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Publius Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. He lived in what has been called the
Silver Age of Latin literature Classical Latin is the form of Latin language Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Thro ...
, and has a reputation for the brevity and compactness of his
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...

Latin
prose, as well as for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics. The surviving portions of his two major works—the ''Annals'' (Latin: ''Annales'') and the ''Histories'' (Latin: ''Historiae'')—examine the reigns of the
emperors An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the he ...
Tiberius Tiberius Caesar Augustus (; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titl ...

Tiberius
,
Claudius Claudius ( ; Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial p ...

Claudius
,
Nero Nero ( ; full name: Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68) was the fifth . He was by the Roman emperor at the age of 13 and succeeded him to the throne. Nero seems to have been popu ...

Nero
, and those who reigned in the
Year of the Four Emperors The Year of the Four Emperors, AD 69 AD 69 (Roman numerals, LXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Galba, Augustu ...

Year of the Four Emperors
(69 AD). These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
, in 14 AD, to 70 AD in the
First Jewish–Roman War The First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), sometimes called the Great Jewish Revolt ( he, המרד הגדול '), or The Jewish War, was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israel ...
of 66–73. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including a gap in the ''Annals'' that is four books long. Tacitus' other writings discuss
oratory Oratory is a type of public speaking. Oratory may also refer to: * Eloquence, fluent, forcible, elegant, or persuasive speaking * Rhetoric, the art of discourse Places * Oratory (worship), a public or private place of divine worship, akin to a c ...

oratory
(in
dialogue Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. ...
format, see ''
Dialogus de oratoribusDialogus (Latin for dialogue Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language nat ...
''),
Germania Germania ( , ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: ''Free Germania'') or Germanic Barbaricum Barbaricum (from the gr, Βαρβαρικόν, "foreign", "barbarian") is a geographical name used by ...

Germania
(in ''De origine et situ Germanorum''), and the life of his father-in-law,
Agricola AGRICOLA (AGRICultural OnLine Access) is an online database created and maintained by the United States National Agricultural Library of the United States Department of Agriculture. The database serves as the catalog and index for the collections ...
, the general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of
Britain Britain usually refers to: * United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United ...
, mainly focusing on his campaign in
Britannia Britannia () is the national personification upright=0.9, An early example of National personification in a gospel book dated 990: Germania.html"_;"title="Sclavinia,_Germania">Sclavinia,_Germania,_Sclavinia,_Germania,_Gallia">Germania.ht ...

Britannia
(''
De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae The ''Agricola'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roma ...
''). Tacitus' Annals are of interest for providing an early account of the persecution of Christians and the earliest extra-Biblical reference to the
crucifixion of Jesus The crucifixion of Jesus occurred in 1st-century Judea Judea or Judaea, and the modern version of Judah (; from he, יהודה, Hebrew language#Modern Hebrew, Standard ''Yəhūda'', Tiberian vocalization, Tiberian ''Yehūḏā''; e ...
.


Life

Details about the personal life of Tacitus are scarce. What little is known comes from scattered hints throughout his work, the letters of his friend and admirer
Pliny the Younger Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo (61 – c. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger (), was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Rom ...

Pliny the Younger
, and an inscription found at
Mylasa Milas ( grc, Μύλασα, Mylasa) is an ancient city and the seat of the district of the same name in Muğla Province Muğla Province ( tr, , ) is a Provinces of Turkey, province of Turkey, at the country's south-western corner, on the Aegean S ...
in
Caria Caria (; from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 millio ...

Caria
. Tacitus was born in 56 or 57 to an
equestrian The word equestrian is a reference to Equestrianism, horseback riding, derived from Latin ' and ', "horse". Horseback riding (or Riding in British English) Notable examples of this are: *List of equestrian sports, Equestrian sports *Equestrianism, ...
family. The place and date of his birth, as well as his
praenomen The praenomen (; plural: praenomina) was a given name, personal name chosen by the parents of a Ancient Rome, Roman child. It was first bestowed on the ''dies lustricus'' (day of Lustratio, lustration), the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or ...
(first name) are not known. In the letters of
Sidonius Apollinaris Gaius Sollius Modestus Apollinaris Sidonius, better known as Sidonius Apollinaris (5 November of an unknown year, 430 – 481/490 AD), was a poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as ...

Sidonius Apollinaris
his name is ''Gaius'', but in the major surviving manuscript of his work his name is given as ''Publius''. One scholar's suggestion of the name ''Sextus'' has been largely rejected.


