THE Battle of Mons Graupius took place in ancient Scotland in AD 83. The Caledonian leader Calgacus was on one side, the Roman general and governor of Britannia, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, on the other.
Not only is the clash recorded, but so, echoing down through the centuries, is an astoundingly poignant comment that Calgacus is supposed to have made about what Roman peace ought to be. Comparing it with the state of his highland homeland under Roman rule, he said: “They make a desert, and call it peace.”
These details and more are known thanks to the science and art of historiography. In this case, Publius Cornelius Tacitus is a critical source — not only one of the greatest of Roman historians, but the son-in-law of Agricola himself. There may be debate concerning some specifics, but no one has ever suggested that the battle, and Calgacus, and everyone and everything connected to it, were pure fantasy.
Granted, there are no press releases about the Roman invasion to be found in the archives of British newspapers, which did not exist two millennia ago. But Tacitus’s account, and other snippets of evidence from ancient letters, tombstones, and monuments — along with two colossal barriers (the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall) stretching coast to coast across Scotland — satisfy historians that something happened near to those walls long ago to convince the legions that the tribes on the other side were trouble.
So, even though there is not another word in any further chronicles about Calgacus — who steps into, and right back out of, the historical record with Mons Graupius — no respected academic voice dares to insult every Scot alive by trotting out the absurd notion that this Calgacus never existed.
EVERY Christmas, however, the same category of hyper-politicised academics dust off their yearly affront to the more than two billion Christians on the planet, sharpening their knives and attempting to cut out other segments of Tacitus’s annals. The offending passages have to do with another enemy of Rome, but one who lived thousands of miles from Scotland: Jesus of Nazareth.
Once the historical record shifts to the central icon of the most widespread religion on earth, Tacitus is inexplicably and immediately reduced from eminent historian to gossip-monger and fabulist.
Jesus Christ, shockingly, has lately been put forth as a supposed figment of the imagination, by the same avant-garde cadre that also, coincidentally, finds Western traditions, holidays, great personages, ideals, and culture, anathema. And that may say almost as much as everything that Tacitus and Calgacus uttered, put together.
For example, a new book by Professor Robert Price, Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed, was endorsed on Twitter last month by Steven Pinker, the American cognitive psychologist, whose book Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism and progress (Allen Lane), was published earlier this year (Comment, 23 March). “There is controversy (to put it mildly) over whether Jesus was the messiah,” Pinker wrote. “But did he exist at all?”
The problem for the “Jesus never existed” crowd does not reside solely in Tacitus’s works, though. Four of the most respected ancient historians circa the first century — Josephus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger — not only mention Jesus Christ plainly in their annals, but refer to him in a way that speaks most plainly about the validity of the passages.
Tacitus, for example, gives Jesus exactly the kind of dismissive footnote a noble Roman would employ: it is apparent that the historian would rather be writing about someone else. “Christus suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate,” Tacitus writes. Hardly one of Jesus’s admirers, he goes on to explain that the “mischievous superstition” wrought by followers of Christus had broken out in Judaea, and “the evil” had found its way to Rome, “where all things hideous and shameful become popular”.
IN 2015, one of the great New York publishing houses released a science fiction work that I wrote, part of which was set amid a colony of Scottish expatriates mining the asteroid belt in the 25th century. Calgacus’s defiant retort to the Romans figured strongly in the plot-line, and elicited sufficient emails from UK readers to show that, in all of Britain, there is not a single statue dedicated to this hero. I tried to rectify that. but, unfortunately, there was insufficient support.
Perhaps this assault on the historicity of Jesus Christ may serve the purpose of reviving my proposal for a monument to Calgacus. For, until his image is displayed in public, he is subject to the same ignominious treatment as One far above him. If this symbol of Scotland is not carved in stone nor cast in bronze, the soldier runs the risk of being erased from history also, should the revisionists some day so decide.
He existed, though — as did Jesus Christ — and they both deserve at least that note.
David Nabhan is a science columnist for Newsmax.