Voyages and Travels: Ancient and Modern. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE DATES of the birth and death of Tacitus are uncertain, but it is probable that he was born about 54 A. D. and died after 117. He was a contemporary and friend of the younger Pliny, who addressed to him some of his most famous epistles. Tacitus was apparently of the equestrian class, was an advocate by training, and had a reputation as an orator, though none of his speeches has survived. He held a number of important public offices, and married the daughter of Agricola, the conqueror of Britain, whose life he wrote.
The two chief works of Tacitus, the Annals and the Histories, covered the history of Rome from the death of Augustus to A. D. 96; but the greater part of the Histories is lost, and the fragment that remains deals only with the year 69 and part of 70. In the Annals there are several gaps, but what survives describes a large part of the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero. His minor works, besides the life of Agricola, already mentioned, are a Dialogue on Orators and the account of Germany, its situation, its inhabitants, their character and customs, which is here printed.
Tacitus stands in the front rank of the historians of antiquity for the accuracy of his learning, the fairness of his judgments, the richness, concentration, and precision of his style. His great successor, Gibbon, called him a philosophical historian, whose writings will instruct the last generations of mankind; and Montaigne knew no author who, in a work of history, has taken so broad a view of human events or given a more just analysis of particular characters.
The Germany treatise is a document of the greatest interest and importance, since it gives us by far the most detailed account of the state of culture among the tribes that are the ancestors of the modern Teutonic nations, at the time when they first came into contact with the civilization of the Mediterranean.