Publius (Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian and senator who wrote several historical documents, including some discussing ancient Britain. In approximately 98 CE, Tacitus wrote a particular document called, “Galgacus: On Roman Imperialism,” which focused on a speech supposedly delivered by Galgacus, a Briton military leader. If Tacitus in fact did write this speech celebrating the Britons and calling them to fight for freedom, why would he use Galgacus’s name? Firstly, Tacitus was a Roman senator who witnessed imperialism’s negative impact so he imagined this speech to criticize the Roman Empire’s barbarism without incriminating himself. Secondly, this speech celebrates the Britons while demonizing the Romans, which again, would be dangerous to claim as one’s own. Finally, by being a historian, Tacitus was interested in recording the past, so through this speech, Tacitus preserves a history that would have been lost otherwise. Clearly, from the reasons behind using Galgacus’s name and the words he uses, Tacitus did write this speech, and an analysis of the work will show this. Analyzing the words Tacitus uses will also highlight his authorship, but they also provide readers with an insight into both societies.
Tacitus’s father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, was a Roman general involved in the Briton resistance, so this provided him with an insight into the Britons’ society. Therefore, with his experience in the Roman political sphere and Agricola’s imparted knowledge, Tacitus was well equipped to write this speech. For clarity’s sake, the names “Tacitus” and “Galgacus” will be interchangeable as Tacitus wrote this under Galgacus’ name. The speech begins with Galgacus declaring that unification freedom, which sug...
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...us heard this speech, did he gain access to it? Senators rarely travelled, especially not into enemy territory so this possibility is unlikely, and having heard this speech from Agricola is improbable too because of the different languages. From all the provided evidence, it is unmistakable that Tacitus wrote the Galgacus speech to show the Roman leaders their mistakes. Since publicly commenting on this was impossible, Tacitus had to be creative and by using Galgacus as a mouthpiece, he was able to express his views freely. In the end, Tacitus leaves his readers with one final question, does calling a society a civilization automatically make it civilized?
Tacitus, Publius Cornelius. “Galgacus: On Roman Imperialism.” Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola,
29-33. Accessed January 16, 2012.
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