Though Tacitus does not, for the most part, appear in his account of Agricola’s life, his presence as narrator is strongly felt throughout the essay, most evidently through his relationship to Agricola. In 78 or 79 AD, Tacitus married Agricola’s daughter, Julia, which he refers to several times, notably at the end of the essay, when he addresses Agricola directly.
A historian and senator, Tacitus was born into the propertied class around 56 or 57 AD, during the reign of Nero. Little is known about his personal life. As a youth, he studied rhetoric in anticipation of a career in politics and law. Despite his harsh portrayal of Domitian, Tacitus is believed to have enjoyed professional success during Domitian’s reign. “Agricola” was one of Tacitus’s earliest works and explores themes that he would develop in more depth in the two works he is best known for, The Annals and The Histories: Roman expansion and the consequences of empire.
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Some scholars have theorized that the treason trials of 93 (also the year of Agricola’s death), which resulted in execution and exile for those involved, traumatized Tacitus. The events that played out may have inspired him to mediate on how best to conduct oneself while living under tyranny.