Ta'citus, M. Clau'dius
Roman emperor from the 25th September, A. D. 275, until April, A. D. 276.
After the death of Aurelian, the army in Thrace, filled with remorse on account of their fatal mistake [AURELIANUS], and eager to testify their penitence, instead of proclaiming a new emperor with tumultuous haste, despatched a submissive letter to the senate, requesting that assembly to nominate out of their own body a successor to the vacant throne, and pledging themselves to ratify the choice.
The senate at first received this most unlooked-for communication with mingled surprise and distrust, and, fearing to take advantage of what might prove a very transient ebullition of feeling, courteously declined to accede to the proposal.
At the same time, expressing their frill confidence in the discretion of the soldiers, they referred the election to the voice of the legions.
The troops, however, again urged the fathers to yield to their wishes ; and although again met with the same reply, still persisted in their original solicitation.
This extraordinary contest continued for upwards of six months, "an amazing period," says Gibbon, " of tranquil anarchy, during which the Roman world remained without a sovereign, without an usurper, and without sedition."
Such a state of things could not however long endure.
The barbarians on the frontiers, who had been quelled and daunted by the skill and daring vaiour of Aurelian, were not slow to take advantage of the opportunity presented by this strange position of public affairs. The Germans had already crossed the Rhine : Persia, Syria, Africa, Illyria and Egypt were in commotion, when the senate, at length convinced that the soldiers were sincere, joyfully prepared to discharge a duty so unexpectedly devolved upon them.
At a meeting convoked on the 25th of September, A. D. 275, by the consul Velius Cornificius Gordianus, all with one voice declared that no one could be found so worthy of the throne as M. Claudius Tacitus, an aged consular, a native of Interamna (Vopisc. Florian. 2
), who claimed descent from the great historian whose name he bore, who was celebrated for his devotion to literature, for his vast wealth, for his pure and upright character, and who stood first on the roll.
The real or feigned earnestness with which he declined the proffered honour, on account of his advanced age and infirmities, was encountered by the reiterated acclamations of his brethren, who overwhelmed him with arguments and precedents, until at length, yielding to their importunate zeal, he consented to proceed to the Campus Martins, and there received the greetings of the people, and the praetorians assembled to do homage to their new ruler. Quitting the city, he repaired to the great army still quartered in Thrace, by whom, on their being promised the arrears of pay and the customary donative, he was favourably received. One of his first acts was to seek out and put to death all who had been concerned in the murder of his predecessor, whose character he held in high honour, commanding statues of gold and silver to be erected to his memory in the most frequented thoroughfares of the metropolis.
He likewise directed his attention to the improvement of public morals by the enactment of various sumptuary laws regulating the amusements, luxurious indulgences, and dress of the citizens, he himself setting an example to all around, by the abstemiousness, simplicity, and frugality of his own habits. His great object was to revive the authority of the senate, which now for a brief period asserted and maintained a semblance of its ancient dignity, and the private letters preserved by Vopiscus (Florian.
6) exhibit an amusing picture of the sacrifices and banquets by which the senators manifested their exultation at the prospect opening up before them of a complete restoration of their ancient privileges.
The only military achievement of this reign was the defeat and expulsion from Asia Minor of a party of Goths, natives of the shores of the sea of Asof, who having been invited by Aurelian to cooperate in his meditated invasion of the East, and having been disappointed of their promised reward by the death of that prince, had turned their arms against the peaceful provinces on the southern coasts of the Euxine, and had carried their devastations vastations across the peninsula to the confines of Cilicia.
But the advanced years and failing strength of Tacitus were unable any longer to support the cares and toils so suddenly imposed upon him, and his anxieties were still farther increased by the mutinous spirit of the army, which soon ceased to respect a leader whose bodily and mental energies were fast hurrying to decay.
After a short struggle, he sunk tinder the attack of a fever, either at Tarsus or at Tyana, about the 9th of April, A. D. 276; according to Victor, exactly two hundred days after his accession.
By one account, he fell a victim to the anger of the soldiers; but the weight, of evidence tends to prove that they were not the direct instruments, at least, of his destruction.
Our best authority is the biography of Vopiscus, who, if not actually an eyewitness of what he recounts, had an opportunity of consulting the rich collection of state papers stored up in the Ulpian Library; and from these he gives several remarkable extracts.
He refers also to a more complete life of Tacitus by a certain Suetonius Optatianus, but of this no fragment remains.
See likewise Eutrop. 9.10
; Aurel. Vict. de Caes.
xxxvi.; Zonar. 12.28
, who says that he was seventy-five years old, and in Campania, when proclaimed emperor.