Pliny the Elder
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Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/2479), called Pliny the Elder (), was a
Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient Rome *''Epistle to the Romans'', shortened to ''Romans'', a letter ...

Roman
author, naturalist and
natural philosopher Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature (from Latin ''philosophia naturalis'') is the philosophy, philosophical study of Physics (Aristotle), physics, that is, nature and the physical universe. It was dominant before the development of mode ...
, and naval and army commander of the early
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings aro ...

Roman Empire
, and a friend of the emperor
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor who reigned from AD 69 to 79. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empir ...

Vespasian
. He wrote the encyclopedic ''
Naturalis Historia The ''Natural History'' ( la, Naturalis historia) is a work by Pliny the Elder. The largest single work to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day, the ''Natural History'' compiles information gleaned from other ancient authors. ...
'' (''Natural History''), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias. He spent most of his spare time studying, writing, and investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field. His nephew,
Pliny the Younger Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo (61 – c. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger (), was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate ...

Pliny the Younger
, wrote of him in a letter to the historian
Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus, known simply as Tacitus ( , ; – ), was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historiography, Roman historians by modern scholars. The surviving portions of his t ...

Tacitus
: Among Pliny's greatest works was the twenty-volume work ''Bella Germaniae'' ("The History of the German Wars"), which is no longer extant. ''Bella Germaniae'', which began where Aufidius Bassus' ''Libri Belli Germanici'' ("The War with the Germans") left off, was used as a source by other prominent Roman historians, including
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; – after AD 119) was a Greek people, Greek Middle Platonism, Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, Biography, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo (D ...

Plutarch
, Tacitus and
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly referred to as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre ...

Suetonius
. Tacitus—who many scholars agree had never travelled in
Germania Germania ( ; ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: ''Free Germania''), or Germanic Barbaricum to distinguish it from the Roman province of the same name, was a large historical region in nort ...

Germania
—used ''Bella Germaniae'' as the primary source for his work, '' De origine et situ Germanorum'' ("On the Origin and Situation of the Germans"). Pliny the Elder died in AD 79 in Stabiae while attempting the rescue of a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.


Life and times


Background

Pliny's dates are pinned to the
eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 Of the many eruptions of Mount Vesuvius Mount Vesuvius ( ; it, Vesuvio ; nap, 'O Vesuvio , also or ; la, Vesuvius , also , or ) is a Somma volcano, somma-stratovolcano located on the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Italy, about east of ...
and a statement by his nephew that he died in his 56th year, which would put his birth Pliny was the son of an equestrian Gaius Plinius Celer and his wife, Marcella. Neither the younger nor the elder Pliny mention the names. Their ultimate source is a fragmentary inscription ( CIL V 1 3442) found in a field in
Verona Verona ( , ; vec, Verona or ) is a city on the Adige River in Veneto, Northern Italy, Italy, with 258,031 inhabitants. It is one of the seven provincial capitals of the region. It is the largest city Comune, municipality in the region and the ...

Verona
and recorded by the 16th-century Augustinian monk
Onofrio Panvinio
Onofrio Panvinio
. The form is an
elegy An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, and in English literature usually a lament for the dead. However, according to ''The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy'', "for all of its pervasiveness ... the 'elegy' remains remarkably ill defined: sometime ...

elegy
. The most commonly accepted reconstruction is The actual words are fragmentary. The reading of the inscription depends on the reconstruction, but in all cases the names come through. Whether he was an
augur An augur was a priest and official in the classical Roman world. His main role was the practice of augury, the interpretation of the will of the gods A deity or god is a supernatural being who is considered divinity, divine or sacred. T ...

augur
and whether she was named Grania Marcella are less certain. Jean Hardouin presents a statement from an unknown source that he claims was ancient, that Pliny was from Verona and that his parents were Celer and Marcella. Hardouin also cites the conterraneity (see below) of
Catullus Gaius Valerius Catullus (; 84 - 54 BCE), often referred to simply as Catullus (, ), was a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Res publica Romana ) was a form of government of Rome and the era of the ancient R ...

Catullus
. How the inscription got to Verona is unknown, but it could have arrived by dispersal of property from Pliny the Younger's estate at Colle Plinio, north of
Città di Castello Città di Castello (); "Castle Town") is a city and ''comune'' in the province of Perugia, in the northern part of Umbria. It is situated on a slope of the Apennine Mountains, Apennines, on the flood plain along the upper part of the river Tiber. T ...
, identified with certainty by his initials in the roof tiles. He kept statues of his ancestors there. Pliny the Elder was born at
Como Como (, ; lmo, Còmm, label=Comasco dialect, Comasco , or ; lat, Novum Comum; rm, Com; french: Côme) is a city and ''comune'' in Lombardy, Italy. It is the administrative capital of the Province of Como. Its proximity to Lake Como and ...

