30 pages 1 hour read



Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 98

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


How to Live With Integrity and Serve the Public Good Under a Tyrannical Regime

Tacitus’s evident purpose in “Agricola” is to pay tribute to his admired and respected father-in-law, Agricola. By extolling Agricola’s virtues, Tacitus also speaks to a larger concern in imperial Rome: how to be a good man under an emperor who suppresses freedom and transparency. Agricola’s life story, in particular the consistent virtue he exhibited, according to Tacitus’s account, provide an example of how to live with integrity separate from the whims of a tyrannical emperor. This purpose, along with the conventions of ancient Graeco-Roman biography, helps explain why Tacitus focuses on Agricola’s virtues and significant military achievements rather than providing a balanced account of his entire life.

Throughout “Agricola,” Tacitus contrasts Agricola’s virtues with Domitian’s vices. Where Agricola was moderate and modest, Domitian envied the achievements of others and sought to undermine them. While Agricola communicated transparently, Domitian cultivated secrecy and uncertainty, never allowing those in his orbit to know exactly how he felt about them. As a result, though Agricola inspired love in those who served under him, Domitian inspired paranoia. Fearful of informers and rumors, citizens became wary of speaking openly about their thoughts and opinions. Tacitus believed this anxiety ultimately penetrated people’s consciousness, such that they lost the ability to think for themselves.