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Pliny the Younger's Epistulae and Panergyricus

Pliny the Younger's Epistulae and Panergyricus


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Pliny the Younger : Letters

Translated by J.B.Firth (1900) - a few words and phrases have been modified.

See key to translations for an explanation of the format. Click on the L symbols to go the Latin text of each letter.

CONTENTS: 1 Septicius 2 Calvisius 3 Sparsus 4 Caninius 5 Geminus 6 Montanus 7 Tacitus 8 Romanus 9 Ursus 10 Fabatus 11 Hispulla 12 Minicianus 13 Genialis 14 Ariston 15 Junior 16 Paternus 17 Macrinus 18 Rufinus 19 Maximus 20 Gallus 21 Arrianus 22 Geminus 23 Marcellinus 24 Maximus

I travelled here comfortably enough except for the fact that certain of my servants have suffered more or less severely through the intense heat. Eucolpus, indeed, one of my readers, and a favourite of mine whether my mood be grave or gay, has found the dust very trying to his throat, and has brought up blood. It will be a sad blow to him and a bitter disappointment to me if he becomes incapacitated for study, seeing that study is his chief accomplishment. Who will read my books and take such an interest in them as he used to do? Where shall I find another whose reading was so pleasant to listen to ? However, the gods hold out hopes of better things. He no longer brings up blood, and his pain is now relieved. Moreover, he is very careful of himself, we are all solicitous for his welfare, and the doctors lake great pains. Then, too, the health-giving properties of the climate here, the retirement and the repose, promise not only enjoyment but restoration to health. Farewell.

Other people go to their estates to return richer than they went I go to come back the poorer. I had sold my vintage to the dealers who bid against one another for the purchase, tempted by the prices quoted at the time and the prices which they thought would be quoted later on. However, their expectations were disappointed. It would have been a simple matter to make certain remissions to all in equal proportions, but it would hardly have met the justice of the case, for it seems to me to be an honourable man's first duty to practise a strict rule of justice, both at home and out-of-doors, in small things as well as in great, and in dealing with one's own as with other people's property. For if, as the Stoics say, all offences are equally serious, all merits should be equally consistent. * Consequently, "in order that no one should go away without a present from me," ** I remitted to each an eighth part of the price at which he had bought, and then I made separate additional remissions for those who had been the largest buyers, inasmuch as they had benefited me more than the others had, and had themselves sustained the greater loss. So to those who had paid more than 10,000 sesterces for their share, I remitted a tenth of the sum paid above 10,000 sesterces, in addition to the other remission of an eighth of the total sum which I had made to all indiscriminately.

I am afraid I have not expressed this quite clearly, so I will explain my system more fully. Those, for example, who had purchased 15,000 sesterces' worth of the vintage had remitted to them an eighth of the 15,000 and a tenth of 15,000. Besides this, it struck me that some had actually paid over a considerable share of the purchase money, while others had only paid a fraction, and others none at all, and I thought it was not fair to deal as generously in the matter of remission with the latter as with the former, and place those who had loyally paid up on a level with those who had not. So to those who had paid I remitted a further tenth of the sums paid over. By so doing I made a neat recognition of my acknowledgment of each man's honourable conduct on the old deal, and I also offered them all a bait to make future deals with me, and not only purchase, but pay ready money. This reasonable or generous - whichever you like to call it - conduct on my part has put me to considerable expense, but it was well worth it, for throughout the entire district people are warmly approving this new method of making remissions. As for those whom I graded and classified, without, so to speak, lumping them all together, the more honourable and upright they were, the more devoted to me were they on leaving, since they had discovered that I was not one of those people who "hold in equal honour the good and the bad." &dagger Farewell.

(*) i.e., we should practice virtuous actions in small as well as great things.

You hint to me that the book I sent you last pleases you more than any of my previous works. A very learned friend of mine is of precisely the same opinion, and that makes me think that neither of you is mistaken, for it is hardly possible that you both are wrong. Then again, I like to flatter myself you are right, for it is my wish that people should think my last book is always the most perfect, and for that reason I even now prefer - in comparison with the book I sent you - the speech which I lately published, and which I shall send on to you as soon as I find a trustworthy messenger. I have raised your expectations to such a pitch that I am afraid the speech will disappoint you when you pick it up to read, but in the meantime look out for its coming, as though it were sure to please you. After all, perhaps it will. Farewell.