Como
, not at Verona: it is only as a native of old '' Gallia Transpadana'' that he calls
Catullus Gaius Valerius Catullus (; 84 - 54 BCE), often referred to simply as Catullus (, ), was a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Res publica Romana ) was a form of government of Rome and the era of the ancient R ...

Catullus
of Verona his ''conterraneus'', or fellow-countryman, not his ''municeps'', or fellow-townsman. A statue of Pliny on the façade of the
Como Cathedral Como Cathedral ( it, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta; ''Duomo di Como'') is the Catholic Church, Catholic cathedral of the city of Como, Lombardy, Italy, and the seat of the Bishop of Como. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgi ...
celebrates him as a native son. He had a sister, Plinia, who married into the Caecilii and was the mother of his nephew, Pliny the Younger, whose letters describe his work and study regimen in detail. In one of his letters to Tacitus (''avunculus meus''), Pliny the Younger details how his uncle's breakfasts would be light and simple (''levis et facilis'') following the customs of our forefathers (''veterum more interdiu''). Pliny the Younger wanted to convey that Pliny the Elder was a "good Roman", which means that he maintained the customs of the great Roman forefathers. This statement would have pleased Tacitus. Two inscriptions identifying the hometown of Pliny the Younger as Como take precedence over the Verona theory. One ( CIL V 5262) commemorates the younger's career as the imperial magistrate and details his considerable charitable and municipal expenses on behalf of the people of Como. Another (CIL V 5667) identifies his father Lucius' village as present-day Fecchio (tribe Oufentina), a hamlet of Cantù, near Como. Therefore, Plinia likely was a local girl and Pliny the Elder, her brother, was from Como. Gaius was a member of the Plinia ''
gens In ancient Rome, a gens ( or , ; plural: ''gentes'' ) was a family consisting of individuals who shared the same Roman naming conventions#Nomen, nomen and who claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a ''stirps'' (p ...
:'' the Insubric root ''Plina'' still persists, with rhotacism, in the local surname "Prina". He did not take his father's
cognomen A ''cognomen'' (; plural ''cognomina''; from ''con-'' "together with" and ''(g)nomen'' "name") was the third name of a citizen of ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. Initially, it was a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became here ...
, Celer, but assumed his own, Secundus. As his adopted son took the same cognomen, Pliny founded a branch, the Plinii Secundi. The family was prosperous; Pliny the Younger's combined inherited estates made him so wealthy that he could found a school and a library, endow a fund to feed the women and children of Como, and own multiple estates around
Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus (Romulus and Remus, legendary) , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg ...

Rome
and Lake Como, as well as enrich some of his friends as a personal favor. No earlier instances of the Plinii are known. In 59 BC, only about 82 years before Pliny's birth,
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; ; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC), was a Roman people, Roman general and statesman. A member of the First Triumvirate, Caesar led the Roman armies in the Gallic Wars before defeating his political rival Pompey in Caes ...

Julius Caesar
founded Novum Comum (reverting to Comum) as a '' colonia'' to secure the region against the Alpine tribes, whom he had been unable to defeat. He imported a population of 4,500 from other provinces to be placed in Comasco and 500 aristocratic Greeks to found Novum Comum itself. The community was thus multi-ethnic and the Plinies could have come from anywhere. Whether any conclusions can be drawn from Pliny's preference for Greek words, or
Julius Pokorny Julius Pokorny (12 June 1887 – 8 April 1970) was an Austrian-Czech linguist and scholar of the Celtic languages, particularly Irish, and a supporter of Irish nationalism. He held academic posts in Austrian and German universities. Early life ...
's derivation of the name from north Italic as "bald" is a matter of speculative opinion. No record of any ethnic distinctions in Pliny's time is apparent—the population considered themselves to be Roman citizens. Pliny the Elder did not marry and had no children. In his will, he adopted his nephew, which entitled the latter to inherit the entire estate. The adoption is called a "testamental adoption" by writers on the topic, who assert that it applied to the name change only, but Roman jurisprudence recognizes no such category. Pliny the Younger thus became the adopted son of Pliny the Elder after the latter's death. For at least some of the time, however, Pliny the Elder resided in the same house in
Misenum Miseno is one of the ''frazione, frazioni'' of the municipality of Bacoli in the Italy, Italian Province of Naples. Known in ancient Roman times as Misenum, it is the site of a great Roman port. Geography Nearby Cape Miseno marks the northweste ...

Misenum
with his sister and nephew (whose husband and father, respectively, had died young); they were living there when Pliny the Elder decided to investigate the eruption of
Mount Vesuvius Mount Vesuvius ( ; it, Vesuvio ; nap, 'O Vesuvio , also or ; la, Vesuvius , also , or ) is a Somma volcano, somma-stratovolcano located on the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. ...

Mount Vesuvius
, and was sidetracked by the need for rescue operations and a messenger from his friend asking for assistance.


Student and lawyer

Pliny's father took him to Rome to be educated in lawmaking. Pliny relates that he saw Marcus Servilius Nonianus.