Family and early life

Most of the older
aristocratic Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class, the aristocrats. The term derives from the Greek ''aristokrat ...
families failed to survive the
proscription '' The Proscribed Royalist, 1651'', painted by John Everett Millais c. 1853, in which a Puritan woman hides a fleeing Royalist proscript in the hollow of a tree Proscription ( la, proscriptio) is, in current usage, a 'decree of condemnation to ...
s which took place at the end of the
Republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a month ...
, and Tacitus makes it clear that he owed his rank to the
FlavianFlavian may refer to: * A member of the Flavian dynasty of Roman emperors, during the late 1st century AD, or their works * Flavian Zeija, a Ugandan lawyer, academic and judge. Principal Judge of Uganda, since December 2019. * A person named Flavianu ...
emperors (''Hist.'
1.1
. The claim that he was descended from a
freedman A freedman or freedwoman is a formerly enslaved person who has been released from slavery Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave, who is someone forbidden to quit their service for an enslaver, a ...

freedman
is derived from a speech in his writings which asserts that many senators and knights were descended from freedmen (''Ann.'
13.27
, but this is generally disputed. His father may have been the Cornelius Tacitus who served as
procurator Procurator (with procuracy or procuratorate referring to the office itself) may refer to: * Procurator, one engaged in procuration, the action of taking care of, hence management, stewardship, agency * ''Procurator'' (Ancient Rome), the title of ...
of
Belgica Gallia Belgica ("Belgic Gaul") was a Roman province, province of the Roman Empire located in the north-eastern part of Roman Gaul, in what is today primarily northern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, along with parts of the Netherlands and Ge ...

Belgica
and
Germania Germania ( , ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: ''Free Germania'') or Germanic Barbaricum Barbaricum (from the gr, Βαρβαρικόν, "foreign", "barbarian") is a geographical name used by ...

Germania
;
Pliny the Elder #REDIRECT Pliny the Elder#REDIRECT Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/2479), called Pliny the Elder (), was a Roman author, a naturalist Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms, including animals, fungus, fungi, ...

Pliny the Elder
mentions that Cornelius had a son who aged rapidly ( NHbr>7.76
, which implies an early death. There is no mention of Tacitus suffering such a condition, but it is possible that this refers to a brother — if Cornelius was indeed his father. The friendship between the younger Pliny and Tacitus leads some scholars to conclude that they were both the offspring of wealthy provincial families. The province of his birth remains unknown, though various conjectures suggest
Gallia Belgica Gallia Belgica ("Belgic Gaul") was a of the located in the north-eastern part of , in what is today primarily northern , , and , along with parts of the and . In 50 BC after the conquest by during his , it became one of the three parts of G ...
,
Gallia Narbonensis Gallia Narbonensis can be seen in the south of modern-day France as a Roman province. Gallia Narbonensis (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin wa ...
or
Northern Italy Northern Italy ( it, Italia settentrionale, it, Nord Italia, label=none, it, Alta Italia, label=none or just it, Nord, label=none) is a geographical and cultural region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical cha ...
. His marriage to the daughter of Narbonensian senator
Gnaeus Julius Agricola Gnaeus Julius Agricola (; 13 June 40 – 23 August 93) was a Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient ...
implies that he came from Gallia Narbonensis. Tacitus' dedication to Lucius Fabius Justus in the ''Dialogus'' may indicate a connection with Spain, and his friendship with Pliny suggests origins in northern Italy. No evidence exists, however, that Pliny's friends from northern Italy knew Tacitus, nor do Pliny's letters hint that the two men had a common background. Pliny Book 9, Letter 23 reports that, when he was asked if he was Italian or provincial, he gave an unclear answer, and so was asked if he was Tacitus or Pliny. Since Pliny was from Italy, some infer that Tacitus was from the provinces, probably Gallia Narbonensis. His ancestry, his skill in oratory, and his sympathetic depiction of barbarians who resisted Roman rule (e.g., ''Ann.'
2.9
have led some to suggest that he was a
Celt The Celts (, see pronunciation of ''Celt'' for different usages) are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry: Celtic a collection of Indo-European peoples. "The Celts, an ancient Indo-Europe ...

Celt
. This belief stems from the fact that the Celts who had occupied Gaul prior to the Roman invasion were famous for their skill in oratory, and had been subjugated by Rome.


Public life, marriage, and literary career

As a young man, Tacitus studied
rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and ...
in Rome to prepare for a career in law and politics; like Pliny, he may have studied under
Quintilian Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (; 35 – 100 AD) was a Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient Rome ...

