Tacitus, Histories I, A Selection

Tacitus, Histories I, A Selection, Benedict Gravell (notes/ vocabulary), Ellen O´Gorman (Introduction), Bloomsbury, Paperback, 184 pages (OCR), ₤ 16,99, 978-1-350-01015-4.

This book offers selected texts from the histories of Tacitus, the chapters 4–7, 12–14, 17–23 and 26 of book I (Latin AS and A–Level) and the chapters 27–36, 39– 44 and 49 of book I as well (A–Level). This edition is endorsed for use with the OCR 3 Level 3 Advanced Subsidiary GCE in Latin (HO43) specification, Literature (H043/02), and OCR Level 3 Advanced GCE in Latin (H443) specification, Prose Literature (H443/03). So this edition is designed specifically  for those students who need to prepare for exams in the years 2019 to 2021.  The three sections of the edition contain an introduction (1–58), the texts (43–58) and notes (59–136). A glossary of technical terms (137–140) and the vocabulary (141–184) are added. The historiae, Tacitus wrote ca. 109 AD, start after the death of Nero (68 AD). The first three books of the historiae contain the civil war after Nero´s death, the so-called year of the four emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian). The historiae ends with the death of the last member of the gens Flavia, Domitian (96 AD). In the first book Tacitus describes the conflict after Nero´s end between Galba and Otho as a conflict between a more aged example of order and discipline and a younger example of inconstancy and volatility. In this way Tacitus can bring out the effects of the behaviour of the imperial establishment on the state and the people of Rome, even through the speeches (e. g. of Otho). The edition shows not only one of the most important years of the Roman history, but also a selection of significant texts for Tacitus´ purpose as an author. To guide students getting through to the real meaning of  his texts, it is a sine qua non to read the introduction, because in the first part it describes, following the text of the historiae, not only the historical situation of 69 AD, but also the hard view of Tacitus on the essential importance of armed forces for the Roman emperor (1–9). Even the short vita of Tacitus is embedded into the historical development of the Roman imperial state and based on statements of Tacitus in his works,  (9–17). Very helpful should be the last parts concerning the characters of the historiae, Otho and Galba (17–32), because it assists, once again following the texts,  to develop an idea of the “dramatis personae” of Tacitus and his style (32–37): Tacitus’ short, abbreviated and brusque style is certainly  a challenge for students, even when they are familiar with the more  elegant prose style of Cicero, Livius or Caesar. The brief introduction of his style offers hopefully helpful support to become open to interpretation. Thus all the notes offer students support to decode and translate Tacitus’ demanding way of writing.


Dr Benedikt Simons