Plinius the Elder

Portrait: Plinius the Elder
Plinius the Elder, copperplate by Pieter van der Borcht, 1603
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
23/24-79 CE

Plinius the Elder

The writing natural scientist

Because he never read anything without taking an extract from it; he also used to say that there is no book so bad that it wasn’t useful for something.

Plinius the Younger (61-112 CE) to C. Baebius Macer (epist. 3,5,7)

The Roman career officer and scholar Gaius Plinius Secundus maior, or Pliny the Elder, was one of the most well-read and well-travelled men of his era. His appetite for reading and passion for writing have left behind a compendium of 160 scrolls inscribed on both sides – more than two kilometres of text. His sole extant work, the Naturalis Historia records the sum of his era’s knowledge in every discipline of natural studies. 

Many of the sources which Pliny used are now lost. And he was also responsible for the only written record on the making of papyrus writing materials, which Pliny himself used in the form of rolls up to seven metres in length. His curiosity about natural history was also his undoing: Pliny died on a boat while attempting to observe the eruption of Vesuvius at close range.