You are doing quite right to get together materials for a history of the Dacian War. For what subject is more fresh or affords more abundant materials and scope, or, in a word, is more fitted for poetic treatment? for, though it reads like a fable, it is strictly and literally true. You will describe how rivers have been turned into new channels, * how new bridges have been thrown over the rivers, how precipitous mountains have been levelled to form camping places, and how a king was driven from his palace and even from life itself and yet kept an undaunted front. Moreover, you will describe the two triumphs we have celebrated, one of which was the first ever won over that unconquered race, while the other was gained over its last death-struggle.

Notwithstanding your genius, which soars to its highest flights and shines most brilliantly when engaged on a noble theme, you will find a difficulty, and it will be a very great one, in the arduous and immense task of giving an adequate description of these mighty deeds. Moreover, additional trouble will be entailed by the fact that their barbarous and savage names - especially that of the king himself cannot be made to scan in Greek verse. But there is no difficulty which cannot be, if not entirely overcome, at any rate considerably lessened by art and diligence. Besides, if licence was given to Homer to contract, lengthen, and inflect the soft syllables of the Greek tongue to suit the easy flow of his verse, why should a similar licence be denied to you, especially as in your case it would arise not from any fastidious caprice, but from sheer necessity? Well, then, invoke the gods to your assistance - as you bards have prescriptive right to do - not forgetting that deity whose achievements, work, and counsels you are about to sing let go the ropes, spread sail, and now if ever let the full tide of your genius carry you along ! Why should I not write to a poet in a poetic strain?

I only make one stipulation, and that is that you send on to me the very first part of the poem as soon as it is finished, or even before you have finished it, just as it is, fresh from your pen, in the rough, and, as it were, but newly born. You will tell me that a few patches cannot give the same pleasure as the finished whole, and that an incomplete work is not so satisfactory as a complete one. I know that, and so I shall only judge them as beginnings I shall regard them as dismembered limbs, and they will lie in my writing-desk waiting for your final corrections. Do let me have this additional pledge of your regard for me, which I should value above all others - that of being entrusted with secrets which you would not like anyone else to know. To put the matter in a nutshell - while it is possible that I should approve and applaud your writings the more if you send them to me in less haste and after deeper consideration, the more haste and want of consideration you show in forwarding them to me, the more I shall love and applaud you as a friend. Farewell.

(*) Dio Cassius ( lxviii.14 ) relates that Decebalus, the Dacian king, diverted the course of a river in order to bury some treasures under its bed, and then caused it to revert to its former channel. Trajan diverted it a second time and secured the treasure. The commentators suppose this event to be alluded to here.

Our friend Macrinus * has received a terrible blow. He has lost his wife, who, even if she had lived in the good old days, would have been considered a most exemplary woman. They lived together for thirty-nine years with never a quarrel or disagreement. What deference she showed to her husband, though she herself deserved that the utmost deference should be shown to her ! How wonderfully she exemplified in herself in due proportion the special qualities of girlhood, womanhood, and age! ** It is true that Macrinus finds great solace in the thought that he enjoyed his treasure for so many years, though, now he has lost her, this only adds an additional pang to his grief, for the pain of being deprived of a source of pleasure grows more poignant the more we enjoy it. So I shall be intensely anxious for my dear friend until the time arrives when he finds himself able to endure some relaxation from his grief and grows reconciled to his wound, and nothing hastens that day so much as the sense of inevitability, lapse of time, and satiety of sorrow. Farewell.

(*) Minicius Macrinus, father of Minicus Acilianus, who was mentioned in letter i. 14.

(**) See, for instance, letter vi.26, where a man is said to have "the frankness of a boy, the pleasant manners of a youth, and the gravity of old age".

You must by this time be aware from my last letter that I just lately noticed the monument erected to Pallas, which bore the following inscription :- "To him, because of his loyal services to his patrons, the senate decreed the honourable distinctions of praetorian rank together with five million sesterces, but he was content to lake the distinctions alone." * Subsequently I thought it worthwhile to look up the actual terms of the decree, and I found it couched in such exaggerated and fulsome language as to make even that pompous inscription on the monument look modest and humble by comparison. I won't speak of the ancient worthies, like the Scipios with their titles of Africanus, Achaicus and Numantinus but if those who lived nearer our times, to go no farther back, like Marius, Sulla and Pompeius, were rolled into one, their eulogies would still fall short of those showered upon Pallas.

