ca. A.D. 23-79
Roman administrator and writer
Gaius Plinius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman government official, writer, and scholar. He was the uncle and adoptive father of the Roman writer Pliny the Younger. Today, the elder Pliny is best known as the author of Natural History, a massive encyclopedia of information about many different subjects.
Pliny was born in Comum in Cisalpine Gaul (present-day northern Italy). He spent 12 years in the army, mostly in Germany where he served alongside the future emperor Titus. Upon his return to Italy, Pliny practiced law. Under the emperor Vespasian, he became a procurator* in Gaul, Spain, and North Africa. He served as an adviser to Vespasian and Titus, and he became commander of the Roman fleet at the port of Misenum. He died during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Pliny was a prolific writer, completing many books on a variety of topics. In addition to the biography of his patron*, Pomponius Secundus, Pliny wrote a 20-volume history of the Roman campaign against the Germans and a 31-volume history of his own time. Pliny produced works on rhetoric* and oratory*, and during his military service, he wrote an essay on spear-throwing for cavalrymen.
The only work of Pliny’s that has survived is the 37-book Natural History, which he dedicated to Titus. The Natural History is a vast, wide-ranging collection of information about people, animals, plants, and minerals. It provides an important look at the state of scientific knowledge in the first century A.D. The importance of the work was quickly recognized. During the Middle Ages in Europe, Pliny’s Natural History held a position of great authority and influence. It has been translated into several languages, including English in the early 1600s. (See also Literature, Roman; Science.)
* procurator Roman official who managed the financial, and sometimes administrative, affairs of a province as an agent of the emperor
* patron special guardian, protector; or supporter
* rhetoric art of using words effectively in speaking or writing
* oratory art of public speaking