Gaius Cornelius Tacitus – The Histories

Histories of Historiae (Latin) is a Roman historical chronicle by Gaius (or Publius) Cornelius Tacitus written c. 100–110. It covers c. 69–96, a period which includes the Year of Four Emperors following the downfall of Nero, as well as the period between the rise of the Flavian Dynasty under Vespasian and the death of Domitian.

Together, the Histories and the Annals amounted to 30 books. Although scholars disagree on how to assign the books to each work, traditionally, fourteen are assigned to Histories and sixteen to the Annals. Tacitus’ friend Pliny the Younger referred to “your histories” when writing to Tacitus about the earlier work.

The excerpts below are taken from the Project Gutenberg EBook: The Histories, Volumes I and II by Caius Cornelius Tacitus, translated by W. Hamilton Fyfe.

The textual notes and bracketed superscripts are all part of the Gutenberg text.

References to Britain and the Britons in The Histories, Volumes I and II by Caius Cornelius


[ix] “… The army in Britain showed no bad feeling. All through the disturbance of the civil wars no troops kept cleaner hands. This may have been because they were so far away and severed by the sea, or perhaps frequent engagements had taught them to keep their rancour for the enemy…”

[xxxvii] “… It is but seven months since Nero’s death, and already Icelus alone has embezzled more than all the depredations of Polyclitus and Vatinius and Aegialus[63] put together…”

  1. Freedmen who had curried favour with Nero. Polyclitus was sent to inquire into Suetonius Paulinus’ administration of Britain after the revolt of Boadicea in A.D. 61. Vatinius was a deformed cobbler from Beneventum who became a sort of court buffoon, and acquired great wealth and bad influence.

[xliii] “… Eventually, Otho, who was burning to have him killed,[72] dispatched as special agents, Sulpicius Florus of the British cohorts, a man whom Galba had recently enfranchised, and Statius Murcus of the Body Guard. They dragged Piso forth and butchered him on the threshold of the temple.”

  1. According to Plutarch, when they brought Otho Galba’s head, he said, ‘That’s nothing: show me Piso’s.’

[lix] “… The forces in Raetia lost no time in joining his standard, and even the troops in Britain showed no hesitation. Trebellius Maximus, the governor of Britain, had earned by his [lx] meanness and cupidity the contempt and hatred of the army,[118] which was further inflamed by the action of his old enemy Roscius Coelius, who commanded the Twentieth legion, and they now seized the opportunity of the civil war to break out into a fierce quarrel. Trebellius blamed Coelius for the mutinous temper and insubordination of the army: Coelius complained that Trebellius had robbed his men and impaired their efficiency. Meanwhile their unseemly quarrel ruined the discipline of the forces, whose insubordination soon came to a head. The auxiliary horse and foot joined in the attacks on the governor, and rallied round Coelius. Trebellius, thus hunted out and abandoned, took refuge with Vitellius. The province remained quiet, despite the removal of the ex-consul. The government was carried on by the commanding officers of the legions, who were equal in authority, though Coelius’ audacity gave him an advantage over the rest. Thus reinforced by the army from Britain,[119] Vitellius, who now [lxi] had an immense force and vast resources at his disposal, decided on an invasion by two routes under two separate generals. …”

  1. Their mutiny in A.D. 69 is described by Tacitus, _Agr._ 16.
  2. i.e. by detachments from it.

[lxx] “… But one troop of horse could not garrison the whole of the widest part of Italy. Caecina accordingly hurried forward the Gallic, Lusitanian, and British auxiliaries, and some German detachments, together with ‘Petra’s Horse’,[148] while he himself hesitated whether he should not cross the Raetian Alps[149] into Noricum and attack the governor, Petronius Urbicus, who, having raised a force of irregulars and broken down the bridges, was supposed to be a faithful adherent of Otho. …”

  1. Petra occurs as the name of two Roman knights in _Ann._ xi. 4. One of these or a relative was probably the original leader of the troop.
  2. The Arlberg.


