Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tacitus - The Histories

Anyone who has looked at one of those lists of Roman Emperors and the dates they ruled will have noticed a strange thing. Over the years AD68 to AD 69 no less than five emperors (Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian) began, ended or enjoyed their entire reigns.

This period of civil war, marked the change from the Augustan dynasty to that of the Flavians. It’s a crucial period of Roman rule, and one that the historian Tacitus, writing in about AD 100, documents using I am told, excellent authorities.

Tacitus’ was a Roman historian, thus much of what he wrote assumes a lot of knowledge about Roman custom. Though he does describe a lot of interesting details. If you don’t know much about Roman history (and I’m no expert) some parts of this can be hard work. But if makes up for it in other ways (such as the description of the battles of Cremonia). There are a myriad of details you can learn – Roman soilders were fully armed only when the enemy was almost upon them for instance.)

This is a good book to follow up Suetonius’ Twelve Ceasers, covering similar ground and illuminating the details of some of the events described there. This shouldn’t be the first book on Roman History you read. Certainly not if you have just seen HBO-BBC’s “Rome” and want to know more. But by no means make it the last, as it’s full of details, interest and blood.

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