Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder

Overview
Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – August 25, 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

, naturalist
Naturalist
Naturalist may refer to:* Practitioner of natural history* Conservationist* Advocate of naturalism * Naturalist , autobiography-See also:* The American Naturalist, periodical* Naturalism...

, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

. Spending most of his spare time studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all such works written subsequently.
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Quotations

Fortune favours the brave…

Attributed by Pliny the Younger to his uncle during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius|Mount Vesuvius in which the Elder died

In comparing various authors with one another, I have discovered that some of the gravest and latest writers have transcribed, word for word, from former works, without making acknowledgment.

Book I, Dedication, sec. 22

The only certainty is that nothing is certain.

Book II, sec. 7

It is far from easy to determine whether she [Nature] has proved to man a kind parent or a merciless stepmother.

Book VII, sec. 1

Man alone at the very moment of his birth, cast naked upon the naked earth, does she [Nature] abandon to cries and lamentations.

Book VII, sec. 2

To laugh, if but for an instant only, has never been granted to man before the fortieth day from his birth, and then it is looked upon as a miracle of precocity.

Book VII, sec. 2

Man is the only one that knows nothing, that can learn nothing without being taught. He can neither speak nor walk nor eat, and in short he can do nothing at the prompting of nature only, but weep.

Book VII, sec. 4

With man, most of his misfortunes are occasioned by man.

Book VII, sec. 5

Indeed, what is there that does not appear marvelous when it comes to our knowledge for the first time? How many things, too, are looked upon as quite impossible until they have actually been effected?

Book VII, sec. 6

The human features and countenance, although composed of but some ten parts or little more, are so fashioned that among so many thousands of men there are no two in existence who cannot be distinguished from one another.

Book VII, sec. 8
Encyclopedia
Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – August 25, 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

, naturalist
Naturalist
Naturalist may refer to:* Practitioner of natural history* Conservationist* Advocate of naturalism * Naturalist , autobiography-See also:* The American Naturalist, periodical* Naturalism...

, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

. Spending most of his spare time studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all such works written subsequently. Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , 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 him...

, his nephew, wrote of him in a letter to the historian Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

:
For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred. In the latter number will be my uncle, by virtue of his own and of your compositions.


Pliny is referring to the fact that Tacitus relied on his uncle's now missing work on the History of the German Wars. Pliny the Elder died on August 25, 79 AD, while attempting the rescue by ship of a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting...

 that had just destroyed the cities of Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

 and Herculaneum
Herculaneum
Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in AD 79, located in the territory of the current commune of Ercolano, in the Italian region of Campania in the shadow of Mt...

. The prevailing wind would not allow his ship to leave the shore. His companions attributed his collapse and death to toxic fumes; but they were unaffected by the fumes, suggesting natural

Background



Pliny's dates are pinned to the eruption of Vesuvius in August, 79, and a statement of his nephew that he died in his 56th year, which would make his birth

Pliny was the son of an equestrian
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

, 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
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum is a comprehensive collection of ancient Latin inscriptions. It forms an authoritative source for documenting the surviving epigraphy of classical antiquity. Public and personal inscriptions throw light on all aspects of Roman life and history...

) found in a field in Verona
Verona
Verona ; German Bern, Dietrichsbern or Welschbern) is a city in the Veneto, northern Italy, with approx. 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven chef-lieus of the region. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of North-Eastern Italy. The metropolitan area of Verona...

 and recorded by the 16th-century Augustinian monk Onofrio Panvinio
Onofrio Panvinio
The erudite Augustinian Onofrio Panvinio or Onuphrius Panvinius was an Italian historian and antiquary, who was librarian to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese....

 at Verona. What the inscription says depends on the reconstruction, except that in all cases the names come through. Whether he was an augur
Augur
The augur was a priest and official in the classical world, especially ancient Rome and Etruria. His main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds: whether they are flying in groups/alone, what noises they make as they fly, direction of flight and what kind of...

 and she was named Grania Marcella are less certain. Jean Hardouin
Jean Hardouin
Jean Hardouin , French classical scholar, was born at Quimper in Brittany.Having acquired a taste for literature in his father's book-shop, he sought and obtained admission into the order of the Jesuits in around 1662...

 presents a statement from an unknown source he claims was ancient that Pliny was from Verona and that his parents were Celer and Marcella. Hardouin also cites the conterraneity of Catullus
Catullus
Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.-Biography:...

.

