Pliny the family name of two Roman writers, uncle and nephew.
Pliny the Elder (23–79 A.D.), whose full Latin name was Gaius Plinius Secundus, was a naturalist. His Historia Naturalis (Natural History) sums up most of the learning of his time. Its 37 books are said to have been gleaned from 2,000 volumes written by 100 writers. They deal with cosmography, ethnology, geography, human and animal psychology, medicine, botany, horticulture, art, metallurgy, mineralogy, and all other branches of learning then known. Though filled with many errors and misconceptions, the work is a valuable source of knowledge about the ancient world. It is enlivened by anecdotes, folklore, preposterous travelers' tales, and other entertaining features.
Pliny the Elder was born in Comum (now Como). He went to Rome as a youth, and saw military service in Africa and Germany. Later he held civilian positions in Spain and elsewhere. As admiral of the fleet, he was near Mount Vesuvius when the volcano erupted in 79. He wished to observe the eruption at first hand, but ventured too close and was killed by toxic vapors from the crater.
Pliny the Younger (62–113? A.D.), whose full Latin name was Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, is known chiefly for his letters. These shed light on his character as a polished Roman gentleman, and also serve as a mirror of his times. One of the events described in vivid detail is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which caused the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder.
Pliny the Younger also was born in Comum. He held several government jobs before he went to Bithynia as the representative of Emperor Trajan. Much of his correspondence with Trajan has survived.