The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.


the fourteenth consulship of Domitian (AnnaL xi. 11.)

Agricola died at Rome A. d. 93, but neither Tacitus nor the daughter of Agricola was then with him. It is not known where Tacitus was during the last illness of Agricola, for the assump­tion that he ever visited either Britain or Germany cannot be proved. He appears to say that he was himself a witness of some of the atrocities of Domi-tian (Agricola, c. 45). In the reign of Nerva, a.d. 97, Tacitus was appointed consul suffectus, in the place of T. Virginius Rufus, who had died in that year. Tacitus pronounced the funeral oration of Rufus, " and it was," says Plinius, " the completion of the felicity of Rufus to have his panegyric pronounced by so eloquent a man.1" (Plin. Ep. ii. 1.) Tacitus had attained oratorical distinction when Plinius was commencing his career. He and Tacitus were appointed in the reign of Nerva (a. d. 99) to con­duct the prosecution of Marius, proconsul of Africa, who had grossly misconducted himself in his pro­vince. Salvius Liberalis, a man of great acuteness and eloquence, was one of the advocates of Marius. Tacitus made a most eloquent and dignified reply to Liberalis.

Tacitus and Plinius were most intimate friends. In the collection of the letters of Plinius, there are eleven letters addressed to Tacitus. In a letter to his friend Maximus (ix. 23), Plinius shows that he considered his friendship with Tacitus a great distinction, and he tells the following anecdote : — On one occasion, when Tacitus was a spectator at the Ludi Circenses, he fell into conversation with a Roman eques, who, after they had discoursed on various literary subjects for some time, asked Tacitus if he was an Italian or a provincial; to which Tacitus replied, " You are acquainted with me, and by my pursuits." " Are you," rejoined the stranger, " Tacitus or Plinius ?" The sixteenth letter of the sixth book, in which Plinius describes the great eruption of Vesuvius and the death of his uncle, is addressed to Tacitus ; and for the pur­pose of enabling him to state the facts in his his­torical writings. Among other contemporaries of Tacitus were Quintilian, Julius Floras, Maternus, M. Aper, and Vipsanius Messala.

The time of the death of Tacitus is unknown, but we may perhaps infer that he survived Trajan, who died a. d. 117. (Hist. i. ].) Nothing is re­corded of any children of his, though the emperor Tacitus claimed a descent from the historian, and ordered his works to be placed in all (public) libraries ; and ten copies to be made every year at the public expense, and deposited in the Archeia. (Vopiscus, Tacitus Imp. c. 10.) Sidonius Apolli-naris mentions the historian as an ancestor of Po-lemius, who was*a prefect of Gaul in the fifth century.

The extant works of Tacitus are, the Life of Julius Agricola, a treatise on the Germans, Annals, His­tories, and a Dialogue on the Causes of the Decline of Eloquence. It is not certain if Tacitus left any orations : no fragments are extant. (Meyer, Ora-torum Roman. Fragm. p. 604, 2d ed.)

The life of Agricola was written after the death of Domitian, a. d. 96, as we may probably con­clude from the introduction, which was certainly written after Trajan's accession. This life is justly admired as a specimen of biography, though it is sometimes very obscure ; but this is partly owing to the corruption of the text. It is a monument



to the memory of a good man and an able com­mander and administrator, by an affectionate son-in law, who has portrayed in his peculiar manner and with many masterly touches, the virtues of one of the most illustrious of the Romans. To Englishmen this life is peculiarly interesting, as Britain was the scene of Agricola's great exploits, who carried the Roman eagles even to the base of the Grampian mountains. It was during his invasion of Cale­donia that Britain was first circumnavigated by a Roman fleet. (Agricola, c. 38.) The Agricola is not contained in the earliest edition of Tacitus ; and it was first edited by Puteolanus.

The Historiae were written after the death of Nerva, a. d. 98, and before the Annales. They comprehended the period from the second consul­ship of Galba, a. d. 68, to the death of Domitian, and the author designed to add the reigns of Nerva and Trajan (Hist. i. 1). The first four books alone are extant in a complete form, and they comprehend only the events of about one year. The fifth book is imperfect, and goes no further than the commencement of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, and the war of Civilis in Germany. It is not known how many books of the Histories there were, but it must have been a large work, if it was all written on the same scale as the first five books.

The Annales commence with the death of Au­gustus, a. d. ] 4, and comprise the period to the death of Nero, a. d. 68, a space of four and fifty years. The greater part of the fifth book is lost ; and also the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, the be­ginning of the eleventh, and the end of the six­teenth, which is the last book. These lost parts comprised the whole of Caligula's reign, the first five years of Claudius, and the two last of Nero. The imperfections of the Annals and the Histories are probably owing to the few copies which were made during the later empire ; for the care of the emperor Tacitus to have them copied seems to imply that without it these works might have been forgotten. If they had been as popular as some other works, copies would have been multiplied to satisfy the demand. The first five books of the Annals were found, at the beginning of the sixteenth cen­tury, in the Abbey of Corvey in Westphalia, and they were first published at Rome, by Philippus Beroaldus, in 1515.

The treatise entitled De Moribuset Populis Ger-maniae treats of the Germanic nations, or of those whom Tacitus comprehended under that name, and whose limits he defines by the Rhine and the Danube on the west and south, the Sarmatae and Daci on the east, and on the north-west and north by the sea. It is of no value as a geographical description ; the first few chapters contain as much of the geography of Germany as Tacitus knew. The main matter is the description of the political institutions, the religion, and the habits, of the various tribes included under the denomination of Germani. The sources of the author's information are not stated, but as there is no reason to suppose that he had seen Germany, all that he could know must have been derived from the Roman expeditions east of the Rhine and north of the Danube, and from the accounts of traders, who went at least as far as the Roman eagles, and perhaps farther. The value of the information contained in this treatise has often been discussed, and its credibility at­tacked ; but we may estimate its true character by

About | First



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of