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Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus)

Statue of Pliny the Younger on the façade of Cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore in Como.
Born 61 AD
Died c. 112 AD
Occupation Politician and Author
Parents Lucius Caecilius Cilo and Plinia Marcella

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo (61 AD - ca. 112 AD), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him and they were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius on 24 August 79 AD, the day of the elder's death.[citation needed]

Pliny is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, which are an invaluable historical source for the period. Many are to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian, Tacitus. Pliny himself was a notable figure, serving as an imperial magistrate under Trajan.[citation needed]

Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum (see below). He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and employed the biographer Suetonius in his staff. Pliny also came into contact with many other well-known men of the period, including the philosophers Artemidorus and Euphrates during his time in Syria.[citation needed]



City and Lago of Como, painted by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, 1834.
Como today, view from the lake.

Pliny the Younger was born in Novum Comum (Como, Northern Italy), the son of Lucius Caecilius Cilo, born there, and wife Plinia Marcella, a sister of Pliny the Elder.[1] He was the grandson of Senator and landowner Gaius Caecilius, born in Como around 61 AD. He revered his uncle, Pliny the Elder, and provides sketches of how his uncle worked on the Naturalis Historia.[citation needed]

Pliny's father died at an early age when his son was still young; as a result, Pliny probably lived with his mother. His guardian and preceptor in charge of his education is known to have been Lucius Verginius Rufus, famed for quelling a revolt against Nero in 68. After being first tutored at home, Pliny travelled to Rome where he furthered his education and was taught rhetoric by the great teacher and author Quintilian and Nicetes Sacerdos of Smyrna. It was at this time that Pliny became closer to his uncle Pliny the Elder, and when the elder Pliny died during the Vesuvian eruption, the terms of the will passed his estate to his young nephew. In the same document he was adopted by his uncle. As a result, he changed his name from Gaius Caecilius (or Gaius Caecilius Cilo) to Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus.[citation needed]

There is some evidence that Pliny had a sibling. A memorial erected in Como (now CILV5279) repeats the terms of a will by which the aedile Lucius Caecilius Cilo, son of Lucius, establishes a fund. The interest on it is to be used to buy oil (used for soap) for the baths of the people of Como. The trustees are apparently named in the inscription: L. Caecilius Valens and P. Caecilius Secundus, sons of Lucius, and the contubernalis, Lutulla.[2]

The word describing Lutulla is borrowed from the military, meaning "tent-mate" and can only mean that she was living with Lucius, not as wife. The first son mentioned is probably the older. Pliny the Younger confirms[3] that he acted as trustee for the largesses "of my ancestors", which use of "ancestor" suggests Lucius was not his legal father now. The P. must stand for Plinius (not Publius), rendering the name into Pliny's adopted name; hence the monument must follow the bequest by some years. Luculla perhaps administered it until the boys came of age. Valens does not appear again and seems unknown to Pliny the Elder, indicating that Valens' mother was not Plinia; perhaps he was Luculla's in an earlier relationship (Pliny the Younger is the second son).[citation needed]

Pliny the Younger married three times, firstly when he was very young, about eighteen, to a stepdaughter of Veccius Proculus, of whom he became a widower at age 37, secondly to the daughter of Pompeia Celerina, at an unknown date and thirdly to Calpurnia, daughter of Calpurnius and granddaughter of Calpurnus Fabatus of Comum. Letters survive in which Pliny records this latter marriage taking place, as well as his attachment to Calpurnia and his sadness when they were unable to have children.[citation needed]

Pliny is thought to have died suddenly during his appointment in Bithynia-Pontus, around 112 AD, since no events referred to in his letters date later than that.[citation needed]


Pliny was by birth of equestrian rank i.e. member of the noble order of equites (knights), the lower (beneath the senatorial order) of the two Roman aristocratic orders that monopolised senior civil and military offices during the early Empire. His career began at the age of eighteen and initially followed a normal equestrian route . But, unlike most equestrians, he achieved entry into the upper order by being elected Quaestor in his late twenties.[citation needed] (See Career summary below.)

Pliny was active in the Roman legal system, especially in the sphere of the Roman centumviral court, which dealt with inheritance cases. Later, he was well-known for prosecuting (and defending) at the trials of a series of provincial governors, including Baebius Massa, governor of Baetica, Marius Priscus, the governor of Africa, Gaius Caecilius Classicus, governor of Baetica and most ironically in light of his later appointment to this province, Gaius Julius Bassus and Varenus Rufus, both governors of Bithynia-Pontus.[citation needed]

Pliny's career is commonly considered as a summary of the main Roman public charges and is the best-documented example from this period, offering proof for many aspects of imperial culture. Effectively, Pliny crossed all the principal fields of the organization of the early Roman Empire. It is no mean achievement for a man to have not only survived the reigns of several disparate emperors, especially the much-detested Domitian, but also to have risen in rank throughout.[citation needed]