Junior officer

In AD 46, at about age 23, Pliny entered the army as a junior officer, as was the custom for young men of equestrian rank.
Ronald Syme Sir Ronald Syme, (11 March 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a New Zealand-born historian and classics, classicist. He was regarded as the greatest historian of ancient Rome since Theodor Mommsen and the most brilliant exponent of the history of ...

Ronald Syme
, Plinian scholar, reconstructs three periods at three ranks.Beagon (2005) pg.3. Pliny's interest in Roman literature attracted the attention and friendship of other men of letters in the higher ranks, with whom he formed lasting friendships. Later, these friendships assisted his entry into the upper echelons of the state; however, he was trusted for his knowledge and ability, as well. According to Syme, he began as a ''praefectus cohortis'', a "commander of a cohort" (an infantry cohort, as junior officers began in the infantry), under
Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo (Peltuinum c. AD 7 – 67) was a popular Ancient Rome, Roman general, brother-in-law of the emperor Caligula and father-in-law of Domitian. The emperor Nero, highly fearful of Corbulo's reputation, ordered him to commit su ...
, himself a writer (whose works did not survive) in
Germania Inferior Germania Inferior ("Lower Germania") was a Roman province from AD 85 until the province was renamed Germania Secunda in the fourth century, on the west bank of the Rhine bordering the North Sea. The capital of the province was Colonia Agrippine ...
. In AD 47, he took part in the Roman conquest of the
Chauci The Chauci (german: Chauken, and identical or similar in other regional modern languages) were an ancient Germanic peoples, Germanic tribe living in the low-lying region between the Rivers Ems (river), Ems and Elbe, on both sides of the Weser and ...
and the construction of the canal between the rivers and
Rhine The Rhine ; french: Rhin ; nl, Rijn ; wa, Rén ; li, Rien; rm, label=Sursilvan, Rein, rm, label=Sutsilvan and Surmiran, Ragn, rm, label=Rumantsch Grischun, Vallader and Puter, Rain; it, Reno ; gsw, Rhi(n), including in Alsatian dialect, Al ...

Rhine
. His description of the Roman ships anchored in the stream overnight having to ward off floating trees has the stamp of an eyewitness account. At some uncertain date, Pliny was transferred to the command of
Germania Superior Germania Superior ("Upper Germania") was an imperial province of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, R ...
under Publius Pomponius Secundus with a promotion to
military tribune A military tribune (Latin ''tribunus militum'', "tribune of the soldiers") was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legatus, legate and above the centurion. Young men of Equestrian rank often served as military tribune as a stepping ...
, which was a staff position, with duties assigned by the district commander. Pomponius was a half-brother of Corbulo. They had the same mother, Vistilia, a powerful matron of the Roman upper classes, who had seven children by six husbands, some of whom had imperial connections, including a future empress. Pliny's assignments are not clear, but he must have participated in the campaign against the
Chatti The Chatti (also Chatthi or Catti) were an ancient Germanic peoples, Germanic tribe whose homeland was near the upper Weser (''Visurgis''). They lived in central and northern Hesse and southern Lower Saxony, along the upper reaches of that rive ...
of AD 50, at age 27, in his fourth year of service. Associated with the commander in the ''
praetorium The Latin term (also and ) originally identified the tent of a general within a Roman castrum (encampment), and derived from the title praetor, which identified a Roman magistrate.Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 2 e ...

praetorium
'', he became a familiar and close friend of Pomponius, who also was a man of letters. At another uncertain date, Pliny was transferred back to Germania Inferior. Corbulo had moved on, assuming command in the east. This time, Pliny was promoted to ''praefectus alae'', "commander of a wing", responsible for a cavalry battalion of about 480 men. He spent the rest of his military service there. A decorative '' phalera'', or piece of harness, with his name on it has been found at '' Castra Vetera'', modern Xanten, then a large Roman army and naval base on the lower Rhine. Pliny's last commander there, apparently neither a man of letters nor a close friend of his, was Pompeius Paullinus, governor of Germania Inferior AD 55–58. Pliny relates that he personally knew Paulinus to have carried around 12,000 pounds of silver service on which to dine in a campaign against the Germans (a practice which would not have endeared him to the disciplined Pliny). According to his nephew, during this period, he wrote his first book (perhaps in winter quarters when more spare time was available), a work on the use of
missiles In military terminology, a missile is a missile guidance, guided airborne ranged weapon capable of self-propelled flight usually by a jet engine or rocket motor. Missiles are thus also called guided missiles or guided rockets (when a previously ...

missiles
on horseback, ''De Jaculatione Equestri'' ("On the Use of the Dart by Cavalry"). It has not survived, but in ''Natural History'', he seems to reveal at least part of its content, using the movements of the horse to assist the
javelin A javelin is a light spear designed primarily to be thrown, historically as a ranged weapon, but today predominantly for sport. The javelin is almost always thrown by hand, unlike the sling (weapon), sling, bow and arrow, bow, and crossbow, whi ...

javelin
-man in throwing missiles while astride its back. During this period, he also dreamed that the spirit of Drusus Nero begged him to save his memory from oblivion. The dream prompted Pliny to begin forthwith a history of all the wars between the Romans and the Germans, which he did not complete for some years.


