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date: 28 June 2022

Tacitus (1), Roman historianlocked

Tacitus (1), Roman historianlocked

  • Ellen O'Gorman

Summary

Cornelius Tacitus, Roman historian, orator, and politician. His dates are usually assumed to be 56–120 ce and he is likely to have come from Narbonese Gaul. He was politically active from the reign of Vespasian to that of Trajan or Hadrian and was consul in 97 ce and proconsular governor of Asia in 112 ce. In the reigns of Nerva and Trajan he turned to historical writing, producing three short works (a biography, an ethnography, and a dialogue on oratory) and two long histories. The biography of his father-in-law Agricola (Agricola) includes extensive discussion of the province of Britain and Agricola’s campaigns there in 77–84 ce. The ethnography (Germania) focuses on Germany and the dialogue (Dialogus) investigates how oratory has changed in the Principate. The first of the longer works (Histories) starts with the civil war of 69 ce and treats the three emperors of the Flavian dynasty, probably ending with Domitian’s assassination in 96 ce. Only the first five books of this work, covering 69–70 ce, survive. The second work (Annals) goes back to the Julio-Claudian dynasty and starts with the death of Augustus in 14 ce, ending with Nero’s suicide in 68 ce. Five of the first six books survive, covering 14–37 ce, as do six of the remaining twelve books, covering 47–66 ce. Tacitus’s work is a significant source for the first two dynasties of Roman emperors. His analysis of imperial politics is distinctive for its focus on the appearances which mask the realities of power. His style is characterized by unusual sentence construction, irony, and paradox. Tacitus’s influence on the political thought of Early Modern Europe was considerable, especially in the 17th century.

Subjects

  • Latin Literature
  • Roman History and Historiography

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Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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