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Tacitus (fictitious portrait)
Born ca. AD 56
Died ca. 117
Occupation Senator, consul, governor, historian
Genres History
Subjects History, biography, oratory
Literary movement Silver Age of Latin

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 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. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in AD 14 to (presumably) the death of emperor Domitian in AD 96. There are enormous lacunae in the surviving texts, including one four books long in the Annals.

Other works by Tacitus discuss oratory (in dialogue format, see Dialogus de oratoribus), Germania (in De origine et situ Germanorum), and biographical notes about his father-in-law Agricola, primarily during his campaign in Britannia (see De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae).

An author writing in the latter part of the Silver Age of Latin literature, his work is distinguished by a boldness and sharpness of wit, and a compact and sometimes unconventional use of Latin.



While Tacitus' works contain much information about his world, details regarding his personal life are scarce. What little is known comes from scattered hints throughout his work, the letters of his friend and admirer Pliny the Younger, an inscription found at Mylasa in Caria,[1] and educated guesswork.

Tacitus was born in 56 or 57 to an equestrian family;[2] like many Latin authors of the Golden and Silver Ages, he was from the provinces, probably either northern Italy, Gallia Narbonensis, or Hispania. The exact place and date of his birth are not known, while his praenomen (first name) is similarly a mystery; in the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris his name is Gaius, but in the major surviving manuscript of his work his name is given as Publius.[3] (One scholar's suggestion of Sextus has gained no traction.)[4]


Family and early life

Tacitus is thought to have come from Gallia Narbonensis.

The older aristocratic families were largely destroyed during the proscriptions at the end of the Republic, and Tacitus is clear that he owes his rank to the Flavian emperors (Hist. 1.1). The theory that he descended from a freedman finds no support apart from his statement, in an invented speech, that many senators and knights were descended from freedmen (Ann. 13.27), and is dismissed by prominent historians.[5]

His father may have been the Cornelius Tacitus who was procurator of Belgica and Germania; Pliny the Elder mentions that Cornelius had a son who grew and aged rapidly (N.H. 7.76), and implies an early death. If Cornelius was Tacitus' father and since there is no mention of Tacitus suffering such a condition in the surviving record, it would likely refer to a brother instead.[6] This connection, and the friendship between the younger Pliny and Tacitus, led many scholars to the conclusion that the two families were of similar class, means, and background: equestrians, of significant wealth, and from provincial families.[7]

The province of his birth is unknown and has been variously conjectured as Gallia Belgica, Gallia Narbonensis, or even northern Italy.[8] His marriage to the daughter of the Narbonensian senator Gnaeus Julius Agricola may indicate that he, too, came from Gallia Narbonensis. Tacitus' dedication to Fabius Iustus in the Dialogus may indicate a connection with Spain, while his friendship with Pliny indicates northern Italy.[9] None of this evidence is conclusive. No evidence exists that Pliny's friends from northern Italy knew Tacitus, nor do Pliny's letters ever hint that the two men had a common background.[10] Indeed, the strongest piece of evidence is in Pliny Book 9, Letter 23, which reports that when Tacitus was asked if he were Italian or provincial, upon giving an unclear answer, was further asked if he were Tacitus or Pliny. Since Pliny was from Italy, some historians infer that Tacitus was from the provinces, possibly Gallia Narbonensis.[11]

His ancestry, his skill in oratory, and his sympathetic depiction of barbarians who resisted Roman rule (e.g., Ann. 2.9), have led some to suggest that he was a Celt; the Celts had occupied Gaul before the Romans, were famous for their skill in oratory, and had been subjugated by Rome.[12]

Public life, marriage, and literary career

As a young man, Tacitus studied rhetoric in Rome to prepare for a career in law and politics; like Pliny, he may have studied under Quintilian.[13] In 77 or 78 he married Julia Agricola, daughter of the famous general Agricola;[14] little is known of their home life, save that Tacitus loved hunting and the outdoors.[15] He started his career (probably the latus clavus, mark of the senator)[16] under Vespasian,[17] but it was in 81 or 82, under Titus, that he entered political life, as quaestor.[18] He advanced steadily through the cursus honorum, becoming praetor in 88 and a quindecemvir, a member of the priest college in charge of the Sibylline Books and the Secular games.[19] He gained acclaim as a lawyer and an orator; his skill in public speaking gave a marked irony to his cognomen: Tacitus ("silent").

He served in the provinces from ca. 89 to ca. 93 either in command of a legion or in a civilian post.[20] His person and property survived Domitian's reign of terror (81–96), but the experience left him jaded and grim (perhaps ashamed at his own complicity), and gave him the hatred of tyranny evident in his works.[21] The Agricola, chs. 4445, is illustrative:

Agricola was spared those later years during which Domitian, leaving now no interval or breathing space of time, but, as it were, with one continuous blow, drained the life-blood of the Commonwealth... It was not long before our hands dragged Helvidius to prison, before we gazed on the dying looks of Manricus and Rusticus, before we were steeped in Senecio's innocent blood. Even Nero turned his eyes away, and did not gaze upon the atrocities which he ordered; with Domitian it was the chief part of our miseries to see and to be seen, to know that our sighs were being recorded...