[xi] “Meanwhile the war opened successfully for Otho. At his order the armies of Dalmatia and Pannonia started from their base. They comprised four legions,[226] each of which had sent forward detachments two thousand strong. The rest followed at a short interval: the Seventh legion raised by Galba,[227] the Eleventh and Thirteenth, both composed of veteran troops, and the Fourteenth, which had won great distinction by crushing the rebellion in Britain.[228] Nero had further increased their glory by choosing them for special service,[229] which accounts for their lasting loyalty to Nero and their keen support of Otho. …”

  1. See note 3.
  2. The legion brought from Spain, mentioned in i. 6.
  3. The revolt of Boadicea crushed by Suetonius Paulinus; described by Tacitus in his life of Agricola and in Book XIV of the _Annals_.
  4. i.e. for his projected war against the Albanians (cp. i. 6). Probably they stopped in Dalmatia on hearing of Nero’s fall.

[xxvii] “… The Batavian auxiliaries, who had left the Fourteenth legion during the war against Vindex, heard of Vitellius’ rising while on their way to Britain, and, as I have already described,[275] joined Fabius Valens in the country of the Lingones. There they grew insolent. Whenever they passed the tents of the Roman soldiers, they boasted loudly that they had coerced the Fourteenth, had deprived Nero of Italy, and held the whole issue of the war in the hollow of their hand. …”

  1. i. 59 and 64.

[xxxii] Suetonius Paulinus, who was considered the most experienced general of his day,[283] now felt it was due to his reputation to deliver his views on the general conduct of the war. His contention was that the enemy’s interests were best served by haste, Otho’s by delay. He argued thus: ‘The whole of Vitellius’ force has now arrived and he has few reinforcements in his rear, for the Gallic provinces are in a ferment, and it would be fatal to abandon the Rhine with all those hostile tribes ready to swarm across it. The troops in Britain are busy with their own foes and cut off by the sea: the Spanish provinces can scarcely spare any troops: the Narbonese are seriously alarmed by their recent reverse and the inroads of our fleet. …”

  1. He had made his name in a Moorish war (A.D. 42), when he had penetrated as far as Mount Atlas, and increased his reputation by suppressing the rebellion of Boadicea when he was governor of Britain (A.D. 59).

[xxxvii] “In some of my authorities[294] I find a statement that either a growing fear of war or dislike of the two emperors, whose discreditable misconduct grew daily more notorious, led the armies to hesitate whether they should not give up the struggle and either themselves combine to choose an emperor or refer the choice to the senate. This, it is suggested, was the motive of Otho’s generals in advising delay, and Paulinus in particular had high hopes, since he was the senior ex-consul, and a distinguished general who had earned a brilliant reputation by his operations in Britain. For my own part, while I am ready to admit that a few people may have tacitly wished for peace instead of civil war, or for a good and virtuous emperor instead of two who were the worst of criminals, yet I imagine that Paulinus was much too wise to hope that in a time of universal corruption the people would show such moderation. …”

  1. Plutarch, in his Life of Otho, after quoting the view of the emperor’s secretary, Secundus, that Otho was over-strained and desperate, goes on to give the explanation of ‘others’. This agrees exactly with the story given here. Plutarch and Tacitus are apparently quoting from the same authority, unknown to us, perhaps Cluvius Rufus.

[lvii] “… Leaving Hordeonius Flaccus to guard the line of the Rhine, Vitellius advanced with a picked detachment from the army in Britain, eight thousand strong. After a few days’ march he received news of the victory of Bedriacum and the collapse of the war on the death of Otho. …”

