Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 352 pages of information about Tacitus.

However, the period was not so utterly barren as to yield no 3 examples of heroism.  There were mothers who followed their sons, and wives their husbands into exile:  one saw here a kinsman’s courage and there a son-in-law’s devotion:  slaves obstinately faithful even on the rack:  distinguished men bravely facing the utmost straits and matching in their end the famous deaths of older times.  Besides these manifold disasters to mankind there were portents in the sky and on the earth, thunderbolts and other premonitions of good and of evil, some doubtful, some obvious.  Indeed never has it been proved by such terrible disasters to Rome or by such clear evidence that Providence is concerned not with our peace of mind but rather with vengeance for our sin.

FOOTNOTES: 

[5] To Vespasian Tacitus probably owed his quaestorship and a
seat in the senate; to Titus his tribunate of the people; to
Domitian the praetorship and a ‘fellowship’ of one of the
great priestly colleges, whose special function was the
supervision of foreign cults.  This last accounts for Tacitus’
interest in strange religions.

[6] This project, also foreshadowed in Agricola iii, was
never completed.

[7] Referring in particular to the scandals among the Vestal
Virgins and to Domitian’s relations with his niece Julia.

[8] i.e. the Aegean islands, such as Seriphus, Gyarus,
Amorgus, where those in disfavour were banished and often
murdered.

THE STATE OF THE EMPIRE

Before I commence my task, it seems best to go back and consider 4 the state of affairs in the city, the temper of the armies, the condition of the provinces, and to determine the elements of strength and weakness in the different quarters of the Roman world.  By this means we may see not only the actual course of events, which is largely governed by chance, but also why and how they occurred.

The death of Nero, after the first outburst of joy with which it was greeted, soon aroused conflicting feelings not only among the senators, the people, and the soldiers in the city, but also among the generals and their troops abroad.  It had divulged a secret of state:  an emperor could be made elsewhere than at Rome.  Still the senate was satisfied.  They had immediately taken advantage of their liberty and were naturally emboldened against a prince who was new to the throne and, moreover, absent.  The highest class of the knights[9] seconded the senate’s satisfaction.  Respectable citizens, who were attached as clients or freedmen to the great families, and had seen their patrons condemned or exiled, now revived their hopes.  The lowest classes, who had grown familiar with the pleasures of the theatre and the circus, the most degraded of the slaves, and Nero’s favourites who had squandered their property and lived on his discreditable bounty, all showed signs of depression and an eager greed for news.

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Tacitus: The Histories, Volumes I and II from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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