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Publius Cornelius Tacitus, known simply as Tacitus ( , ; – ), was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. 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 ...
Tiberius Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus (; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor. He reigned from AD 14 until 37, succeeding his stepfather, the first Roman emperor Augustus. Tiberius was born in Rome in 42 BC. His father ...
,
Claudius Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor, ruling from AD 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Claudius was born to Nero Claudius Drusus, Drusu ...
,
Nero Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ( ; born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68), was the fifth Roman emperor and final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, reigning from AD 54 unti ...
, and those who reigned in the
Year of the Four Emperors The Year of the Four Emperors, AD 69, was the first civil war of the Roman Empire, during which four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. It is considered an important interval, marking the transition from the ...
(69 AD). These two works span the history of the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings aro ...
from the death of
Augustus Caesar Augustus (born Gaius Octavius; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14), also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor; he reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He is known for being the founder of the Roman Pri ...
(14 AD) to the death of
Domitian Domitian (; la, Domitianus; 24 October 51 – 18 September 96) was a Roman emperor who reigned from 81 to 96. The son of Vespasian and the younger brother of Titus, his two predecessors on the throne, he was the last member of the Flavia ...
(96 AD), although there are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts. Tacitus's other writings discuss oratory (in
dialogue Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American and British English spelling differences, American English) is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people, and a literature, literary and theatrical form that depicts suc ...
format, see '' Dialogus de oratoribus''),
Germania Germania ( ; ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: ''Free Germania''), or Germanic Barbaricum to distinguish it from the Roman province of the same name, was a large historical region in nort ...
(in ''De origine et situ Germanorum''), and the life of his father-in-law, Agricola (the general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain), mainly focusing on his campaign in
Britannia Britannia () is the national personification of United Kingdom, Britain as a helmeted female warrior holding a trident and shield. An image first used in classical antiquity, the Latin ''Britannia'' was the name variously applied to the Britis ...
('' De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae''). Tacitus's ''Annals'' are of interest for providing an early account of the
persecution of Christians The persecution of Christians can be History of Christianity, historically traced from the Christianity in the 1st century, first century of the Christian era to the Christianity in the 21st century, present day. Christian missionaries and Co ...
and the earliest extra-Biblical reference to the
crucifixion of Jesus The crucifixion and death of Jesus occurred in 1st-century Judea (Roman province), Judea, most likely in AD 30 or AD 33. It is described in the four canonical gospels, referred to in the New Testament epistles, attested to by #Other accoun ...
.