Career summary

c. 81 One of the presiding judges in the centumviral court (decemvir litibus iudicandis)
c. 81 Tribunus militum (staff officer) of Legio III Gallica in Syria, probably for six months
80s Officer of the noble order of knights (sevir equitum Romanorum)
Later 80s Entered the Senate
88 or 89 Quaestor attached to the Emperor's staff (quaestor imperatoris)
91 Tribune of the People (tribunus plebis)
93 Praetor
94-96 Prefect of the military treasury (praefectus aerari militaris)
98-100 Prefect of the treasury of Saturn (praefectus aerari Saturni)
100 Consul with Cornutus Tertullus
103 Propraetor of Bithynia
103-104 Publicly-elected Augur
104-106 Superintendent for the banks of the Tiber (curator alvei Tiberis)
104-107 Three times a member of Trajan's judicial council.
110 The imperial governor (legatus Augusti) of Bithynia et Pontus province


As a litterateur, Pliny started writing at the age of fourteen, penning a tragedy in Greek.[citation needed] In the course of his life he wrote a quantity of poetry, most of which was lost despite the great affection he had for it. Also known as a notable orator, he professed himself a follower of Cicero, but his prose was certainly more magniloquent and less direct than Cicero's. The only oration that now survives is the Panegyricus Traiani. This was pronounced in the Senate in 100 and is a description of Trajan's figure and actions in an adulatory and emphatic form, especially contrasting him with the Emperor Domitian. It is, however, a relevant document that allows us to know many details about the Emperor's actions in several fields of his administrative power such as taxes, justice, military discipline, and commerce. Pliny defined it as an essay about the optimus princeps (best leader).[citation needed]


Eruption of Vesuvius. Painting by Norwegian painter I.C. Dahl (1826)

The largest body of Pliny's work which survives is his Epistulae (Letters), a series of personal missives directed to his friends and associates. These letters are a unique testimony of Roman administrative history and everyday life in the 1st century AD. The style is very different from that in the Panegyricus and some commentators affirm that Pliny was the initiator of a new particular genre: the letter written for publication.[citation needed] Especially noteworthy among the letters are two in which he describes the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August 79 during which his uncle Pliny the Elder died (Epistulae VI.16, VI.20), and one in which he asks the Emperor for instructions regarding official policy concerning Christians (Epistulae X.96). Pliny's attention to detail in the letters about Vesuvius is so keen that modern vulcanologists describe that type of eruption as Plinian.[citation needed]


In France Giovanni Giocondo discovered a manuscript of Pliny the Younger's letters containing his correspondence with Trajan. He published it in Paris dedicating the work to Louis XII. Two Italian editions of Pliny's Epistles were published by Giocondo, one printed in Bologna in 1498 and one from the press of Aldus Manutius in 1508.[citation needed]


View of Bellagio in Lake Como. The institution on the hill is Villa Serbelloni, believed to have been constructed on the site of Pliny's villa "Tragedy"

Pliny loved villas, and, being wealthy, owned many, such as the one in Lake Como named "Tragedy" because of its situation high on a hill. Another, on the shore of the lake, was named "Comedy" because it was sited low down.[4]

Pliny's main estate in Italy was in the north of Umbria, under the passes of Bocca Trabaria and Bocca Serriola, where wood was cut for Roman ships and sent to Rome via the Tiber. This place was of strategic importance because Roman armies controlled the passes on the Apennines in that area.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Salway, B. (1994) Journal of Roman Studies 84: 124-145.
  2. ^ Fagan, Garrett G. (2002). Bathing in public in the Roman world (reprint, illustrated ed.). University of Michigan Press. p. 306. ISBN 0472088653, 9780472088652. 
  3. ^ "I.8, To Saturninus". Letters. "I am compelled to discourse of my own largesse, as well as those of my ancestors." 
  4. ^ de la Ruffinière Du Prey, Pierre (1994). The villas of Pliny from antiquity to posterity (illustrated ed.). University of Chicago Press. p. 5. ISBN 0226173003, 9780226173009. 

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (63-ca. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, an author and a natural philosopher of Ancient Rome.



  • An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit.
    • Book II, letter 15
  • He (Pliny the Elder) used to say that "no book was so bad but that some good might be got out of it."
    • Book III, letter 5
  • By then day had broken everywhere, but here it was still night-no, more than night.
    • Book IV, letter 16
  • That indolent but agreeable condition of doing nothing.
    • Book VIII, letter 9
  • Objects which are usually the motives of our travels by land and sea are often overlooked and neglected if they lie under our eye...We put off from time to time going and seeing what we know we have an opportunity of seeing when we please.
    • Book VIII, letter 20
  • His only fault is that he has no fault.
    • Book IX, letter 26

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Simple English

Gaius or Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius or Caius Plinius Caecilius (61/63 in Como - ca. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, a remarkable writer, an author, and natural philosopher of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him and they were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24th, 79 AD.

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