Customer Reviews: The Agricola and the Germania (Penguin Classics)
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on May 4, 2004
A rewarding surprise. Sheer chance dropped this book into my hands. Found it lying in mint condition (with a fair number of other volumes) in the alley behind my building, abandoned and unread by some student who will never recognize his loss. A bit obscure, not being a classicist or an historian, even by my somewhat obscure tastes, but I picked it up, started the introduction, and soon found myself spending an evening intriguingly engaged in a world very different from my own. Whether it be the excellence of the translation or Tacitus' own abilities as a writer, the prose is pleasantly crisp and renders reading the straightforward observations presented here into something not unlike receiving a letter sent a long, long, time ago which has only just finally managed to arrive. While I certainly wouldn't take any of Tacitus' observations of Roman era Britain and Germany for fact; it is the fact of his very attempt to try to describe these foreign peoples and what he sees in them and how they make him reflect on his own people that comes through as honest and true. A great portrait of virtue in the midst of a bankrupt society -- it is hard not to make contemporary parallels, or to try and take away lessons. Technocrats v. tyrants, assimilation v. tribalism, decadent civilization v. noble barbarism, terrorism v. occupation: Tacitus faces all these issues and can still be surprising after 1900 years.
The late Harold Mattingly's introduction is excellent in its own right, providing a clear picture of the Roman Empire of Tacitus' time, and one of the best short overviews of Rome's imperial management and military that I have ever read. After reading it, I had a better understanding of Rome's First Century Legions than I do of the United States' current forces in Iraq. If his monographs on Roman coinage are as good as this, I'd want to read them.
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on September 11, 2000
This wonderful little book by Tacitus translated by Harold Mattingly into easily understandable English for the modern man provides a good insight not only into Roman times of the 1st Century but the style and wit of Tacitus himself who must have been widely read in his own times simply for his engaging style, especially because, not in spite of, the moralisation which is promoted throughout the book. Although Mattingly takes some liberties with the translation inserting words or phrases which certainly were not current in Roman times nonetheless he tries to let the book talk of the times and give the correct impression so that a modern reader can understand it, a task which is very difficult and needs considerable thought which is one reason for praising the translator himself. Every translation contains some inputs from the culture and character of the translator, this cannot be avoided.
Tacitus describes the exploits of his father in law Agricola who to all accounts was a very successful Governor of Britain, although Tacitus gives the impression that Agricola was just about the be all and end all as a man there must have been some truth to this since such respect must be earned rather than imposed. The Germania is also fascinating almost bringing to life the way of life of Germans living beyond the frontiers, remarkably he manages to portray even those Germans living a long way beyond the frontiers describing even the people who lived in Denmark and Lithuania, this is amazing since no Roman expeditions ever reached this far unless the historians obtained merely heresay or himself travelled the area in question. But then surprises abound since even the Chinese ambassador was known to have visited the Roman Empire in 160 AD and a similar Roman delegation arrived in China in 180 AD. A remarkable book giving no end of joy in the reading.
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on May 24, 1999
In The Agricola, Cornelius Tacitus describes in masterful language the fantastically interesting life of his father-in-law, Agricola. As one of the most militarily successful governors of Roman held Britain, the account of Agricola is packed with fascinating descriptions of important Roman military victories. The battles fought and the characters involved ensure that the interest level stays at an elevated level. The Germania is almost equally as interesting in its description of the Germanic tribes encountered by the Romans. Their seemingly bizarre military and social traditions provide for a very engaging read. Although the Agricola and the Germania were the first historical works of Tacitus, they are in no way inferior in style or interest level to his later works. A definite must for history enthusiasts everywhere!
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on June 5, 2003
Cornelius Tacitus was born ca. A.D. 56 and died around 115. He had a senatorial career and became consul in 97 and governor of Asia from 112-113. In 77, Tacitus married the daughter of Agricola, governor of Roman Britain. Tacitus wrote The Agricola as a sort of eulogy for his father-in-law, and in it he recounts Agricola's career. Tacitus also wrote The Germania, in which he provides a colorful description of the indigenous tribes of Germany during the time of the Roman Empire.There is something to be said of the style with which Tacitus writes, and that is to say that his accounts of Agricola and Germania are full of wit. However, there are some problems when analyzing Tacitus as a factual source. For one, he is constantly making social commentaries about the declining role of the Senate in the affairs of the Roman Empire. In addition, Tacitus makes claims about territories that it is difficult to determine if he would actually have been able to visit and study. Therefore, one must think of his analysis of these areas as being hearsay. For instance, in The Germania, he discusses tribes of northern Germany where there was not much communication or contact. However, one cannot look past the value of this work, for although biased, it does offer insight into the way the Romans viewed the frontier and the frontier peoples. Up until archaeological discoveries, the works of Tacitus and toehr Roman historians was all the world knew of the indigenous "barbaric" peoples of Europe. However, as excavations reveal more flourishing pre-Roman cultures in Europe, Tacitus' claims may be validated or viewed as being culturally biased, uninformed and imaginative. However, as a primary source, his view of Roman Britain remains an essential part of the study of Classical Rome.
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VINE VOICEon January 16, 2001
It's rather rare to find a book whose introduction is half as long as the book itself...But here we have one...Tacitus' prose reminds me of Julius Caesar's and that of Marcus Aurelius. These Romans didn't go for redundant verbiage. A curious parallel in English is, of course, Ernest Hemingway.-His laudatory description of Agricola interlaced with philosophy is superb. My favorite quote is, "...he always remembered the hardest lesson that philosophy teaches-a sense of proportion." The same can be said of Tacitus and his prose-I found the section on Germania a bit less interesting because, well, that sort of anthropology just doesn't flow as well with Tacitus' terse prose. I was reminded of Caesar and his description of the Gauls. This discrepancy can't really be helped of course, and "anthropology," as such, didn't exist at the time.- It was interesting to note the esteem in which the Germans held their women. I suppose my disappontment stems from the modern approach to the analysis of societes and their psychology. But Tacitus' unvarying faithfulness to the facts as he knows them without the vagaries of, say, the fantastical accounts of Herodotus is refreshing, and, to use a word currently fallen into disrepute, courageously manly.-A must read for history buffs and those interested in Latin prose without a thorough schooling in Latin itself. I haven't seen the original Latin of Tacitus, but the style as here translated is nearly equivalent to that of Caesar's Letters which I translated in my second of four years of Latin in high school.-In any case, you don't have much to lose. You can finish it in a sunny afternoon.
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on June 9, 1999
This short little book is divided into: the introduction, "The Agricola", and "The Germania". The translator's introduction provides an interesting historical background of the 1st century C.E. Roman Empire and sets the stage for Tacitus. In a era noted for political abuse and coruption, Agricola, as eulogized by Tacitus, comes across as a saint: the perfect husband, father, reformer and general. "The Germania", on one hand holds up the strong moral character of the Germanic tribes in contrast to the lack of morals prevailing in Rome while scrutinizing their barbarims. Many of their customs show strong Celtic influence. Fast interesting easy reading.
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on March 22, 2013
Agricola and Germania are two of Roman Historian Tacitus' most famous works. In this book you can read both of his fine works.