Literary interlude

At the earliest time, Pliny could have left the service,
Nero Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ( ; born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68), was the fifth Roman emperor and final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, reigning from AD 54 unti ...

Nero
, the last of the
Julio-Claudian dynasty , native_name_lang=Latin, coat of arms=Great_Cameo_of_France-removebg.png, image_size=260px, caption=Great Cameo of France, The Great Cameo of France depicting emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero, type=Ancient Rome, Ancient Roman dynasty ...
, had been emperor for two years. He did not leave office until AD 68, when Pliny was 45 years old. During that time, Pliny did not hold any high office or work in the service of the state. In the subsequent
Flavian dynasty The Flavian dynasty ruled the Roman Empire between AD 69 and 96, encompassing the reigns of Vespasian (69–79), and his two sons Titus (79–81) and Domitian (81–96). The Flavians rose to power during the civil war of 69, known as ...
, his services were in such demand that he had to give up his law practice, which suggests that he had been trying not to attract the attention of Nero, who was a dangerous acquaintance. Under Nero, Pliny lived mainly in Rome. He mentions the map of
Armenia Armenia (), , group=pron officially the Republic of Armenia,, is a landlocked country in the Armenian Highlands of Western Asia.The UNbr>classification of world regions places Armenia in Western Asia; the CIA World Factbook , , and '' ...
and the neighbourhood of the
Caspian Sea The Caspian Sea is the world's largest inland body of water, often described as the List of lakes by area, world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. An endorheic basin, it lies between Europe and Asia; east of the Caucasus, west of the broad s ...

Caspian Sea
, which was sent to Rome by the staff of Corbulo in 58. He also witnessed the construction of Nero's
Domus Aurea The Domus Aurea (Latin, "Golden House") was a vast landscaped complex built by the Roman Empire, Emperor Nero largely on the Oppian Hill in the heart of ancient Rome after the Great Fire of Rome, great fire in 64 AD had destroyed a large part o ...
or "Golden House" after the
Great Fire of Rome The Great Fire of Rome ( la, incendium magnum Romae) occurred in July AD 64. The fire began in the merchant shops around Rome's chariot stadium, Circus Maximus The Circus Maximus (Latin for "largest circus"; Italian language, Italian: ''Circo M ...
in 64. Besides pleading law cases, Pliny wrote, researched, and studied. His second published work was ''The Life of Pomponius Secundus'', a two-volume biography of his old commander, Pomponius Secundus. Meanwhile, he was completing his monumental work, ''Bella Germaniae'', the only authority expressly quoted in the first six books of the ''
Annales Annals are a concise form of historical writing which record events chronologically, year by year. The equivalent word in Latin and French is ''annales'', which is used untranslated in English in various contexts. List of works with titles contai ...
'' of
Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus, known simply as Tacitus ( , ; – ), was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historiography, Roman historians by modern scholars. The surviving portions of his t ...

Tacitus
, and probably one of the principal authorities for the same author's ''
Germania Germania ( ; ), also called Magna Germania (English: ''Great Germania''), Germania Libera (English: ''Free Germania''), or Germanic Barbaricum to distinguish it from the Roman province of the same name, was a large historical region in nort ...
''. It disappeared in favor of the writings of Tacitus (which are far shorter), and, early in the fifth century, Symmachus had little hope of finding a copy. Like Caligula, Nero seemed to grow gradually more insane as his reign progressed. Pliny devoted much of his time to writing on the comparatively safe subjects of
grammar In linguistics, the grammar of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause (linguistics), clauses, phrases, and words. The term can also refer to the study of such constraint ...
and rhetoric. He published a three-book, six-volume educational manual on rhetoric, entitled ''Studiosus'', "The Student". Pliny the Younger says of it: "The orator is trained from his very cradle and perfected." It was followed by eight books entitled ''Dubii sermonis'' (''Of Doubtful Phraseology''). These are both now
lost work A lost work is a document, literature, literary work, or piece of multimedia produced some time in the past, of which no surviving copies are known to exist. It can only be known through reference. This term most commonly applies to works from th ...
s. His nephew relates: "He wrote this under Nero, in the last years of his reign, when every kind of literary pursuit which was in the least independent or elevated had been rendered dangerous by servitude." In 68, Nero no longer had any friends and supporters. He committed suicide, and the reign of terror was at an end, as was the interlude in Pliny's obligation to the state.


Senior officer

At the end of AD 69, after a year of civil war consequent on the death of Nero,
Vespasian Vespasian (; la, Vespasianus ; 17 November AD 9 – 23/24 June 79) was a Roman emperor who reigned from AD 69 to 79. The fourth and last emperor who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empir ...