Quintilian
( – ). In 77 or 78, he married
Julia Agricola Gnaeus Julius Agricola (; 13 June 40 – 23 August 93) was a Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient ...
, daughter of the famous general Agricola. Little is known of their domestic life, save that Tacitus loved
hunting Hunting is the practice of seeking, pursuing and capturing or killing wildlife or feral animals. The most common reasons for humans to hunt are to harvest useful animal products (meat, fur/hide (skin), hide, bone/tusks, horn (anatomy), horn/an ...

hunting
and the outdoors. He started his career (probably the '' latus clavus'', mark of the senator) under
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor who reigned from 69 to 79 AD. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire ...

Vespasian
(r. 69–79), but entered political life as a
quaestor A ( , ; "investigator") was a public official in Ancient Rome. The position served different functions depending on the period. In the Roman Kingdom, ' (quaestors with judicial powers) were appointed by the king to investigate and handle murders. ...
in 81 or 82 under
Titus Titus Caesar Vespasianus ( ; 30 December 39 – 13 September 81 AD) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles thro ...

Titus
.He states his debt to Titus in his ''Histories''
1.1
; since Titus ruled only briefly, these are the only years possible.
He advanced steadily through the ''
cursus honorum The ''cursus honorum'' (; , or more colloquially 'ladder of offices') was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; ...
'', becoming
praetor Praetor ( , ), also pretor, was the granted by the government of to a man acting in one of two official capacities: (i) the commander of an , and (ii) as an elected ' (magistrate), assigned to discharge various duties. The functions of the magi ...
in 88 and a quindecimvir, a member of the priestly college in charge of the
Sibylline Books The ''Sibylline Books'' ( la, Libri Sibyllini) were a collection of oracular An oracle is a person or agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are "stable, valued, re ...
and the
Secular gamesThe Saecular Games ( la, Ludi saeculares, originally ) was a Religion in ancient Rome, Roman religious celebration involving sacrifices and theatre of ancient Rome, theatrical performances, held in ancient Rome for three days and nights to mark the e ...
. He gained acclaim as a lawyer and as an
orator An orator, or oratist, is a public speaker, especially one who is eloquent or skilled. Etymology Recorded in English c. 1374, with a meaning of "one who pleads or argues for a cause", from Anglo-French ''oratour'', Old French ''orateur'' (14th c ...
; his skill in public speaking ironically counterpoints his ''
cognomen A ''cognomen'' (; plural ''cognomina''; from ''con-'' "together with" and ''(g)nomen'' "name") was the third name of a citizen of , under . Initially, it was a , but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary ''cognomina'' were used t ...
'' ''Tacitus'' ("silent"). He served in the provinces from to , either in command of a
legion Legion may refer to: Military * Roman legion The Roman legion ( la, legiō, ) was the largest military unit of the Roman army The Roman army (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic b ...

legion
or in a civilian post. He and his property survived
Domitian Domitian (; la, Domitianus; 24 October 51 – 18 September 96) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles thr ...

Domitian
's reign of terror (81–96), but the experience left him jaded and perhaps ashamed at his own complicity, installing in him the hatred of
tyranny A tyrant (from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following peri ...
evident in his works. The ''Agricola'', chs
44

45
is illustrative:
Agricola was spared those later years during which Domitian, leaving now no interval or breathing space of time, but, as it were, with one continuous blow, drained the life-blood of the Commonwealth... It was not long before our hands dragged
Helvidius Helvidius (sometimes Helvetius) was the author of a work written prior to 383 against the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary The perpetual virginity of Mary is the doctrine that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ Jesus; he, יֵש ...
to prison, before we gazed on the dying looks of Mauricus and
RusticusRusticus is a Latin adjective meaning "rural, simple, rough or clownish" and can refer to: Animals * '' Aedes rusticus'', a European mosquito * Rusty crayfish (''Orconectes rusticus'') * ''Urozelotes rusticus'', a ground spider * a synonym of the bu ...
, before we were steeped in
Senecio ''Senecio'' is a genus Genus (plural genera) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to a ...
's innocent blood. Even
Nero Nero ( ; full name: Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68) was the fifth . He was by the Roman emperor at the age of 13 and succeeded him to the throne. Nero seems to have been popu ...

