Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus)plĭ´nē [key], c.AD 23–AD 79, Roman naturalist, b. Cisalpine Gaul. He was a friend and fellow military officer of Vespasian, becoming eventually an army and naval commander and imperial official, and he dedicated his great work to Titus. He died of asphyxiation in the neighborhood of Vesuvius, having gone to investigate the eruption. While he is known to have written nearly 100 books, his one surviving work is an encyclopedia of natural science (Historia naturalis). It is divided into 37 books and, after a preface, deals with the nature of the physical universe; geography; anthropology; zoology; botany, including the medicinal uses of plants; curatives derived from the animal world; and mineralogy, including an account of the uses of pigments and a history of the fine arts. Pliny's industry was immense and his knowledge of sources extensive, but his information is mostly secondhand and useless as science.

See Selections from the History of the World, ed. by P. Turner (1962).

His nephew and ward, Pliny the Younger (Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus), AD 62?–c.AD 113, was an orator, a lawyer, and a statesman. He was quaestor (AD 89), tribune (AD 91), and praetor (AD 93) and subsequently held treasury posts. He was consul (AD 100) and died in his proconsular province of Pontus-Bithynia. His fame rests on his letters 247 of which survive; written probably for publication, they are an excellent mirror of Roman life. Two letters to the historian Tacitus vividly describe his uncle's death.

See his Letters and Panegyricus, tr. by B. Radice (2 vol., 1969); biography by D. Dunn (2019); studies by S. E. Stout (1954) and A. N. Sherwin-White (1966).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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