[lxv] “… However, Cluvius’ influence carried the day, and Vitellius even had his own freedman punished. Cluvius was given a place at court, while still retaining Spain, of which he was absentee governor, following the precedent of Lucius Arruntius. In his case, however, Tiberius’ motive had been suspicion, whereas Vitellius detained Cluvius without any such qualms.[369] Trebellius Maximus[370] was not allowed the same privilege. He had fled from Britain to escape the fury of his troops. Vettius Bolanus, who was then about the court, was sent out to take his place. The soldiers of the defeated legions still gave Vitellius a good [lxvi] deal of anxiety. Their spirit was by no means broken. They distributed themselves all over Italy, mingling with the victors and talking treason. The most uncompromising of all were the Fourteenth, who refused to acknowledge their defeat. At Bedriacum, they argued, it was only a detachment that had been beaten, the main strength of the legion was not present.[371] It was decided to send them back to Britain, whence Nero had summoned them, and meanwhile they were to share their quarters with the Batavian irregulars, because of the long-standing feud between them.[372] Quartered as they were under arms, their mutual hatred soon broke out into disorder. At Turin[373] one of the Batavians was cursing a workman for having cheated him, when a legionary, who lodged with the workman, took his part. Each quickly gathered his fellow soldiers round him, and from abuse they came to bloodshed. Indeed, a fierce battle would have broken out, unless two regiments of Guards had sided with the Fourteenth, thus giving them confidence and frightening the Batavians. Vitellius gave orders that the Batavians should be drafted into his army, while the legion was to be marched over the Graian Alps[374] by a d?tour which would avoid Vienne.[375] Its inhabitants were another cause for alarm.[376] On the night on which the legion started they left fires burning all over Turin, and part of the town was burnt down. This disaster, like so many others in the civil war, has been obliterated by the greater calamities which befell other cities. No sooner were the Fourteenth across the Alps than the most mutinous spirits started off to march for Vienne, but they were stopped by the unanimous interference of the better men, and the legion was shipped across to Britain.”

  1. In the _Annals_ Tacitus mentions Tiberius’ habit of appointing provincial governors without any intention of allowing them to leave Rome. See _Ann._ i. 80, vi. 27.
  2. See i. 60.
  3. See chap. 43.
  4. See i. 59, 64, ii. 27.
  5. _Augusta Taurinorum_.
  6. Little St. Bernard.
  7. See i. 65. The legions there might make common cause with them.
  8. They had suffered once already (see i. 65, 66).

[lxxxvi] “… So the Vespasian party used all their efforts to fan every spark of discontent throughout the empire. Letters were sent to the Fourteenth in Britain and to the First in Spain,[423] since both these legions had stood for Otho against Vitellius. In Gaul, too, letters were scattered broadcast. …”

  1. Cp. chaps. 66 and 67.

[xcvii] “Vitellius, nevertheless, sent for reinforcements from Germany, Britain, and the Spanish provinces, though with a lack of urgency which was intended to conceal his straits. The provinces and their governors showed the same want of enthusiasm. Hordeonius Flaccus,[447] who had suspicions of the Batavi, was distracted with a war of his own,[448] while Vettius Bolanus[449] never had Britain under complete control: nor was the loyally of either beyond doubt. …”

  1. He had been left to guard the Rhine.
  2. See chap. 57. The revolt of Civilis was soon to break out.
  3. See chap. 65.

[c] “… The centre was composed of the Fifth and Twenty-second, and in the rear of the column came the Twenty-first Rapax and the First Italian legion, with detachments from the three legions of Britain and a select force of auxiliaries. …”


[i] “… Those who were in favour of waiting for reinforcements and prolonging the war dwelt on the strength and reputation of the German legions, and pointed out that the flower of the British army had lately arrived in Rome with Vitellius;[2] their own forces were numerically inferior and had recently suffered defeat; moreover, conquered troops, however bold their language, never show the same courage. …”

  1. i.e. the detachments 8,000 strong from the army in Britain (see ii. 57).