Nero
turned his eyes away, and did not gaze upon the atrocities which he ordered; with Domitian it was the chief part of our miseries to see and to be seen, to know that our sighs were being recorded...
From his seat in the
Senate The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum ">Roman_Forum.html" ;"title="Curia Julia in the Roman Forum">Curia Julia in the Roman Forum A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or Debating chamber, chamber of a bicameral legislatu ...
, he became
suffect consul A consul held the highest elected political office The incumbent is the current holder of an official, office or position, usually in relation to an election. For example, in an election for president, the incumbent is the person holding or a ...
in 97 during the reign of
Nerva Nerva (; originally Marcus Cocceius Nerva; 8 November 30 – 27 January 98) was from 96 to 98. Nerva became emperor when aged almost 66, after a lifetime of imperial service under and the rulers of the . Under Nero, he was a member of the im ...
, being the first of his family to do so. During his tenure, he reached the height of his fame as an orator when he delivered the funeral oration for the famous veteran soldier
Lucius Verginius Rufus Lucius Verginius Rufus (AD 1597; sometimes incorrectly called Lucius Virginus Rufus) was a Ancient Rome, Roman commander of Germania Superior during the late 1st century. He was three times Roman consul, consul (in 63, 69, and 97). He was born near ...
. In the following year, he wrote and published the ''Agricola'' and ''Germania'', foreshadowing the literary endeavors that would occupy him until his death. Afterward, he absented himself from public life, but returned during
Trajan Trajan ( ; la, Caesar Nerva Trajanus; 18 September 539/11 August 117) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors use ...

Trajan
's reign (98–117). In 100, he and his friend Pliny the Younger prosecuted (
proconsul A proconsul was an official of ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose wo ...

proconsul
of Africa) for corruption. Priscus was found guilty and sent into exile; Pliny wrote a few days later that Tacitus had spoken "with all the majesty which characterizes his usual style of oratory". A lengthy absence from politics and law followed while he wrote the ''Histories'' and the ''Annals''. In 112 to 113, he held the highest civilian governorship, that of the Roman province of ''Asia'' in Western
Anatolia Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula in Western Asia and the westernmost protrusion of the Asian continent. It makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey. The region ...
, recorded in the inscription found at Mylasa mentioned above. A passage in the ''Annals'' fixes 116 as the ''
terminus post quem 270px, The coins of Azes II found inside the Bimaran casket provide a ''terminus post quem'': for the coins to have been placed inside, the casket was necessarily consecrated after the beginning of the reign of Azes II. ''Terminus post quem'' ("l ...
'' of his death, which may have been as late as 125 or even 130. It seems that he survived both Pliny (died ) and Trajan (died 117). It remains unknown whether Tacitus had any children. The ''
Augustan History The ''Historia Augusta'' (English: ''Augustan History'') is a late Roman collection of biographies A biography, or simply bio, is a detailed description of a person's life. It involves more than just the basic facts like education, work, r ...
'' reports that Emperor
Marcus Claudius Tacitus Marcus Claudius Tacitus (; died June 276) was Roman emperor from 275 to 276. During his short reign he campaigned against the Goths and the Heruli, for which he received the title ''Gothicus Maximus''. Early life His early life is largely unk ...
(r. 275–276) claimed him for an ancestor and provided for the preservation of his works, but this story may be fraudulent, like much of the ''Augustan History''.


Works

Five works ascribed to Tacitus have survived (albeit with gaps), the most substantial of which are the ''Annals'' and the ''Histories''. This canon (with approximate dates) consists of: * (98) '' De vita Iulii Agricolae'' (''The Life of
Agricola AGRICOLA (AGRICultural OnLine Access) is an online database created and maintained by the United States National Agricultural Library of the United States Department of Agriculture. The database serves as the catalog and index for the collections ...
'') * (98) '' De origine et situ Germanorum'' (''Germania'') * (102) ''
Dialogus de oratoribusDialogus (Latin for dialogue Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language nat ...
'' (''Dialogue on Oratory'') * (105) '' Historiae'' (''Histories'') * (117) '' Ab excessu divi Augusti'' (''Annals'')


History of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus

The ''
Annals Annals ( la, annāles, from , "year") are a concise historical History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study and the documentation of the past. Events before the History ...
'' and the ''
Histories Histories or, in Latin, Historiae may refer to: * the plural of history * Histories (Herodotus), ''Histories'' (Herodotus), by Herodotus * ''The Histories'', by Timaeus (historian), Timaeus * The Histories (Polybius), ''The Histories'' (Polybius), ...
'', published separately, were meant to form a single edition of thirty books. Although Tacitus wrote the ''Histories'' before the ''Annals'', the events in the ''Annals'' precede the ''Histories''; together they form a continuous narrative from the death of
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
(14) to the death of
Domitian Domitian (; la, Domitianus; 24 October 51 – 18 September 96) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles thr ...

