Suggested reading: How to write history while it’s happening, lessons from Tacitus

by Richard Cohen

He has been called Rome’s greatest historian, the most acute analyst of the autocratic rule of its emperors. His actual last name means “silent,” yet Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a formidable and highly articulate orator and an outspoken author of several books. Born around AD 56 somewhere in the northern provinces, he was a boy in the time of Nero and spent his early career in public affairs. His father was probably an equestrian official and chief financial officer of Belgic Gaul, thus near the top of Roman society, although not an aristocrat. The equestrian order was like a club, entry to which was tied to personal wealth. Its members had many special privileges, although these were not quite as extensive as those of the senatorial class.

Tacitus himself was a praetor by the time he was thirty, was promoted to the Senate, then, after four years away from Rome with his new wife, the daughter of a consul, became consul. He was thus one of the two leading magistrates in the city, commanding the army and presiding over the Senate. He achieved particular celebrity in AD 100, when, working alongside his friend Pliny the Younger he successfully prosecuted a proconsul under Nero for bribery and extortion. … (continue at Literary Hub)

Published by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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