Well, then, am I to consider that those who decreed these extravagant praises were merely gratifying his vanity or were acting like abject slaves ? I should say the former if such a spirit were becoming to a senate, and the latter but that no one is such an abject slave as to stoop to such servilities. Are we to ascribe it then to a desire to curry favour with Pallas, or to an insane passion to get on in the world? But who is so utterly mad as to wish to get on in the world at the price of his own shame and the disgrace of his country, especially when living in a state where the only advantage of holding the most honourable position was that the holder had the privilege of taking precedence in the senate in singing the praises of Pallas? I say nothing of the fact of praetorian distinctions being offered to such a slave, for they were slaves who offered them I say nothing of their desire that he should not only be urged, but even compelled, to wear the golden rings, ** for if a man of praetorian rank wore iron ones he would be lowering the dignity of the senate. These are trifling details which call for no remark, but what does demand notice is the fact that it was in the name of Pallas - and the senate-house has never yet been purged of the disgrace - it was in the name of Pallas, I repeat, that the senate returned thanks to Caesar for having made honourable mention to them of Pallas, and for having given them an opportunity of testifying to the good will they bore him. For what could be more honourable to the senate than that they should show that they were properly grateful to Pallas ?

Then come the following words:- "That Pallas, to whom every one heartily confesses his obligations, may enjoy the rewards for his matchless industry which he has so abundantly deserved." Why, you would fancy that the bounds of the Empire had been carried forward by him, or that he had safely brought back the armies of the State. But there is more to come:- "The senate and Roman people will never obtain a more welcome opportunity of showing their generosity than now that a chance is afforded them of assisting the financial position of the most trustworthy and scrupulously honest guardian of the Imperial finances that Emperor ever had." So this was the height of the senate's ambition, this was the passionate wish of the people, this was the most welcome opportunity for showing liberality - to be able to make Pallas richer by depleting the public purse ! Now listen to what follows: - "It was the wish of the senate to pass a decree giving him five million sesterces from the treasury, and the less inclined he was to hanker after such a sum, the more assiduously did the senate implore the Father of the State to compel Pallas to accede to the senate's wishes." The one thing they did not do was to address Pallas in their official capacity and beg him to give way to the senate's wishes, and make Caesar their advocate to induce him to reconsider his insolent refusal and get him not to scorn the five millions. But scorn them he did, and, considering the handsomeness of the offer and the fact that it was made by the State, his refusal showed greater arrogance than acceptance would have done, and he took the only step open to him to show it. Yet the senate with a tone of reproachfulness lauded even this refusal with eulogies. Here are the words:- "But whereas our most excellent Emperor and parent of the State has, at the request of Pallas, desired us to erase that portion of our decree which relates to the giving of five million sesterces from the treasury to Pallas, the senate hereby bears witness that their proposal to bestow that sum upon Pallas was freely undertaken as one of the list of honours worthily bestowed for loyal and faithful service, yet, at the same time, as on no occasion does the senate think it right to run counter to the Emperor's will, so now does it defer to his wishes."

Just picture to yourself Pallas interposing his veto, as it were, upon the senate's decree, setting a limit to the honours to be paid him, and refusing as too much the offer of five millions, after accepting, as though it were a lesser gift, the distinctions of praetorian rank ! Just imagine Caesar deferring to the entreaties, or rather to the imperious command of a freedman in the presence of the senate, for it is tantamount to a command when a freedman makes a request of his patron in the senate-house! Just think of the senate declaring that, in proposing to decree this five millions among the other distinctions, they acted of their own free will, and were doing no more than Pallas deserved. Fancy them declaring that they would have persevered with their determination, but for the deference due to the wishes of the emperor, which, on every conceivable occasion, ought to be law with them ! In other words, to prevent Pallas taking those five millions out of the treasury it was necessary that Pallas should be modest and the senate obsequious, and even then they would not have shown that obsequiousness if they had thought there could be an occasion on which it was lawful for them to refuse obedience. Do you think that was all? Just wait and hear what is yet to come, even worse than what went before: - "And whereas it is to the public interest that the benignity of the Emperor, which is ever ready to lavish praises and rewards on those who deserve them, should be published as widely as possible, and especially in those places where persons entrusted with the affairs of state may be incited to follow such an excellent example, and where the well-proved loyally and virtue of Pallas may stir up others to honourable rivalry, it is hereby decreed that the Emperor's speech delivered in full meeting of the senate on 23rd January last, and the decrees of the senate passed on that occasion, shall be engraved on a brazen tablet, and the tablet itself be set up near the statue of the divine Julius Caesar in full armour."

