Cornelius Tacitus probably was of Gallic origin, in view of the frequent occurrence of his cognomen among the inhabitants of Gallia Narbonensis and Cispadane Gaul. Yet he wrote unflatteringly about the Gauls, whom he compared unfavorably with the Germanic peoples in De origine, situ, moribus, ac populis Germanorum (28, 29).
What emerges from his writings is his conservative, aristocratic mentality. He approves the priests' having decisional power in the assemblies of the Germanic peoples. He cherishes Rome's archaic values and the decemvirate that drafted laws and plebiscites. (Later, Rome's Olgunian Law [300 B.C.E.] allowed plebeians to accede to positions of pontiffs and augurs in the religious college.)
Son of a high government official in Gallia Belgica and in the two Germanias, he himself held the important positions of quaestor under Emperor Vespasian (69-79) and praetor under Emperor Domitian (81-96). Then, having married the daughter of Julius Agricola, conqueror of Britannia, he became imperial legate for the northwestern regions of the empire, which probably offered occasion for encounter with the Germanic peoples.
He was free to write only at the end of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties, an era marked by mad emperors accompanied by evil women scheming at their side. Perhaps this was why he sang the praises of Germanic women who, even though they were wives of princes and kings, wore simple dresses of unbleached fabric, accompanied their men to the edge of the field of battle, and inspired them to valiant action.
After the death of Emperor Domitian Tacitus gained the consulship and from 112 to 113 was proconsul of Asia. He died in the early years of Emperor Hadrian's reign.