From his seat in the Senate he became suffect consul in 97 during the reign of Nerva, being the first of his family to do so. During his tenure he reached the height of his fame as an orator when he delivered the funeral oration for the famous veteran soldier Lucius Verginius Rufus.[22]

In the following year he wrote and published the Agricola and Germania, announcing the beginnings of the literary endeavors that would occupy him until his death.[23] Afterwards he absented himself from public life, but returned during Trajan's reign. In 100, he, along with his friend Pliny the Younger, prosecuted Marius Priscus (proconsul of Africa) for corruption. Priscus was found guilty and sent into exile; Pliny wrote a few days later that Tacitus had spoken "with all the majesty which characterizes his usual style of oratory".[24]

A lengthy absence from politics and law followed while he wrote his two major works: the Histories and the Annals. In 112 or 113 he held the highest civilian governorship, that of the Roman province of Asia in Western Anatolia, recorded in the inscription found at Mylasa mentioned above. A passage in the Annals fixes 116 as the terminus post quem of his death, which may have been as late as 125 or even 130. At all events it seems certain that he survived both Pliny and Trajan.[25] It is unknown whether he had any children, though the Augustan History reports that the emperor Marcus Claudius Tacitus claimed him for an ancestor and provided for the preservation of his works—but like so much of the Augustan History, this story may be fraudulent.[26]


The title page of Justus Lipsius's 1598 edition of the complete works of Tacitus, bearing the stamps of the Bibliotheca Comunale in Empoli, Italy.

Five works ascribed to Tacitus have survived (albeit with some lacunae), the largest of which are the Annals and the Histories. The dates are approximate:

Major works

The Annals and the Histories, originally published separately, were meant to form a single edition of thirty books.[27] Although Tacitus wrote the Histories before the Annals, the events in the Annals precede the Histories; together they form a continuous narrative from the death of Augustus (14) to the death of Domitian (96). Though most has been lost, what remains is an invaluable record of the era. When it is remembered that the first half of the Annals survived in a single copy of a manuscript from Corvey Abbey, and the second half from a single copy of a manuscript from Monte Cassino, it is remarkable that they survived at all.

The Histories

In an early chapter of the Agricola, Tacitus said he wished to speak about the years of Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan. In the Histories the scope has changed; Tacitus says that he will deal with the age of Nerva and Trajan at a later time. Instead, he will cover the period from the civil wars of the Year of Four Emperors and end with the despotism of the Flavians. Only the first four books and twenty-six chapters of the fifth book survive, covering the year 69 and the first part of 70. The work is believed to have continued up to the death of Domitian on September 18, 96. The fifth book contains—as a prelude to the account of Titus's suppression of the Great Jewish Revolt—a short ethnographic survey of the ancient Jews and is an invaluable record of the educated Romans' attitude towards that people.

The Annals

The Annals was Tacitus' final work, covering the period from the death of Augustus Caesar in 14 AD. He wrote at least sixteen books, but books 7–10 and parts of books 5, 6, 11 and 16 are missing. Book 6 ends with the death of Tiberius and books 7–12 presumably covered the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. The remaining books cover the reign of Nero, perhaps until his death in June 68 or until the end of that year, to connect with the Histories. The second half of book 16 is missing (ending with the events of 66). We do not know whether Tacitus completed the work or whether he finished the other works that he had planned to write; he died before he could complete his planned histories of Nerva and Trajan, and no record survives of the work on Augustus Caesar and the beginnings of the Empire with which he had planned to finish his work. The Annals is also among the first-known secular-historic records to mention Jesus (see Tacitus on Christ), which Tacitus does in connection with Nero's persecution of the Christians.

Annals 15.44, in the second Medicean manuscript

Minor works

Tacitus wrote three minor works on various subjects: the Agricola, a biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola; the Germania, a monograph on the lands and tribes of barbarian Germania; and the Dialogus, a dialogue on the art of rhetoric.


The Germania (Latin title: De Origine et situ Germanorum) is an ethnographic work on the diverse set of people Tacitus believed to be Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire. Ethnography had a long and distinguished heritage in classical literature, and the Germania fits squarely within the tradition established by authors from Herodotus to Julius Caesar. Tacitus had written a similar, albeit shorter, piece in his Agricola (chapters 10–13). The book begins with a description of the lands, laws, and customs of the tribes (chapters 1–27); it then segues into descriptions of individual tribes, beginning with those dwelling closest to Roman lands and ending on the uttermost shores of the Baltic Sea, with a description of the primitive and savage Fenni and the unknown tribes beyond them.

Agricola (De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae)

The Agricola (written ca. 98) recounts the life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, an eminent Roman general and Tacitus' father-in-law; it also covers, briefly, the geography and ethnography of ancient Britain. As in the Germania, Tacitus favorably contrasts the liberty of the native Britons with the corruption and tyranny of the Empire; the book also contains eloquent and vicious polemics against the rapacity and greed of Rome, in one of which Tacitus says is from a speech by Calgacus and ends with Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. — Oxford Revised Translation).


The style of the Dialogus follows Cicero's models for Latin rhetoric.

There is uncertainty about when Tacitus wrote Dialogus de oratoribus , but it was probably after the Agricola and the Germania. Many characteristics set it apart from the other works of Tacitus, so that its authenticity has been questioned, although it is still grouped with the Agricola and the Germania in the manuscript tradition. The way of speaking in the Dialogus seems closer to Cicero's proceedings, refined but not prolix, which inspired the teaching of Quintilian; it lacks the incongruities that are typical of Tacitus' major historical works. It may have been written when Tacitus was young; its dedication to Fabius Iustus[28] would thus give the date of publication, but not the date of writing. More probably, the unusually classical style may be explained by the fact that the Dialogus is a work dealing with rhetoric. For works in the rhetoric genre, the structure, the language, and the style of Cicero were the usual models.

The sources of Tacitus

Tacitus used 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 read collections of emperors' speeches, such as Tiberius and Claudius. Generally, Tacitus was a scrupulous historian who paid careful attention to his historical works. The minor inaccuracies in the Annals may be due to Tacitus dying before finishing (and therefore proofreading) his work. He used a variety of historical and literary sources; he used them freely and he chose from sources of varied opinions.

