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Tacitus: The Annals of Imperial Rome. Is writing history a dangerous task?. Timeline of Important Events . Augustus 31 BC to 14 AD Vergil wrote the Aeneid before his death in 19 BC Tiberius 14-37 Gaius (Caligula) 37-41 Claudius 41-54 Nero 54-68 Tacitus was born c. 55 AD.
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Tacitus: The Annals of Imperial Rome Is writing history a dangerous task?
Timeline of Important Events • Augustus 31 BC to 14 AD • Vergil wrote the Aeneid before his death in 19 BC • Tiberius 14-37 • Gaius (Caligula) 37-41 • Claudius 41-54 • Nero 54-68 • Tacitus was born c. 55 AD
75/6 studied oratory at Rome 77 marries daughter of Gn. Iulius Agricola Agricola is a military commander 88 praetor (on the fast -track to gov’t career) Military affairs and foreign relations Agricola (story of his father-in-law) (98) Germania (non-Roman as noble savage) (98) Dialogus (oratory in decline) (c. 102) Histories (year of 4 emperors, (110) Annals (Augustus to Nero) (c. 117) Life of Tacitus
Admired old Senatorial System Zealous Roman patriot Good part of ruling elite gives its best to leading armies and governing foreign provinces Is role of Senate under the empire compatible with the image of the upper strata of society as noble servants of the people? Themes in Tacitus
Themes in Tacitus • The need for power causes the biggest fights • No one is exempt from envy, hypocracy or arrogance • Vanity is key
Wrote after the events in question Had access to state records Tacitus’s Sources
How much freedom should a person have? How much control should the gov’t have over people’s lives? Security vs. Freedom
Noble ideals of the Republic vs. Corrupt decadence of the Empire Dislike of absolute rule and power of autocracy vs. dislike of less privileged classes Contrasts in Tacitus
Contemporary History History is dictated by political circumstances Lives of legendary ancestors How did Rome first acquire power? Tacitus vs. Livy
“best medicine for a sick mind” Review ancestral morals and virtues “find examples and warnings” Get power and success by learning from example Livy’s Goals as an historian
Tell about contemporary events Show the causes of things Can learn right from wrong through looking at experience of others N.B. Tacitus tries to free himself from bias while Livy recognizes his bias “I shall write without indignation or partisanship: in my case customary incentives to these are lacking” Tacitus’s Goals as an Historian
Augustus’ Reign • 31 BC to 14 AD • “Practically no one had ever seen truly Republican gov’t” • “Political equality was a thing of the past; all eyes watched for imperial commands”
Pater Patriae • In my thirteenth consulship, the Senate, the equestrian order and the • people of Rome granted to me the title of Father of my Country, and determined that this ought to be inscribed in the entrance of my house and • in the Curia Julia and in the Forum Augustum under the chariot, which had been set there on my behalf by the Senate’s resolution.
The Results • It is astonishing how every kind of visual communication came to reflect the new order, how every theme and slogan became interwoven. . . . For generations the ills of state and society had been proclaimed, described, and lamented as incurable evils. The surprising thing, for many people virtually a miracle, was that the new ruler actually took the lament seriously and decided to do something about it. •  Zanker 1990, 101-2.
Vergil on Augustus • This man, this is the one whom you often hear is promised to you, • Augustus Caesar, son of a god, who shall again craft a Golden Age in Latium, • through fields once reigned over by Saturn, and he shall extend his command • beyond the Garamantes and the Indians.
Augustus on Augustus • On behalf of my service, I was called Augustus by the senate’s decree and • the door-posts of my residence were publicly dressed with laurels and the civic crown was installed on my door. A golden shield was placed in the Curia Julia, granted to me by the Senate and the Roman people on behalf of my virtue, mercy, justice and pity, as witnessed by the inscription of the shield. From this time on, I surpassed all in influence, although I held no more power than the others who were also colleagues in my magistracy.
Summary • The return of the Golden Age theme was more than hyperbolical praise. . . . . it belongs to a complex of ideas the effect of which was to provide Augustus with a role that made him essential for the preservation of Roman society. . . . The public political disorder of civil war and the private wrongdoing of the individual are inextricably intertwined and the emperor as a second Saturn is assigned the role of keeping both at bay. •  Wallace-Hadrill, 1982, 29-32
Questions to Consider • Why couldn’t historians write objectively about the emperors during their reigns? • Why does Tacitus think he can?
Tiberius • How does Tacitus characterize Tiberius? • Does the Senate approve of Tiberius? • What kind of relationship does Tiberius have with the Senate?
Germanicus • What kind of military leader is Germanicus? • Why does Tiberius send for him? • How does Germanicus die?