Additional efforts to connect Celer and Marcella with other gentes
Gens
In ancient Rome, a gens , plural gentes, referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps . The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the...

 are highly speculative. Hardouin is the only scholar to use his unknown source. How the inscription got to Verona is a mystery, but it could have arrived by dispersion of property at Pliny the Younger's then Tuscan (now Umbrian) estate at Colle Plinio, north of Città di Castello
Città di Castello
Città di Castello is a city and comune in the province of Perugia, in the northern part of the Umbria region of Italy. It is situated on a slope of the Apennines, on the flood plain of the river Tiber. The city is north of Perugia and south of Cesena on the S3bis. It is connected to the A1...

, identified for certain by his initials in the roof tiles. He kept statues of his ancestors there.

Pliny the Elder was born in Como
Como
Como is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy.It is the administrative capital of the Province of Como....

, not at Verona: it is only as a native of old Gallia Transpadana that he calls Catullus
Catullus
Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.-Biography:...

 of Verona his conterraneus, or fellow-countryman, not his municeps, or fellow-townsman. A statue of Pliny on the facade of the Duomo of Como celebrates him as a native son. He had a sister, Plinia, who married into the Caecilii and became the mother of his nephew, Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , 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 him...

, whose letters describe his work and study regimen in detail.

Two inscriptions identifying the hometown of Pliny the Younger as Como take precedence over the Verona theory. One (CIL V 5262
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum is a comprehensive collection of ancient Latin inscriptions. It forms an authoritative source for documenting the surviving epigraphy of classical antiquity. Public and personal inscriptions throw light on all aspects of Roman life and history...

) commemorates the younger's career as imperial magistrate and details his considerable charitable and municipal expenses on behalf of the people of Como. Another (CIL V 5667
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum is a comprehensive collection of ancient Latin inscriptions. It forms an authoritative source for documenting the surviving epigraphy of classical antiquity. Public and personal inscriptions throw light on all aspects of Roman life and history...

) identifies his father Lucius' village as Fecchio (tribe Oufentina) near Como. It is likely therefore that Plinia was a local girl and Pliny the Elder, her brother, was from Como.

Gaius was a scion
Scion
Scion may refer to:*In kinship, a descendant , a son or daughter*Scion , a detached shoot or twig containing buds from a woody plant which is grafted onto the stock...

 of the Plinii gens
Gens
In ancient Rome, a gens , plural gentes, referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps . The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the...

. He did not take his father's cognomen
Cognomen
The cognomen nōmen "name") was the third name of a citizen of Ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. The cognomen started as a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary cognomina were used to augment the second name in order to identify a particular branch within...

, 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 inherited estates combined 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 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 82 years before Pliny's birth, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 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 4500 from other provinces (not clear where) to be placed in Comasco
Comasco
Comasco is a dialect of Western Lombard language spoken in the city and suburbs of Como. It belongs to the Comasco-Lecchese group.- Characteristics :...

 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
Julius Pokorny was an Austrian linguist and scholar of the Celtic languages, particularly Irish, and a supporter of Irish nationalism. He held academic posts in Austrian and German universities.-Life:...

's derivation of the name from north Italic as "bald" is a matter of speculative opinion. There appears to be no record of any ethnic distinctions in Pliny's time. The population prided itself on being 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 was thus the adopted son of Pliny the Elder, but not in Pliny the Elder's lifetime. For at least some of the time, however, Pliny resided under the same roof with his sister and nephew (whose husband and father died young), as they were doing so when Pliny decided to investigate the eruption of 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
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 to be educated. Pliny relates that he saw Marcus Servilius Nonianus.

Junior officer


In 46 AD, at age 23, Pliny entered the army as a junior officer, as was the custom for young men of equestrian rank. Ronald Syme
Ronald Syme
Sir Ronald Syme, OM, FBA was a New Zealand-born historian and classicist. Long associated with Oxford University, he is widely regarded as the 20th century's greatest historian of ancient Rome...

, Plinian scholar, reconstructs three periods at three ranks. Pliny's interest in Roman letters 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
Cohort (military unit)
A cohort was the basic tactical unit of a Roman legion following the reforms of Gaius Marius in 107 BC.-Legionary cohort:...

" (an infantry cohort, as junior officers began in the infantry), under Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo
Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo
Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo was a Roman general and a brother-in-law of the emperor Caligula.-Descent:Corbulo was born in Italy into a senatorial family...

, himself a writer (whose works did not survive) in Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior was a Roman province located on the left bank of the Rhine, in today's Luxembourg, southern Netherlands, parts of Belgium, and North Rhine-Westphalia left of the Rhine....

