Tacitus, Agricola (circa 98 AD)

The Agricola (On the Life and Character of Julius Agricola) is a riveting read. A classic work crafted by the Roman politician and historian Cornelius Tacitus at the very end of the first century AD, modern students of strategy and diplomacy continue to find the account of Roman general and politician Agricola’s exploits in Britain timely and relevant. Part eulogy, part history, part anthropological study, and part military analysis, among other things, the short work explores diverse topics while ostensibly being Tacitus’s way of honoring his father-in-law. Three topics stand out – Agricola as a study of leadership, politics, and counterinsurgency strategy.

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Tacitus, The Annales (early Second Century AD)

Like many of the great historians and thinkers of antiquity, Tacitus was renowned as a rhetorician and capable in the use of language, a skill that no doubt aided him as a writer of political history during the reign of the tyrannical Domitian. Indeed, his cognomen, meaning “the silent” is both ironical and true. For while Tacitus was known for speaking, in the Annales we see a deft use of omission and quietness in discussing the banal brutality of a Tiberius or a Nero, as well as double-meaning and discreet satire. Tacitus’ project is the problem of tyranny, and the possibility of virtue under tyranny.

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The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third by Edward N. Luttwak

The Romans understood that, when possible, it was best to conserve force and use military power indirectly as the instrument of political warfare. Together with money and manipulative diplomacy, the Romans deployed forces visibly ready to fight but held back from battle to foster disunity among those who might jointly threaten the empire, to deter those who would otherwise attack, and to control lands and peoples by intimidation – ideally to the point where sufficient security or even an effective domination could be achieved without any use of force at all. The Romans learned that most desirable use of military power was not military at all, but political. They conquered the entire Hellenistic world with few battles and much coercive diplomacy. The Romans understood all the subtleties of deterrence, and its limitations.

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