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Ancient Historiography and its ContextsStudies in Honour of A. J. Woodman$
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Christina S. Kraus, John Marincola, and Christopher Pelling

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199558681

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199558681.001.0001

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The Great Escape: Tacitus on the Mutiny of the Usipi (Agricola 28)

The Great Escape: Tacitus on the Mutiny of the Usipi (Agricola 28)

(p.275) 16 The Great Escape: Tacitus on the Mutiny of the Usipi (Agricola 28)
Ancient Historiography and its Contexts

Rhiannon Ash

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers an extraordinary passage from Tacitus's Agricola, his excursus on the mutinous adventures of a disaffected auxiliary cohort of Usipi. While accidentally circumnavigating Britain, they are reduced to cannibalism and the survivors are captured and sold as slaves (Agricola 28). The episode forms a lively hiatus between Agricola's sixth season of campaigning (Agricola 25-7) and the climactic campaign of Mons Graupius (Agricola 29-38), but there is more at stake here than entertainment: Tacitus makes some telling points about imperial power and establishes some suggestive interconnections between this incident of cannibalism on the margins and the violent, self-destructive activities happening in Rome under the bloodthirsty Domitian. On the margins, these one-time auxiliaries are driven to cannibalism, but still retain some degree of integrity. Yet the Roman princeps at the centre seems to relish the taste of aristocratic blood (even if this serves as a prelude to his own assassination).

Keywords:   Tacitus, Agricola, Usipi, cannibalism

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