. In 47 AD he took part in the Roman conquest of the Chauci
Chauci
The Chauci were an ancient Germanic tribe living in the low-lying region between the Rivers Ems and Elbe, on both sides of the Weser and ranging as far inland as the upper Weser. Along the coast they lived on artificial hills called terpen, built high enough to remain dry during the highest tide...

 and the construction of the canal between the rivers Maas and 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
Germania Superior , so called for the reason that it lay upstream of Germania Inferior, was a province of the Roman Empire. It comprised an area of western Switzerland, the French Jura and Alsace regions, and southwestern Germany...

 under Publius Pomponius Secundus with a promotion to military tribune
Military tribune
A military tribune was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion...

, 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
Vistilia
Vistilia was a Roman woman who lived in the 1st century and came from a family that held the praetorship. Her brother was probably Sextus Vistilius, a former praetor, who was a former close friend to late Roman General Nero Claudius Drusus. Nero Claudius Drusus was the younger brother to Roman...

, a powerful matron of the Roman upper classes, who had seven children by six husbands, many of which children had imperial connections, including a future empress. Pliny's assignments are not clear, but he must have participated in the campaign against the Chatti
Chatti
The Chatti were an ancient Germanic tribe whose homeland was near the upper Weser. They settled in central and northern Hesse and southern Lower Saxony, along the upper reaches of the Weser River and in the valleys and mountains of the Eder, Fulda and Weser River regions, a district approximately...

 of 50 AD, at age 27, in his fourth year of service. Associated with the commander in the praetorium
Praetorium
- Etemology :The praetorium, also spelled prœtorium or pretorium, was originally used to identify the general’s tent within a Roman Castra, Castellum, or encampment. The word originates from the name of the chief Roman magistrate, known as Praetor...

 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
Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior was a Roman province located on the left bank of the Rhine, in today's Luxembourg, southern Netherlands, parts of Belgium, and North Rhine-Westphalia left of the Rhine....

. Corbulo had moved on assuming command in the east. This time Pliny was promoted to praefectus alae, "commander of an ala", with responsibility for a cavalry battalion of about 480 men. A distinction was still being made between legionaries and allied auxiliaries, even though all Italians were now Roman citizens. Pliny, being from north Italy, was an allied commander, like most of the cavalry at that time (but equal in rank, authority and benefits to Roman counterparts). He spent the rest of his enlistment there. A decorative phalera
Phalera (military decoration)
A phalera was a gold, silver, or bronze sculpted disk worn on the breastplate during parades by Roman soldiers who had been awarded it as a kind of medal. Roman military units could also be awarded phalerae for distinguished conduct in action. These awards were often mounted on the staffs of the...

, or piece of harness, with his name on it has been found at Castra Vetera
Xanten
Xanten is a historic town in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany, located in the district of Wesel.Xanten is known for the Archaeological Park or archaeological open air museum , its medieval picturesque city centre with Xanten Cathedral and many museums, its large man-made lake for...

, a large Roman army and naval base on the lower Rhine river. Pliny's last commander there, apparently neither a man of letters nor a close friend of his, was Pompeius Paulinus, governor of Germania Inferior
Roman governors of Germania Inferior
This is a list of Roman governors of Germania Inferior . Capital and largest city of Germania Inferior was Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium , modern-day Cologne....

 55-58 CE. Pliny relates that he personally knew Paulinus to have carried around 12,000 pounds of silver service on which to dine on campaign against the Germans (a practice which would not have endeared him to the disciplined Pliny).

According to his nephew, it was during this period that he wrote his first book (perhaps in winter-quarters when spare time was more abundant), a work on the use of missiles
Projectile
A projectile is any object projected into space by the exertion of a force. Although a thrown baseball is technically a projectile too, the term more commonly refers to a weapon....

 on horseback, De jaculatione equestri. It did not survive but in Natural History he seems to reveal at least in part its content: using the intelligence of the horse to assist the javelineer to throw missiles from its back. During this period also he dreamed that the spirit of Drusus Nero
Nero Claudius Drusus
Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus , born Decimus Claudius Drusus also called Drusus, Drusus I, Nero Drusus, or Drusus the Elder was a Roman politician and military commander. He was a fully patrician Claudian on his father's side but his maternal grandmother was from a plebeian family...

 begged him to save his memory from oblivion. The dream prompted Pliny to begin forthwith a history of all the war
War
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

s between the Romans and the Germans, which he was not to complete for some years.


Book I, Chapter 1 of Historia Naturalis dedicates the work to the emperor, Titus Flavius
Titus
Titus , was Roman Emperor from 79 to 81. A member of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death, thus becoming the first Roman Emperor to come to the throne after his own father....

, son of Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

. In that dedication Pliny calls Titus an old messmate (the relationship of a contubernium
Contubernium
The contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries. The men within the contubernium were known as contubernales. Ten contubernia were grouped into a centuria...

