The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Julius Caeser
Rome in the first century was carefully chronicled by Roman historians, particularly Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio Cassius – that is why we know so much about it.

Tacitus was a political player in his own right and he observed first hand the last years of Domitian’s rule. Under Nerva, he became consul of Rome and in 98 AD, he began writing history.

History of the first century

His first books covered areas of particular interest – the life of his father-in-law, Agricola; a discussion of oratory and a description of Germania, the Roman frontier on the river Rhine.

He then turned his attention to history. In “Historiae,” he documented the years from 69 to 96 AD, from Galba, through Vespasian, to the end of Domitian’s reign.

By now, Tacitus was one of Trajan’s senior officials. He began his “Annals,” which documented the history of Rome from the accession of Tiberius to the throne in 14 AD to the death of Nero, 54 years later.

Critical judgment

Much of the work has been lost, but in the surviving books, he describes the reigns of Tiberius and Claudius, painting a vivid picture of these important figures. Because he was writing about dead emperors who belonged to a dead dynasty, he had the freedom to write about the period with a critical eye.

As a result, the “Annals” describe the decline of political freedom. Tacitus made explicit parallels between Tiberius and Domitian, arguing that two very different men managed to be corrupted for similar reasons. His judgments would help shape Roman history for centuries to come.


Other biographers and historians followed in Tacitus' wake. They blended official accounts from the imperial archives with first person accounts of the past, along with rumors and gossip.

Suetonius grew up in the equestrian class and was initially supported by his friend, Pliny the Younger. His main work, “Lives of the Caesars,” gave a vivid picture of Rome from the time of Julius Caesar to the Emperor Domitian.

In this book, Suetonius organized his biographies not by person, but by topic, comparing emperors’ backgrounds, family lives, careers, personalities and public actions during their reign.

Along with the later writings of Dio Cassius, the work of Tacitus and Suetonius still form the basis of our understanding of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

Where to next:
Emperors - Tiberius
Emperors - Claudius

Virtual Library: Read some excerpts from Tacitus & Cassius Dio writings.


Mother and child   Sword   Sword  
Fire   Christianity   Sword  


Assimilation of the Barbarians   Defeat in Germany      

Related Links:

Virtual Library   Virtual Library
Writers   Writers
The Roman Empire

Republic to Empire

Age of Augustus

Years of Trial

Empire Reborn


Social Order

Life in Roman Times

- Virgil
- Ovid
- Seneca
- Petronius
- Pliny the Elder
- Pliny the Younger
- Historians
- Juvenal

Enemies and Rebels


The Roman Empire - In The First Century