Statue depicting Roman orator and historian Tacitus.


(56 - c. 120)

Tacitus married the daughter of the consul Agricola in 77 and gained a praetorship in 88. One of the greatest prose stylists of Latin literature, his reputation as a historian is based primarily on his Histories, written circa 107, and Annals, written circa 120; it is believed he died shortly after completing the latter. Of Tacitus’ timeless understanding of human nature, Montaigne wrote, “You would often think it is us whom he is describing and criticizing.”

All Writing

The hatred of relatives is the bitterest.

—Tacitus, 117


Tacitus reports in his Annals that Nero’s “passion for extravagance” brought disrepute and danger in the year 60 when the emperor went bathing in the spring that fed the Aqua Marcia, the aqueduct believed to deliver Rome’s healthiest drinking water. Nero “profaned the sacred waters,” complains Tacitus, and “the divine anger was confirmed by a grave illness that followed.”

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous its laws.

—Tacitus, c. 110

Once a woman has lost her chastity she will shrink from nothing.

—Tacitus, c. 100

A passion for horses, players, and gladiators seems to be the epidemic folly of the times. The child receives it in his mother’s womb; he brings it with him into the world, and in a mind so possessed, what room for science, or any generous purpose?

—Tacitus, c. 100

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