, "sharing the same tent"): "you ... have regarded me as a fellow-soldier and a messmate. Nor has the extent of your prosperity produced any change in you ...." The problem with the passage is the 16-year difference in age between Pliny and the younger Titus. At the time Titus was a military tribune. He could not have been a comrade, of the same rank as Pliny, in Germania Superior, as in 50 AD Titus was only 11 years old. Recourse to the later campaigns of Titus in the east lack evidence and do not fit the circumstances: Titus was the commanding general (not a lower-ranking comrade) while Pliny was either a private citizen or a general himself on assignment by Vespasian.

The duty in Germania Inferior is the only credible opportunity for Titus to have shared a contubernium with Pliny. Officers of the upper classes assumed a 10-year obligation (as opposed to the ordinary legionary's 20 or 25 years). Pliny's term would have been up in 56 AD at age 33. As his account of a solar eclipse, which occurred in Campania
Campania
Campania is a region in southern Italy. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km² makes it the most densely populated region in the country...

 in 59 AD, appears to be an eyewitness account, he was probably a civilian at that time. In 56 AD Titus was 17 years old. His father was not then emperor. The staff of a commander often shared quarters and mess with the commander, especially in the field. On the bare circumstances, Titus was a new officer on Pliny's staff toward the end of Pliny's service. The relationship between the two, one almost old enough to be the other's father, must have been as close as had been Pliny's with Pomponius.

Literary interlude



At the earliest time Pliny could have left the service, Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

, the last of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty
Julio-Claudian Dynasty
The Julio-Claudian dynasty normally refers to the first five Roman Emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula , Claudius, and Nero, or the family to which they belonged; they ruled the Roman Empire from its formation, in the second half of the 1st century BC, until AD 68, when the last of the line,...

, had been emperor for two years. He did not leave office until 68 AD, 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
Flavian dynasty
The Flavian dynasty was a Roman Imperial Dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire between 69 and 96 AD, encompassing the reigns of Vespasian , and his two sons Titus and Domitian . The Flavians rose to power during the civil war of 69, known as the Year of the Four Emperors...

 his services were in such demand that he had to give up the law practice, which suggests that he had been trying not to attract the attention of Nero, a ruler believed by his contemporaries (not without justification) to be a dangerous acquaintance.

Under Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

 Pliny lived mainly in Rome. He mentions the map of Armenia and the neighbourhood of the Caspian Sea
Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of and a volume of...

, which was sent to Rome by the staff of Corbulo in 58. He also saw the building of Nero's Domus Aurea
Domus Aurea
The Domus Aurea was a large landscaped portico villa, designed to take advantage of artificially created landscapes built in the heart of Ancient Rome by the Emperor Nero after the Great Fire of Rome had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine...

 or "Golden House" after the fire of 64.

Besides pleading law cases, Pliny wrote, researched and studied. His second published work was a biography of his old commander, Pomponius Secundus, in two books. After several years in prison under Tiberius
Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

, 31-37 AD (which he used to write tragedies), Secundus was rehabilitated by Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 (who later married his half-sister, Caesonia
Caesonia
Milonia Caesonia was the fourth and last wife of the Roman Emperor Caligula.-Life:Milonia Caesonia was born between 2 and 4 June in an unknown year....

) in 38, made consul in 41 and was sent as legatus to Germany, where he won a victory against the Chatti
Chatti
The Chatti were an ancient Germanic tribe whose homeland was near the upper Weser. They settled in central and northern Hesse and southern Lower Saxony, along the upper reaches of the Weser River and in the valleys and mountains of the Eder, Fulda and Weser River regions, a district approximately...

 and was allowed a triumph. After this peak he disappears from history, never to be mentioned again, except by the Plinies, and is not among either the friends or the enemies of Nero.

The elder Pliny mentions that he saw "in the possession of Pomponius Secundus, the poet, a very illustrious citizen," manuscripts in the "ancient handwriting of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus." The time of his maximum illustriousness would have been his triumph of 50 or 51. In 54 Nero came to power; at that time Pliny was working on his two military writings. Pliny the Younger says that the biography of Secundus was "a duty which he owed to the memory of his friend", implying that Secundus had died. The circumstances of this duty and whether or not it had anything to do with his probable avoidance of Nero have disappeared with the work.

Meanwhile he was completing the twenty books of his History of the German Wars, the only authority expressly quoted in the first six books of the Annals
Annals (Tacitus)
The Annals by Tacitus is a history of the reigns of the four Roman Emperors succeeding Caesar Augustus. The surviving parts of the Annals extensively cover most of the reigns of Tiberius and Nero. The title Annals was probably not given by Tacitus, but derives from the fact that he treated this...

of Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

, and probably one of the principal authorities for the Germania
Germania (book)
The Germania , written by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus around 98, is an ethnographic work on the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire.-Contents:...

