Unit 9: Rome Primary Readings
Latin, 98 AD.
This work is a biography of Tacitus's father-in-law.
The passage represents a
speech of the British Celtic chieftain Calgacus to his soldiers on the eve of battle with the
The Works of Tacitus
, (Bohn Classical Library, 1872) 2:372-374)
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
For we are all undebased by slavery; and there is no land behind us, nor does even the
sea afford a refuge, whilst the Roman fleet hovers around.
Thus the use of arms, which is at all
times honourable to the brave, now offers the only safety even to cowards.
In all the battles
which have yet been fought, with various success, against the Romans, our countrymen may be
deemed to have reposed their final hopes and resources in us: for we, the noblest sons of Britain,
and therefore stationed in its last recesses, far from the view of servile shores, have preserved
even our eyes unpolluted by the contact of subjection.
We, at the farthest limits both of land and
liberty, have been defended to this day by the remoteness of our situation and of our fame.
extremity of Britain is now disclosed; and whatever is unknown becomes an object of
But there is no nation beyond us; nothing but waves and rocks, and the still more
hostile Romans, whose arrogance we cannot escape by obsequiousness and submission.
plunderers of the world, after exhausting the land by their devastations, are plundering the ocean:
stimulated by avarice, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor: unsatiated by the East and by
the West: the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal avidity.
To rape, to
slaughter to usurp under false titles, they call empire; they make a wasteland and call it peace.
Our children and relations are by the appointment of nature the dearest of all things to us.
These are torn away by levies to serve in foreign lands.
Our wives and sisters, though they
should escape the violation of hostile force, are polluted under names of friendship and
Our estates and possessions are consumed in tributes; our grain in contributions.
Even our bodies are worn down amidst stripes and insults in clearing woods and draining
Wretches born to slavery are once bought, and afterwards maintained by their masters:
Britain every day buys, every day feeds, her own servitude.
And as among domestic slaves
every new comer serves for the scorn and derision of his fellows; so, in this ancient household of
the world, we, as the newest anal vilest, are sought out to destruction.
For we have neither
cultivated lands, nor mines, nor harbours, which can induce them to preserve us for our labours.
The valour too and unsubmitting, spirit of subjects only render them more obnoxious to their