Agricola – where Tacitus and archaeology don't meet

Following up a notice posted by Rogue Classicism of a course of public lectures being offered by Manchester University Classics Department (Exploring the Classical World Summer School) Monday 30th June to Wednesday 2nd July, I stumbled upon The Roman Gask Project site.

This, I learn, is a long-term Liverpool University study of the earliest Roman British frontier system, which was in Perthshire, 50 years earlier than Hadrian's Wall.

There are annual reports and photos and so on, but teachers may be particularly interested in the General Papers, 'Papers covering more than one site or on topics relevant to Roman Scotland, frontiers, archaeology, etc.'

Three papers I have skimmed and found fascinating are:

  • More thoughts on why the Romans failed to conquer Scotland
  • Archaeology versus Tacitus' Agricola, a 1st century worst case scenario
  • Agricola: he came, he saw, but did he conquer? A review of the reassessment of first century Roman activity in Scotland

People who, like me, prefer their history to come in memorable, uncontroversial stories, are advised to stay away from the Agricola papers. But in fairness to our students we perhaps should read about why Tacitus should not be taken as a reliable narrative – and where the standard histories of Roman Britain are probably wrong.