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 used some collections of letters (epistolarium) and various notes. 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 the sacrifice of the martyr to freedom, especially the men who committed suicide, following the theory of the Stoics. While he placed no value on the Stoic theory of suicide, Tacitus used accounts of famous suicides to give a dramatic tone to his stories. These suicides seemed, to him, ostentatious and politically useless; however, he gives prominence to the speeches of some of those about to commit suicide, for example Cremutius Cordus' speech in Ann. IV, 34-35.

Literary style

Tacitus' writings are known for their deep-cutting and dense prose, seldom glossy, in contrast to the more placable style of some of his contemporaries, like Plutarch. Describing a near defeat of the Roman army in Ann. I, 63 Tacitus does apply gloss, but does so by the brevity with which he describes the end of the hostilities, than by embellishing phrases.

In most of his writings he keeps to a chronological ordering of his narration, with only seldom an outline of the "bigger picture", and leaves the reader to construct that picture for himself. Nonetheless, when he does sketch the bigger picture, for example, in the opening paragraphs of the Annals - summarizing the situation at the end of the reign of Augustus - he uses a few condensed phrases to take the reader to the heart of the story.

Approach to history

Tacitus' historical style combines various approaches to history into a method of his own (owing some debt to Sallust): seamlessly blending straightforward descriptions of events, pointed moral lessons, and tightly-focused dramatic accounts, his historiography contains deep, and often pessimistic, insights into the workings of the human mind and the nature of power.

Tacitus' own declaration regarding his approach to history is famous (Ann. I,1):

inde consilium mihi ... tradere ... sine ira et studio, quorum causas procul habeo.   Hence my purpose is to relate ... without either anger or zeal, from any motives to which I am far removed.

There has been much scholarly discussion about Tacitus' "neutrality" (or "partiality" to others, which would make the quote above no more than a figure of speech).

Throughout his writing, Tacitus is concerned with the balance of power between the Senate and the Emperors, corruption and the growing tyranny among the governing classes of Rome as they adjust to the new imperial régime. In Tacitus' view, they squandered their cultural traditions of free speech and independence to placate the often bemused (and rarely benign) emperor.

Tacitus explored the emperors' increasing dependence on the goodwill of the armies to secure the principes. The internecine murders of the Julio-Claudians eventually gave way to opportunist generals. These generals, backed by the legions they commanded, followed Julius Caesar's example (and that of Sulla and Pompey) in realising that military might could secure them the political power in Rome. Tacitus believed this realisation came with the death of Nero, (Hist.1.4)

Welcome as the death of Nero had been in the first burst of joy, yet it had not only roused various emotions in Rome, among the Senators, the people, or the soldiery of the capital, it had also excited all the legions and their generals; for now had been divulged that secret of the empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome.

Tacitus' political career was largely spent under the emperor Domitian; his experience of the tyranny, corruption, and decadence prevalent in the era (81–96) may explain his bitter and ironic political analysis. He warned against the dangers of unaccountable power, against the love of power untempered by principle, and against the popular apathy and corruption, engendered by the wealth of the empire, which allowed such evils to flourish. The experience of Domitian's tyrannical reign is generally also seen as the cause of the sometimes unfairly bitter and ironic cast to his portrayal of the Julio-Claudian emperors.

Nonetheless the image he builds of Tiberius throughout the first six books of the Annals is neither exclusively bleak nor approving: most scholars analyse the image of Tiberius as predominantly positive in the first books, becoming predominantly negative in the following books relating the intrigues of Sejanus. Even then, the entrance of Tiberius in the first chapters of the first book is a crimson tale dominated by hypocrisy by and around the new emperor coming to power; and in the later books some kind of respect for the wisdom and cleverness of the old emperor, keeping out of Rome to secure his position, is often transparent.

In general Tacitus does not fear to give words of praise and words of rejection to the same person, often explaining openly which he thinks the commendable and which the despicable properties. Not conclusively taking sides for or against the persons he describes is his hallmark, and led thinkers in later times to interpret his works as well as a defense of an imperial system, as a rejection of the same (see Tacitean studies, Black vs. Red Tacitists). A better illustration of Tacitus' "sine ira et studio" is scarcely imaginable.

Prose style

Tacitus' skill with written Latin is unsurpassed; no other author is considered his equal, except perhaps for Cicero.[citation needed] His style differs both from the prevalent style of the Silver Age and from that of the Golden Age; though it has a calculated grandeur and eloquence (largely thanks to Tacitus' education in rhetoric), it is extremely concise, even epigrammatic—the sentences are rarely flowing or beautiful, but their point is always clear. The same style has been both derided as "harsh, unpleasant, and thorny" and praised as "grave, concise, and pithily eloquent".

His historical works focus on the psyches and inner motivations of the characters, often with penetrating insight—though it is questionable how much of his insight is correct, and how much is convincing only because of his rhetorical skill. He is at his best when exposing hypocrisy and dissimulation; for example, he follows a narrative recounting Tiberius' refusal of the title pater patriae by recalling the institution of a law forbidding any "treasonous" speech or writings—and the frivolous prosecutions which resulted (Annals, 1.72). Elsewhere (Annals 4.64–66) he compares Tiberius' public distribution of fire relief to his failure to stop the perversions and abuses of justice which he had begun. Though this kind of insight has earned him praise, he has also been criticized for ignoring the larger context of the events which he describes. Of course, Tacitus wrote about comparatively recent events; whereas we have the benefit of the hindsight of twenty centuries.

Tacitus owes the most, both in language and in method, to Sallust; Ammianus Marcellinus is the later historian whose work most closely approaches him in style.

