring speech that Tacitus writes for Calgacus, one of the leaders of the northern tribes: "When I reflect on the causes of the war and the circumstances of our situation, I feel a strong persuasion that our united efforts on the present day will prove the beginning of universal liberty in Britain" - an opening that is often alluded to even in modern times. What is surprising is the frequent comparisons of life under the Roman empire to slavery, compared to the liberty of those not yet under Roman authority. Rome wasn't exactly reknowned for literary freedom and it's remarkable that he could get away with writing such sedition. Calgacus's speech also contains the even more commonly misquoted passage "To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert they call it peace". Sound like any modern imperial adventures? Agricola's own speech to his troops on the eve of battle is equally stirring, and no doubt equally fictitious. The brief biography ends with another stirring passage, Tacitus's own goodbye to the man whose funeral he could not himself attend - "If there be any habitation for the shades of the virtuous; if, as philosophers suppose, exalted souls do not perish with the body; may you repose in peace and call us, your household from vain regret and [feminine] lamentations, to the contemplation of your virtues, which allow no place for mourning or complaining. Let us rather adorn your memory by our short-lived praises and, as far as our natures permit, by an imitation of your example. This is truly to honour the dead; this is the piety of every near relation". Splendid stuff. Recommended for cutting and pasting at modern funerals.
The Germania is, despite its reputation, nothing special. That reputation is deserved more as a work of historical interest than enything else. The Agricola, however, is fine stuff, an excellent example of un-critical biography verging on hagiography, with some good old-fashioned haranguing thrown in. And it's free, even in translation. I read the Project Gutenberg edition.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2013
For those intersted in what England and Germany were like in the times of the Romans this book is for you. I would have liked more Details but, what is available satisfied my curiosity to a Point. I found the introduction a bit Long, and the continual Need to follow the references and annotations in the back was a bit tedious. Worth a read though.