At Hasting and Hasting, we are proud to have been called to one of the world’s most ancient professions. The vocation of lawyering dates back as far as history itself, and some of the most notable players in antiquity were lawyers. Looking back is always interesting because it shows that things were then as they are now. Like many great authors today, Tactius started out as a lawyer before becoming the greatest historian ever to recount the life of Rome.
Like most great thinkers from the Roman Empire, Tactius was born into the equestrian class (aristocratic class) in northern Italy. Tactius was sent to Rome to study Rhetoric. He showed promise, and thus, was invited to study law under the great master Quintilian, the professor who taught Cicero, arguably Rome’s greatest lawyer. Tactius’ vocation as a lawyer is ironic, because the name means “silent” in ancient Latin. Eventually, he served the populus romana as a senator during the reign of Vespasian and Nerva. The height of his fame as an orator came from his heart wrenching eulogy, delivered at the funeral of Lucius Rufus, a great Roman solider.
After gaining the hearts of the people of Rome, and consequently, widespread fame, Tactius was commissioned to write De Origine et situ Germanorum. The expository work described the northern territory’s (what we know as Germany and Austria), the geography, culture, and military strength. Its purpose was no doubt to invigorate the roman people with the lust to conquer Germania.
But Tactius gained immortality away from the courtroom and the senate house. After a long career in politics he retired to his estate and began drafting the Annals and the Histories. These works describe in detail, the reign of Augustus to the reign of Nerva. Basically, Trajan is the Machiavelli of his time. He provides an objective account of history with piercing insight into the power politics of Rome. Also, his Histories is one of the first texts secular texts to mention Christianity, as he describes Nero’s prosecution of the early Christians.