Studies and reception history

From Pliny the Younger's 7th Letter (to Tacitus), §33:

Auguror nec me fallit augurium, historias tuas immortales futuras.   I predict, and my predictions do not fail me, that your histories will be immortal.

Tacitus is remembered first and foremost as Rome's greatest historian. Encyclopædia Britannica opined that he "ranks beyond dispute in the highest place among men of letters of all ages". His work has been read for its moral instruction, its dramatic narrative, and its prose style; but it is as a political theorist that he has been, and remains, most influential outside the field of history.[29] The political lessons taken from his work fall roughly into two camps, as identified by Giuseppe Toffanin: the "red Tacitists", who used him to support republican ideals, and the "black Tacitists", those who read him as a lesson in Machiavellian realpolitik.[30]

Though his work is the most reliable source for the history of his era, its factual accuracy is occasionally questioned: the Annals are based in part on secondary sources of unknown reliability, and there are some obvious mistakes, for instance confusing the two daughters of Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, both named Antonia).[31] The Histories, written from primary documents and intimate knowledge of the Flavian period, is thought to be more accurate, though Tacitus' hatred of Domitian seemingly colored its tone and interpretations.

See also


  1. ^ OGIS 487, first brought to light in Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, 1890, pp. 621–623
  2. ^ Since he was appointed to the quaestorship during Titus's short rule (see note below) and twenty-five was the minimum age for the position, the date of his birth can be fixed with some accuracy
  3. ^ See Oliver, 1951, for an analysis of the manuscript from which the name Publius is taken; see also Oliver, 1977, which examines the evidence for each suggested praenomen (the well-known Gaius and Publius, the lesser-known suggestions of Sextus and Quintus) before settling on Publius as the most likely.
  4. ^ Oliver, 1977, cites an article by Harold Mattingly in Rivista storica dell'Antichità, 2 (1972) 169–185
  5. ^ Syme, 1958, pp. 612–613; Gordon, 1936, pp. 145–146
  6. ^ Syme, 1958, p. 60, 613; Gordon, 1936, p. 149; Martin, 1981, p. 26
  7. ^ Syme, 1958, p. 63
  8. ^ Michael Grant in Introduction to Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, p. xvii; Herbert W. Benario in Introduction to Tacitus, Germany, p. 1.
  9. ^ Syme, 1958, pp. 614–616
  10. ^ Syme, 1958, pp. 616–619
  11. ^ Syme, 1958, p. 619; Gordon, 1936, p. 145
  12. ^ Gordon, 1936, pp. 150–151; Syme, 1958, pp. 621–624
  13. ^ That he studied rhetoric and law is known from the Dialogus, ch. 2; see also Martin, 1981, p. 26; Syme, 1958, pp. 114–115
  14. ^ Agricola, 9
  15. ^ Pliny, Letters 1.6, 9.10; Benario, 1975, pp. 15, 17; Syme, 1958, pp. 541–542
  16. ^ Syme, 1958, p. 63; Martin, 1981, pp. 26–27
  17. ^ (1.1)
  18. ^ His debt to Titus is stated in the Histories (1.1); since Titus's rule was short, these are the only years possible.
  19. ^ In the Annals (11.11) he mentions that, as praetor, he assisted in the Secular Games held by Domitian, which are dated precisely to 88. See Syme, 1958, p. 65; Martin, 1981, p. 27; Benario in his Introduction to Tacitus, Germany, p. 1.
  20. ^ The Agricola (45.5) indicates that Tacitus and his wife were absent at the time of Julius Agricola's death in 93. For his occupation during this time see Syme, 1958, p. 68; Benario, 1975, p. 13; Dudley, 1968, pp. 15–16; Martin, 1981, p. 28; Mellor, 1993, p. 8
  21. ^ For the effects on Tacitus's ideology see Dudley, 1968, p. 14; Mellor, 1993, pp. 8–9
  22. ^ Pliny, Letters, 2.1 (English); Benario in his Introduction to Tacitus, Germany, pp. 1-2.
  23. ^ In the Agricola (3) he announces what must be the beginning of his first great project: the Histories. See Dudley, 1968, p. 16
  24. ^ Pliny, Letters 2.11
  25. ^ Grant in his Introduction to Tacitus, Annals, p. xvii; Benario in his Introduction to Tacitus, Germania, p. 2. Annals, 2.61, says that the Roman Empire "now extends to the Red Sea". If by mare rubrum he means the Persian Gulf, as is possible, then the passage must have been written after Trajan's eastern conquests in 116, but before Hadrian abandoned the new territories in 117. This may indicate only the date of publication for the first books of the Annals; Tacitus himself could have lived well into Hadrian's reign, and there is no reason to suppose that he did not. See Dudley, 1968, p. 17; Mellor, 1993, p. 9; Mendell, 1957, p. 7; Syme, 1958, p. 473; against this traditional interpretation, e.g., Goodyear, 1981, pp. 387-393.
  26. ^ Augustan History, Tacitus X. Scholarly opinion on this story is divided as to whether it is "a confused and worthless rumor" (Mendell, 1957, p. 4) or "pure fiction" (Syme, 1958, p. 796). Sidonius Apollinaris reports (Letters, 4.14; cited in Syme, 1958, p. 796) that Polemius, a 5th century Gallo-Roman aristocrat, descended from Tacitus—but this too, says Syme (ibid.) is of little use.
  27. ^ Jerome's commentary on the Book of Zechariah (14.1, 2; quoted in Mendell, 1957, p. 228) says that Tacitus's history was extant triginta voluminibus, 'in thirty volumes'.
  28. ^ A consul of AD 102. Grant in his Introduction to Tacitus, Annals, p. xviii.
  29. ^ Mellor, 1995, p. xvii
  30. ^ Burke, 1969, pp. 162–163
  31. ^ Suetonius, working from sources likewise often not now known, makes an occasional slip as well.
  32. ^ [1]


