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 ac-counts 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.