Pliny the Elder, whose full name was Gaius Plinius Secundus, was a Roman author, naturalist, and military commander who lived from 23 AD to 79 AD. He is best known for his monumental work “Natural History” (in Latin, “Naturalis Historia“), which is considered one of the earliest and most comprehensive encyclopedic compilations of knowledge from the ancient world
Pliny the Elder was born in Italy and came from a relatively affluent family. He pursued a career in the Roman military and held various administrative and command positions. However, he is perhaps more renowned for his scholarly pursuits, particularly his passion for studying the natural world.
His most significant contribution to history is “Natural History,” a vast and ambitious work consisting of 37 books covering a wide range of topics, including astronomy, geography, zoology, botany, mineralogy, and human physiology, among others. The work aimed to compile and organize the knowledge of the time, drawing from various sources, including earlier Greek and Roman authors
Tragically, Pliny the Elder died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD while attempting to rescue people affected by the volcanic eruption. He was stationed at Misenum, a Roman naval base located near the Bay of Naples, and he decided to investigate the eruption up close. He perished due to inhaling toxic fumes and is said to have been found dead on the beach.
Despite his untimely death, Pliny’s “Natural History” survived and became a valuable resource for subsequent generations. His work was widely read and referenced throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. While some of the information in “Natural History” has been proven incorrect by modern standards, the work remains a testament to Pliny’s curiosity, dedication to knowledge, and his contribution to the preservation of ancient wisdom.