Vespasian
, a successful general, became emperor. Like Pliny, he had come from the equestrian class, rising through the ranks of the army and public offices and defeating the other contenders for the highest office. His main tasks were to re-establish peace under imperial control and to place the economy on a sound footing. He needed in his administration all the loyalty and assistance he could find. Pliny, apparently trusted without question, perhaps (reading between the lines) recommended by Vespasian's son Titus, was put to work immediately and was kept in a continuous succession of the most distinguished procuratorships, according to
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly referred to as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre ...

Suetonius
. A procurator was generally a governor of an imperial province. The empire was perpetually short of, and was always seeking, officeholders for its numerous offices. Throughout the latter stages of Pliny's life, he maintained good relations with Emperor Vespasian. As is written in the first line of Pliny the Younger's ''Avunculus Meus'': In this passage, Pliny the Younger conveys to Tacitus that his uncle was ever the academic, always working. The word ''ibat'' (imperfect, "he used to go") gives a sense of repeated or customary action. In the subsequent text, he mentions again how most of his uncle's day was spent working, reading, and writing. He notes that Pliny "was indeed a very ready sleeper, sometimes dropping off in the middle of his studies and then waking up again." A definitive study of the procuratorships of Pliny was compiled by the classical scholar Friedrich Münzer, which was reasserted by
Ronald Syme Sir Ronald Syme, (11 March 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a New Zealand-born historian and classics, classicist. He was regarded as the greatest historian of ancient Rome since Theodor Mommsen and the most brilliant exponent of the history of ...

Ronald Syme
and became a standard reference point. Münzer hypothesized four procuratorships, of which two are certainly attested and two are probable but not certain. However, two does not satisfy Suetonius' description of a continuous succession. Consequently, Plinian scholars present two to four procuratorships, the four comprising (i) Gallia Narbonensis in 70, (ii) Africa in 70–72, (iii) Hispania Tarraconensis in 72–74, and (iv) Gallia Belgica in 74–76. According to Syme, Pliny may have been "successor to Valerius Paulinus", procurator of
Gallia Narbonensis Gallia Narbonensis (Latin for "Gaul of Narbonne", from its chief settlement) was a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in Southern France. It was also known as Provincia Nostra ("Our Province"), because it was the ...
(southeastern France), early in AD 70. He seems to have a "familiarity with the ''provincia''", which, however, might otherwise be explained. For example, he says
In the cultivation of the soil, the manners and civilization of the inhabitants, and the extent of its wealth, it is surpassed by none of the provinces, and, in short, might be more truthfully described as a part of Italy than as a province.
denoting a general popular familiarity with the region. Pliny certainly spent some time in the province of Africa, most likely as a procurator. Among other events or features that he saw are the provoking of ''rubetae'', poisonous toads (
Bufonidae {{Cat main, Toad This Wikipedia:Category, category contains both species commonly called toads, and the true toads from the family Bufonidae. Animals by common name Frogs ...
), by the Psylli; the buildings made with molded earthen walls, "superior in solidity to any cement;" and the unusual, fertile seaside oasis of
Gabès Gabès (, ; ar, قابس, ), also spelled Cabès, Cabes, Kabes, Gabbs and Gaps, is the capital city of the Gabès Governorate in Tunisia. It is located on the coast of the Gulf of Gabès. With a population of 152,921, Gabès is the Tunisia#Major ...
(then Tacape), Tunisia, currently a
World Heritage Site A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention administered by the UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). World Heritage Sites are designated by UNES ...
. Syme assigns the African procuratorship to AD 70–72. The procuratorship of
Hispania Tarraconensis Hispania Tarraconensis was one of three Roman provinces in Hispania. It encompassed much of the northern, eastern and central territories of modern Spain along with modern North Region, Portugal, northern Portugal. Southern Spain, the region now c ...
was next. A statement by Pliny the Younger that his uncle was offered 400,000 '' sesterces'' for his manuscripts by Larcius Licinius while he (Pliny the Elder) was procurator of Hispania makes it the most certain of the three. Pliny lists the peoples of "Hither Hispania", including population statistics and civic rights (modern
Asturias Asturias (, ; ast, Asturies ), officially the Principality of Asturias ( es, Principado de Asturias; ast, Principáu d'Asturies; Galician-Asturian: ''Principao d'Asturias''), is an autonomous communities of Spain, autonomous community in nor ...

Asturias
and
Gallaecia Gallaecia, also known as Hispania Gallaecia, was the name of a Roman province in the north-west of Hispania, approximately present-day Galicia (Spain), Galicia, Norte, Portugal, northern Portugal, Asturias and León (province), Leon and the lat ...