Domitian
(96). Though most has been lost, what remains is an invaluable record of the era. The first half of the ''Annals'' survived in a single manuscript from Corvey Abbey in Germany, and the second half in a single manuscript from
Monte Cassino Monte Cassino (today usually spelled Montecassino) is a rocky hill about southeast of Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus Romulus was the legendary founder and ...

Monte Cassino
in Italy, and it is remarkable that they survived at all.


The ''Histories''

In an early chapter of the ''Agricola'', Tacitus asserts that he wishes to speak about the years of Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In the ''Histories'' the scope has changed; Tacitus says that he will deal with the age of Nerva and Trajan at a later time. Instead, he will cover the period from the civil wars of the
Year of the Four Emperors The Year of the Four Emperors, AD 69 AD 69 (Roman numerals, LXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Galba, Augustu ...

Year of the Four Emperors
and end with the despotism of the Flavians. Only the first four books and twenty-six chapters of the fifth book survive, covering the year 69 and the first part of 70. The work is believed to have continued up to the death of Domitian on September 18, 96. The fifth book contains—as a prelude to the account of Titus's suppression of the
First Jewish–Roman War The First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), sometimes called the Great Jewish Revolt ( he, המרד הגדול '), or The Jewish War, was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israel ...
—a short
ethnographic Ethnography (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is ap ...

ethnographic
survey of the ancient
Jews Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite origins and kingdom: "The first act in the long drama of Jewish history is ...

Jews
, (although entirely inaccurate) and it is an invaluable record of Roman attitudes towards them.


The ''Annals''

The ''Annals'', Tacitus' final work, covers the period from the death of
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
in AD 14. He wrote at least sixteen books, but books 7–10 and parts of books 5, 6, 11 and 16 are missing. Book 6 ends with the death of
Tiberius Tiberius Caesar Augustus (; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titl ...

Tiberius
and books 7 to 12 presumably covered the reigns of
Caligula Caligula (; 31 August 12 – 24 January 41 AD), formally known as Gaius ( Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), was the third , ruling from 37 to 41. The son of the popular Roman general and 's granddaughter , Caligula was born into the first ru ...

Caligula
and
Claudius Claudius ( ; Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial p ...

Claudius
. The remaining books cover the reign of Nero, perhaps until his death in June 68 or until the end of that year to connect with the ''Histories''. The second half of book 16 is missing, ending with the events of 66. It is not known whether Tacitus completed the work; he died before he could complete his planned histories of Nerva and Trajan and no record survives of the work on Augustus and the beginnings of the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of governme ...

Roman Empire
, with which he had planned to finish his work. The ''Annals'' is one of the earliest secular historical records to mention
Christ Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label= Hebrew/ Aramaic ( AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ, is the central figure of Christianity, the world's largest religion. He was a fir ...

Christ
, which Tacitus does in connection with Nero's persecution of the Christians.


Monographs

Tacitus wrote three works with a more limited scope. ''Agricola'', a biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola; the ''Germania'', a monograph on the lands and tribes of barbarian Germania; and the ''Dialogus'', a dialogue on the art of rhetoric.


''Germania''

The ''Germania'' (
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...

Latin
title: ''De Origine et situ Germanorum'') is an ethnographic work on the
Germanic tribe This list of ancient s is an inventory of ancient Germanic cultures, tribal groupings and other alliances of Germanic tribes and civilisations in ancient times. The information comes from various ancient historical documents, beginning in the 2nd ...

Germanic tribe
s outside the Roman Empire. The ''Germania'' fits within a classical ethnographic tradition which includes authors such as
Herodotus Herodotus ( ; grc, Ἡρόδοτος, Hēródotos, ; BC) was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), ge ...
and
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...

Julius Caesar
. The book begins (chapters 1–27) with a description of the lands, laws, and customs of the various tribes. Later chapters focus on descriptions of particular tribes, beginning with those who lived closest to the Roman empire, and ending with a description of those who lived on the shores of the
Baltic Sea The Baltic Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, enclosed by Denmark Denmark ( da, Danmark, ) is a Nordic country The Nordic countries, or the Nordics, are a geographical and cultural region In geography, regions are areas that a ...

