Annals (Tacitus)

Annals (Tacitus)

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The Annals by Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus 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...

 is a history of the reigns of the four Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

s succeeding Caesar Augustus. The surviving parts of the Annals extensively cover most of the reigns of Tiberius
Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

 and Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

. The title Annals
Annals
Annals are a concise form of historical representation which record events chronologically, year by year. The Oxford English Dictionary defines annals as "a narrative of events written year by year"...

 was probably not given by Tacitus, but derives from the fact that he treated this history in a year-by-year form. The original title was most likely Ab excessu divi Augusti, "Following the death of the divine Augustus".

Tacitus is generally considered to be Rome's greatest historian. Annals are important to Christian history for they refer to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilatus , known in the English-speaking world as Pontius Pilate , was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, from AD 26–36. He is best known as the judge at Jesus' trial and the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus...

. Tacitus' writings shows no sympathy towards Christians, or knowledge of who their leader was. Scholars generally consider his reference to the execution by Pilate to be genuine, and of historical value an independent Roman source.

Content


The Annals was Tacitus's final work, covering the period from the death of Augustus Caesar in the year 14
14
Year 14 was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Pompeius and Appuleius...

. He wrote at least 16 books, but books 7-10 and parts of books 5, 6, 11 and 16 are missing. Book 6 ends with the death of Tiberius
Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

 and books 7-12 presumably covered the reigns of Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 and Claudius
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

. The remaining books cover the reign of Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

, perhaps until his death in June 68
68
Year 68 was a leap year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Asconius and Thraculus...

 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 the year 66
66
Year 66 was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Telesinus and Paullinus...

). 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 complete his work as a historian.

As in the Histories
Histories (Tacitus)
Histories is a book by Tacitus, written c. 100–110, which covers the Year of Four Emperors following the downfall of Nero, the rise of Vespasian, and the rule of the Flavian Dynasty up to the death of Domitian.thumb|180px|Tacitus...

, Tacitus maintains his thesis of the necessity of the principate. He says again that Augustus gave and warranted peace to the state after years of civil war, but on the other hand he shows us the dark side of life under the Caesars. The history of the Empire is also the history of the sunset of the political freedom of the senatorial aristocracy, which he saw as morally decadent, corrupt, and servile towards the prince. During Nero's age there had been a wide diffusion of literary works in favour of this suicidal exitus illustrium virorum ("end of the illustrious men"). Again, as in Agricola, Tacitus is opposed to those who chose useless martyrdom through vain suicides.

Against this generally bleak background, though, a healthy part of the political class continued honest involvement in the governments of the provinces and in the leading of the armies. Tragic historiography, full of dramatic events, has a great role in the Annales. Tacitus shows us the tragedy of the people. The aim is not to raise strong emotions. Tacitus uses the tragic components of his history to dive into the spirits of the characters, aiming to bring to light their passions and ambiguities. The dominant passions of the characters (partially excepting the sometimes pathological Nero) are the political passions. All the social classes, with no exception for any persons, have these defects: ambition, desire for power, desire for social status, and often envy, hypocrisy, and presumption. All the other passions, apart from vanity and cupidity, play a minor role.

In the Annales, Tacitus further improved the style of portraiture that he had used so well in the Historiae. Perhaps the best portrait is that of Tiberius, portrayed in an indirect way, painted progressively during the course of a narrative, with observations and commentary along the way filling in details. The moral portrait takes precedence over the physical; there are also a few paradoxical portraits. The most important example of these is that of Petronius
Petronius
Gaius Petronius Arbiter was a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero. He is generally believed to be the author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel believed to have been written during the Neronian age.-Life:...

, the charm of whose character is in his contradictory appearances. The weakness of his life is in opposition to the energy and competence he demonstrated in public office. Petronius faced death as a last pleasure, giving contemporary proof of self-control, bravery, and firmness. He opposed the tradition of theatrical suicide among the Stoics and he spoke with friends on light subjects. Tacitus does not make him a model, but implicitly suggests that his greatness of soul is firmer than that displayed by the martyred Stoics.

Style


Although a simplification, it is nevertheless useful to recognize that Tacitus' overall style in the Annales departs markedly from the grammatical and compositional norms of Late Republican authors as epitomized in works of M. Tullius Cicero. At various times described as peregrine, archaic, solemn, and vitalized, Tacitus achieves a great deal of his unique stylistic imprint via rare and otherwise unique grammatical forms, frequent ellipsis (especially of auxiliary forms of 'esse'), inventive circumlocution, and diction which extends to the known limits of the Latin lexicon. In comparison to the Historiae, the Annales are rather less fluid. They are also more concise and severe. There is even more predilection for incongruity. The unharmonious verbal forms reflect the discordant events and the ambiguity of the characters' behaviour. There are many violent metaphors and audacious uses of personification. Poetic styles, especially that of Virgil, are often used. For example, the description of Germanicus's foray onto the field of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in search of the destroyed legions of Varus follows the style of Virgil's description of Aeneas's descent into the underworld.

The style shifts throughout the work. From the 13th book on, Tacitus uses a more traditional method, closer to the fundamentals of the classic style. The writing becomes richer, more elevated, less concise, less sharp, and less insinuating. In choosing between synonyms, Tacitus changes from the use of selected and decorative expressions to the use of more normal and more moderate expressions. Perhaps the kingdom of Nero is treated with less solemnity because it is closer to the time of writing, while the age of Tiberius was considered closer to the old Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

. The occasional carelessness in the 15th and 16th books has led some to the opinion that the available editions of these books were not the final revision, but an earlier draft.

See also

  • Tacitean studies
    Tacitean studies
    Tacitean studies, centred on the work of Tacitus the Ancient Roman historian, constitute an area of scholarship extending beyond the field of history. The work has traditionally been read for its moral instruction, its narrative, and its inimitable prose style; Tacitus has been most influential...

  • Tacitus on Christ
  • Virius Nicomachus Flavianus
    Virius Nicomachus Flavianus
    Virius Nicomachus Flavianus was a grammarian, a historian and a politician of the Roman Empire.A pagan and close friend of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, he was Praetorian prefect of Italy in 390–392 and, under usurper Eugenius , again praetorian prefect and consul...

    , who wrote a lost historical work entitled Annals, probably a continuation of Tacitus' work.

External links


  • The text of the Annals:
    • At Project Gutenberg
      Project Gutenberg
      Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

      , Translated by Thomas Gordon: The Reign of Tiberius, Out of the First Six Annals of Tacitus; With His Account of Germany, and Life of Agricola
    • At Perseus Project
      Perseus Project
      The Perseus Project is a digital library project of Tufts University that assembles digital collections of humanities resources. It is hosted by the Department of Classics. It has suffered at times from computer hardware problems, and its resources are occasionally unavailable...

      : The Annals in English & Latin
    • At MIT Classics, Translated by Alfred John Church
      Alfred John Church
      Alfred John Church was an English classical scholar.Church was born in London and was educated at King's College London, and Lincoln College, Oxford. He took holy orders and was an assistant-master at Merchant Taylors' School from 1857-70...

       and William Jackson Brodribb: Annals
    • At The Latin Library
      The Latin Library
      The Latin Library is a website that collects public domain Latin texts. The texts have been drawn from different sources. Many were originally scanned and formatted from texts in the Public Domain. Others have been downloaded from various sites on the Internet . Most of the recent texts have been...

      , in Latin: Thelatinlibrary.com
  • On the authenticity of the Annals:
    • At Project Gutenberg
      Project Gutenberg
      Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

      , Tacitus and Bracciolini by John Wilson Ross