Tacitus, Histories (Book I)



This unit has four main aims:

  1. To extend your ability to read, understand and translate accurately and fluently into idiomatic English a significant Latin historical work;
  2. To develop an insight into the techniques and attitudes of a major Roman historian whose work won him considerable renown in his own lifetime;
  3. To provide an understanding of the history and politics of the early Roman Empire, one of the most important and tumultuous periods in ancient history and, in particular, the early months of the year AD 69;
  4. To identify key elements of Tacitus's grammar and syntax, comparing and contrasting them with orthodox Classical usage and, where appropriate, English usage.


No particular edition of Histories 1 is prescribed for this subject. Where appropriate, these notes will include, with due acknowledgement, excerpts from major commentaries. The text used is the Oxford Classical Text, edited by C.B. Fisher, 1910.

It is important that you do everything you can through your own efforts with a particular portion of text before reading the relevant notes and translation: try it as a piece of unseen translation and write up unknown vocabulary. What follows is not intended to provide a solution to problems of which you are as yet unaware and which you yourself have not yet tackled, but rather to guide, confirm, correct and supplement your own enterprise.

We shall study chapters 1-49 in the original Latin. The following commentary will contain many notes on grammar to help your understanding of the text. A minority of these, which appear in red, are significant enough to be regarded as fair game for an examination question.

You will find it helpful to begin by reading:
(a) The article on Tacitus in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford, 3rd edn, 1996, henceforth referred to as OCD), 1469-1471;
(b) The article on Galba, OCD 621.

In the notes reference will be made to the following by the abbreviations given in brackets:

Alford, M., ed. Tacitus: Histories Book I (University of London Press, London, 1912) (Alford)
Benario, Herbert W. An Introduction to Tacitus (University of Georgia Press, Athens, Ga, 1975) (Benario)
Chilver, G.E.F. A Historical Commentary on Tacitus' Histories I and II (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979) (Chilver)
Cooper, C.G. Journey to Hesperia: Scenes from Vergil's Aeneid I-VI (Macmillan, London, 2nd edn, 1965) (JH)
Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (Penguin, London, 3rd edn, 1992) (PDLT)
Fowler, H.W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford University Press, London, 1937) (MEU)
Gildersleeve, B.L. & Lodge, G. Gildersleeve's Latin Grammar (Macmillan, London, 3rd edn, 1943) (GL)
Hornblower, Simon & Spaworth, Anthony, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 3rd edn, 1996) (OCD)
Irvine, A.L., ed. Tacitus: Histories Books I & II (Methuen, London, 1952) (Irvine)
Kennedy, B.H., rev. Mountford, J. The Revised Latin Primer (Longmans Green, London, 1958) (KMP)
Lewis, C.T. & Short, C.A. A Latin Dictionary (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1879) (LS)
Martin, Ronald. Tacitus (Batsford, London, 1981) (Martin)
Mountford, J.F., ed. 'Bradley's Arnold' Latin Prose Composition (Longmans Green, London, 1938) (MBA)
Palmer, L.R. The Latin Language (Faber, London, 3rd edn, 1961) (Palmer)
Ramsay, William, rev. Lanciani, Rodolfo. A Manual of Roman Antiquities (Griffin, London, 18th edn, 1894) (RL)
Souter, A., Wyllie, J.M. et al. Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford University Press, London, 1968-1982) (OLD)
Stevenson, Seth W. A Dictionary of Roman Coins (Seaby, London, 1964) (Stevenson)
Wellesley, Kenneth, tr. Tacitus: The Histories (Penguin, Harmondsworth, rev. edn, 1975) (Wellesley)
Woodcock, E.C. A New Latin Syntax (Methuen, London, 1959) (W)