Oct 16 2013

The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus

Tacitus is the greatest of the Roman historians. He is also the most prejudiced. Modern historians have called into question his portrayal of Tiberius as a cruel and depraved tyrant, and indeed Tacitus’ own narrative reveals him for the most part a capable ruler. Tacitus is always insinuating that while Tiberius said and did one thing, he was secretly thinking something else; how he had access to the emperor’s private thoughts is a mystery. Claudius the stammering fool likewise seems a highly effective ruler; he brought Gauls into the Senate, ruled with great clemency, and conquered Britian for the Roman Empire, something not even Julius Caesar was able to do. The story of Caligula is omitted, but no crime of Nero escapes mention. Tacitus clearly feels that autocracy is evil and has caused the decline of Rome; it is too bad that we cannot ask the common people of the Empire whether the emperors were in fact any worse than the senatorial oligarchy that Tacitus upheld.

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