Pliny the Younger


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. They were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius on 24 August 79 AD.

Pliny is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, which are an invaluable historical source for the time period. Many are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian, Tacitus. Pliny himself was a notable figure, serving as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned AD 98117).

Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man, consistent in his pursuit of suspected Christian members according to Roman law, and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum. 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.

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. 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.

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 was Lucius Verginius Rufus, famed for quelling a revolt against Nero in 68 AD.

After being first tutored at home, Pliny went to Rome for further education. There he was taught rhetoric by Quintilian, a great teacher and author, and Nicetes Sacerdos of Smyrna. It was at this time that Pliny became closer to his uncle Pliny the Elder. When Pliny the Younger was 18, his uncle Pliny died attempting to rescue victims of the Vesuvius eruption, and the terms of the Elder Pliny's will passed his estate to his nephew. In the same document the younger Pliny was adopted by his uncle. As a result, Pliny the Younger changed his name from Gaius Caecilius (or Gaius Caecilius Cilo) to Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus.

There is some evidence that Pliny had a sibling. But although Pliny the Younger uses Secundus as part of his name, this doesn't mean he is the second son : adopted sons took over the name of their adoption father. A memorial erected in Como (now CILV5279) repeats the terms of a will by which the aedile Lucius Caecilius Cilo, son of Lucius, established a fund, the interest of which was 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.

The word contubernalis describing Lutulla is the military term meaning "tent-mate", which can only mean that she was living with Lucius, not as his wife. The first man mentioned, L. Caecilius Valens, is probably the older son. Pliny the Younger confirms that he was a trustee for the largess "of my ancestors". The it seems unknown to Pliny the Elder, so Valens' mother was probably not his sister Plinia; perhaps Valens was Lutulla's son from an earlier relationship.


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 she miscarries their child.

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.




Career


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.

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 a well-known prosecutor and defender 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.

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.




Writer


As a litterateur, Pliny started writing at the age of fourteen, penning a tragedy in Greek. 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).

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. 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).

The two Letters which describe the eruption of Mount Vesuvius were written by Pliny approximately 25 years after the event, and both were sent in response to the request of his friend the historian Tacitus, who wanted to know more about Pliny the Elder's death. The two letters have a great historical value due to the accurate description of Vesuvius' eruption: Pliny's attention to detail in the letters about Vesuvius is so keen that modern volcanologists describe that type as Plinian eruptions.

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Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia-Pontus from c. 110-112, wrote a series of letters to Roman Emperor Trajan, one of which asked for council on dealing with Christians. The letter (Epistulae X.96) details an account of how Pliny conducted trials (cognitio extra ordinem or the process where the magistrate was not only a judge but active in the investigation and examination of evidence) of Christians brought before him by private accusations. The major question posed by the letter is whether being a Christian alone (nomen ipsum) is enough to be convicted or whether it is the crimes associated with being a Christian that deserve punishment. The letter shows that Christians were not actively sought out and that there was no precedence, at least that Pliny was aware of, for Christian persecution in the Roman Empire.

Pliny the Younger's letters are rare descriptions of Roman administrative process and problems. Pliny's letter describing the Christians allows modern scholars to accurately conceive of the Christian experience in Rome. They are some of the few non-Christian sources about the legal status and treatment of Christians.

The correspondence between Pliny and Emperor Trajan describes that the Roman Empire, as a government entity, did not encourage the pursuit or seeking out of Christians. Although Emperor Trajan gave Pliny specific advice about disregarding anonymous accusations, for example, he was deliberate in not establishing any new rules in regards to the Christians. In doing so, Trajan allowed Pliny to try cases as according to his discretion and to the social demands of his province. This purposeful lack of specificity demonstrates the delicate and nuanced professional relationships between the Emperor and his governors.

Additionally, Pliny's letter also allows scholars to date the Christian pogroms in the Eastern provinces. Pliny specifically says in his letter that he cannot find anything to answer his question on the Christians in any constitutiones of previous Emperors. Given that Pliny wrote his letter to the Emperor because he was unsure of any previous legal precedent implies that there was not a systematic Roman persecution of the Christians prior to the letters. The letters might also serve as evidence for an historical Jesus Christ. It supports the existence of the early Christian Church and speaks to its belief system.

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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.




Villa

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.

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.




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