Tacitus Principate

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“Tacitus as a Source for the History of the Roman Principate” In light of the selections from Tacitus’ Annals and Dialogue on Oratory, Tacitus’ pessimistic almost cynical attitude is made clear to historical readers. This negative attitude in his historical writings compromises his neutrality toward the events and subjects he includes in his writing. In particular, Tacitus’ negative approach shines through in his description of the trial and death of the historian Cremetius Cordus and in his description of Roman oratory and rhetorical education during the principate. Based solely on these two selections, Tacitus’ apparent partiality would not seem to make him a helpful or constructive source for the history of the Roman principate; however,…show more content…
He openly glorifies Cordus and laughs at those who physically accused him as well as the person who was behind the accusations. More importantly, he compares the principate to tyranny, and this is where it is imperative to take Tacitus’ background into consideration. A large amount of Tacitus' real life was during the time that Domitian, the last emperor of the Flavian Dynasty, was in control. Domitian’s administration as emperor is overwhelmingly characterized with tyranny and corruption. This negative depiction of tyranny during Tacitus’ real life influences and can explain his bitter attitude toward signs of tyranny before his day, including this trial and death of Cordus which he holds as “cause célèbre” (L&R II,…show more content…
As pointed out by Lewis and Reinhold, “the importance of political oratory in Roman public life ended with the fall of the Republic…training in schools degenerated into rhetorical exercises divorced from reality” (L&R II, p.198), and this sentiment is echoed by tacitus’, who takes it a step further by claiming that rhetoricians’ schools as a place where “the exercises in which they engage largely defeat their purpose” (Tacitus, Dialogue on Oratory, L&R II, p.203). However, Tacitus does not stop at the boys in school or the ignorant rhetoricians in them, but moreover he attacks “speakers of modern time” who “have no grasp of the decrees of the senate, scoff at the civil law” (Tacitus, Dialogue on Oratory, L&R II, p.206). Taking into consideration that emperors took increasingly larger control over schools (L&R II, p. 198), Tacitus is making an indirect stab at the imperial authority for the deterioration of not only civil law, including treason, but also the bringing up of boys who are being educated improperly as an effect of the tyrannous rule of the
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