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  • Haverfield, F. "Tacitus during the Late Roman Period and the Middle Ages". The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 6. (1916), pp. 196–201.
  • Haynes, Holly. The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on imperial Rome (Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press, 2003) ISBN 0-520-23650-5
  • Krebs, Christopher B. Negotiatio Germaniae. Tacitus' Germania und Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Giannantonio Campano, Conrad Celtis und Heinrich Bebel. Hypomnemata 158. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005. Pp. 284. ISBN 3-525-25257-9.
  • Löfstedt, Einar. "The Style of Tacitus", in Idem, Roman Literary Portraits, transl. by P.M. Fraser (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), pp.157–180.
  • Luce, T.J., and Woodman, Antony J. (eds.) Tacitus and the Tacitean Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) ISBN 0-691-06988-3
  • Malloch, S.J.V. "The End of the Rhine Mutiny in Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio". The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 54 (2004), pp. 198–210.
  • Marsh, Frank Burr. "Tacitus and aristocratic tradition". Classical Philology, Vol. 21 (1926), pp. 289–310.
  • Martin, Ronald. "The Leiden manuscript of Tacitus". The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 14 (1964), pp. 109–119.
  • Martin, Ronald. Tacitus (London: Batsford, 1981)
  • Martin, Ronald. "Tacitus and the Death of Augustus". The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 5 (1955), pp. 123–128.
  • Mattingly, H.B. "Tacitus' praenomen: the politics of a moderate". Rivista storica dell’antichità, Vol. 2 (1972), pp. 169–185.
  • Mellor, Ronald. Tacitus (London: Routledge, 1993) ISBN 0-415-90665-2
  • Mellor, Ronald (ed.). Tacitus: The Classical Heritage (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995) ISBN 0-8153-0933-3
  • Mendell, Clarence. Tacitus: The Man and His Work. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957) ISBN 0-208-00818-7
  • Miller, Norma P. "The Claudian Tablet and Tacitus: A Reconsideration". Rheinisches Museum, Vol. 99 (1956), pp. 304–315.
  • Miller, Norma P. "Dramatic speech in Tacitus". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 85 (1964), pp. 279–296.
  • Miller, Norma P. "Tiberius Speaks: An Examination of the Utterances Ascribed to Him in the Annals of Tacitus". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 89 (1968), pp. 1–19.
  • Momigliano, Arnaldo. "The First Political Commentary on Tacitus". The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 37 (1947), pp. 91–101.
  • Murgia, C. "The Date of Tacitus' Dialogus". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 84 (1980), pp. 99–125.
  • Murgia, C. "Pliny's Letters and the Dialogus". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 89 (1985), pp. 171–206.
  • O'Gorman, Ellen. Irony and Misreading in the Annals of Tacitus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) ISBN 0-521-66056-4
  • Oliver, Revilo P. "The First Medicean MS of Tacitus and the Titulature of Ancient Books". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 82 (1951), pp. 232–261.
  • Oliver, Revilo P. "The Praenomen of Tacitus". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 98, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 64–70.
  • Persival, J. "Tacitus and the Principate". Greece & Rome, Vol. 27 (1980), pp. 119–133.
  • Reid, James Smith. "Tacitus as a historian". The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 11 (1921), pp. 191–199.
  • Rutland, L. "The Tacitean Germanicus. Suggestions for a re-evaluation". Rheinisches Museum, Vol. 130 (1987), pp. 153–163.
  • Sage, M.M. "Tacitus and the accession of Tiberius". The Ancient Society, Vol. 13/14 (1982/83), pp. 293–321.
  • Schellhase, Kenneth C. Tacitus in Renaissance Political Thought (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1976) ISBN 0-226-73700-4
  • Shatzman, I. "Tacitean rumours". Latomus, Vol. 33 (1974), pp.549–578.
  • Shotter, D.C.A. "Tacitus, Tiberius and Germanicus". Historia, Vol. 17 (1968), pp. 194–214.
  • Sinclaire, Patrick. Tacitus the Sententious Historian: A sociology of rhetoric in Annales 1-6 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995) ISBN 0-271-01333-8
  • Syme, Ronald. "How Tacitus Wrote Annals I-III", in Idem, Roman Papers, Vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 1014–1042.
  • Syme, Ronald. Tacitus, Volumes 1 and 2. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958) (reprinted in 1985 by the same publisher, with the ISBN 0-19-814327-3) is the definitive study of his life and works.
  • Syme, Ronald. Ten Studies in Tacitus. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) ISBN 0-19-814358-3
  • Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome. Translated by Michael Grant and first published in this form in 1956. (London: The Folio Society, 2006)
  • Tacitus, Germany. Translated by Herbert W. Benario. (Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1999. ISBN 0-85668-716-2)
  • Talbert, R.J.A. "Tacitus and the Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone patre". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 120, No. 1 (1999), pp. 89–97.
  • Townend, G.B. "Cluvius Rufus in the Histories of Tacitus". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 85 (1964), pp. 337–377.
  • Walker, B. The Annals of Tacitus: A study in the writing of history (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1952)
  • Wharton, D.B. "Tacitus' Tiberius: The State of the Evidence for the Emperor’s Ipsissima Verba in the Annals". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 118 (1997), pp. 119–125.
  • Woodman, Anthony John. Tacitus Reviewed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN 0-19-815258-2

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From Wikiquote

Publius Tacitus or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56–ca. 117), Roman orator, lawyer, and senator. He is considered one of antiquity's greatest historians.



Agricola (98)

In De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, Tacitus describes and praises the life of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, an eminent Roman general. It covers briefly the people and geography of Britain, where Agricola was stationed.

  • Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset.
    • Translation: Because they didn't know better, they called it 'civilization,' when it was part of their slavery.[1]
    • Book 1, paragraph 21.
  • Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
    • Translation: To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. Oxford Revised Translation (at Project Gutenberg)
    • At the end of chapter 30.
    • This is a speech by British chieftain Calgacus addressing assembled warriors about Rome's insatiable appetite for conquest and plunder. The chieftain's sentiment can be contrasted to "peace given to the world" which was frequently inscribed on Roman medals. The last part solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant (they make a desert, and call it peace) is often quoted alone. w:Lord Byron for instance uses the phrase (in English) as follows,
      • Mark where his carnage and his conquests cease!
        He makes a solitude, and calls it — peace.
        • Lord Byron, Bride of Abydos (1813), Canto 2, stanza 20.
  • Et maiores vestros et posteros cogitate.
    • Translation: Think of your forefathers and posterity.
    • Chapter 32
  • Tu vero felix, Agricola, non vitae tantum claritate, sed etiam opportunitate mortis.
    • Translation: Thou wast indeed fortunate, Agricola, not only in the splendour of thy life, but in the opportune moment of thy death. [2]
    • Chapter 45

Germania (98)

  • Quanquam severa illic matrimonia
    • Translation: However the marriage is there severe.
    • Start of chapter 18.
    • This is in the sense that the matrimonial bond was strictly observed by the Germanic peoples, this being compared favorably against licentiousness in Rome. Tacitus appears to hold the fairly strict monogamy (with some exceptions among nobles who marry again) between Germanic husbands and wives, and the chastity among the unmarried to be worthy of the highest praise. (Ch. 18)
  • ...good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere. (translation)

Histories (100-110)

  • It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.
    • Book I, 1
  • Once killing starts, it is difficult to draw the line.
    • Book I, 39
  • The desire for glory clings even to the best men longer than any other passion.
    • Book IV, 6
  • Deos fortioribus adesse.
    • Translation: The gods are on the side of the stronger.
    • Book IV, 17

Annals (117)

  • The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government.
    • Variant: The more corrupt the state, the more laws.
    • Original Quote: And now bills were passed, not only for national objects but for individual cases, and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.
    • Book III, 27
  • He had talents equal to business, and aspired no higher.
    • Book VI, 39
  • What is today supported by precedents will hereafter become a precedent.
    • Book XI, 24
  • So true is it that all transactions of preeminent importance are wrapt in doubt and obscurity; while some hold for certain facts the most precarious hearsays, others turn facts into falsehood; and both are exaggerated by posterity.
    • Variant: So obscure are the greatest events, as some take for granted any hearsay, whatever its source, others turn truth into falsehood, and both errors find encouragement with posterity.
    • Book III


  • Abuse, if you slight it, will gradually die away; but if you show yourself irritated you will be thought to have deserved it.
  • Liberty is given by nature even to mute animals.
  • Great empires are not maintained by timidity.
  • The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.

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Publius Cornelius Tacitus
See biography, media, quotes, indexes. One of the most important ancient Roman historians. Tacitus's Annals and Histories originally covered the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus (AD 14) to the death of Domitian (AD 96), although substantial portions have not survived. Aside from these major works, he also wrote a biography of his father-in-law (Agricola) and an ethnographic study of Germany (Germania). The Dialogue on Orators, an imaginary conversation on the subject of rhetoric, is attributed to him, but is written in a markedly different style.
Publius Cornelius Tacitus


Works about Tacitus

PD-icon.svg Works by this author published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago. Translations or editions published later may be copyrighted. Posthumous works may be copyrighted based on how long they have been published in certain countries and areas.

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Latin Tacitus.


  • IPA: /ˈtæsɪtʊs/

Proper noun




  1. Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (c.56-117), an historian of ancient Rome.
  2. Marcus Claudius Tacitus (c.200-275), a Roman emperor.
  3. A lunar impact crater.



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(Redirected to Classical Writers and the Jews article)

From BibleWiki

The name Ιουδαὶος is apparently first mentioned by Theophrastus, a philosopher of the fourth century B.C. He regards the Jews as a nation of philosophers who "spend their days in discussions about God, and their nights in observing the stars." Aristotle met a Jew in Asia who knew Greek perfectly and was, according to Clearchus, a Greek at heart and a philosopher. Megasthenes, a historian of the first half of the third century B.C., says that "all the ideas expressed by the ancients in regard to the laws of physics were also known to non-Greek philosophers, partly to the Brahmans of India, and partly to those in Syria called Jews." The learned Greeks were naturally in sympathy with the monotheistic doctrines of the Jews, and at first assumed a friendly attitude toward them. Hecatæus of Abdera, Strabo, Varro, and even Tacitus himself have words of praise for the religious beliefs and for many of the institutions of Judaism. It was not long, however, before the religious isolation of the Jews, and their contempt of the heathen beliefs, created much antagonism.

As early as the third century B.C. the unfriendly feelings toward the Jews found expression. This is particularly true of Egypt, where the fable originated of the Jews being the descendants of lepers and unclean persons. Hecatæus, of Abdera (third century B.C.) tells of the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt in his history of that country. According to him there was a plague in Egypt, which the people ascribed to the anger of the gods. This they thought was caused by the increase in the land of foreigners not believing in their divinity. It was decided to expel them. The bravest and strongest of the foreigners united and moved to Greece and other places; the lower classes settled in Judea, which had been uninhabited theretofore. Describing the laws and customs of the Jews as established by Moses, Hecatæus says that Moses persuaded his followers that God has no form, and that He is the "sky surrounding the earth." Moses, he adds, established laws prohibiting humanity and hospitality.

