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Classics & Ancient History   >   Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1)

Tacitus and the Histories

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Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1)

In this module, Dr Chris Whitton (University of Cambridge) explores Tacitus’ Histories, Book 1. In the first module, we provide an introduction to Tacitus and the Histories at a whole, before turning in the second and third modules to the figures of Galba and Otho. In the fourth module, we think about the role of the Roman army in 69 AD and Tacitus’ views on the inversion of hierarchy, before turning in the fifth module to think about how truth and power work for Tacitus. Finally, in the sixth module, we consider how the events of 69 AD might have resonated with events of Tacitus’ own lifetime. In a short seventh module, we provide some ideas for further reading, including some of the highlights of the rest of the Histories, the work of Plutarch and Suetonius, Tacitus’ Annals, and some secondary literature.

Tacitus and the Histories

In this module, we provide a broad introduction to Tacitus and his Histories, focusing in particular on: (i) the period the Histories covers and its attitude to human nature and to the principate as a system of government; (ii) the contents and structure of the first three books of the Histories, which sees the death of three emperors (Galba, Otho and Vitellius); and (iii) Tacitus’ explanation in 1.4 that he will focus on ‘not only the events themselves (non modo casus eventusque rerum) … but also the reason and rationale behind them’ (sed ratio etiam causaeque), even though events ‘happen for the most part by accident’ (qui plerumque fortuiti sunt).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Whitton, C. (2019, November 27). Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1) - Tacitus and the Histories [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Whitton, C. "Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1) – Tacitus and the Histories." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Nov 2019,


Prof. Christopher Whitton

Prof. Christopher Whitton

University of Cambridge