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Emperor Tacitus

(200 - 276 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Emperor Tacitus

Marcus Claudius Tacitus

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Marcus Claudius Tacitus Augustus


275 – 276 CE


200 CE


276 CE

Coin of Tacitus

The assassination of Aurelian in 275 caused shock and disbelief in the ranks of the Danube Army. None of the commanders dared reach for the purple. Remarkably, the chiefs of other armies also retained their restraint – everyone was afraid of a civil war. The army asked the senate for the election of a new emperor, which was unusual in this period. Senators surprised by the sudden exaltation, out of caution, wanted to shift the burden of selecting a candidate for the army, but the army consistently refused. Meanwhile, there was an interregnum in the Empire. Ultimately, the senators made their choice, and there are many indications that it was a carefully thought-out choice.

On September 25, 275, Marcus Claudius Tacitus, born in 200, and therefore already 75 years old, was proclaimed the emperor. Emperor Tacitus came from the town of Interamna, located in central Italy, and reigned as Emperor Caesar Marcus Claudius Tacitus Augustus.

Imperator Tacitus

Tacitus was to cooperate with the senate and initiated many reforms. In addition, he honoured the tragically deceased Aurelian with numerous statues and punished his murderers. He lived modestly and also acted to reduce luxury in Rome – he introduced a ban on the wearing of silk robes by men and ordered the city baths to be closed at night to curb excesses taking place there.

The feeling of the duty of the new ruler is evidenced by the fact that he set out in 276 with an expedition to Asia Minor, even though such a long journey must have been difficult for a husband at that age. The emperor quickly and decisively dealt with the ravaging Goths and Alans, most likely former mercenaries recruited by Aurelian for the expedition against Persia. Tacitus was supported in his activities by his stepbrother, whom he made the prefect of the praetorium, the future emperor Florian.

In the late spring of 276, the emperor found her death. Sources indicate different places and ways of the Emperor’s death. Zosimos claimed that after the victorious fight against the “Scythians”, Tacitus had already departed for Europe, where he was caught up and killed by murderers, fearing punishment for the earlier murder of Maximin, the cousin of the emperor appointed to govern Syria.

A descendant of a great historian?

Emperor Tacitus claimed to be the descendant of the famous historian of the same name. According to prof. Aleksander Krawczuk, however, should be put in between fairy tales, because Tacitus – a historian came from the Cornelius family, while the Emperor of the 3rd century was called Claudius. However, from the aforementioned statements of the emperor, something very important for our knowledge of the history of Rome emerged. The emperor ordered the works of the “ancestor” to be copied so that they could be found in every library. Such a multitude of copies of the works of the great historian meant that they did not disappear in the darkness of history, and later transcribed have survived to our times.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • A. Krawczuk, Poczet Cesarzy Rzymskich: Dominat, Warszawa 1991
  • Zosimos, Nova Historia
  • Photo: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

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