Cornelius Tacitus, born about A.D. 56, was from a relatively new senatorial family. His early political career was under the Flavian emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. He successfully survived the senatorial purges of Domitian’s reign, even holding high office under him, and he then received the suffect consulship under the “good” emperor Trajan. After this time, he proceeded to a productive literary career, writing a biography of Tacitus’ father-in-law, an ethnographic study of the Germans, a treatise on oratory, and two noted historical works, both of which survive only in fragments.
The first of these, Histories, began with the civil war that followed the fall of the emperor Nero and also traced the rise of the Flavians. It contains important information about the Jewish revolt, recounting Vespasian’s early command of the Roman reconquest of Judea and his own proclamation as emperor by his legions while serving there. Histories then proceeds to describe Titus’ siege of Jerusalem, although Tacitus’ account breaks off before its conclusion.
Tacitus’ second historical work, Annals, covers an earlier period, that of the Julio-Claudian emperors after Augustus. The surviving portions cover parts of the reigns of Tiberius and Nero. Many of the new senatorial families of the empire created a nostalgic attachment for the “free republic” before Augustus, and Tacitus was no exception. He grudgingly admired Augustus, but he was critical of his successors and focused on conflicts between the emperors and the senatorial class. He had a particular antipathy for Tiberius, who reminded him uncomfortable of Domitian, whose reign was unpopular with Tacitus and other senators.
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