About the Entries

Anatomy of an entry

Headwords are ordered in letter-by-letter alphabetical order up to the first punctuation in the headword.

Entries on persons in Tacitus (the bulk of entries) begin, when possible, with birth and death dates, and magistracies with dates in parentheses, followed by a one- or two-sentence description of the significance and importance of the person. Following the principle of historical methodology, entries then provide biographical information in chronological order. When possible, entries adhere to the principle of illustrative quotation by listing all of the references to the persons in Tacitus and in other sources.

Entries on topics begin with an overview followed by greater detail. Contributors provide intellectual and social context; changes over time in the topic and its treatment; current emphases in research and methodology; and future directions for research.

When possible, entries on places identify the modern name of the place and refer the reader to the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World.

Within entries, cross-references are indicated in small capital letters that refer the reader to other entries in the encyclopedia.

Entries are followed by four possible headings:

  • Under the heading See also, readers may be referred to other entries that will complement the topic but are not mentioned specifically in the entry.
  • Under the heading Reference Works, readers may be provided alphabetically ordered references to major concordances, atlases, and lexica for matters of prosopographical, geographical, or iconographic detail.
  • Under the heading References are those items explicitly cited in an entry. Entries contain relatively few references. Only the most important works are explicitly cited and listed with full publication details.
  • Under the heading Further Reading are suggestions for books and articles that are not mentioned in entries but serve as additional resources on the topic with full publication details.

All entries end with the name of the contributor.

Blind Entries and Hapax Legomena

Following the principle of general inclusion, the encyclopedia contains nearly 900 “blind entries,” which are alphabetized with the regular entries, but, in place of an article, direct readers to another entry where the topic is discussed comprehensively, or the item is put into context. For example, the reader who searches for Egnatia Maximilla will be directed to “Pisonian Conspiracy, Victims,” where fourteen persons who are not named elsewhere in Tacitus or other extant sources are discussed in historical context.

Some entries are not mentioned elsewhere in Tacitus or other extant sources and are not part of a larger context. These hapax legomena, or items that occur only once, are alphabetized with regular entries. For these, only the citation in Tacitus is provided.


In adopting conventions for the encyclopedia, broad accessibility and preference for the familiar is expected to compensate for departures from strict consistency.

Latinized or Anglicized forms of Latin and Ancient Greek names, as employed by the Oxford Classical Dictionary are preferred, e.g., Livy, Aeschylus. Names which are well-known enough to have achieved a standard English form are preferred, e.g.: Athens, Homer.

The following editions of Tacitus are preferred:

  • Heubner, H., ed. 1994. Ab excessu divi Augusti, editio correctior. Teubner.
    • Borszák, S., ed. 1992. Ab excessu divi Augusti libri I-VI. Leipzig: Teubner.
    • Wellesley, K., ed. 1986. Ab excessu divi Augusti libri XI-XVI. Leipzig: Teubner.
  • Koestermann, E., ed. 1957. Historiarum libri. Leipzig: Teubner.
  • Winterbottom, M. and R. M. Ogilvie, eds. 1975. Opera minora. Oxford: Clarendon.

All Latin and Greek is translated. No single translation of the works of Tacitus is consulted uniformly; some contributors have translated the Latin or Greek themselves.


In the classical period, the system of nomenclature was composed of three parts: praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. The praenomen identified an individual within the family; these correspond to the modern “first name.” There were a limited number of praenomina in use (e.g., Marcus, Lucius, Gaius, Gnaeus, etc.). In the early imperial period, praenomina fell out of use and began to disappear. Thus, Tacitus refers to many people by only two names.

The nomen designated the family name. The patronymic suffix –ius produced family names such as Cornelius and Iulius.

The third component of a Roman name, the cognomen, was originally an unofficial surname added to the nomen that distinguished different branches of the same family and was eventually attached to the nomen and inherited with it. Cognomina derived from qualities (Tranquillus), circumstances (Natalis), occupations (Agricola), places (Romanus), and even other names (Marcellus). Such cognomina were the privilege of patrician families, but in the empire, the cognomina took priority as praenomina disappeared.

Thus, the name Marcus Tullius Cicero follows the classical pattern of a common praenomen, a patronymic nomen, and a cognomen that distingished his branch from other Tullii, based on a physical feature (cicero is Latin for “chick-pea,” referring to the characteristic dimple on the nose of family members).

Tacitus does not adhere to this strict nomenclature. For example, it is not surprising that Tacitus does not give the full name Gaius Asinius Gallus, since praenomina were falling out of fashion by his time. The name Asinius Gallus appears three times in the Annals (1.12.2, 1.76.1, and 1.77.3); however, earlier in the same book of the Annals, Tacitus twice inverts the names: Gallus Asinius (1.8.3 and 1.13.2). Therefore, we cannot rely on Tacitus to give the full form of a person’s name or its correct order at the first mention. Sometimes the inversion or shortening appears before the full name.

It is the convention of this encyclopedia to list a person by nomen, then cognomen: Asinius Gallus. Most of the time, this should pose no problem for readers looking for an individual named in Tacitus, especially those with less common nomina and cognomina, e.g., Pedanius Secundus.

Most difficult will be families like the Aemilii, Calpurnii, Cornelii, Domitii, Iulii, and Iunii with sometimes more than two dozen individuals. The high incidence of homonymy means that the reader may have to read through several entries to identify the specific individual under investigation. Because these entries begin with birth and death dates and magistracies with dates when possible, and because entries also include citations from Tacitus, and, when possible, references to the Prosopographia Imperii Romani or other reference works, the reader should be able to disambiguate the names rather quickly. At the same time, the reader becomes aware of Tacitus’ interest in various networks of powerful families across generations of Roman history. Tacitus was mindful of the complexities of Roman nomenclature, which he exploited to his own ends, or at least out of a desire for variety.

Emperors are listed by their familiar English names.


By Tacitus (2d copy), via Wikimedia Commons. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 68.2, Part 1, fol. 6v.