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Pliny the Elder


Pliny the Elder was a Roman writer, teacher, naturalist, and naval officer. He was born in AD 23 and died in AD 79. He wrote many books, including over 160 volumes on botany, biology, zoology, geology, and astronomy.


Fun Facts

  • Pliny the Elder’s nephew, Pliny the Younger, said that Pliny the Elder was the luckiest of men because he wrote good books worth reading and he did great acts worth writing about.
  • Pliny the Elder studied law. He was friends with important political leaders of the day. During Nero’s reign of terror, Pliny kept a low profile, trying not to draw Nero’s attention to himself.
  • Pliny was interested in many subjects. He wrote a book on German history, as well as books on politics and law. His most famous books were his volumes on nature and science. These volumes are still considered some of the best works written during the Roman period. They give us an idea of the inventions and advances of the Roman people.
  • Pliny lived during the time of the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. One of his friends who was stranded near Pompeii wrote to Pliny, asking for his help in fleeing the city. Pliny took a boat and sailed into the city. His friend escaped, but Pliny died there. Experts disagree on what he died from. Some people think he was killed by the toxic gases in the city. Others think he probably died from a heart attack.


Questions and Answers

Question: Why did Pliny write his volumes on nature?

Answer: Pliny wrote the volumes, Naturalis Historia, as a way of honoring nature, which he viewed as a goddess who gave all good things for man’s benefit. The book is expansive. It describes the landscape of the area and discusses agriculture and invention.

The book goes into detail about animals and humans, although not all of it is accurate. At this point, the Roman Empire had expanded to take in many lands, giving the Romans exposure to new plants, animals, and people. Pliny wrote about fantastic people – dog-headed humans and monsters – as well as mythical animals like the phoenix, as if they were real.

He also wrote about plants and medicines. He knew that opium could be used as a sleep aid, but could also cause death. These volumes help us understand how the Romans thought and lived.



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