Gallaecia
). He stops short of mentioning them all for fear of "wearying the reader". As this is the only geographic region for which he gives this information, Syme hypothesizes that Pliny contributed to the census of Hither Hispania conducted in 73/74 by Vibius Crispus, legate from the Emperor, thus dating Pliny's procuratorship there. During his stay in Hispania, he became familiar with the agriculture and especially the gold mines of the north and west of the country. His descriptions of the various methods of mining appear to be eyewitness judging by the discussion of
gold mining Gold mining is the resource extraction, extraction of gold resources by mining. Historically, mining gold from Alluvium, alluvial deposits used manual separation processes, such as gold panning. However, with the expansion of gold mining to Ore ...
methods in his ''Natural History''. He might have visited the mine excavated at
Las Médulas Las Médulas () is a historic gold-mining site near the town of Ponferrada in the comarca of El Bierzo (León (province), province of León, Castile and León, Spain). It was the most important gold gold mining, mine, as well as the largest open ...

Las Médulas
. The last position of procurator, an uncertain one, was of
Gallia Belgica Gallia Belgica ("Belgic Gaul") was a Roman province, province of the Roman Empire located in the north-eastern part of Roman Gaul, in what is today primarily northern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, along with parts of the Netherlands and German ...
, based on Pliny's familiarity with it. The capital of the province was Augusta Treverorum (
Trier Trier ( , ; lb, Tréier ), formerly known in English as Trèves ( ;) and Triers (see also Names of Trier in different languages, names in other languages), is a city on the banks of the Moselle (river), Moselle in Germany. It lies in a valley b ...
), named for the
Treveri The Trēverī (Gaulish language, Gaulish: *''Trēueroi'') were a Celts, Celtic tribe of the Belgae group who inhabited the lower valley of the Moselle (river), Moselle from around 150 BCE, if not earlier, until their displacement by the Franks. Th ...
surrounding it. Pliny says that in "the year but one before this" a severe winter killed the first crops planted by the Treviri; they sowed again in March and had "a most abundant harvest." The problem is to identify "this", the year in which the passage was written. Using 77 as the date of composition Syme arrives at AD 74–75 as the date of the procuratorship, when Pliny is presumed to have witnessed these events. The argument is based entirely on presumptions; nevertheless, this date is required to achieve Suetonius' continuity of procuratorships, if the one in Gallia Belgica occurred. Pliny was allowed home (Rome) at some time in AD 75–76. He was presumably at home for the first official release of ''Natural History'' in 77. Whether he was in Rome for the dedication of Vespasian's Temple of Peace in the Forum in 75, which was in essence a museum for display of art works plundered by Nero and formerly adorning the Domus Aurea, is uncertain, as is his possible command of the ''
vigiles The ''Vigiles'' or more properly the ''Vigiles Urbani'' ("watchmen of the Rome, City") or ''Cohortes Vigilum'' ("Cohort (military unit), cohorts of the watchmen") were the firefighters and police of ancient Rome. History The ''Triumviri Nocturn ...
'' (night watchmen), a lesser post. No actual post is discernible for this period. On the bare circumstances, he was an official agent of the emperor in a quasiprivate capacity. Perhaps he was between posts. In any case, his appointment as commander of the imperial fleet at
Misenum Miseno is one of the ''frazione, frazioni'' of the municipality of Bacoli in the Italy, Italian Province of Naples. Known in ancient Roman times as Misenum, it is the site of a great Roman port. Geography Nearby Cape Miseno marks the northweste ...

Misenum
took him there, where he resided with his sister and nephew. Vespasian died of disease on 23 June 79. Pliny outlived him by four months.


Noted author

During Nero's reign of terror, Pliny avoided working on any writing that would attract attention to himself. His works on oratory in the last years of Nero's reign (67–68) focused on form rather than on content. He began working on content again probably after Vespasian's rule began in AD 69, when the terror clearly was over and would not be resumed. It was to some degree reinstituted (and later cancelled by his son Titus) when Vespasian suppressed the philosophers at Rome, but not Pliny, who was not among them, representing, as he says, something new in Rome, an encyclopedist (certainly, a venerable tradition outside Italy). In his next work, ''Bella Germaniae'', Pliny completed the history which Aufidius Bassus left unfinished. Pliny's continuation of Bassus's ''History'' was one of the authorities followed by
Suetonius Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (), commonly referred to as Suetonius ( ; c. AD 69 – after AD 122), was a Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre ...
and
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; – after AD 119) was a Greek people, Greek Middle Platonism, Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, Biography, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo (D ...

Plutarch
. Tacitus also cites Pliny as a source. He is mentioned concerning the loyalty of , commander of the
Praetorian Guard The Praetorian Guard (Latin language, Latin: ''cohortēs praetōriae'') was a unit of the Imperial Roman army that served as personal Bodyguard, bodyguards and military intelligence, intelligence agents for the Roman emperors. During the Roman R ...
, whom
Nero Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ( ; born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus; 15 December AD 37 – 9 June AD 68), was the fifth Roman emperor and final emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, reigning from AD 54 unti ...