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. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate ...
, and an inscription found at Mylasa in
Caria Caria (; from Greek language, Greek: Καρία, ''Karia''; tr, Karya) was a region of western Anatolia extending along the coast from mid-Ionia (Mycale) south to Lycia and east to Phrygia. The Ionians, Ionian and Dorians, Dorian Greeks coloniz ...
. Tacitus was born in 56 or 57 to an equestrian 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 ...
(first name) are not known. In the letters of 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 (, ) is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class, the aristocracy (class), aristocrats. The term derives from the el, αριστοκρατία (), meaning 'rule of the best'. At t ...
families failed to survive the proscriptions which took place at the end of the
Republic A republic () is a "sovereign state, state in which Power (social and political), power rests with the people or their Representative democracy, representatives; specifically a state without a monarchy" and also a "government, or system of gov ...
, and Tacitus makes it clear that he owed his rank to the Flavian emperors (''Hist.'
1.1
. The claim that he was descended from 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. In his article on Tacitus in Pauly-Wissowa, I. Borzsak had conjectured that the historian was related to Thrasea Paetus and Etruscan family of Caecinii, about whom he spoke very highly. Furthermore, some later Caecinii bore cognomen Tacitus, which also could indicate some sort of relationship. It had been suggested that historian's mother was a daughter of Aulus Caecina Paetus, suffect consul of 37, and sister of Arria, wife of Thrasea.Caecina
Strachan stemma.
His father may have been the Cornelius Tacitus who served as procurator of Belgica and
Germania Germania ( ; ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: ''Free Germania''), or Germanic Barbaricum to distinguish it from the Roman province of the same name, was a large historical region in nort ...
;
Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/2479), called Pliny the Elder (), was a Roman Empire, Roman author, Natural history, naturalist and Natural philosophy, natural philosopher, and naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of t ...
mentions that Cornelius had a son who aged rapidly ( NHbr>7.76
, which implies an early death. There is no mention of Tacitus's 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 Narbonensis Gallia Narbonensis (Latin for "Gaul of Narbonne", from its chief settlement) was a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in Southern France. It was also known as Provincia Nostra ("Our Province"), because it was the ...
, 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 the northern part of Italy. It consists of eight administrative Regions ...
. His marriage to the daughter of Narbonensian senator Gnaeus Julius Agricola implies that he came from Gallia Narbonensis. Tacitus's 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 asked whether he was Italian or provincial, he gave an unclear answer and so was asked whether 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 Names of the Celts#Pronunciation, pronunciation for different usages) or Celtic peoples () are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry: Celtic a collection of Indo-Europea ...
. 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 (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuad ...
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 Empire, Roman educator and rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in Middle ages, medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. In English translation, he is usuall ...
( – ). In 77 or 78, he married Julia Agricola, daughter of the famous general Agricola. Little is known of their domestic life, save that Tacitus loved
hunting Hunting is the human activity, human practice of seeking, pursuing, capturing, or killing wildlife or feral animals. The most common reasons for humans to hunt are to harvest food (i.e. meat) and useful animal products (fur/hide (skin), hide, ...
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 AD 69 to 79. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empir ...
(r. 69–79), but entered political life as a
quaestor A ( , , ; "investigator") was a public official in Ancient Rome. There were various types of quaestors, with the title used to describe greatly different offices at different times. In the Roman Republic, quaestors were elected officials who ...
in 81 or 82 under
Titus Titus Caesar Vespasianus ( ; 30 December 39 – 13 September 81 AD) was Roman emperor from 79 to 81. A member of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death. Before becoming emperor, Titus gained renown as a milit ...
.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. It was designed for men of Roman senate, senatorial ...
'', becoming
praetor Praetor ( , ), also pretor, was the title granted by the government of Ancient Rome In modern historiography, ancient Rome refers to Roman civilisation from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the W ...
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 oracle, oracular utterances, set out in Ancient Greece, Greek hexameters, that, according to tradition, were purchased from a sibyl by the last king of Ancient Rome, Rome, Tarquin ...
'' and the Secular Games. He gained acclaim as a lawyer and as an orator; 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 ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. Initially, it was a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became here ...
, ''Tacitus'' ("silent"). He served in the provinces from to , either in command of a legion or in a civilian post. He and his property survived
Domitian Domitian (; la, Domitianus; 24 October 51 – 18 September 96) was a Roman emperor who reigned from 81 to 96. The son of Vespasian and the younger brother of Titus, his two predecessors on the throne, he was the last member of the Flavia ...
'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 (), in the modern English language, English usage of the word, is an autocracy, absolute ruler who is unrestrained by law, or one who has usurper, usurped a legitimate ruler's sovereignty. Often portrayed as cruel, tyrants may defen ...
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 to prison, before we gazed on the dying looks of Mauricus and Rusticus, before we were steeped in
Senecio ''Senecio'' is a genus of flowering plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae) that includes ragworts and groundsels. Variously circumscription (taxonomy), circumscribed taxonomically, the genus ''Senecio'' is one of the largest genera of flowerin ...
's innocent blood. Even
Nero Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ( ; born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68), was the fifth Roman emperor and final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, reigning from AD 54 unti ...
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 A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house An upper house is one of two Debate chamber, chambers of a bicameralism, bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house.''Bicameralism'' (1997) by George Tseb ...
, he became suffect consul in 97 during the reign of
Nerva Nerva (; originally Marcus Cocceius Nerva; 8 November 30 – 27 January 98) was Roman emperor from 96 to 98. Nerva became emperor when aged almost 66, after a lifetime of imperial service under Nero and the succeeding rulers of the Flavian dyn ...
, 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. 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 Traianus; 18 September 539/11 August 117) was Roman emperor from 98 to 117. Officially declared ''optimus princeps'' ("best ruler") by the Roman Senate, senate, Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emper ...
's reign (98–117). In 100, he and his friend Pliny the Younger prosecuted (
proconsul A proconsul was an official of ancient Rome who acted on behalf of a Roman consul, consul. A proconsul was typically a former consul. The term is also used in recent history for officials with delegated authority. In the Roman Republic, military ...
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 Asia (, ) is one of the world's most notable geographical regions, which is either considered a continent in its own right or a subcontinent of Eurasia, which shares the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with Africa Africa is ...
in western
Anatolia Anatolia (also Asia Minor), is a large peninsula in Western Asia and is the western-most extension of continental Asia. The land mass of Anatolia constitutes most of the territory of contemporary Turkey. Geographically, the Anatolian region i ...
, recorded in the inscription found at Mylasa mentioned above. A passage in the ''Annals'' fixes 116 as the '' terminus post quem'' 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'' reports that Emperor Marcus Claudius Tacitus (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'') * (98) '' De origine et situ Germanorum'' (''Germania'') * (102) '' Dialogus de oratoribus'' (''Dialogue on Oratory'') * (105) '' Historiae'' (''Histories'') * (117) '' Ab excessu divi Augusti'' (''Annals'')


