Pliny the Elder


Gaius Plinius Secundus, in English Pliny the Elder, was an ancient scientist, natural philosopher, and military commander, as well as was the uncle of Pliny the Younger. He was born in either 23 or 22 CE at Como in Gallia Transpadana into a wealthy, equestrian family.

Pliny was educated in Rome by P. Pomponius Secundus, who was also his military commander in campaigns in Germania; he later wrote a laudatory biography for him, the now-lost De Vita Pomponii Secundi.

In the early 60s, Pliny seems to have settled in Rome and to have devoted himself to his studies. In 79, he was appointed prefect of the fleet at Misenum, outside Naples. He died after sailing to investigate the eruption of Vesuvius. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, gives a detailed account of it in his letters (6.16, 6.20).


Pliny’s military service also inspired him to write a treatise on calvary, De Iaculatione Equestri, and a history on the German wars, Bella Germaniae, the latter of which Tacitus utilizes a good portion.

Pliny wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, a massive work covering all aspects of the natural world. Below is the outline:

Book I: Dedication and Prologue
Book II: Physical Character of the World
Books III–VI: Physical Geography and Nations
Book VII: Humans
Book VIII: Land Animals
Book IX: Descriptions
Book X: Birds
Book XI: Insects
Books XII–XVII: Trees
Books XVIII–XIX: Grains and Garden Plants
Book XX: Remedies from Garden Plants
Book XXI: Flowers
Book XXII: General Properties of Plants
Books XXIII–XXIV: Remedies from Trees
Book XXV: Wild Plants
Books XXVI–XXVII: More on Remedies from Plants
Books XXVIII–XXXII: Remedies from Animals
Books XXXII–XXXIV: Metals
Books XXXV: Paintings
Books XXXVI: Types of Stone
Book XXXVII: Precious Stones

Pliny the Elder Online

Latin: PHI Latin Texts
Latin: Lacus Curtius
English: Perseus

Further Reading

  • John F. Healy 1999. Pliny the Elder on Science and Technology. Oxford University Press.
  • Trevor Murphy 2004. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: The Empire in the Encyclopedia. Oxford University Press.
  • Sorcha Carey 2006. Pliny’s Catalogue of Culture: Art and Empire in the Natural History. Oxford University Press.
  • Roy K. Gibson & Ruth Morello eds. 2011. Pliny the Elder: Themes and Contexts. Brill.

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