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Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23/24 – 79), called Pliny the Elder (/ˈplɪni/),[1] was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of emperor Vespasian. He wrote the encyclopedic Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias. He spent most of his spare time studying, writing, and investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field.

His nephew, Pliny the Younger, wrote of him in a letter to the historian Tacitus:

The Porta Nigra Roman gate, Trier, Germany

The last position of procurator, an uncertain one, was of Gallia Belgica, based on Pliny's familiarity with it. The capital of the province was Augusta Treverorum (Trier), named for the Treveri 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."[41] The problem is to identify "this", the year in which the passage was written. Using 77 as the date of composition Syme[42] arrives at AD 74-75 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 the one in Gallia Belgica occurred.

Pliny was allowed home (Rome) at some time in AD 75–76. 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, 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. No actual post is discernible for this period. On the bare circumstances, he was an official agent of the emperor in a quasiprivate capacity. Perhaps he was between posts. In any case, his appointment as prefect of the fleet at Misenum took him there, where he resided with his sister and nephew. Vespasian died of disease on June 23, 79. Pliny outlived him by two months.

Noted authorAufidius Bassus left unfinished, and... added to it thirty books."[20] Aufidius Bassus was a cause cé

In his next work, he "completed the history which Aufidius Bassus left unfinished, and... added to it thirty books."[20] Aufidius Bassus was a cause célèbre according to Seneca the Younger,[43][44] a man much admired at Rome. He had begun his history with some unknown date, certainly before the death of Cicero,[45] so probably the Civil Wars or the death of Julius Caesar, ending with the reign of Tiberius. It was cut short when Bassus died slowly of a lingering disease, with such spirit and objectivity that Seneca remarked that Bassus seemed to treat it as someone else's dying.

Pliny's continuation of Bassus's History was one of the authorities followed by Suetonius and Plutarch.[11] Tacitus also cites Pliny as a source. He is mentioned concerning the loyalty of Burrus, commander of the Praetorian Guard, whom Nero removed for disloyalty.[46] Tacitus portrays parts of Pliny's view of the Pisonian conspiracy to kill Nero and make Piso emperor as "absurd"[47] and mentions that he could not decide whether Pliny's account or that of Messalla was more accurate concerning some of the details of the Year of the Four Emperors.[48] 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:[11]

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.[49]

Pliny's last work, according to his nephew, was the Naturalis Historia (literally "Natural History"), an encyclopedia into which he collected much of the knowledge of his time.[20] It comprised 37 books. His sources were personal experience, his own prior works (such as the work on Germania), and extracts from other works. These extracts were collected in the following manner: One servant would read aloud, and another would write the extract as dictated by Pliny. He is said to have dictated extracts while taking a bath. In winter, he furnished the copier with gloves and long sleeves so his writing hand would not stiffen with cold (Pliny the Younger in avunculus meus). His extract collection finally reached about 160 volumes, which Larcius Licinius, the Praetorian legate of Hispania Tarraconensis, vainly offered to purchase for 400,000 sesterces.[20][11] That would have been in 73/74 (see above). Pliny bequeathed the extracts to his nephew.

When composition of the Natural History began is unknown. Since he was preoccupied with his other works under Nero and then had to finish the history of his times, he is unlikely to have begun 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 analysis (the post mortemWhen composition of the Natural History began is unknown. Since he was preoccupied with his other works under Nero and then had to finish the history of his times, he is unlikely to have begun 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 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 imperator Titus. As Titus and Vespasian had the same name, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, earlier writers hypothesized a dedication to Vespasian. Pliny's mention of a brother (Domitian) and joint offices with a father, calling that father "great", points certainly to Titus.[50]

Pliny also says that Titus had been consul six times. The first six consulships of Titus are in 70, 72, 74, 75, 76, and 77, all conjointly with Vespasian, and the seventh was in 79. This brings the date of the Dedication probably to 77. In that year, Vespasian was 68. He had been ruling conjointly with Titus for some years.[50] The title imperator does not indicate that Titus was sole emperor, but was awarded for a military victory, in this case that in Jerusalem in 70.[51]

Aside from minor finishing touches, the work in 37 books was completed in AD 77.[52] That it was written entirely in 77 or that Pliny was finished with it then cannot be proved. Moreover, the dedication could have been written before publication, and it could have b

Pliny also says that Titus had been consul six times. The first six consulships of Titus are in 70, 72, 74, 75, 76, and 77, all conjointly with Vespasian, and the seventh was in 79. This brings the date of the Dedication probably to 77. In that year, Vespasian was 68. He had been ruling conjointly with Titus for some years.[50] The title imperator does not indicate that Titus was sole emperor, but was awarded for a military victory, in this case that in Jerusalem in 70.[51]

Aside from minor finishing touches, the work in 37 books was completed in AD 77.[52] That it was written entirely in 77 or that Pliny was finished with it then cannot be proved. Moreover, the dedication could have been written before publication, and it could have been published either privately or publicly earlier without the dedication. The only certain fact is that Pliny did no further work on it after AD 79.

The Naturalis Historia 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, 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. His discussions of some technical advances are the only sources for those inventions, such as hushing in mining technology or the use of water mills for crushing or grinding grain. 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. As such, Pliny's approach to describing the work of artists was to inform Lorenzo Ghiberti in writing his commentaries and Giorgio Vasari who wrote the celebrated Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.

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. 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.

Pliny had received from Emperor Vespasian, who had died two months earlier, the appointment of praefectus classis (fleet commander) in the Roman Navy. He was stationed at Misenum, at the time of the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius,[11] which destroyed and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. He was preparing to cross the Bay of Naples to observe the phenomenon directly when a message arrived from his friend Rectina asking to rescue Pomponianus and her. 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, 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 favours the brave; steer to where Pomponianus is." (Stabiae, near the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia.) They landed and found Pomponianus "in the greatest consternation." Pliny hugged and comforted him. They could not find Rectina. They loaded the cutter, but the same winds that brought it to Stabiae prevented it from leaving. Pliny reassured his party by feasting, bathing, 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 two days later 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

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 favours the brave; steer to where Pomponianus is." (Stabiae, near the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia.) They landed and found Pomponianus "in the greatest consternation." Pliny hugged and comforted him. They could not find Rectina. They loaded the cutter, but the same winds that brought it to Stabiae prevented it from leaving. Pliny reassured his party by feasting, bathing, 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 two days later 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 same fumes, and they had no mobility problems, whereas Pliny had to sit and could not rise. As he is described as a corpulent man,[2] who also suffered from asthma, his friends are thought to have left him because he was already dead.[3]

The story of his last hours is told in a letter addressed 27 years afterwards to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger,[2][11] who also sent to another correspondent, Baebius Macer, an account of his uncle's writings and his manner of life.[20][11] 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 that a party witnessing events so agonizing as to destroy Pliny or cause him to order his own death are suspect as they apparently were subject to none of these fatal events themselves.

In 1859, Jacob Bigelow, M.D., after summarizing the widespread misinformation about Pliny's death, examined the evidence and concluded that Pliny was overweight, in poor health, and died of a heart attack.[53] In 1967, science historian Conway Zirkle similarly stated that "there is widespread and persisting misinformation" about Pliny's death. He suggested that despite his rescue attempt, Pliny never came within miles of Vesuvius and no evidence has been found that shows he died from breathing in fumes, and like Bigelow, concluded that he died of a heart attack.[54]