Baltic Sea
, such as the
Fenni The Fenni were an ancient people of northeastern Europe, first described by Cornelius Tacitus Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman hi ...
. Tacitus had written a similar, albeit shorter, piece in his ''Agricola'' (chapters 10–13).


''Agricola'' (''De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae'')

The ''Agricola'' (written ) recounts the life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, an eminent Roman general and Tacitus' father-in-law; it also covers, briefly, the geography and ethnography of ancient
Britain Britain usually refers to: * United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United ...

Britain
. As in the ''Germania'', Tacitus favorably contrasts the liberty of the native
Britons The British people, or Britons, are the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed ...
with the tyranny and corruption of the Empire; the book also contains eloquent polemics against the greed of Rome, one of which, that Tacitus claims is from a speech by
Calgacus According to Tacitus, Calgacus (sometimes Calgacos or Galgacus) was a chieftain of the Caledonian Confederacy who fought the Ancient Rome, Roman army of Gnaeus Julius Agricola at the Battle of Mons Graupius in northern Scotland in AD 83 or 84. His ...

Calgacus
, ends by asserting that ''Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.'' (To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. —Oxford Revised Translation).


''Dialogus''

There is uncertainty about when Tacitus wrote ''Dialogus de oratoribus''. Many characteristics set it apart from the other works of Tacitus, so that its authenticity has at various times been questioned. It is likely to be early work, indebted to the author's rhetorical training, since its style imitates that of the foremost Roman orator
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Cicero
. It lacks (for example) the incongruities that are typical of his mature historical works. The ''Dialogus'' is dedicated to Fabius Iustus, a consul in 102 AD.


Literary style

Tacitus's writings are known for their dense prose that seldom glosses the facts, in contrast to the style of some of his contemporaries, such as
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46 – after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC&nbs ...

Plutarch
. When he writes about a near-defeat of the Roman army in ''Ann.'' I, 63 he does so with brevity of description rather than embellishment. In most of his writings, he keeps to a chronological narrative order, only seldom outlining the bigger picture, leaving the readers to construct that picture for themselves. Nonetheless, where he does use broad strokes, for example, in the opening paragraphs of the ''Annals'', he uses a few condensed phrases which take the reader to the heart of the story.


Approach to history

Tacitus's historical style owes some debt to
Sallust Gaius Sallustius Crispus, usually anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and phrases to make them easier to spell, pronounc ...

Sallust
. His historiography offers penetrating—often pessimistic—insights into the psychology of power politics, blending straightforward descriptions of events, moral lessons, and tightly focused dramatic accounts. Tacitus's own declaration regarding his approach to history (''Annals'' I,1) is well known:
''inde consilium mihi ... tradere ... sine ira et studio, quorum causas procul habeo.''
my purpose is to relate ... without either anger or zeal, motives from which I am far removed.
There has been much scholarly discussion about Tacitus' "neutrality". Throughout his writing, he is preoccupied with the balance of power between the Senate and the
emperors An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the he ...
, and the increasing corruption of the governing
classes Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an analytical concept used differently f ...
of Rome as they adjusted to the ever-growing wealth and power of the empire. In Tacitus's view, Senators squandered their cultural inheritance—that of
free speech Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. Something is "free" if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present state. In philosop ...

free speech
—to placate their (rarely benign) emperor. Tacitus noted the increasing dependence of the emperor on the goodwill of his armies. The
Julio-Claudians , native_name_lang=Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Rom ...
eventually gave way to generals, who followed Julius Caesar (and Sulla and Pompey) in recognizing that military might could secure them the political power in Rome.(''His
1.4
')
Welcome as the death of Nero had been in the first burst of joy, yet it had not only roused various emotions in Rome, among the Senators, the people, or the soldiery of the capital, it had also excited all the legions and their generals; for now had been divulged that secret of the empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome.
Tacitus's political career was largely lived out under the emperor Domitian. His experience of the tyranny, corruption, and
decadence The word decadence, which at first meant simply "decline" in an abstract sense, is now most often used to refer to a perceived decay in standards Standard may refer to: Flags * Colours, standards and guidons * Standard (flag), a type of flag ...

