Tacitus (emperor)

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Marcus Claudius Tacitus (/ˈtæsɪtəs/; c. 200 – June 276) was Roman emperor from 275 to 276. During his short reign he campaigned against the Goths and the Heruli, for which he received the title Gothicus Maximus.

Statue of Tacitus
Bust of the Emperor Tacitus
Roman emperor
Reign25 September 275 – June 276
Bornc. 200
Interamna, Italy
DiedJune 276 (aged 76)
Antoniana Colonia Tyana, Cappadocia
Marcus Claudius Tacitus[1]

Early lifeEdit

Antoninianus of Tacitus. Legend: IMPerator Caesar Marcus CLavdius TACITVS AVGustus.

Tacitus was born in Interamna (Terni), in Italia.[2] He circulated copies of the historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus' work, which was barely read at the time, perhaps contributing to the partial survival of the historian's work. Modern historiography rejects his claimed descent from the historian as a fabrication.[3] In the course of his long life he discharged the duties of various civil offices, holding the consulship twice, once under Valerian and again in 273, earning universal respect.[4]


After the assassination of Aurelian, the army, apparently in remorse at the effects of the previous centuries' military license, which had brought about the death of the well-liked emperor, relinquished the right of choosing his successor to the Senate.[5] Initially, the Senate hesitated to accept the responsibility, but when the delay had gone on eight months from Aurelian's death it at last determined to settle the matter and offered the throne to the aged Princeps Senatus, Tacitus.[6]

Tacitus, after ascertaining the sincerity of the Senate's regard for him, accepted their nomination on 25 September 275,[7] and the choice was cordially ratified by the army.[1] This was the last time the Senate elected a Roman Emperor. The interregnum between Aurelian and Tacitus had been quite long, and there is substantial evidence that Aurelian's wife, Ulpia Severina, ruled in her own right before the election of Tacitus.[8][9] Tacitus had been living in Campania before his election, and returned only reluctantly to the assembly of the Senate in Rome, where he was elected. He immediately asked the Senators to deify Aurelian, before arresting and executing Aurelian's murderers.[10]

Amongst the highest concerns of the new reign was the restoration of the ancient Senatorial powers. He granted substantial prerogatives to the Senate, securing to them by law the appointment of the emperor, of the consuls, and the provincial governors, as well as supreme right of appeal from every court in the empire in its judicial function, and the direction of certain branches of the revenue in its long-abeyant administrative capacity.[11] Probus respected these changes, but after the reforms of Diocletian in the succeeding decades not a vestige would be left of them.

Fighting barbariansEdit

Next he moved against the barbarian mercenaries that had been gathered by Aurelian to supplement Roman forces for his Eastern campaign.[citation needed] These mercenaries had plundered several towns in the Eastern Roman provinces after Aurelian had been murdered and the campaign cancelled.[12] His half-brother, the Praetorian Prefect Florianus, and Tacitus himself won a victory against these tribes, among which were the Heruli, gaining the emperor the title Gothicus Maximus.[10]


On his way back to the west to deal with a Frankish and Alamannic invasion of Gaul, according to Aurelius Victor, Eutropius and the Historia Augusta, Tacitus died of fever at Tyana in Cappadocia in June 276.[13][14] It was reported that he began acting strangely, declaring that he would alter the names of the months to honor himself, before succumbing to a fever.[citation needed] In a contrary account, Zosimus claims he was assassinated, after appointing one of his relatives to an important command in Syria.[15]


  1. ^ a b Jones, pg. 873
  2. ^ Historia Augusta, Vita Taciti, 15:1
  3. ^ McMahon, Note 3 and accompanying text
  4. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), ch. XII., p. 276
  5. ^ Gibbon, pp. 274-278
  6. ^ Gibbon, p. 277; He was then 75 years old.
  7. ^ Hinson, E. Glenn (1995). The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300. Mercer University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0865544360.
  8. ^ Watson, Alaric (1999). Aurelian and the Third Century. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07248-4.
  9. ^ Körner, Christian (December 23, 2008). "Aurelian (A.D. 270–275)". De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers and Their Families. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Southern, pg. 127
  11. ^ Gibbon, p. 279
  12. ^ Gibbon, p. 280
  13. ^ Aurelius Victor, 36:1
  14. ^ Historia Augusta, Vita Taciti, 13:5
  15. ^ Zosimus, I:63:2


Primary sourcesEdit

Secondary sourcesEdit

Further readingEdit

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman emperor
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
T. Flavius Postumius Quietus
Junius Veldumnianus
Roman consul
with Julius Placidianus
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Roman consul
with Aemilianus
Succeeded by