"They Make A Desert And Call It Peace"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: One of the most famous passages in Tacitus' life of his father-in-law, Cnaeus Julius Agricola, is that in which, before the decisive battle of Mount Graupius–which the Romans were to win–, one of the "Barbarian" chieftains named Galgacus addresses the army of defenders. In his moving speech he speaks of the love of freedom and the willingness to fight for it on the part of those who will defend their homeland against the Romans. Then he pictures the rapacity and the destructiveness of the would-be conquerors. In Bryon's The Bride of Abydos (1813) the chieftain (called Calgacus) says, referring to the Romans: "Mark! where his carnage and his conquests cease!/ He makes a solitude, and calls it–peace!" (Canto II, l. 428).

Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day . . . will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands behind us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. . . . To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain's glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous. But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desert and call it peace.