. It disappeared in favor of the writings of Tacitus (which are far shorter), and, early in the 5th century, Symmachus
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus was a Roman statesman, orator, and man of letters. He held the offices of governor of Africa in 373, urban prefect of Rome in 384 and 385, and consul in 391...

 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
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

 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 on Dubii sermonis, "On Doubtful Phraseology." (These are both now lost work
Lost work
A lost work is a document or literary work produced some time in the past of which no surviving copies are known to exist. Works may be lost to history either through the destruction of the original manuscript, or through the non-survival of any copies of the work. Deliberate destruction of works...

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; also the interlude in Pliny's obligation to the state.

Senior officer



At the very end of 69 AD, after a year of civil war consequent on the death of Nero, Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

, a successful general, became emperor. Like Pliny, he had come from the middle, or equestrian, class, rising through the ranks of the army and public offices and defeating his contenders for the highest office. His main tasks were to reestablish peace under imperial control and 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 Titus, was put to work immediately and was kept in a continuous succession of the most distinguished procuratorships, according to Suetonius
Suetonius
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius , was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era....

. A procurator
Procurator (Roman)
A procurator was the title of various officials of the Roman Empire, posts mostly filled by equites . A procurator Augusti was the governor of the smaller imperial provinces...

 was generally a governor of an imperial province. The empire was perpetually short of, and always was seeking, office-holders for its numerous offices.

A definitive study of the procuratorships of Pliny was done by the classical scholar Friedrich Münzer
Friedrich Münzer
Friedrich Münzer was a German classical scholar noted for the development of prosopography, particularly for his demonstrations of how family relationships in ancient Rome connected to political struggles....

, which was re-asserted by Ronald Syme
Ronald Syme
Sir Ronald Syme, OM, FBA was a New Zealand-born historian and classicist. Long associated with Oxford University, he is widely regarded as the 20th century's greatest historian of ancient Rome...

 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, with the others described as visits if they do not utilize the full range. Münzer's full range is as follows.

According to Syme, Pliny may have been "successor to Valerius Paulinus", procurator of Gallia Narbonensis
Gallia Narbonensis
Gallia Narbonensis was a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France. It was also known as Gallia Transalpina , which was originally a designation for that part of Gaul lying across the Alps from Italia and it contained a western region known as Septimania...

 (southeastern France), early in 70 AD. 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.



It is certain that Pliny spent some time in Africa Province
Africa Province
The Roman province of Africa was established after the Romans defeated Carthage in the Third Punic War. It roughly comprised the territory of present-day northern Tunisia, and the small Mediterranean coast of modern-day western Libya along the Syrtis Minor...

, most likely as a procurator. Among other events or features that he saw are the provoking of rubetae, poisonous toads (Bufonidae), by the Psylli
Psylli
The Psylli were an ancient North African tribe or ethnic group.-Historical accounts:Of the Psylli Herodotus described "a tribe that met with extinction" after the desert wind dried up their water holes. Pliny the Elder said that they were "almost exterminated" in a war with their neighbours, the...

; the buildings made with molded earthen walls, "superior in solidity to any cement;" and the unusual, fertile seaside oasis of Gabès
Gabès
Gabès , also spelt Cabès, Cabes, Kabes, Gabbs and Gaps, the ancient Tacape, is the capital city of the Gabès Governorate, a province of Tunisia. It lies on the coast of the Gulf of Gabès. With a population of 116,323 it is the 6th largest Tunisian city.-History:Strabo refers to Tacape as an...

 (then Tacape), Tunisia, currently a World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

. Syme assigns the African procuratorship to 70-72 AD.

The procuratorship of Hispania Tarraconensis
Hispania Tarraconensis
Hispania Tarraconensis was one of three Roman provinces in Hispania. It encompassed much of the Mediterranean coast of Spain along with the central plateau. Southern Spain, the region now called Andalusia, was the province of Hispania Baetica...

 is 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
The Principality of Asturias is an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain, coextensive with the former Kingdom of Asturias in the Middle Ages...

 and Gallaecia
Gallaecia
Gallaecia or Callaecia, also known as Hispania Gallaecia, was the name of a Roman province and an early Mediaeval kingdom that comprised a territory in the north-west of Hispania...

). 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
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 and especially the gold mines of the north and west of the country. His descriptions of the various methods of mining appear to be eye-witness judging by his discussion of gold mining
Gold mining
Gold mining is the removal of gold from the ground. There are several techniques and processes by which gold may be extracted from the earth.-History:...

 methods in the Natural History. He might have visited the mine excavated at Las Medulas
Las Médulas
Las Médulas is a historical site near the town of Ponferrada in the region of El Bierzo , which used to be the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire...

