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Tacitus [Cornelius Tacitus]

John C. Yardley and Anthony Barrett (eds), Oxford World's Classics: Tacitus: The Annals

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Kings first governed the city of Rome; liberty and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus.* Dictatorships were employed to meet crises. The rule of the decemvirs* lasted no more than two years, and the consular authority of the military tribunes* was also short-lived. The ascendancy of Cinna* was not of long duration, nor that of Sulla; and the dominance of Pompey and Crassus* swiftly passed to Caesar, the armed might of Lepidus and Antonius to Augustus. Augustus then brought a world exhausted from civil dissension under his authority, with the title of 'First Citizen'.

The Roman people of old had their successes and their failures related by famous authors; and there was no shortage of fine minds for recording the Augustan period, until the groundswell of obsequiousness frightened them off. The histories of Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, and Nero were distorted because of fear while they reigned, and, when they were gone, were composed with animosities still fresh. Hence my decision to deal only briefly with Augustus—and specifically with the final days—and then to move on to the principate of Tiberius and its aftermath, without rancour or bias,* far removed as I am from motives for these.

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Editor’s Note
3 Kings … Lucius Brutus: Tacitus sets the principate within the history of Rome, showing that one-man rule had long been in evidence in one form or another. The notion of the traditional first six kings of Rome owes more to legend than to fact, as does the tradition surrounding Lucius Brutus, who established 'liberty', a term that to Tacitus meant essentially the old republic. The traditional date of the first consulship is 509 bc.
Editor’s Note
decemvirs: successive boards of ten patricians were set up in 451 bc to create a legal code. They produced the law of the Twelve Tables.
Editor’s Note
military tribunes: before 367, at which point plebeians were allowed to hold the consulship, a temporary expedient was devised of substituting consuls by tribunes with consular authority, open to both plebeians and patricians.
Editor’s Note
Cinna: the last century bc saw the emergence of powerful generals as the dominating political force in Rome. Cinna, who held four consulships in a row, was killed in 84 bc while marching against his enemy Sulla, who was appointed dictator in 82 bc but gave up the office in the following year.
Editor’s Note
Crassus: the alliance of Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Crassus in 60 bc is loosely referred to as the first triumvirate. Crassus died at Carrhae in 53, Pompey after the battle of Pharsalus in 43. The second triumvirate, more properly so named, resulted from the partnership, legally established in 43 bc, of Augustus (then Octavian), Antonius, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Lepidus was a spent force from 36 bc, and the defeat of Antonius, at Actium in 31 left Augustus in effective control.
Editor’s Note
without rancour or bias: sine ira et studio, possibly the most famous phrase of Tacitus. His evident antipathy towards the Julio-Claudian ruling family makes his claim unconvincing.
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