Tacitus, Roman historian (55 - 120 AD)

Tacitus, Roman historian (55 - 120 AD)

Among the Latin historians of Antiquity, Tacit is probably one of the most famous. However, little is known about his life, apart from what he has given us about himself in his books and correspondence. Tacitus held relatively important posts in the Empire, until he became a senator. He thus follows in the line of a Salluste, senator historian of the 1st century BC. J-C. Tacitus’s work is valuable, both as a source for Roman history and for its remarkable prose. He is the author of two history books: the stories and the annals.

Tacitus, a senator

Little is known about the origins of Tacitus, except for his work and the testimony of Pliny the Younger, but his kindness is widespread. Publius Cornelius Tacitus was born in sapling around 58 AD. J-C; the emperor is Nero at this time. Tacitus comes from a patrician family, the Cornelii, who held important positions in Rome. Its cognomen, on the other hand, is rarer. Historians believe that Tacitus could be the son of a homonymous procurator of Gaul Belgium, even if the future historian was born in Narbonne.

Its equestrian origin is in any case no doubt. By his marriage to the daughter of the Gallo-Roman senator C. Iulius Agricola, he could begin his career during the reign of Vespasian, at the age of twenty. He was thus quaestor under Titus (81), aedile or tribune of the plebs (84-85) then praetor in 88, under Domitian.

After spending several years outside Rome, and thus escaping the turbulent end of Domitian's reign, he became Suffect consul under his ephemeral successor, Nerva, in 97. Finally, he was proconsul in Asia in 112-113 (Trajan was emperor ), and died a few years later, at the start of Hadrian's reign.

The work of Tacitus

His personal journey leads Tacitus to adopt a discourse that can be described as "pro-Senate", which is evident in his work. This was formed mainly during the period of crisis of the Empire, at the end of the reign of Domitian (96). Tacitus therefore publishes a Agricola's life (her stepfather) in 98, the Germany probably the same year, and a Le Dialogue des orateurs Dialogus de oratoribus. At the start of Trajan's reign, the historian wonders about the monarchical abuses that marked previous periods, and he publishes his Stories, which cover the period from 69 to the end of the Flavians. He relies for his sources on Pliny the Elder, among others.

From 110, he set about his great work, the Annals, a pessimistic critique of the principate through the study of the Julio-Claudians from Tiberius (14-37), which has come down to us in a incomplete fashion.

His success and his immediate posterity must be put into perspective, despite the efforts of his friend Pliny the Younger. Apart from the doubtful History Augustus in the 4th century, very little mention is made of it as a source by its historian successors.

Tacitus was finally rediscovered during the Renaissance by Juste Lipse (1547-1606), and his pessimism, as well as his reflection on the principate, inspired by the Stoics, offered him growing success. Today, along with Quinte-Curce, Suetonius and Titus Live, he is an essential source for Roman history, also hailed for his remarkable prose, celebrated until Racine.

To read

- P. Grimal, Tacite, Fayard, 1990.

- X. Darcos, Tacitus, his truths are ours, Plon, 2007.

- Complete works of Tacitus. Robert Laffont, 2014.


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