The Annals of Imperial Rome

The Annals of Imperial Rome

The Annals of Imperial Rome

The Annals of Imperial Rome

Excerpt

The powerful personality of Cornelius Tacitus has survived in his writings, but we know extremely little of his life or his origin. Indeed, we are not even sure whether the first of his three names was Publius or Gaius. Perhaps his family came from the south of France, or Spain. If so, Tacitus -- like other leading Latin writers -- may not have been of wholly Italian ancestry. But we have no conclusive evidence. His father may have been an imperial agent at Trier or at Cologne, and paymaster-general for the armies on the Rhine; but again we are not certain.

At all events, Tacitus was born in about A.D. 55 (when Claudius was emperor). He lived and worked until the end or nearly the end of the emperor Trajan's reign (A.D. 98-117); it is thought likely that Trajan died before Tacitus. Much of the official career of Tacitus as a senator took place in a time of unhappiness and even terror for high officials, the black years of Domitian (A.D. 81-96). But Tacitus survived to enjoy the highest metropolitan post, the consulship, in A.D. 97, and the governorship of the great province of western Anatolia ('Asia') -- the climax of a senator's career -- some fifteen years later.

He had received a careful Roman education. In his day that meant, particularly, an elaborate series of exercises in different kinds of public speaking. This training made him into an impressive and famous orator. None of his speeches have come down to us, but his first surviving work -- if indeed it is his (not everyone agrees about this) -- is an illuminating Dialogue analysing the reasons why oratory had declined during the century and more that had elapsed since the death of Cicero.

Next Tacitus began to make it clear to the world that, even if oratory could never achieve its past glories again, the same was by no means true of history. The monographs with which he initiated his career as historian, the Agricola and Germania, were published within . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.