Tacitus

13 November 2008
Domitian (Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla, Spain)

Domitian (Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla, Spain)

The Roman historian Tacitus (c.55-c.120) wrote three delightful monographs (Agricola, Germania, and the Dialogue on the Orators) and two monumental histories: the Histories and the Annals, a dark work that is his masterpiece. His central theme is how a wealthy man had to act in an age of tyranny: he had duties towards society that he could not honorably evade, but this was not without danger – emperors were jealous and cruel.

For centuries, scholars have praised Tacitus’ style and the depth of his analysis. Some of this praise is exaggerated (arguably, Cassius Dio is a better, less biased historian), and it cannot be denied that the ghost of Domitian, who had acted despotically but to whom Tacitus owed his career, hovers over Tacitus’ accounts of other reigns. Still, he is certainly an efficient writer who knows how to employ stereotypes to create a story that is utterly unputdownable.

I have now added an article on Tacitus to my website, and you can find it here; an earlier version was published in Ancient Warfare.

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