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Gaius Cornelius Tacitus

Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (born around AD 56 - died around AD 120), was a Roman historian. His major works - the Annals and the Histories - took for their subject the history of the Roman Empire.

The Annals (ab excessu Divi Augusti) was Tacitus' final work, covering the period from the death of Augustus Caesar in AD 14. 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 and books 7-12 presumably covered the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. The remaining books cover the reign of Nero, perhaps until his death in June 68 or until the end of that year, to connect with the Histories. The second half of book 16 is missing. We do not know whether Tacitus completed the work or whether he wrote any further associated books.

Of the Histories only the first four books and 26 chapters of the fifth book have survived, covering the year 69 and the first part of 70. The work is believed to have continued up to the death of Domitian on September 18, 96.

Tacitus also wrote three smaller works: the Agricola, a biography of his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Germania and the Dialogus.

Tacitus was primarily concerned with the concentration of power into the hands of the Roman Emperors. His writings are filled with tales of corruption and tyranny in the governing class of Rome, and display a particular hatred for the emperor Tiberius. One well-known passage from his writings mentions the death of Christ (Annals, xv 44)'.

Tacitus is one of the earliest and most important of the authors who described early Latvian mythology, though his conclusions are suspect because he did not speak the Latvian language and did not stay in Latvia long.

His treatment of the Germanic peoples outside the empire is of mixed value to historians. Tacitus uses what he reports of the German character as a kind of 'noble savage' as a comparison to contemporary Romans and their (in his eyes) 'degeneracy'. Despite this bias, he does supply us with many names for tribes with which Rome had come into contact. Tacitus' information was not, in general, based on first-hand knowledge, and more recent research has shown that many of his assumptions were incorrect. In fact, contemporary historians debate whether all these tribes were really Germanic in the sense that they spoke a Germanic language - some of them, like the Batavii, may have been Celts. He is also to blame for the misnaming of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which did not quite take place in the saltus Teutoburgiensis, as he claimed in the Germania.

Tacitus survived a reign of terror and from a senator he advanced to the consulship in AD 97. Fifteen years later he held the highest civilian governorship, that of Western Anatolia. Tacitus was a friend of Pliny the Younger and was greatly admired by him. His wife was the daughter of Julius Agricola, who governed in Roman Britain and was the subject of one of his works.

See also: Marcus Claudius Tacitus, a descendant of Gaius Tacitus and Emperor of Rome from 275 to 276 AD.

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