History of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus

The '' Annals'' and the '' Histories'', 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 (born Gaius Octavius; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14), also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor; he reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He is known for being the founder of the Roman Pri ...
(14) to the death of
Domitian Domitian (; la, Domitianus; 24 October 51 – 18 September 96) was a Roman emperor who reigned from 81 to 96. The son of Vespasian and the younger brother of Titus, his two predecessors on the throne, he was the last member of the Flavia ...
(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, in the Latin Valley, Italy, west of Cassino and at an elevation of . Site of the Roman town of Casinum, it is widely known for its abbey, the first ho ...
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, was the first civil war of the Roman Empire, during which four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. It is considered an important interval, marking the transition from the ...
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 against the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( l ...
—a short
ethnographic Ethnography (from Greek language, Greek ''ethnos'' "folk, people, nation" and ''grapho'' "I write") is a branch of anthropology and the systematic study of individual cultures. Ethnography explores cultural phenomena from the point of view ...
survey of the ancient
Jews Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים, , ) 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 the age of the Israelites""The ...
, and it is an invaluable record of Roman attitudes towards them.


The ''Annals''

The ''Annals'', Tacitus's final work, covers the period from the death of
Augustus Caesar Augustus (born Gaius Octavius; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14), also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor; he reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He is known for being the founder of the Roman Pri ...
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 Julius Caesar Augustus (; 16 November 42 BC – 16 March AD 37) was the second Roman emperor. He reigned from AD 14 until 37, succeeding his stepfather, the first Roman emperor Augustus. Tiberius was born in Rome in 42 BC. His father ...
, and books 7–12 presumably covered the reigns of Caligula and
Claudius Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (; 1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was the fourth Roman emperor, ruling from AD 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Claudius was born to Nero Claudius Drusus, Drusu ...
. 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 Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings aro ...
, 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 or 33), also referred to as Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth (among other Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament, names and titles), was ...
, 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 belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
title: ''De Origine et situ Germanorum'') is an ethnographic work on the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire. The ''Germania'' fits within a classical ethnographic tradition which includes authors such as
Herodotus Herodotus ( ; grc, , }; BC) was an 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 in ...
and
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; ; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC), was a Roman people, Roman general and statesman. A member of the First Triumvirate, Caesar led the Roman armies in the Gallic Wars before defeating his political rival Pompey in Caes ...
. 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 that is enclosed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the North European Plain, North and Central European Plain. The sea stretches from 53°N to 66° ...
, such as the Fenni. 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's father-in-law; it also covers, briefly, the geography and ethnography of ancient Britain. As in the ''Germania'', Tacitus favorably contrasts the liberty of the native Britons 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. Hi ...
, ends by asserting, ''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 ...
. 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''; ; – after AD 119) was a Greek people, Greek Middle Platonism, Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, Biography, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo (D ...
. When he writes about a near defeat of the Roman army in ''Annals'' 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 anglicisation, anglicised as Sallust (; 86 – ), was a Roman Republic , Roman historian and politician from an Italian plebeian family. Probably born at Amiternum in the country of the Sabines, Sallust became ...
. 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's "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 ...
, and the increasing corruption of the governing classes 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—to placate their (rarely benign) emperor. Tacitus noted the increasing dependence of the emperor on the goodwill of his armies. The Julio-Claudians eventually gave way to generals, who followed Julius Caesar (and
Sulla Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (; 138–78 BC), commonly known as Sulla, was a Ancient Romans, Roman List of Roman generals, general and Politician, statesman. He won the first large-scale civil war in Roman history and became the first man of the ...
and
Pompey Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (; 29 September 106 BC – 28 September 48 BC), known in English as Pompey or Pompey the Great, was a leading Roman Republic, Roman general and statesman. He played a significant role in the tr ...
) in recognizing that military might could secure them the political power in Rome. (''Hist.'
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 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. 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, ''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 ...
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 ''Annals'' 1.1, where Tacitus laments the state of the historiography regarding the last four emperors of the
Julio-Claudian dynasty , native_name_lang=Latin, coat of arms=Great_Cameo_of_France-removebg.png, image_size=260px, caption=Great Cameo of France, The Great Cameo of France depicting emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero, type=Ancient Rome, Ancient Roman dynasty ...
, 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's 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 (occasionally anglicised as Ammian) (born , died 400) was a Roman soldier and historian A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned wit ...
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'' (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 and Pliny the Elder, who had written ''Bella Germaniae'' and a historical work which was the continuation of that of Aufidius Bassus. 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 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

* ''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: 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

(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) * 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. * 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:
* 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 1st-century Gallo-Roman people 1st-century Latin writers 1st-century historians 2nd-century Gallo-Roman people 2nd-century historians 2nd-century Latin 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