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Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1)

3. Rumour and Flattery

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In this module, we think about the significance of false speech in the first half of Book 1 of the Histories, focusing in particular on the narrative of Otho's coup against Galba.


In this course, Dr Ellen O'Gorman (University of Bristol) explores Tacitus' Histories, focusing in particular on Book 1. We begin by providing a broader introduction to the Histories, thinking about the scope of the work, as well as how the first half of Book 1 fits in with some of the central themes of the work. In the second module, we look in more detail at the Preface to the Histories (1.1-3) and some of the problems that Tacitus admits to facing when writing a history of the period, before turning in the third module to the significance of rumour, flattery and other kinds of false speech in Book 1 of the Histories. In the fourth module, we think about Tacitus' approach to historical causation, focusing on the importance of miscommunication and misrepresentation as motivating factors, before moving on in the fifth module to consider the importance of the military in the Histories. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about the figures of Galba and Otho themselves – what kind of men they were, their relationship with the military, and why it was that Otho ultimately came out on top.


Dr Ellen O'Gorman is Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol. Her main research interests are in Roman historiography as a dynamic interaction of literary, historical, and political thinking. She is currently writing a book on Tacitus’ works as an exemplary archive and transmission of politically efficacious speech. She is co-founder of the international research network on Rancière and Classical Antiquity.

She has published many articles on a broad range of Latin literature – poetry and prose – from the late Republic to the second century AD. She has also published on the reception of the ancient historians in translations, historical fictions, and political commentaries, from the renaissance to the present day. She is the author of Irony and Misreading in the Annals of Tacitus (2000), and the co-editor of Classical Myth and Psychoanalysis: Ancient and Modern Stories of the Self (2013).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

O'Gorman, E. (2018, August 15). Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1) - Rumour and Flattery [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

O'Gorman, E. "Tacitus: The Year of the Four Emperors (Histories 1) – Rumour and Flattery." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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