decadence
of that era (81–96) may explain the bitterness and irony of his political analysis. He draws our attention to the dangers of power without accountability, love of power untempered by principle, and the apathy and corruption engendered by the concentration of wealth generated through trade and conquest by the empire. Nonetheless, the image he builds of Tiberius throughout the first six books of the ''Annals'' is neither exclusively bleak nor approving: most scholars view the image of Tiberius as predominantly ''positive'' in the first books, and predominantly ''negative'' after the intrigues of
Sejanus Lucius Aelius Seianus (3 June 20 BC – 18 October AD 31), commonly known as Sejanus (), was a Roman soldier, friend and confidant of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. An Equites, equestrian by birth, Sejanus rose to power as Praetorian Prefect, prefec ...
. The entrance of Tiberius in the first chapters of the first book is dominated by the hypocrisy of the new emperor and his courtiers. In the later books, some respect is evident for the cleverness of the old emperor in securing his position. In general, Tacitus does not fear to praise and to criticize the same person, often noting what he takes to be their more-admirable and less-admirable properties. One of Tacitus's hallmarks is refraining from ''conclusively'' taking sides for or against persons he describes, which has led some to interpret his works as both supporting and rejecting the imperial system (see
Tacitean studies 's 1598 edition of the complete works of Tacitus. Tacitean studies, centred on the work of Tacitus Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman h ...
, ''Black'' vs. ''Red'' Tacitists).


Prose

His Latin style is highly praised. His style, although it has a grandeur and eloquence (thanks to Tacitus's education in rhetoric), is extremely concise, even
epigram An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The word is derived from the Ancient Greek, Greek "inscription" from "to write on, to inscribe", and the literary device has been employed for o ...
matic—the sentences are rarely flowing or beautiful, but their point is always clear. The style has been both derided as "harsh, unpleasant, and thorny" and praised as "grave, concise, and pithily eloquent". A passage of , where Tacitus laments the state of the historiography regarding the last four emperors of the
Julio-Claudian dynasty , native_name_lang=Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Rom ...
, illustrates his style: "The histories of Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred", or in a word-for-word translation: Compared to the Ciceronian period, where sentences were usually the length of a paragraph and artfully constructed with nested pairs of carefully matched sonorous phrases, this is short and to the point. But it is also very individual. Note the three different ways of saying ''and'' in the first line (-que, et, ac), and especially the matched second and third lines. They are parallel in sense but not in sound; the pairs of words ending "…-entibus …-is" are crossed over in a way that deliberately breaks the Ciceronian conventions—which one would however need to be acquainted with to see the novelty of Tacitus' style. Some readers, then and now, find this teasing of their expectations merely irritating. Others find the deliberate discord, playing against the evident parallelism of the two lines, stimulating and intriguing. His historical works focus on the motives of the characters, often with penetrating insight—though it is questionable how much of his insight is correct, and how much is convincing only because of his rhetorical skill.John Taylor. ''Tacitus and the Boudican Revolt''. Dublin: Camvlos, 1998. p. 1 ff He is at his best when exposing hypocrisy and dissimulation; for example, he follows a narrative recounting Tiberius's refusal of the title ''pater patriae'' by recalling the institution of a law forbidding any "treasonous" speech or writings—and the frivolous prosecutions which resulted (''Annals'', 1.72). Elsewhere (''Annals'' 4.64–66) he compares Tiberius's public distribution of fire relief to his failure to stop the perversions and abuses of justice which he had begun. Although this kind of insight has earned him praise, he has also been criticized for ignoring the larger context. Tacitus owes most, both in language and in method, to Sallust, and
Ammianus Marcellinus Ammianus Marcellinus (born , died 400) was a Roman soldier This is a list of Roman army units and bureaucrats. *''Accensus'' – Light infantry men in the armies of the early Roman Republic, made up of the poorest men of the army. *''Actuarius'' ...
is the later historian whose work most closely approaches him in style.


Sources

Tacitus makes use of the official sources of the Roman state: the '' acta senatus'' (the minutes of the sessions of the Senate) and the '' acta diurna populi Romani'' (a collection of the acts of the government and news of the court and capital). He also read collections of emperors' speeches, such as those of Tiberius and Claudius. He is generally seen as a scrupulous historian who paid careful attention to his sources. Tacitus cites some of his sources directly, among them Cluvius Rufus,
Fabius Rusticus Fabius Rusticus was a Roman historian who was quoted on several occasions by Tacitus Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus ( , ; – ) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by m ...
and Pliny the Elder, who had written ''Bella Germaniae'' and a historical work which was the continuation of that of
Aufidius Bassus Aufidius Bassus was a Roman historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as ...
. Tacitus also uses collections of letters (''epistolarium''). He also took information from ''exitus illustrium virorum''. These were a collection of books by those who were antithetical to the emperors. They tell of sacrifices by martyrs to freedom, especially the men who committed suicide. While he places no value on the Stoicism, Stoic theory of suicide and views suicides as ostentatious and politically useless, Tacitus often gives prominence to speeches made by those about to commit suicide, for example Cremutius Cordus' speech in ''Ann.'' IV, 34–35.


