“They make a desert and call it peace”


Tacitus, translated from Latin by Tom Winter

Translator’s preface: Fort Russ readers have doubtless thought of the title phrase, as its aptness to our modern world is plain enough. It’s from Tacitus’ biography of his father-in-law Agricola. Tacitus’ two most famous lines are in this passage, and memes all over the world are echoing it as policies of interference, “ingérence” the French call it, leave long-lasting catastrophes in their wake. It is the speech of Calgacus before the battle of Mons Graupius. Calgacus was the leader of the Caledonian Resistance. I have followed up with Tacitus’s original Latin. My academic career, by the way, was as a professor of Latin and Classical Greek.

“Whenever I consider the causes of the war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and your consensus, will be the beginning of liberty for all of Britain: for we have convened from everywhere; we have no part of enslavement, and with the Roman fleet threatening us, there is no place else, on land or sea, that’s safe for us. And so, war and weapons — honor for the brave — are the safest thing, even for the timid. 

The earlier battles that we fought against the Romans with varying degrees of fortune, have put help and hope in our hands, because we, the very noblest of all Britain, and sited on our very hearths, not looking upon any shores of serfdom, have our eyes pure, free of any contamination of being dominated. 

In this day our very extreme of land and liberty and our reservoir of repute are there to defend us. Here is the terminus, the end, of Britain, and everything unknown is taken for magnificent. 

But there is no land further on, nothing out there but the waves and rocks, and the even more hostile Romans, whose oppression you would seek in vain to escape through obedience and humiliation. 

Romans, the raptors of the world — after the land ran out for their plundering it all, they look overseas for more. If their enemy be rich, they’re greedy, if he be poor, they’re ambitious, they are people whom neither the east nor west has sated; alone, they covet the wealth, or even the resourcelessness, of everyone with equal lust. 

With propagandic naming they call plundering, butchering, and rapine by the name of “empire” and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum initium libertatis toti Britanniae fore: nam et universi co[i]stis et servitutis expertes, et nullae ultra terrae ac ne mare quidem securum inminente nobis classe Romana. Ita proelium atque arma, quae fortibus honesta, eadem etiam ignavis tutissima sunt. Priores pugnae, quibus adversus Romanos varia fortuna certatum est, spem ac subsidium in nostris manibus habebant, quia nobilissimi totius Britanniae eoque in ipsis penetralibus siti nec ulla servientium litora aspicientes, oculos quoque a contactu dominationis inviolatos habebamus. Nos terrarum ac libertatis extremos recessus ipse ac sinus famae in hunc diem defendit: nunc terminus Britanniae patet, atque omne ignotum pro magnifico est; sed nulla iam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus ac saxa, et infestiores Romani, quorum superbiam frustra per obsequium ac modestiam effugias. Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

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