Calgacus at Mons Graupius, by William Greatbach (c. 1802-1885)

In the scene displayed above, the British illustrator William Greatbach (c. 1802-1885) brought to life a pre-battle speech said to have occurred in the year 83. Standing on the chariot, in the center of the crowd, is the military leader of a coalition of Pict tribes—an alliance broadly called the Caledonians by the Romans. The Caledonian leader, whose name was recorded as Calgacus by scholars in Rome, is depicted here speaking to troops before the battle of Mons Graupius, where the Caledonians would soon clash with the Roman army of Governor Julius Agricola. Thankfully for posterity, the Roman governor’s son-in-law was the great historian, Tacitus (c. 56-117+), who wrote of the Battle of Mons Graupius in a biographical eulogy simply entitled, Agricola. Although Tacitus, obviously, was not present among the ranks of the Britons to hear the war-chief’s speech, the historian did an admirable job channeling the feelings of the Caledonians in order to invent a pre-battle address for Calgacus in his text. Tacitus wrote a multiple page speech for the leader, including lines such as “Robbery, butchery, rapine, these liars call ‘empire’: they create desolation and call it peace” (Agricola, section 30) and “Apprehension and terror are weak bonds of affection, just break them, and, where fear has ended, hatred will begin” (Agricola, section 31). Despite the inspiring words, Calgacus would soon be definitively defeated in the Battle of Mons Graupius by Tacitus’ father-in-law, Julius Agricola. Read an in-depth article about the impressive battle, HERE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley



  • Agricola and Germania by Tacitus and translated by Harold Mattingly and revised by J. B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.

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