[xxii] “… In their fury and the darkness the Vitellian line was so disordered that one can hardly venture to describe the disposition of their troops. However, it has been stated that the Fourth Macedonian legion were on the right flank; in the centre were the Fifth and Fifteenth with the detachments of the Ninth, the Second and the Twentieth from Britain; the Sixteenth, the Twenty-second, and the First formed the left wing. …”

[xli] “He wrote to Vitellius demanding reinforcements, and there arrived three cohorts of Guards and a regiment of cavalry from Britain, too many to slip through unobserved and too few to force a passage. …”

[xliv] “With the capture of Valens the tide had now fully turned in favour of Vespasian. The movement had been begun in Spain by the First legion _Adjutrix_,[114] whose reverence for Otho’s memory made them hate Vitellius. They carried the Tenth and the Sixth[115] with them. The provinces of Gaul soon followed suit. Britain was bound to his cause by the favour felt for one who had been sent there by Claudius in command of the Second legion, and had fought with great distinction in the war. But the adherence of the province was to some extent opposed by the other legions, in which many of the centurions and soldiers had been promoted by Vitellius. They were used to their emperor and felt some doubt about the change. [xlv] This quarrel between the legions and the constant rumours of civil war, encouraged the Britons to take heart. Their chief instigator was one Venutius. He was of a ferocious disposition and hated the name of Rome, but his strongest motive was a private quarrel with Queen Cartimandua, a member of a powerful family, who ruled the Brigantes.[116] Her authority had lately increased, since she had betrayed King Caratacus into the hands of the Romans, and was thus considered to have provided Claudius Caesar with material for his triumph.[117] Thus she had grown rich, and with prosperity came demoralization. She threw over Venutius, who was her husband, and gave her hand and kingdom to his squire, Vellocatus. This crime soon proved the ruin of her house. The people supported her husband: she defended her lover with passionate ferocity. Venutius therefore summoned assistance and, aided by the simultaneous revolt of the Brigantes, brought Cartimandua into dire straits. She petitioned for troops from Rome. Our auxiliaries, both horse and foot, then fought several engagements with varying success, but eventually rescued the queen. Thus the kingdom was left in the hands of Venutius and the war in ours.”

  1. The marines (see ii. 67, i. 6).
  2. X Gemina, VI Victrix.
  3. They occupied a large district of the north of England, from the Trent to the Tyne.
  4. As a matter of fact his triumph took place in 44. Caratacus was brought to Rome in 51. Perhaps Tacitus regards this in itself as a ‘triumph’, or else he makes a venial mistake.

[lix] “… Certainly chance helped the Flavian generals quite as often as their own strategy. Here they came across Petilius Cerialis,[162] who had been enabled by his knowledge of the country to elude Vitellius’ outposts, disguised as a peasant. As he was a near relative of Vespasian and a distinguished soldier he was given a place on the staff. …”

  1. A distinguished officer, who successfully crushed the rebellion on the Rhine (Book IV), and became governor of Britain in 71.

[lxx] “… While the issue was being decided between Vespasian and Vitellius by the engagement of legions, the capture of towns, the capitulation of cohorts; even when the provinces of Spain, of Germany, of Britain, had risen in revolt; he, though Vespasian’s brother, had still remained faithful to his allegiance, until Vitellius, unasked, began to invite him to a conference. …”


[xii] “… The Batavi were once a tribe of the Chatti,[265] living on the further bank of the Rhine. But an outbreak of civil war had driven them across the river, where they settled in a still unoccupied district on the frontier of Gaul and also in the neighbouring island, enclosed on one side by the ocean and on the other three sides by the Rhine.[266] There they fared better than most tribes who ally themselves to a stronger power. Their resources are still intact, and they have only to contribute men and arms for the imperial army.[267] After a long training in the German wars, they still further increased their reputation in Britain, where their troops had been sent, commanded according to an ancient custom by some of the noblest chiefs. There still remained behind in their own country a picked troop of horsemen with a peculiar knack of swimming, which enabled them to make a practice[268] of crossing the Rhine with unbroken ranks without losing control of their horses or their weapons.”

  1. One of the greatest and most warlike of the German tribes living in the modern Hessen-Nassau and Waldeck. Tacitus describes them at length in his _Germania_.
  2. i.e. a stretch of land about sixty miles in length, from Nymwegen to the Hook of Holland, enclosed by the diverging mouths of the Rhine, the northern of which is now called the Lek, the southern the Waal (in Tacitus’ time Vahalis). The name Betuwe is still applied to the eastern part of this island.
  3. In the _Germania_ Tacitus says that, like weapons, they are kept exclusively for use in war, and are spared the indignity of taxation.
  4. Some such word as _peritus_ or _exercitus_ must be supplied at the end of this chapter.

