Gnaeus Iulius Agricola was born in Fréjus (Forum Iulii) on 13 June in the year 40, and died on 23 August in the year 93. He was born under the consulate of Caligula, in the ides of June. He was the son of Julius Graecinus, a senator, who refused Caligula’s order to prosecute Marcus Silanus and so was executed. Gnaeus Iulius Agricola was known as an orator and philosopher and also wrote a treatise on viticulture, from which he certainly drew his nickname Agricola. His mother Julia Procillia was later murdered by the soldiers of Othon’s fleet.
With regard to his name, at the time Roman names were distinguished by the use of three names (tria nomina), used among patricians, which included General Agricola.
The first name, praenomen: Cnaeus, the name, nomen: Iulius, the gentilice (surname) of the clan. The patronymic, cognonem: Agricola, it is a nickname, which is above all personal, but which, during the course of Roman history, ended up distinguishing a branch of the clan.
Agricola’s military apprenticeship was in Great Britain (present-day England), under the reign of Nero, and he was later named quaestor in Asia, then praetor without jurisdiction. He subsequently took Vespasian’s side who aspired to bid for the Empire. His integrity and skilful conduct resulted in him being given the command of the XX legion: “Legio XX Valeria Victrix” (20th valiant and victorious legion). It was one of the legions used by the Emperor Claude for the invasion of Britain in the year 43. It remained there during the next few centuries. Its emblem is a boar. During the 1st century that of Capricorn was also used. He was then enrolled as a patrician by Vespasian, who entrusted him with the government of Aquitaine. Appointed Consul, he promised his daughter, Julia, to the Roman historian Tacitus (58 – 120), who later became his biographer. He was next the Governor of Britain (77 to 84), and appointed to the College of Pontiffs. He recognized the insular character of the island by making the first complete tour of it with its fleet.
Various hypotheses have been advanced to explain his recall from Great Britain. But it was certainly that Domitian saw him as a potential rival. A successful general is not viewed very favourably. Instead of a triumphal return, he even returned to Rome under the cover of darkness, out of sight. He was nevertheless received triumphal decorations and a statue.
As for his death, Tacitus had no doubt but that he was poisoned.
His statue in Fréjus on the square bearing his name was made by a Fréjus ironworker, Jean-Marie Luccerini in 1986. There is also a statue of Agricola in Bath in England (1884).
“All we loved; all that we have admired abut Agricola remains and will remain in the memory of men, in the eternity of time by the splendour of his actions.”
TACITUS – “De vita and moribus Iulii Agricola” – 98 AD