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Rhoxolani Blues (Tacitus, Histories 1.79): Virgil’s Scythian Ethnography Revisited

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Chapter Summary

Battle descriptions clearly mattered deeply to ancient historians and their audiences, partly, but not only, for the potential pleasure which they could provide. This chapter considers more closely the kind of enjoyment which an ancient reader could derive from such scenes, and also analyses the range of other possible reactions to a battle narrative. In order to do this, it focuses primarily on one specific example, albeit one which has far-reaching implications for the narrative in which it is set. The chapter presents case-study which involves what might be called the first proper battle narrative in the opening book of Tacitus' Histories. What Tacitus describes at Histories 1.79 is a short-lived and ineffectual incursion of a colourful Sarmatian tribe, the Rhoxolani, into the Roman province of Moesia, which took place in February or March 69, when Otho was still emperor.

Keywords: battle narrative; Histories1.79; Moesia; Otho; Rhoxolani; Sarmatian tribe; Tacitus



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