[xv] “… Civilis next sent secret messages to win over the Batavian troops, which after serving as Roman auxiliaries in Britain had been sent, as we have already seen,[277] to Germany and were now stationed at Mainz.[278] …”

  1. ii. 29.
  2. Mogontiacum.

[liv] “Meanwhile,[384] the news of Vitellius’ death had spread through Gaul and Germany and redoubled the vigour of the war. Civilis now dropped all pretence and hurled himself upon the Roman Empire. The Vitellian legions felt that even foreign slavery was preferable to owning Vespasian’s sovereignty. The Gauls too had taken heart. A rumour had been spread that our winter camps in Moesia and Pannonia were being blockaded by Sarmatians and Dacians:[385] similar stories were fabricated about Britain: the Gauls began to think that the fortune of the Roman arms was the same all the world over. But above all, the burning of the Capitol led them to believe that the empire was coming to an end. ‘Once in old days the Gauls had captured Rome, but her empire had stood firm since Jupiter’s high-place was left unscathed. But now, so the Druids[386] with superstitious folly kept dinning into their ears, this fatal fire was a sign of Heaven’s anger, and meant that the Transalpine tribes were destined now to rule the world.’ It was also persistently rumoured that the Gallic chieftains, whom Otho had sent to work against Vitellius,[387] had agreed, before they parted, that if Rome sank under its internal troubles in an unbroken sequence of civil wars, they would not fail the cause of the Gallic freedom.”

  1. Tacitus here resumes the thread of his narrative of the rebellion on the Rhine, interrupted at the end of chap. 37, and goes back from July to January, A.D. 70.
  2. Cp. iii. 46.
  3. The danger of Druidism was always before the eyes of the emperors. Augustus had forbidden Roman citizens to adopt it. Claudius had tried to stamp it out in Gaul and in Britain, yet they appear again here to preach a fanatic nationalism. However, this seems to be their last appearance as leaders of revolt.
  4. Probably they were in Rome, and were sent back to their homes to intrigue against Vitellius’ rising power.

[lxviii] “… Three victorious legions, the Eighth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth;[420] the Twenty-first–one of Vitellius’ legions–and the Second, which had been newly enrolled, all started for the front, some by way of the Poenine and Cottian[421] Alps, others over the Graian Alps.[422] The Fourteenth was also summoned from Britain, and the Sixth and First from Spain. …”

  1. The text is here uncertain, and some historians maintain that the third of these legions was not XIII Gemina but VII Claudia (v. Henderson, _Civil War_, &c., p. 291).
  2. Great St. Bernard and Mt. Gen?vre.
  3. Little St. Bernard.

[lxxiv] “… Vice will last as long as mankind. But these evils are not continual. There are intervals of good government, which make up for them. You cannot surely hope that the tyranny of Tutor and Classicus would mean milder government, or that they will need less taxation for the armies they will have to raise to keep the Germans and Britons at bay. For if the Romans were driven out–which Heaven forbid–what could ensue save a universal state of intertribal warfare? …”

[lxxix] “… At the same moment Cerialis came by forced marches to the relief of Cologne. A further anxiety haunted Civilis. He was afraid that the Fourteenth legion, in conjunction with the fleet from Britain,[445] might harry the Batavian coast. However, Fabius Priscus, who was in command, led his troops inland into the country of the Nervii and Tungri, who surrendered to him. …”

  1. A small flotilla on guard in the Channel. It probably now transported the Fourteenth and landed them at Boulogne.


[xvi] “… He then gave special encouragement to each of the legions, calling the Fourteenth the conquerors of Britain,[525] reminding the Sixth that the influence of their example had set Galba on the throne,[526] and telling the Second that in the coming fight they would for the first time dedicate their new colours and their new eagle to Rome’s service.[527] …”

  1. Cp. ii. 11.
  2. Cp. iii. 44.
  3. They had been newly enrolled (see iv. 68).

References for The Histories