.

The last position of procurator, an uncertain one, was of Gallia Belgica
Gallia Belgica
Gallia Belgica was a Roman province located in what is now the southern part of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, northeastern France, and western Germany. The indigenous population of Gallia Belgica, the Belgae, consisted of a mixture of Celtic and Germanic tribes...

, based on Pliny's familiarity with it. The capital of the province was Augusta Treverorum (Trier
History of Trier
Trier in Rhineland-Palatinate, whose history dates to the Roman Empire, is often claimed to be the oldest city in Germany. Traditionally it was known in English by its French name of Treves.- Prehistory :...

), named for the Treveri
Treveri
The Treveri or Treviri were a tribe of Gauls who inhabited the lower valley of the Moselle from around 150 BCE, at the latest, until their eventual absorption into the Franks...

 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 74-75 AD 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 there was one in Gallia Belgica.

Pliny was allowed home (Rome) at some time in 75/76 AD. 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 AD, 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 (night-watchmen), a lesser post. The latter post is not consistent with what Pliny the Younger says of this period:

Before daybreak he used to wait upon Vespasian (who also used his nights for transacting business), and then proceed to execute the orders he had received.

When that business was transacted, he turned to reading and making extracts, clearly in the process of working on the Natural History. No actual post is discernable in this regimen, which he could not have conducted as admiral at Misenum, unless his duties as admiral did not require his presence at Misenum. On the bare circumstances he was an official agent of the emperor in a quasi-private capacity. Perhaps he was between posts. In any case, his appointment as prefect of the fleet at Misenum took him to Misenum, where he was residing with his sister and nephew. Vespasian died of disease on June 23, 79. Pliny outlived him by two months.

Famous 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 69, when it was clear that the terror was over and was not going to be replaced. It was to some degree reinstituted (and later cancelled by his son Titus) when Vespasian suppressed the philosophers at Rome, but not for Pliny, who was not among them, representing, as he says, something new at Rome, an encyclopedist (certainly, a venerable tradition outside Italy).

In his next work, he "completed the history which Aufidius Bassus
Aufidius Bassus
Aufidius Bassus was a Roman historian who lived in the reign of Tiberius.His work, which probably began with the civil wars or the death of Caesar, was continued by the elder Pliny. The elder Pliny carried it down at least as far as the end of Nero's reign...

 left unfinished, and ... added to it thirty books." Aufidius Bassus was a cause célèbre according to Seneca the Younger
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

, a man much admired at Rome. He had begun his history at some unknown contemporaneous time, ending with the reign of Tiberius
Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

. It was cut short when Bassus died slowly of a lingering disease, with such spirit and objectivity that Seneca remarked he seemed to treat it as someone else's dying.

Pliny's Bassus' History was one of the authorities followed by Suetonius
Lives of the Twelve Caesars
De vita Caesarum commonly known as The Twelve Caesars, is a set of twelve biographies of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.The work, written in AD 121 during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, was the most popular work of Suetonius,...

 and Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

. Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 also cites Pliny as a source. He is mentioned concerning the loyalty of Burrus, commander of the Praetorian Guard
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

, whom Nero
Nero
Nero , was Roman Emperor from 54 to 68, and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius to become his heir and successor, and succeeded to the throne in 54 following Claudius' death....

 removed for disloyalty. Tacitus portrays parts of Pliny's view of the Pisonian conspiracy
Pisonian conspiracy
The conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso in AD 65 represented one of the major turning points in the reign of the Roman emperor Nero...

 to kill Nero and make Piso emperor as "absurd" and mentions that he could not decide whether Pliny's account or that of Messalla
Marcus Valerius Messalla
Marcus Valerius Messalla is the name of:* Marcus Valerius Messalla , Roman Republic consul in 226 BC* Marcus Valerius Messalla , Roman consul for 188 BC* Marcus Valerius Messalla , Roman Republic consul in 161 BC...

  was more accurate concerning some of the details of the Year of the Four Emperors
Year of the Four Emperors
The Year of the Four Emperors was a year in the history of the Roman Empire, AD 69, in which four emperors ruled in a remarkable succession. These four emperors were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian....

. 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, an encyclopedia
Encyclopedia
An encyclopedia is a type of reference work, a compendium holding a summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge....

 into which he collected much of the knowledge of his time. Answers concerning the date of its publication, composition, or when he started or stopped work upon it, depend on the questions asked.

