Politeness, “Humanitas” and Imperialism. A Reflection by Montesquieu (“EL”, XIX, 27) and Tacitus’ “Agricola”

Sergio Audano

Abstract


A reflection by Montesquieu on the relationship between absolutism, idleness and politeness (“EL” XIX, 27) is connected, through a note later deleted in the manuscript, to chap. 21 of Tacitus’ “Agricola”, where the author shows how Agricola, the father-in-law of the historian and a general victorious over the Britons, had gradually (and skilfully) imposed a conquest which was not merely military but also cultural. The Roman civilization, defined in its overall “superiority” as “humanitas”, could easily offer seductive tools (temples, forums, houses, elegant clothes and refined manners) that extinguished any memory of past freedom, cancelled any identity and common memory, thus contributing to the long-term affirmation of Roman imperialism. Still in the “Agricola”, Tacitus also proposes the opponent’s point of view through the famous speech by the Britons’ commander Calgacus before the decisive battle of Mons Graupius: the well-known metaphor of the “desert called peace” is well explained if associated not only with the traditional Roman expansionism, but, as acutely noted by Montesquieu, also to the subtle conquests of the “humanitas”.

Keywords


Tacitus; Agricola; humanitas; imperialism; politeness

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DOI: 10.6092/issn.2421-4124/10733

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