Nero
removed for disloyalty. Tacitus portrays parts of Pliny's view of the
Pisonian conspiracy The conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso (conspirator), Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 was a in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero (reign 54–68). The plot reflected the growing discontent among the ruling class of the Roman state with Nero's i ...
to kill Nero and make Piso emperor as "absurd" and mentions that he could not decide whether Pliny's account or that of Messalla was more accurate concerning some of the details of the
Year of the Four Emperors The Year of the Four Emperors, AD 69, was the first civil war of the Roman Empire, during which four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. It is considered an important interval, marking the transition from the ...

Year of the Four Emperors
. Evidently Pliny's extension of Bassus extended at least from the reign of Nero to that of Vespasian. Pliny seems to have known it was going to be controversial, as he deliberately reserved it for publication after his death:
It has been long completed and its accuracy confirmed; but I have determined to commit the charge of it to my heirs, lest I should have been suspected, during my lifetime, of having been unduly influenced by ambition. By this means I confer an obligation on those who occupy the same ground with myself; and also on posterity, who, I am aware, will contend with me, as I have done with my predecessors.


''Natural History''

Pliny's last work, according to his nephew, was the ''
Naturalis Historia The ''Natural History'' ( la, Naturalis historia) is a work by Pliny the Elder. The largest single work to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day, the ''Natural History'' compiles information gleaned from other ancient authors. ...
'' (''Natural History''), an encyclopedia into which he collected much of the knowledge of his time. Some historians consider this to be the first encyclopedia written. It comprised 37 books. His sources were personal experience, his own prior works (such as the work on Germania), and extracts from other works. These extracts were collected in the following manner: One servant would read aloud, and another would write the extract as dictated by Pliny. He is said to have dictated extracts while taking a bath. In winter, he furnished the copier with gloves and long sleeves so his writing hand would not stiffen with cold (Pliny the Younger in ''avunculus meus''). His extract collection finally reached about 160 volumes, which Larcius Licinius, the of Hispania Tarraconensis, unsuccessfully offered to purchase for 400,000 ''sesterces.'' That would have been in 73/74 (see above). Pliny bequeathed the extracts to his nephew. When composition of ''Natural History'' began is unknown. Since he was preoccupied with his other works under Nero and then had to finish the history of his times, he is unlikely to have begun before 70. The procuratorships offered the ideal opportunity for an encyclopedic frame of mind. The date of an overall composition cannot be assigned to any one year. The dates of different parts must be determined, if they can, by philological analysis (the ''
post mortem An autopsy (post-mortem examination, obduction, necropsy, or autopsia cadaverum) is a surgical procedure that consists of a thorough Physical examination, examination of a Cadaver, corpse by dissection to determine the cause, mode, and manner o ...
'' of the scholars). The closest known event to a single publication date, that is, when the manuscript was probably released to the public for borrowing and copying, and was probably sent to the Flavians, is the date of the Dedication in the first of the 37 books. It is to the ''imperator'' Titus. As Titus and Vespasian had the same name, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, earlier writers hypothesized a dedication to Vespasian. Pliny's mention of a brother (Domitian) and joint offices with a father, calling that father "great", points certainly to Titus.Beagon (2005), p. 7. Pliny also says that Titus had been Roman consul, consul six times. The first six consulships of Titus were in 70, 72, 74, 75, 76, and 77, all conjointly with Vespasian, and the seventh was in 79. This brings the date of the Dedication probably to 77. In that year, Vespasian was 68. He had been ruling conjointly with Titus for some years. The title ''imperator'' does not indicate that Titus was sole emperor, but was awarded for a military victory, in this case that in Jerusalem in 70. Aside from minor finishing touches, the work in 37 books was completed in AD 77. That it was written entirely in 77 or that Pliny was finished with it then cannot be proved. Moreover, the dedication could have been written before publication, and it could have been published either privately or publicly earlier without the dedication. The only certain fact is that Pliny died in AD 79. ''Natural History'' is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire and was intended to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny. He claims to be the only Roman ever to have undertaken such a work. It encompasses the fields of botany, zoology, astronomy, geology, and mineralogy, as well as the exploitation of those resources. It remains a standard work for the Roman period and the advances in technology and understanding of natural phenomena at the time. His discussions of some technical advances are the only sources for those inventions, such as hushing in mining technology or the use of water mills for crushing or grinding grain. Much of what he wrote about has been confirmed by archaeology. It is virtually the only work that describes the work of artists of the time, and is a reference work for the history of art. As such, Pliny's approach to describing the work of artists informed Lorenzo Ghiberti in writing his commentaries in the 15th century, and Giorgio Vasari, who wrote the celebrated ''Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects'' in 1550.