The encyclopedia utilizes some material from his memories of earlier times and from his prior works, such as the book on Germany. There is no evidence that he had planned to use this material in an encyclopedia later in his career. Most of the references in the encyclopedia must have come from his extracts, which he kept on an ongoing basis, hiring a reader and a secretary to keep them, and furnishing that secretary with gloves in winter so that his writing hand would not stiffen with cold. The extracts collected for this purpose filled rather less than 160 volumes, which Larcius Licinus, the praetorian
Praetorian
Praetorian is an adjective derived from the ancient Roman office of praetor. It may refer to:*Praetorian Guard, a special force of skilled and celebrated troops serving as the personal guard of Roman Emperors...

 legate
Legatus
A legatus was a general in the Roman army, equivalent to a modern general officer. Being of senatorial rank, his immediate superior was the dux, and he outranked all military tribunes...

 of Hispania Tarraconensis, vainly offered to purchase for 400,000 sesterces. That would have been in 73/74 (see above). At his death Pliny left the 160 volumes to his nephew. When composition began is unknown. Since he was preoccupied with his other works under Nero and then had to finish the history of his times, it is unlikely he began 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
Philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

 analysis (the "post-mortem" 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 "emperor" Titus
Titus
Titus , was Roman Emperor from 79 to 81. A member of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death, thus becoming the first Roman Emperor to come to the throne after his own father....

. As Titus and Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

 had the same name, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, earlier writers hypothesized a dedication to Vespasian. Pliny's mention of a brother (Domitian
Domitian
Domitian was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96. Domitian was the third and last emperor of the Flavian dynasty.Domitian's youth and early career were largely spent in the shadow of his brother Titus, who gained military renown during the First Jewish-Roman War...

) and joint offices with a father, calling that father "great", points certainly to Titus. Since Titus is addressed as emperor ostensibly Vespasian had died, in which case the date would be 79.

However, Pliny says that Titus had been consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

 six times. The first six consulships of Titus are in 70, 72, 74, 75, 76 and 77, all conjointly with Vespasian, which brings the date of the Dedication to 77. In that year Vespasian was 68. He had been ruling conjointly with Titus for some years, which may be why he allowed Pliny to call Titus "emperor" and dedicate the work to him.
Aside from minor finishing touches, the work in 37 books was completed in AD 77. It would be unsubstantiated to presume that it was written entirely in 77 or that Pliny was finished with it then. Moreover, the dedication could have been written before publication, and it could have been published either privately or publicly earlier without dedication. The only certain fact is that Pliny did no further work on it after AD 79.

The Naturalis Historia
Naturalis Historia
The Natural History is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny...

is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman empire to the modern day and purports 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
Botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

, zoology
Zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

, astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

, geology
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 and mineralogy
Mineralogy
Mineralogy is the study of chemistry, crystal structure, and physical properties of minerals. Specific studies within mineralogy include the processes of mineral origin and formation, classification of minerals, their geographical distribution, as well as their utilization.-History:Early writing...

 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. Some technical advances he discusses are the only sources for those inventions, such as hushing
Hushing
Hushing is an ancient and historic mining method using a flood or torrent of water to reveal mineral veins. The method was applied in several ways, both in prospecting for ores, and for their exploitation. Mineral veins are often hidden below soil and sub-soil, which must be stripped away to...

 in mining technology or the use of water mills for crushing or grinding corn. Much of what he wrote about has been confirmed by archaeology
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

. It is virtually the only work which describes the work of artists of the time, and is a reference work for the history of art
History of art
The History of art refers to visual art which may be defined as any activity or product made by humans in a visual form for aesthetical or communicative purposes, expressing ideas, emotions or, in general, a worldview...

.

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. The work is dedicated to the Emperor Titus, son of Pliny's close friend, the emperor Vespasian, in the first year of Titus' reign. 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 Vesuvius.

Death



Pliny had received from the now deceased Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

 the appointment of praefect of the Roman Navy
Roman Navy
The Roman Navy comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. Although the navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman legions...

. On August 24, 79 AD, he was stationed at Misenum, at the time of the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting...

, which overwhelmed Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

 and Herculaneum
Herculaneum
Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in AD 79, located in the territory of the current commune of Ercolano, in the Italian region of Campania in the shadow of Mt...

. He was preparing to cross the Bay of Naples to observe the phenomenon directly when a message arrived from his friend Rectina
Rectina
During the eruption of Vesuvius in 79CE, Pliny the Elder received a message from a friend named Rectina. This prompted him to set sail with galleys and a cutter partly in order to observe what was happening at closer range, and partly to attempt a rescue of some of the people of the towns at the...

 asking for rescue. Launching the galleys under his command to the evacuation of the opposite shore he himself took "a fast-sailing cutter", a decision that may have cost him his life. His nephew, Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , 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 him...

