Tacitus, Cornelius

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tacitus, Cornelius


Born circa 58; died after 117. Roman writer and historian.

Tacitus came from the new, provincial aristocracy, a group on which the Flavian dynasty depended for support. His works include the Life of Agricola (97–98), a biography of his father-in-law, a representative of the new, military aristocracy; Germania (98), an account of the social structure, religion, and way of life of the German tribes; and Dialogue on Oratory (between 102 and 107), an essay devoted to the reasons for the decline of political oratory in the Flavian epoch. The works for which he is most famous are the two great historical works, the Histories and the Annals. The Histories (c. 105–111), which probably consisted of 14 books, deals with the life of Rome and, partly, of the empire from 69 to 96. The first to the fourth books and the beginning of the fifth book, devoted to the events of 69 to 70, have survived. The Annals, upon which Tacitus worked until his death, covers the period from 14 to 68. The work was left unfinished: of 16 books, the first to fourth and the 12th to 15th have been preserved completely, while the seventh to tenth books have been lost.

Tacitus interpreted the events of his own times, a period in which the outdated republican order was being replaced by an imperial government, a period when neither the new ruling stratum of the slaveholding society, which was representative of the provinces, nor the corresponding state institutions and moral standards had as yet taken definite shape. Keenly sensing the nature of the new epoch, Tacitus condemned the Senate’s opposition to the new order and, all the more, the resistance to it by the mass of the people. However, at the same time he perceived that the emperors, in destroying the traditional forms of state organization and political life, at least in Rome itself, were destroying existing social and moral norms and were introducing despotic tyranny. It is as though Tacitus perceived the emperors in two lights: on the one hand the emperors are seen as progressive figures who affirmed the grandeur of the empire; on the other hand, they are seen as bloody tyrants who, relying on brute military power and on informers and cowardly magistrates, destroyed the best people of the state.

The value of Tacitus as a historian lies in his dialectical understanding of the contradictions of history.


In Russian translation:
Letopis’, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1858. Translated by Kroneberg.
Sochineniia, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1969.
P. Cornelii Taciti libri que supersunt, vols. 1–2. Edited by E. Koestermann. Leipzig, 1961–62.


Modestov, V. I. Tatsit i ego sochineniia. St. Petersburg, 1864.
Gasparov, M. L. “Novaia literatura o Tatsite i Svetonii” (review). Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1964, no. 2.
Boissier, G. Tacite. Paris, 1903.
Klingner, F. “Tacitus,” Die Antike, 1932, vol. 8, fasc. 3.
Walker, B. The Annals of Tacitus. Manchester, 1950.
Syme, R. Tacitus, vols. 1–2. Oxford, 1958.
Paratore, E. Tacitó, 2nd ed. Rome, 1962.
Borszák, St. P. Cornelius Tacitus. Stuttgart, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.