''Natural History'' as the First Encyclopedia

Some historians consider ''Natural History'' to be the first encyclopedia ever written. It was the earliest encyclopedia to survive. There were many ancient histories written before Pliny the Elder's ''Natural History,'' but scholars still recognize ''Natural History'' as an encyclopedia, setting it apart from the other ancient histories. Regardless of if it was first, it is certainly the most significant. Through ''Natural History,'' Pliny the Elder gives modern experts a view into meanings of various things from first century Rome in a way that no other surviving text does. Each book of the ''Natural History'' covers a different topic, and the work is meant to cover every topic. Given the organization of the work, it is clear that it was meant to be a reference resource. Even modern scholars will sometimes compare an unknown object mentioned in a different ancient text with the objects described by Pliny and make comparisons. Modern scholars are also able to use ''Natural History'' to understand the traditions, fantasies, and prejudices in Ancient Rome. Some people have said that certain prejudices that have been prevalent throughout western history (such as a stigma around menstruation) were spread by ''Natural History.'' The work became a model for all later encyclopedias in terms of the breadth of subject matter examined, the need to reference original authors, and a comprehensive index list of the contents. It is the only work by Pliny to have survived, and the last that he published, lacking a final revision at his sudden and unexpected death in the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.


Death

Pliny, who had been appointed ''Roman_navy#High_Command, praefectus classis'' in the Roman navy by Vespasian, was stationed with the fleet at
Misenum Miseno is one of the ''frazione, frazioni'' of the municipality of Bacoli in the Italy, Italian Province of Naples. Known in ancient Roman times as Misenum, it is the site of a great Roman port. Geography Nearby Cape Miseno marks the northweste ...

Misenum
at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He organized and led a rescue mission upon receiving a message from his friend Rectina, who had been left stranded in Stabiae during the eruption. Pliny boarded one of several Galley#Roman_Imperial_era, galleys that he dispatched across the Gulf of Naples to Stabiae. As Pliny's vessel approached the shore near Herculaneum, cinders and pumice began to fall on it. The helmsman advised turning back, to which Pliny replied, "Fortune favours the bold; steer to where Pomponianus is." Upon reaching Stabiae, they found Roman Senate, Senator Pomponianus, but the same winds that brought them there prevented them from leaving. The group waited for the wind to abate, but they decided to leave later that evening for fear their houses would collapse. The group fled when a plume of Volcanic gas, hot toxic gases engulfed them. Pliny, a corpulent man who suffered from a chronic respiratory condition, possibly asthma, died from asphyxiation caused by the toxic gases, and was left behind. Upon the group's return three days later after the plume had dispersed, Pliny's body was found, with no apparent external injuries. Twenty-seven years later, upon a request from Tacitus, Pliny the Younger provided an account (obtained from the survivors from Stabiae) of his uncle's death. Suetonius wrote that Pliny approached the shore only from scientific interest and then asked a slave to kill him to avoid heat from the volcano. In 1859, Jacob Bigelow, after summarizing the information about Pliny's death contained in Pliny the Younger's letter to Tacitus, concluded that Pliny had died from apoplexy (stroke) or heart disease. In 1967, science historian Conway Zirkle similarly stated that "there is widespread and persisting misinformation" about Pliny's death. He suggested that despite his rescue attempt, Pliny never came within miles of Mount Vesuvius and no evidence has been found that shows he died from breathing in fumes, and like Bigelow, concluded that he died of a heart attack.Zirkle, Conway. (1967). ''The Death of Gaius Plinius Secundus (23–79 A.D.)''. ''Isis (journal), Isis'' 58: 553–559.


See also

* Plinian eruption * Plinius (crater), Plinius, lunar crater


Further reading

* Saller, Richard. 2022.
Pliny's Roman Economy: Natural History, Innovation, and Growth
'. Princeton University Press.


References


Sources

* Beagon, Mary. (1992). ''Roman Nature: The Thought of Pliny the Elder.'' Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. * * * Doody, Aude. (2010). ''Pliny's Encyclopedia: The Reception of the Natural History.'' Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press. * * Fane-Saunders, Peter. (2016). ''Pliny the Elder and the Emergence of Renaissance Architecture.'' New York: Cambridge University Press. * French, Roger, and Frank Greenaway, eds. (1986). ''Science in the Early Roman Empire: Pliny the Elder, His Sources and Influence.'' London: Croom Helm. * Gibson, Roy and Ruth Morello eds. (2011). ''Pliny the Elder: Themes and Contexts.'' Leiden: Brill. * * * Laehn, Thomas R. (2013). ''Pliny's Defense of Empire.'' Routledge Innovations in Political Theory. New York: Routledge. * * * * * *


Secondary material

*


External links

* * * *
Works by Pliny the Elder at Perseus Digital Library

Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
High resolution images of works by Pliny the Elder in.jpg and.tiff format. * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Pliny the Elder Ancient Roman admirals Ancient Roman antiquarians Ancient Roman soldiers Classical geography Classical Latin literature Deaths in volcanic eruptions People from Como Ancient Roman scientists Philosophers of Roman Italy Pre-Linnaean botanists Roman encyclopedists Roman-era geographers Roman-era philosophers Silver Age Latin writers 1st-century Romans 20s births Year of birth uncertain 79 deaths Plinii 1st-century geographers