Pliny the Elder

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Pliny the Elder or Gaius Plinius Secundus

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th century portrait. No contemporary depiction of Pliny has survived.
Born 23 AD
Como, Italy
Died August 25, 79 (aged 55–56)
Stabiae, near Pompei, Italy
Cause of death Died in the eruption that destroyed Pompeii
Body discovered By friends, under the pumice
Residence Rome, provincial locations, Misenum
Citizenship Roman
Education Rhetoric, grammar
Occupation Lawyer, author, natural philosopher, military commander, provincial governor
Notable works Natural History
Weight Corpulent in later life
Spouse None
Children None
Parents Celer and Marcella
Relatives Sister (Plinia), nephew (Pliny the Younger)

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – 25 August 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian.

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

Pliny the Elder died on 25 August 79 AD. He was attempting the rescue by ship of a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The eruption had just destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Pliny's Natural History[change | edit source]

The Naturalis Historia is one of the largest works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day. It claims 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 includes 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.

Some technical advances he discusses are the only sources for those inventions, such as hushing 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. 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.

The work became a model for all later encyclopedias in 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.

The Natural History consists of 37 books. Pliny devised his own table of contents. The table below is a summary based on modern names for topics.

I Preface and tables of contents, lists of authorities
II Mathematical and physical description of the world
III–VI Geography and ethnography
VII Anthropology and human physiology
VIII–XI Zoology
XII–XXVII Botany, including agriculture, horticulture and pharmacology
XXVIII–XXXII Pharmacology
XXXIII–XXXVII Mining and mineralogy, especially in its application to life and art, including:
gold
casting in silver[1]
statuary in bronze[2]
painting[3]
modelling [4]
sculpture in marble[5]
precious stones and gems[6]

References[change | edit source]

  1. xxxiii.154–751
  2. xxxiv
  3. xxxv.15–941
  4. 151–851
  5. xxxvi
  6. xxxvii