So it was not enough that the senate-house should be witness of such scandalous proceedings no, a much more frequented site was chosen, where the disgraceful inscription could be read by those of our own and later generations. It was further resolved that all the honours that had been heaped upon this fastidious ex-slave should be engraved upon the tablet, both those which he had declined and those which he had accepted, as far as those who decreed them had it in their power to confer them. The praetorian distinctions of Pallas were chiselled and cut upon a memorial that will last for ages, as though they were ancient treaties or hallowed laws. Such was the - what shall I say? I am at a loss for a word - of the Emperor, of the senate, and of Pallas himself, as though they wished to be pilloried before the eyes of all men, Pallas as a monument of insolence, Caesar of complaisance, and the senate of servility. Nor did they feel a sense of shame in trying to veil their baseness by justifying it, by putting forward such an amazing and wonderful pretext as that others, when they saw the rewards heaped upon Pallas, might be stirred up to an honourable rivalry. So cheap were the honours they bestowed - even those which Pallas did not scorn to accept. Yet there were found men of honourable extraction who strove to attain distinctions which they saw bestowed on a freedman and promised to slaves !

How happy I am that my life did not fall in those evil times, which make me blush for shame as though I had lived in them ! I have not the least doubt that they affect you as they do me. I know how sensitive and honourable your disposition is, and that you will have no difficulty therefore in thinking my resentment to be under rather than over the mark, although in some passages perhaps I have let my indignation run away with me further than I ought to have done in a letter. Farewell.

(**) The mark of a Roman knight, as an iron ring was of a slave.

It was not as one master to another, nor as one pupil to another, that you sent me your book - though you say it was the latter - but it was as a master to his pupil, for you are the master and I am the pupil, and whereas you summon me back to school, I am for extending the holidays. There, could I possibly have written a more involved sentence than that? * Does it not absolutely prove that, so far from being worthy to be called your master, I do not deserve to be even called your pupil? None the less, I will put on the master's gown, and I will exercise the right of correcting your book which you have granted me, and will do so all the more freely because, in the meanwhile, I shall not send you any book of mine upon which you may take your revenge. Farewell.

(*) Literally, "could I have stretched hyperbaton further . ".

Have you ever seen the spring at Clitumnus? If not - and I think you have not, or else you would have told me about it - go and see it, as I have done quite recently. I only regret that I did not visit it before. A fair-sized hill rises from the plain, well wooded, and dark with ancient cypress trees. From beneath it the spring issues and forces its way out through a number of channels, though these are of unequal size. After passing through the little whirlpool which it makes, it spreads out into a broad sheet of pure and crystal water, so clear that you can count the small coins and pebbles that have been thrown into it. Thence it is forced forward, not because of any slope of the ground, but by its own volume and weight. So what was just before a spring now becomes a broad, noble river, deep enough for ships to navigate, and these pass to and fro and meet one another, as they travel in opposite directions. The current is so strong that a ship going down-stream moves no faster if oars are used, though the ground is dead level, but in the opposite direction it is all the men can do to row and pole their way along against the current. Those who are sailing for pleasure and amusement find it an agreeable diversion, just by turning the ship's head round, to pass from indolence to toil or from toil to indolence. The banks are clad with an abundance of ash and poplar trees, which you can count in the clear stream, for they seem to be growing bright and green in the water, which for coldness is as cold as the snows, and as transparent in colour.

Hard by is an ancient and sacred temple, where stands Jupiter Clitumnus himself clad and adorned with a toga praetexta, and the oracular responses delivered there prove that the deity dwells within and foretells the future. Round about are sprinkled a number of little chapels, each containing the statue of a god. There is a special cult for each and a particular name, and some of them have springs dedicated to them, for in addition to the one I have described, which may be called the parent spring, there are lesser ones separated from the chief one, but they all flow into the river, which is spanned by a bridge that marks the dividing line between the sacred and public water. In the upper part you are only allowed to go in a boat, the lower is also open to swimmers. The people of Hispellum, to whom the place was made over as a free gift by Augustus, have provided a public bath and accommodation there are also some villas standing on the river bank, whose owners were attracted by the charming scenery. In a word, there is nothing there but what will delight you, for you may study and read the numerous inscriptions in praise of the spring and the deity which have been placed upon every column and every wall. Most of them you will commend, a few will make you laugh, but stay, I am forgetting that you are so kind-hearted that you will laugh at none. Farewell.

It seems ages since I took up a book or a pen, and ages since I knew what it was to do nothing, and rest and enjoy that lazy but delightful state of inactivity where you hardly know you exist. I have been so busy with my friends' business that I have had no time for leisure or study. For no study is so important that it warrants us in neglecting to perform the offices of friendship, since this is the duty which our studies teach us to observe most religiously. Farewell.