Manetho, a learned Egyptian priest, is quoted by Josephus as describing the origin of the Jews, in substance, as follows: Amenophis, the king, compelled all the unclean persons and lepers, numbering 80,000, to work with criminals in the stone-quarries along the Nile. Among the lepers were some learned priests. After some time the king allowed them to leave the quarries, and gave them the city of Avario for their habitation. Settling there, they appointed a priest named Osarsiph—who afterward changed his name to Moses—as their leader, repaired the walls of the city, and called to their aid the inhabitants of Jerusalem, which city had been settled by shepherds expelled from Egypt. They made war on Egypt, and reigned there for thirteen years, after which the fugitive king returned with a great force and drove the shepherds and lepers into Syria ("Contra Ap." i. 26-27).

The same story with variations is repeated by Diodorus Siculus (first century B.C.). Cleomedes refers to the "beggars ever present near the synagogues"; and Agatharchides (second century B.C.) says that the Jews spend every seventh day in idleness, discarding their weapons, and playing in their temple. According to Josephus, Apollonius Molo (a contemporary of Cicero) wrote a treatise against the Jews, "in which he scattered his aspersions in all directions throughout the work." He calls Moses "a conjurer and deceiver," and the Jews he describes as "godless and hostile to other men." Strabo, the geographer (c. 60 B.C.-25 C.E.), does not repeat the story of the Jews being descendants of lepers, though he evidently follows Diodorus in his representation of Jewish theology. While Manetho ascribes the expulsion of the Jews to the king's desire to regain the favor of the gods, Chæremon, a Stoic of the first half of the first century B.C., traces it to a dream which Amenophis had and in which the goddess Isis appeared to him. Isis rebuked the king for allowing her temples to be demolished in the war. "Phritiphantes, the sacred scribe, informed him that if he would purge Egypt of the men who were diseased he should no longer be troubled with such apparitions. Amenophis thereupon collected 250,000 unclean persons and drove them out of Egypt. The leaders of these people, called Moses and Joseph, made their way to Pelusium, united with 380,000 men whom Amenophis would not allow to enter the country, made war on Egypt, and overran the land for thirteen years. The son of Amenophis, when he attained to manhood, drove these persons into Syria."

Lysimachus of Alexandria is also mentioned and criticized by Josephus. The version by Lysimachus—thanks to Apion and Tacitus—was well known in the ancient world. According to him, in the reign of Bochoris, King of Egypt, the Jewish people, being infected with leprosy, scurvy, and other diseases, took refuge in the temples, and begged there for food. In consequence of the vast number of the persons infected, there was a failure of crops in Egypt. The oracle of Ammon being consulted, the king was told to drive into desert places all impure and impious men, and to drown all those affected with scurvy and leprosy. The king ordered the first to be driven out, and caused the others to be wrapped in sheets of lead and thrown into the sea. The former took counsel together, selected a priest named Moses as their leader, traveled amid great privation until they reached Judea, conquered it, and founded a city which they named Hierosyla (from their disposition to rob temples), but later changed it to Hierosolyma.

Apion, a grammarian and lawyer of Alexandria, expressed his evident enmity to the Jews by collecting, from whatever source, all current stories unfavorable to them. He repeats the story of their descent from unclean persons, represents their laws as antagonistic to those of their neighbors, and describes also their Temple and its interior. He even goes a step further and adds another fable—an invention of his own most probably. He relates that it was the custom of the Jews to capture every year some Greek stranger, to fatten him with good food, to kill him in sacrifice, and to eat his entrails. Stories similar to the above found credulous hearers, made curious by the mysteries of the Jewish religion. The customs of the Jews, so different from those of other peoples, formed a fruitful subject for discussion; as, for instance, their abstinence from pork, their rite of circumcision, their Sabbath, etc.

The claim of the Jews that theirs was the only true religion created not only interest, but also enmity. Celsus (second century C.E.), who wrote against Christians, also mentions the Jews. He accuses them of never having given anything useful to the world and of never having earned the respect of other peoples. They worship the imaginary, and neglect what is real; they look down upon the beliefs of non-Jews, and try to induce others to adopt the same views. Philostratus (180-250 C.E.) can not understand why Rome takes so much interest in the kingdom of the Jews. "From olden times," he says, "they have been opposed not only to Rome, but to the rest of humanity. People who do not share with others their table, their libations, their prayers, their sacrifices, are further removed from us than Susa, or Bactria, or even farthest India."

At the beginning of the third century of the present era the character of the Jews seems to change in the eyes of pagans: they cease to be a nation, and come to be regarded as a religious body. Proselytism becomes a feature of their activity, and is beginning to cause concern. Dion Cassius (150-236 C.E.) writes: "I do not know the origin of the term 'Jew.' The name is used, however, to designate all who observe the customs of this people, even though they be of different race. Therefore we find them also among native Romans. The Jews differ from all other peoples in their whole manner of life, but especially in that they do not honor any of the other gods, but worship with much fervor only one. Even at Jerusalem they never had an image of their divinity; they believe Him to be ineffable and invisible. . . . The day of Saturn is devoted to him. On this day they carry out many peculiar rites, and consider it a sin to work. All that relates to this God, His nature, the origin of His worship, and of the great awe with which He inspires the Jews, has been told long ago by many writers." In the same century Porphyry, a Neo-platonic philosopher, gives some oracles of Apollo. Among other things, he says: "The way of the happy is steep and rough, . . . and the Phenicians, Assyrians, Lydians, and the race of Hebrew men taught many ways of the happy. . . . The Chaldeans and Hebrews alone received wisdom as their destiny, worshiping in a pure manner, the self-produced Ruler as God."

