Tacitus: An Interpretation of Roman History

An examination of the writings of Roman historian, Tacitus, focusing on his work, “The Annals of Imperial Rome”.

This paper examines the validity of the work of Tacitus in “The Annals of Imperial Rome” and his bias on the government of the Roman Empire. It explains that, as a former official within the imperial regime, Tacitus had a bird’s-eye view of the goings-on within the Roman Empire, beginning with the reign of Augustus Caesar; his experience within the Empire, however, influenced his opinions on the history of Rome. Tacitus had a tendency to change the speeches of Roman leaders to enhance his arguments about the effectiveness of leadership within the Roman Empire. This leads to many questions about the nature of his interpretation of Roman history.
Modern historians constantly grapple with the dilemma of accuracy and objectivity, or the lack of it, in the antiquated documents that their predecessors painstakingly devised for future examination. While many written documents of antiquity do not survive to reveal their obligatory tales, those that do are often miserably translated or fail to elaborate upon the subjects with which modern historians are concerned. However, these invaluable primary sources are, in some cases, the only evidence available of the events occurring during periods that have been obscured by contemporary affairs. The era of the notorious Roman Empire has fallen prey to this occurrence; the remaining documents of this period are few, and some are simply portions of the original works. Tacitus’ work, The Annals of Imperial Rome, is especially intriguing since it is one of a few surviving reports chronicling a group of individuals who rule during the early empire. Herein lies the unavoidable question: because his work is one of a scarce group, against what scale may its exactness be measured?