The remaining works of, Roman historian, TACITUS (c.56–c.120, AD) are: ‘Agricola’ (a biography of his father-in-law) and ‘Germania’ of c.98; ‘Dialogue on Orators’ of c.102; and, his two major works, the ‘Histories’ and the ‘Annals’. These two told the story of the emperors, from the death of Augustus, in 14, to the death of Domitian, in 96. The ‘Histories’, covering the period 69–96 was completed first, c.109, the ‘Annals’ c.117. Together, they are known to have comprised thirty books (so says St Jerome, in his ‘Commentary on the Fourteenth Chapter of Zechariah’). There were probably twelve or fourteen books of the ‘Histories’, of which only the first four and part of the fifth survive – dealing with 69 and some of 70. The ‘Annals’ have fared rather better. There were at least sixteen books (perhaps eighteen). The first four, part of five, part of six, part of eleven, twelve to fifteen, and part of sixteen are still extant – from a span of fifty-four years, forty years survive. It is particularly unfortunate for British history, however, that the Claudian invasion (of 43) is included in the missing material.
Details of Tacitus himself are sketchy. His full name was either Publius Cornelius Tacitus or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus. He may have been from an upper-class (equestrian) family of northern Italy or southern Gaul. He became a senator, and was a celebrated orator. He was consul in 97, and, in 112–113, governed the province of Asia. He was a friend of Pliny the Younger. A letter survives, written by Pliny, in response to a request from Tacitus for details of the death of Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79.* The letter begins:
“Your request that I would send you an account of my uncle's death, in order to transmit a more exact relation of it to posterity, deserves my acknowledgments; for, if this accident shall be celebrated by your pen, the glory of it, I am well assured, will be rendered forever illustrious. And notwithstanding he perished by a misfortune, which, as it involved at the same time a most beautiful country in ruins, and destroyed so many populous cities, seems to promise him an everlasting remembrance; notwithstanding he has himself composed many and lasting works; yet I am persuaded, the mentioning of him in your immortal writings, will greatly contribute to render his name immortal.”
‘Epistulae’ Book VI No. 16 (translated by William Melmoth, revised by F.C.T. Bosanquet)
Ironically, though Pliny's letter has survived, Tacitus' “immortal” record has not (it would have been in that part of the ‘Histories’ that is now lost).
Pliny the Elder is remembered as the author of ‘Natural History’, a thirty-seven book encyclopedia. In 79 he was prefect of the fleet at Misenum, on the Bay of Naples.
All dates in this article are AD/CE. See: Anno Domini.