Publius, The sources of Tacitus

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Summary

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (; ; c. AD 56 – after 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors (AD 69). These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in AD 14 to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War in AD 70. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including a gap in the Annals that is four books long.

Details

Tacitus makes use of the official sources of the Roman state: the acta senatus (the minutes of the session of the Senate) and the acta diurna populi Romani (a collection of the acts of the government and news of the court and capital). He also read collections of emperors' speeches, such as Tiberius and Claudius. He is generally seen as a scrupulous historian who paid careful attention to his sources. The minor inaccuracies in the Annals may be due to Tacitus dying before he had finished (and therefore proof-read) his work.

Tacitus cites some of his sources directly, among them Cluvius Rufus, Fabius Rusticus and Pliny the Elder, who had written Bella Germaniae and a historical work which was the continuation of that of Aufidius Bassus. Tacitus also uses collections of letters (epistolarium). He also took information from exitus illustrium virorum. These were a collection of books by those who were antithetical to the emperors. They tell of sacrifices by martyrs to freedom, especially the men who committed suicide. While he placed no value on the Stoic theory of suicide and views suicides as ostentatious and politically useless, Tacitus often gives prominence to speeches made by those about to commit suicide, for example Cremutius Cordus' speech in Ann. IV, 34-35.

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  • WikipediaComprehensive links to Latin text and translations in various languagesComplete works, Latin and English translation

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