Editions

* Damon, Cynthia (2003) ''Tacitus: Histories Book I.'' Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge University Press. * Ash, Rhiannon (2007) ''Tacitus: Histories Book II.'' Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics.Cambridge University Press. * Malloch, S. J. V. (2013) ''The Annals of Tacitus, book 11.'' Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries. Cambridge University Press.


See also

* Republic (Plato), ''The Republic'' (Plato): Tacitus' critique of "model state" philosophies * Tacitus on Christ: a well-known passage from the ''Annals'' mentions the death of Jesus of Nazareth (''Ann.'', xv 44) * Claude Fauchet (historian), Claude Fauchet: the first person to translate all of Tacitus's works into French * Justus Lipsius: produced an extremely influential early modern edition of Tacitus (1574)


References


Notes


Citations


Bibliography

* Benario, Herbert W. ''An Introduction to Tacitus''. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1975) * * Burke, P. "Tacitism" in Dorey, T.A., 1969, pp. 149–171 * Damon, Cynthia. "Relatio vs. Oratio: Tacitus, Ann. 3.12 and the Senatus Consultum De Cn. Pisone Patre." ''The Classical Quarterly'', vol. 49, no. 1, (1999), pp. 336–338 * Damon, Cynthia. "The Trial of Cn. Piso in Tacitus' Annals and the ‘Senatus Consultum De Cn. Pisone Patre’: New Light on Narrative Technique." ''The American Journal of Philology'', vol. 120, no. 1, (1999), pp. 143–162. * Damon, Cynthia. ''Writing with Posterity in Mind: Thucydides and Tacitus on Secession.'' In ''The Oxford Handbook of Thucydides.'' (Oxford University Press, 2017). * Dudley, Donald R. ''The World of Tacitus'' (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968) * Goodyear, F.R.D. ''The Annals of Tacitus'', vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). Commentary on ''Annals'' 1.55–81 and ''Annals'' 2. * Gordon, Mary L. "The Patria of Tacitus". ''The Journal of Roman Studies'', Vol. 26, Part 2 (1936), pp. 145–151. * Martin, Ronald. ''Tacitus'' (London: Batsford, 1981) * Mellor, Ronald
''Tacitus''
(New York / London: Routledge, 1993) * Mellor, Ronald
''Tacitus’ Annals''
(Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) (Oxford Approaches to Classical Literature) * Mellor, Ronald (ed.)

(New York: Garland Publishing, 1995) * Mendell, Clarence. ''Tacitus: The Man and His Work''. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957) * Revilo P. Oliver, Oliver, Revilo P. "The First Medicean MS of Tacitus and the Titulature of Ancient Books". ''Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association'', Vol. 82 (1951), pp. 232–261. * Oliver, Revilo P. "The Praenomen of Tacitus". ''The American Journal of Philology'', Vol. 98, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 64–70. * Nicholas Ostler, Ostler, Nicholas
''Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin''.
HarperCollins in the UK, and Walker & Co. in the US: London and New York, 2007. ; 2009 edition:
2010 e-book:
* Ronald Syme, Syme, Ronald. ''Tacitus'', Volumes 1 and 2. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958) (reprinted in 1985 by the same publisher, with the ) is the definitive study of his life and works. * Tacitus, ''The Annals of Imperial Rome''. Translated by Michael Grant and first published in this form in 1956. (London: The Folio Society, 2006) * Tacitus, ''Germany''. Translated by Herbert W. Benario. (Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1999. ) * Taylor, John W. ''Tacitus and the Boudican Revolt''. (Dublin, Ireland: Camuvlos, 1998)


External links

Works by Tacitus * * *
Works by Tacitus at Perseus Digital Library


at ForumRomanum

at "The Internet Sacred Text Archive" (not listed above)
Agricola
an
Annals 15.20–23, 33–45
at Dickinson College Commentaries {{Authority control Tacitus, 1st-century Gallo-Roman people 1st-century writers 1st-century historians 2nd-century Gallo-Roman people 2nd-century historians 2nd-century writers 50s births 120s deaths Year of birth uncertain Year of death uncertain Ancient Roman jurists Ancient Roman rhetoricians Cornelii Latin historians Roman governors of Asia Roman-era biographers Senators of the Roman Empire Silver Age Latin writers Suffect consuls of Imperial Rome