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Galgacus: On Roman Imperialism Essay

1242 words - 5 pages


Publius (Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian and senator who wrote several historical documents, including some discussing ancient Britain.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 suggests a community-centred society rather than the self-centred society of the Roman Empire. By doing this, Tacitus contrasts both societies to highlight how the Britons are superior; this is an ongoing theme in this speech. Next, Galgacus claims that slavery is foreign, yet the Britons experience indirect slavery continuously because of their fear of conquest. Since Briton lies on the periphery of the Roman Empire—the centre—it is protected better from the contagion of slavery, as Galgacus describes the Roman Empire, but it also helps foster nationhood, which the Empire is devoid of, according to Tacitus. Already, through his word choice, Tactitus highlights his disdain, while also providing readers with a believable history. Galgacus continues by calling the Romans the “robbers of the world,” who are “rapacious” and insatiable as “neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them.” These words clearly provide an unfavourable depiction of the Romans, and this is precisely the point. Tacitus did not want to romanticize the Empire, but instead he wanted to expose the rulers as barbarians. Galgacus concludes this section by proclaiming the Empire to be bogus, built upon corrupt morals, lavish lifestyles, and...

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