Tacitus was the greatest historian of the Roman empire. Born in about AD 55, he served as administrator and leading senator. This career gave him an intimate view of the empire at its highest levels, experience brought to bear on his writing.
His major works are the Annals and the Histories, both of which have come down to us incomplete. Between them, they cover a period of about 80 years, from the death of the first emperor, Augustus, to the death of Domitian in 96AD. In addition, Tacitus also composed two short historical books or essays, the Agricola (about his father-in-law, a distinguished provincial governor) and the Germania, an account of the tribes beyond the Rhine.
Tacitus is a brilliant narrator and master stylist who had ample material for his story in the dramatic, violent and often bloody events of the first century. His portraits – especially those of Tiberius, Nero, and Nero’s immediate circle – are unforgettable, his scene-setting masterly, his psychological analysis as acute as any novelist. He is also a fierce critic of the decadence and corruption which marked struggles for the imperial succession. As Robin Lane Fox writes in his brilliant introduction, 'Above all Tacitus was supremely wary of the distortions and „spin” of official announcements. He had no illusions about the capacities of presidential, one-man rule.’ Napoleon disliked him, not surprisingly.
Everyman reprints the classic translation by A.J. Church and W.J. Brodribb, with extensive notes considerably revised and updated by Dr Eleanor Cowan.