, provided an account of his death, obtained from the survivors. The nephew and his mother had decided not to go on the voyage across the bay.


As the light vessel approached the shore near Herculaneum, cinders and pumice began to fall on it. Pliny's helmsman advised turning back, to which Pliny replied "Fortune favors the brave, steer to where Pomponianus
Pomponianus
Pomponianus was at Stabiae during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, he was stuck to the shore because he was not favoured by the wind, so was greeted by Pliny The Elder in order to help him escape the increasing danger...

 is (Stabiae
Stabiae
Stabiae was an ancient Roman town, located close to the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia approximately 4.5 km southwest of Pompeii. It was positioned on a 50 m high headland overlooking the Gulf of Naples...

, near the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia
Castellammare di Stabia
Castellammare di Stabia is a comune in the province of Naples, Campania region, southern Italy. It is situated on the Bay of Naples about 30 kilometers southeast of Naples, on the route to Sorrento.-History:...

)." They landed and found Pomponianus "in the greatest consternation." Pliny hugged and comforted him. They loaded the cutter but the same winds that brought it to Stabiae prevented it from leaving. Pliny reassured his party by feasting and sleeping while waiting for the wind to abate but finally they had to leave the buildings for fear of collapse and try their luck in the pumice fall. Pliny sat down and could not get up even with assistance and was left behind. His companions theorized that he collapsed and died through inhaling poisonous gases emitted from the volcano. On their return three days later (26 August) after the plume had dispersed, his body was found under the pumice with no apparent external injuries. The problem with the toxicity theory is that his companions were unaffected by the supposedly toxic fumes, and they had no mobility problem where Pliny had to sit and could not rise. As he is described as a corpulent man, who also suffered from asthma
Asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, it is hypothesized that his friends left him because he was already dead.

The story of his last hours is told in a letter addressed twenty-seven years afterwards to Tacitus by the Elder Pliny's nephew and heir, Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , 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 him...

, who also sent to another correspondent an account of his uncle's writings and his manner of life. The fragment from Suetonius (see under External links below) states a somewhat less flattering view, that Pliny approached the shore only from scientific interest and then asked a slave to kill him to avoid heat from the volcano. It is not as credible a source, as it is clear from the nephew's letter that the persons Pliny came to rescue escaped to tell the tale in detail; moreover, Suetonius hypothesizes a party witnessing events so agonizing as to destroy Pliny or cause him to order his own death and yet apparently were subject to none of these fatal events themselves.

Legacy


Pliny is still remembered in volcanology
Volcanology
Volcanology is the study of volcanoes, lava, magma, and related geological, geophysical and geochemical phenomena. The term volcanology is derived from the Latin word vulcan. Vulcan was the ancient Roman god of fire....

 where the term Plinian
Plinian eruption
Plinian eruptions, also known as 'Vesuvian eruptions', are volcanic eruptions marked by their similarity to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 ....

(or Plinean) refers to a very violent eruption of a volcano
Volcanic Explosivity Index
The Volcanic Explosivity Index was devised by Chris Newhall of the U.S. Geological Survey and Stephen Self at the University of Hawaii in 1982 to provide a relative measure of the explosiveness of volcanic eruptions....

 marked by columns of smoke and ash extending high into the stratosphere. The term ultra-Plinian is reserved for the most violent type of Plinian eruption such as the 1883 destruction of Krakatoa
Krakatoa
Krakatoa is a volcanic island made of a'a lava in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. The name is used for the island group, the main island , and the volcano as a whole. The island exploded in 1883, killing approximately 40,000 people, although some estimates...

.

A carnelian
Carnelian
Carnelian is a brownish-red mineral which is commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone. Similar to carnelian is sard, which is generally harder and darker...

 inscribed with the letters C. PLIN. has been reproduced by Cades (v.211) from the original in the Vannutelli collection. It represents an ancient Roman with an almost completely bald forehead and a double chin; and is almost certainly a portrait, not of Pliny the Elder, but of Pompey the Great. Seated statues of both the Plinies, clad in the garb of scholars of the year 1500, may be seen in the niches on either side of the main entrance to the cathedral
Cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

 church of Como.

The elder Pliny's anecdotes of Greek artists supplied Vasari with the subjects of the fresco
Fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

es which still adorn the interior of his former home at Arezzo
Arezzo
Arezzo is a city and comune in Central Italy, capital of the province of the same name, located in Tuscany. Arezzo is about 80 km southeast of Florence, at an elevation of 296 m above sea level. In 2011 the population was about 100,000....

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