Accounts of Northern Barbarians in Tacitus' Annales: A Contextual Analysis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The Roman historian Tacitus is not only our most important source for the Early Roman Empire, but also a literary artist second to none. His fragmentarily preserved Annales deals with the imperial rule established by the first emperor Augustus, the Julio-Claudian dynasty (AD 14 – 68). Through his scathing analyses of the consequences of autocratic government, Tacitus has established himself as an eternal enemy of tyrants. However, while Tacitus’ gaze is at times firmly set on Rome, the senate, and the imperial palace, his explorations of the possibilities of freedom and glory, valour and remembrance, bring him from the Italian peninsula in the West to the desert tribes of the South, from the age-old monarchies of the East to the wild nations of the frozen North. Indeed, extended passages of the work deal with events on and beyond the borders of the Empire.

This study examines key themes of the Annales through analysis of its accounts of northern barbarians, that is, how they are connected to the structure of the books in which they appear and of the Annales as a whole. It is argued throughout that accounts of northern barbarians form a key part of Tacitus’ narrative of the Julio-Claudian dynasty: they allow Tacitus to explore alternative historical paths, reflect on the efficacy of past models of behaviour in a changed world, discuss sensitive political topics without attracting the ire and censorship of an autocratic regime, and play with key moments of the Roman past within a fertile interpretive framework.


  • Aske Damtoft Poulsen
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Literatures
  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
  • Languages and Literature
  • Humanities


  • Philology, Classics, Roman Literature, Classical Historiography , Tacitus, Intertextuality
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • Arne Jönsson, Supervisor
  • S. Kraus, Christina, Assistant supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
  • Stiftelsen Hjalmar Gullbergs och Greta Thotts stipendiefond
Award date2018 May 18
Place of PublicationLund
  • MediaTryck Lund
Print ISBNs978-91-7753-669-7
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7753-670-3
Publication statusPublished - 2018 May 18
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2018-05-18 Time: 14:15 Place: Hörsalen, Språk- och litteraturcentrum, Helgonabacken 12, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Keitel, Elizabeth Title: professor Affiliation: University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA ---

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Related research output

Lovisa Brännstedt, 2020, In : Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift. 122, 1/2020, p. 119-121 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview (Book/Film/Exhibition/etc.)

Aske Damtoft Poulsen, 2017, In : Mnemosyne. 70, 5, p. 834-858 25 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

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Related activities

Jönsson, A. (Host), Aske Damtoft Poulsen (Organiser)
2018 Jan 112018 Jan 12

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventOrganisation of conference

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