Agricola is the story of Tacitus' father-in-law, a Roman officer that was involved in the conquest of Britain. The story is a biography that includes insights into Roman Britain and includes the famous barbarian speech indicting Rome's Greedy Expansion. "...The Romans make a desolation and call it peace."

Germania is a study of the tribes of Germany. It shows insights into the early culture of the German People and Tacitus favorably compares the Germans to the Romans in his own day.

The editor has many good notes, a fine appendix, and maps which allows the reader to infer modern names to the places described.
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on December 11, 2006
Tacitus was truly a master historian, and both of these books breathe colorful, exciting life into a by-gone era. "The Agricola" is an entertaining (often gripping) biography of a great Roman general, one that is in turns powerful, exciting, inspiring (read Calgacus's speech to those troops making a last stand against the Roman army), and finally heartbreaking (the conclusion when Tacitus pays tribute to the father-in-law he so clearly loved). "The Germania", on the other hand, is more of an anthropological survey cum social commentary; even while Tacitus provides contemporary readers with a fascinating look into the cultures of ancient Germanic tribes, he simultaneously levies some of the most poignant criticisms ever penned about a civilization in decline. A truly great book.
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on August 10, 2008
Tacitus' Agricola and Germania are among the two most-cited sources on Roman Britain and on the ancient Germans, respectively, and anyone with an interest in the Classical World should have a copy of this book.

The Agricola is our primary source on Cnaeus Julius Agricola-governor of Roman Britain in the late 1st Century AD who is known to history primarily for the defeat he inflicted on the Caledonians at Mons Graupius in AD 83, and for his planned conquest of Ireland. Reading Tacitus' account, however, we find that his legacy in his own times was more for bringing justice to southern Britain, where previous Roman governors had abused their authority and driven the tribes to revolt.

I can't imagine that we can take everything in the Agricola word-for-word, as Tacitus' account is naturally biased-Agricola was his father-in-law, and Tacitus does not speak a single negative word-not even the slightest criticism of a minor feature-of him.

The Germania is also biased in that Tacitus is portraying these wild tribes as `noble savages'-claiming they never lied or indulged in improper sexuality, and had no love for money or fine clothing; in all, the Germania is as much an attack on the decadence of the Romans of Tacitus' generation as it is an account of the peoples of Germany in the 1st Century.

After giving an at times rather humorous account of Germanic culture and customs, Tacitus looks at all the major tribes and their unique features-such as the bizarre hairdos of the Suebi, the strange religious rites of the tribes worshipping the Goddess Nerthus, and the customs of the Harii, who painted themselves black and only fought battles at night.

Overall, this is a must read for a student of the Classical, especially Roman world, showing much about the culture and worldview of both the Romans and their Germanic contemporaries, and how these were perceived by a fairly typical upper-class Roman writer.
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on December 22, 2005
This edition brings Tacitus' biography of Agricola (his father-in-law) who consolidated Roman rule in Britain. It also contains his geographical, historical and anthropological survey of the ancient Germanic tribes.

An introduction by revered British archaeologist Harold Mattingly provides an useful overview of Roman history and a balanced evaluation of the relevance of these works.

Agricola is interesting for its description of battle strategies used to consolidate Britain, especially the final one, although it is sketchy, eulogistic and a little simplistic.

Germania is more interesting than Agricola and provides rich insights into the customs of various Germanic tribes during first century AD. It particularly brings out the strengths and weaknesses of these tribes from military point of view very well and is prophetic in its anxiety about the power of these ancient people (Rome was repeatedly sacked by German tribes after Tacitus' death).

The best part is that these works are so small (running into 40/50 pages each) and yet give such a good overview of history that they make effortless reading (which is further eased by a plain writing style - free of jargon).
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