Publius Cornelius Tacitus (Roman Historian)

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Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56 – c. 120 AD) was a Roman senator, public official, and perhaps most notably a historian of the Roman Empire. Not much informs us of the details of Tacitus’ life although he was born into an equestrian status family, married a woman by the name Julia Agricola, and enjoyed hunting as a hobby.

Tacitus was also a friend of the commander Pliny the Younger who seemed to have a respect and admiration for him. He was well educated, especially in oratory and rhetoric, and his education opened the doors to a political career in which he experienced success as he rose through the ranks.

Tacitus was a particularly reputable orator who, along with Pliny the Younger, prosecuted Marius Priscus for his misgovernment in Africa. It wasn’t long after this that Tacitus would begin focusing on his writing and literary skills. Where his writing was concerned, he was known to be gifted in describing important figures (notably Nero and Galba) succinctly in just a few words and phrases without it doing an injustice to his message. Despite some criticism, historians view Tacitus as an important historical source for 1st century Rome because he consulted earlier materials for his own information and did a great deal of research on his interests of writing.

Tacitus penned several important works. The Agricola (c. 98 AD) is a biography of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Tacitus’ father-in-law and the Roman general and Governor of Britain from c. 77 – 83 AD. Germania (98 AD) describes the Germanic tribes living outside of the Roman Empire. Tacitus identifies the locations of these tribes and explains their ancestry, physical appearance, government and leadership systems, battle tactics, and marriages. Dialogus de oratoribus (c. 102 AD), differing significantly in style to Tacitus’ other writings, is a work on the art of rhetorical and philosophical arguments with a criticism of education in the culture at the time. Histories (105 AD) chronicles the Roman Empire under the Flavian emperors from the year 69 to 96 AD. Annals (117 AD), which was supposed to be a single title alongside Histories, provides information on the Roman Empire from 14 to 68 AD, running from the death of Augustus (14 AD) to the suicide of Nero (68 AD). Annals also mentions the execution of Jesus Christ by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate and identifies the existence of Christians in 1st century Rome.


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