Pliny the Elder

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Related to Pliny the Elder: Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus
BirthplaceComum (Como), Liguria, Roman Empire
Lawyer, author, natural philosopher, military commander, provincial governor
EducationRhetoric, grammar

Pliny the Elder

(Caius Plinius Secundus) (plĭ`nē), c.A.D. 23–A.D. 79, Roman naturalist, b. Cisalpine Gaul. He was a friend and fellow military officer of VespasianVespasian
(Titus Flavius Vespasianus) , A.D. 9–A.D. 79, Roman emperor (A.D. 69–A.D. 79), founder of the Flavian dynasty. The son of a poor family, he made his way in the army by sheer ability.
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, becoming eventually an army and naval commander and imperial official, and he dedicated his great work to TitusTitus
(Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus) , A.D. 39–A.D. 81, Roman emperor (A.D. 79–A.D. 81). Son of Emperor Vespasian, Titus was closely associated with his father in military campaigns, and after A.D. 71 he acted as coruler with the emperor.
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. He died of asphyxiation in the neighborhood of VesuviusVesuvius
, Ital. Vesuvio, active volcano, S Italy, on the eastern shore of the Bay of Naples, SE of Naples. The only other active volcano on the European mainland is the Campi Flegrei (se Phlegraean Fields) caldera on the Gulf of Pozzuoli to the east.
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, 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), A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113, was an orator, a lawyer, and a statesman. He was quaestor (A.D. 89), tribune (A.D. 91), and praetor (A.D. 93) and subsequently held treasury posts. He was consul (A.D. 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 TacitusTacitus
(Cornelius Tacitus), c.A.D. 55–c.A.D. 117, Roman historian. Little is known for certain of his life. He was a friend of Pliny the Younger and married the daughter of Agricola. In A.D.
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 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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pliny the Elder


(Gaius Plinius Secundus; also Gaius Plinius Major). Born A.D. 23 or 24 in Novum Comum (now Como); died A.D. 79. Roman writer, scholar, and public figure. Uncle and adoptive father of Pliny the Younger.

Pliny the Elder served in the Roman provinces of Germany, Gaul, Spain, and Africa. At the time of his death during the eruption of Vesuvius, he was commanding the fleet at Misenum. Pliny’s Natural History (37 books), an encyclopedia of antiquity’s knowledge in the natural sciences, combines information on astronomy, physical geography, meteorology, ethnology, anthropology, zoology, botany, agriculture, forestry, medicine, mineralogy, and metallurgy with fantastic stories, fables, superstitions, and anecdotes. Until the end of the 17th century the Natural History was considered an important source of information about nature. Pliny’s historical works have not survived, but they were used by Tacitus. In the German Wars (20 books), Pliny recounted the history of the Roman conquests along the Rhine and Danube. The Continuation of the History of Aufidius Bassus (31 books) was an account of the events of A.D. 41–71 (the reigns of Claudius and Nero and the civil war after Nero’s death). The Life of Pomponius Secundus (two books) was a biography of Pliny’s patron and military commander.


Naturalis historiae, libri 37, vols. 1–6. Leipzig, 1870–98.
In Russian translation:
Katon, Varron, Kolumella, Plinii: O sel’skom khoziaistve. Moscow, 1957.


Lunkevich, V. V. Ot Geraklita do Darvina, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1960.
Dannemann, F. Plinius und seine Naturgeschichte in Hirer Bedeutung für die Gegenwart. Jena, 1921.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Pliny the Elder is the model of the dedicated scholar, with each moment of his day allocated to some productive pursuit.
Pliny the Elder thought a maggot from any dead canine, inserted into a wound, would cure the disease.
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The whole of chapter 4 is basically such an excursus, a tour de force invented from a melange of Xenophon, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and the author's imagination.
The argument can be summed up by Pliny the Elder who, 2000 years ago said "Home is where the heart is".