The death of Nero begins a Roman bloodletting that Augustus had thought he had completely ended as four men will within a year claim the title Emperor. The Histories by Tacitus follows the aftermath of Nero’s death as a succession of men claimed the throne until the Flavians emerge to return the Roman Peace.
Tacitus begins his work with those who had prospered under Nero worrying for themselves while the rest of the populace celebrated and setting the stage for the eventual assassination for Galba and the rise of Otho, who the former had passed over as his chosen successor. Yet at the time of his death Galba was facing a mutiny on the German frontier that had installed Vitellius as their choice as emperor, a task that Otho took to quash and retain his own throne. The invasion of Italy by Vitellius’ legions brought war to the core of empire for the first time in almost a century and witnessed the defeat of Otho’s forces before he committed suicide. The rise of Vitellius brought Vespasian, the leader of the legions fighting the Jewish War, into the fray as he accepted the proclamation of his legions as emperor and soon found the supporters of Otho and others joining him. After the crushing defeat of his forces, Vitellius attempted to abdicate but the Guards wouldn’t let him resulting in his death by Vespasian’s soldiers. On top of civil war in Italy and the final phase of the Jewish War under Titus, a Gallo-German uprising at first claiming support for Vespasian became an invasion and rebellion that took numerous legions to suppress and the aftermath would be alluded to in Tacitus’ own Germany.
Although The Histories are incomplete, from the beginning Tacitus brings his aristocratic ideology and politics in focus early by showing only someone with political realism and firm hand on the legions can prevent civil wars and the rioting of the masses. The writing is quick-paced, going hand in hand with the rapid succession of events but Tacitus does give excellent portraits on the prime actors in this historical drama the played across the Roman world. The only thing a historian would have against Tacitus would be the twisting of the chronology to suit his own purposes. Yet like Agricola and Germany, my biggest complaint is how Oxford World Classics edition is structured with the Notes at the very end of the piece and making the reader use two bookmarks so they could go back and forth.
The Histories, the first of Tacitus’ two large scale historical works, shows the horrors of civil war and the according to Tacitus the dangers of leader who cannot control the legions and masses. Even though the we are missing over two-thirds of the overall work, the portion we have that covers the Year of Four Emperors shows the breakdown of society in vacuum of strong leadership that is important not only in that time but throughout all of history including down to our own time.
As a backlash against Christianity grew after the sack of Roman in 410 AD, Augustine of Hippo took up his pen to respond to pagans and philosophers as well as inform Christians about their priorities between heaven and earth. The City of God is one of the cornerstones of medieval Christianity and thought that even influences the world today.
Augustine divides his work into 22 books divided into two parts. The first part was to refute the accusation by pagans that the sack of Rome in 410 AD was punishment for abandoning the gods of Rome for Christianity. Throughout the first ten books of his work, Augustine critiques the Roman religion and philosophy from the multitude of deities and the contradictory beliefs related to them as well as the conflicting philosophies that supported and opposed them. The second part, consisting of the last twelve books of the work, discussed the titular City of God and how it relates with the city of man—the present world.
Augustine’s critique of pagan religion and philosophy in the first part of the book is honestly the highlight of the book. Not only did he defend Christianity but also exposed the contradictions within pagan religious beliefs a well as numerous schools of philosophies which defended or opposed those beliefs. If there was one downside within the first part, it would have been the troubling theological ideas that Augustine espoused that seemed more based on Plato than the Bible. However, it was in the second part of book that Augustine’s faulty theology truly became apparent so much so that I had to begin skimming through the text to prevent myself from contradicting Augustine in my head instead of reading. While not all of Augustine’s theology is wrong, God’s omniscience and human free will is an example, some of the defining examples I want to cover is the following: the immortality of the soul and eternal burning in hell connected to it, the claims that passages from the Old Testament are analogies for Christ and the church, that all of Psalms are prophecies written by David, the angels were created on the third day, and many more. It became too frustrating to stay focused and I admittedly might have skimmed over some of Augustine’s better theological arguments, but it was that or tossing the book.
City of God is both the refutation of pagan Roman practices and the theological understanding of Augustine for Christian believers. It’s importance for medieval Christianity and thought cannot be underscored enough, however that does not mean that every reader should not look at it critically.
Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes. Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.
Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him. The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero. While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany. This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east. Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.
Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together. Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing. Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section. It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.
Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors. These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.