The Roman writers devote considerably more attention to the Jews than do the Greek. The reason for this is the greater familiarity of the Romans with the Jews, whose numbers in Rome had largely increased. Cicero, the great orator, philosopher, and statesman (103-43 B.C.), often refers to the Jews in his orations, and in a tone of evident enmity. He calls them "nations born to slavery"; and in his defense of Flaccus he says, among other things: "While Jerusalem maintained its ground and the Jews were in a peaceful state, their religious rites were repugnant to the splendor of this empire, the weight of our name, and the institutions of our ancestors; but they are more so now, because that race has shown by arms what were its feelings with regard to our supremacy; and how far it was dear to the immortal gods, we have learned from the fact that it has been conquered, let out to hire, and enslaved."

Horace (65-8 B.C.) refers in his satires to the persistence with which the Jews try to convert people to their religion, and ridicules their Sabbath. Ovid also refers to "the seventh day kept holy by the Syrian Jew." Seneca (d. 65 C.E.) strongly attacks the Jewish Sabbath. He denies the utility of such an institution, and considers it even injurious; for the Jews, "by taking out every seventh day, lose almost a seventh part of their own life in inactivity, and many matters which are urgent at the same time suffer from not being attended to." Seneca admits the great moral power of "this most outrageous nation," and considers their successful proselytizing as an instance where "the conquered have given laws to their conquerors."

Martial (d. 104 C.E.) repeatedly pokes fun at the Jews, their Sabbath, the offensive odor of the keepers of the Sabbath, their custom of circumcision, and their beggars. Juvenal (d. 140 C.E.) also mentions the great swarms of Jewish beggars and their extreme poverty, the abstinence of the Jews from the flesh of swine, etc. Tacitus in his history, written between 104 and 109 C.E., devotes considerable space to the Jews. He derives his information from the Greek writers, and repeats the fable of the Jews being descendants of unclean persons, of lepers, etc.; tells of their wanderings and their suffering in the desert; discourses about Moses and the laws that heestablished contrary to those of other nations; and attempts to account for the origin of their various customs. He says:

"These rites and ceremonies, however introduced, have the support of antiquity; but other institutions have prevailed among them, which are tainted with low cunning. For the refuse of other nations, having renounced the religion of their own country, were in the habit of bringing gifts and offerings to Jerusalem; hence the wealth and growth of Jewish power. And, whilst among themselves they keep inviolate faith and are always prompt in showing compassion to their fellows, they cherish bitter enmity against all others, eating and lodging with one another only, and, though a people most prone to sensuality, having no intercourse with women of other nations. Among themselves no restraints are known; and in order that they may be known by a distinctive mark, they have established the practise of circumcision. . . . They show concern, however, for the increase of their population. For it is forbidden to put any of their brethren to death, and the souls of such as die in battle, or by the hand of the executioner, are thought to be immortal; hence their desire to have children, and their contempt of death. . . . The Jews acknowledge one god only, and conceive of him by the mind alone."

These, in brief, are the views held by the classical writers concerning the Jews. In most cases they are far from complimentary. These unfriendly, unjust, and at times very naive opinions are expressed by writers, many of whom in other cases show much kindly yet critical judgment. In fact, to them can be attributed the lack of familiarity of the ancient world with the life and customs of the Jews, as is amply proved by Josephus in his work "Contra Apionem"; and there is no doubt that it was the social and religious isolation of the Jews, and their contempt for the pagan beliefs, that gave birth to an enmity that has descended to more recent times.

Bibliography: Reinach, Textes d' Auteurs Grecs et Romains Relatifs au Judaäsme, Paris, 1895; F. C. Meier, Judaica seu Veterum Scriptorum Profanorum de Rebus Judaicis Fragmenta, Jena, 1832; Gill, Notices of the Jews and Their Country by the Classic Writers of Antiquity, London, 1872; Pereferkovich, review of the above-cited work of Reinach, in Voskhod, 1896, ix.; M. Joël, Die Angriffe des Heidenthums Gegen die Juden und Christen, 1879; idem, Blicke in die Religionsgesch. ii. 96, Breslau, 1883; Schürer, Gesch. ii. 549 et seq.; Hild, Les Juifs ă Rome Devant l'Opinion et Dans la Littérature, in Rev. Etudes Juives, viii. 1 et seq.; Frankel, in Monatsschrift, v. 81 et seq., ix. 125 et seq.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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Simple English

File:Gaius Cornelius
Occupation Senator, consul, governor, historian
Genres History
Subjects History, biography, oratory
Literary movement Silver Age of Latin

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56 – ca. 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving parts of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—report about the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.


[[File:|thumb|right|The title page of Justus Lipsius's 1598 edition of the complete works of Tacitus, bearing the stamps of the Bibliotheca Comunale in Empoli, Italy.]]

Five works ascribed to Tacitus have survived. The dates are approximate:

  • (98) De vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Julius Agricola)
  • (98) De origine et situ Germanorum (The Germania)
  • (102) Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Oratory)
  • (105) Historiae (Histories)
  • (117) Ab excessu divi Augusti (Annals)


  • Haynes, Holly. The History of Make-Believe: Tacitus on imperial Rome (Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press, 2003) ISBN 0-520-23650-5
  • Syme, Ronald. Tacitus, Volumes 1 and 2. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958) (reprinted in 1985 by the same publisher, with the ISBN 0-19-814327-3) is the definitive study of his life and works.
  • Syme, Ronald. Ten Studies in Tacitus. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) ISBN 0-19-814358-3
  • Talbert, R.J.A. "Tacitus and the Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone patre". The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 120, No. 1 (1999), pp. 89–97.
  • Woodman, Anthony John. Tacitus Reviewed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN 0-19-815258-2

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