The more you desire to see great-grandchildren born to you in our house, the greater will be your concern to hear that your granddaughter has had a miscarriage. In her girlish ignorance she was not aware of her condition, and therefore neglected to take certain precautions which are necessary in pregnancy, and she did some imprudent things which she ought not to have done. But she has paid a very severe penalty for her mistake, for her life was in the greatest danger. Consequently, though you will be very grieved to hear in your old age that you have been cheated, so to speak, of a great-grandchild which was on its way to you, yet you must be thankful to the gods that, though they have refused you the child for the present, they have preserved your granddaughter's life, and will repair the loss later on. Of this her recent pregnancy affords a certain hope, though in this case it had such a lamentable issue. I am using the same arguments to encourage, comfort, and console you which I employ for my own consolation, for your anxiety to have great-grandchildren cannot be keener than mine is to have children, to whom, I think, I can leave a straight road to office - thanks to their descent from you and me - names which are well known everywhere, and a well established family pedigree. Only let them once be born and change our grief to joy ! Farewell.

When I think of your love for your brother's daughter - a love which is even tenderer than a mother's indulgent affection - I feel that I ought to reverse the natural order of events, and tell you first what would naturally be mentioned last, so that your immediate impressions of joy may leave you no room for anxiety. Yet I am afraid you may be somewhat terrified, even after you congratulate yourself that the worst is over, and that, though you rejoice that she is out of danger, you will also shudder to think that she has been at the brink of death. However, she is quite cheerful I feel that she is restored to me and her own self again she is beginning to pick up her strength, and, now that she is getting convalescent, she is measuring the crisis she has passed through. But she has been in the greatest danger - I hope I may say so without offence to Heaven - and that through no fault of hers, but owing to her inexperienced age. It was to this that her miscarriage was due, and all the lamentable results arising from ignorance of her condition. Consequently, though you will be disappointed in not being solaced for the loss of your dead brother by a nephew or a niece, you must bear in mind that that consolation is only postponed, not denied you, inasmuch as she on whom you can build your hopes has been spared to us. At the same time make excuses to your father * for the mischance, though it is one that women are more ready to make allowances for than men. Farewell.

I really must for once take a holiday to-day, as Titinius Capito is giving a reading, and I hardly know whether my obligation or my desire to go and hear him is the greater. He is an excellent person, quite one of the chief ornaments of our time he is devoted to literature, and he loves literary people, giving them assistance and a helping hand whenever he can. He is a regular harbour of refuge and patron to crowds of scribblers, all of whom look up to his guidance and it was he who restored and gave new life to the arts and sciences when they were in rapid decline. He lends his house for recitals he is wonderfully kind in attending readings which are held elsewhere than at his house and he certainly never failed to put in an appearance at one of my recitals, so long as he happened to be in Rome at the time. It would be all the more disgraceful for me not to return the compliment, as I have the more honourable reasons for so doing. If I were busy in the courts, should I not consider myself obliged to a friend who appeared at the appointed time to save my bail? And so now, when I am given up heart and soul to my studies, are my obligations the less to a person who so regularly pays me the compliment of his presence, I won't say in the only matter in which he can oblige me, but certainly in the matter which obliges me most? But even if I owed him no return, no reciprocity, so to speak, of kindness, I should yet be anxious for the success of a man gifted with such charming and splendid genius, whose style, though essentially severe, is yet rendered most attractive by the dignity of his theme. He is writing an account of the deaths of distinguished men, certain of whom were very dear friends of mine. So I seem to myself to be performing a pious duty, for though I could not be present at their obsequies, yet I can attend, so to speak, at their funeral eulogies, which are all the more likely to bear the stamp of truth from the fact that they have been so long delayed. Farewell.

I am pleased that you have read my speeches with your father at your side. It will help you vastly to get on, to have a splendid scholar to tell you which passages deserve praises, and which the reverse, and that you should be trained to make a practice of giving a true opinion. You see whom you ought to follow, and in whose footsteps you should tread. You are indeed lucky to have a living model to copy, who is one of the best of men, and also your nearest relative and lucky that he, whom of all others you ought to imitate, is the very person to whom Nature has willed that you should bear the greatest resemblance. Farewell.

As you are such a good authority on both private and public law - the latter of which includes the regulations of the senate - I particularly wish you to tell me whether or not I made a mistake at the last meeting of that body, not, of course, for the sake of being put right with regard to a past action, which is now too late to mend, but that I may know what to do in the future, in case a similar emergency arises. You will say - "Why do you ask for information on a question with which you ought to be quite familiar?" My answer is that the servitude of former times * has made men forget and lose all knowledge of the senatorial privileges, just as it made them forget other honourable professions. For how few people have the patience to wish to learn what they will never have an opportunity of practising and it is also to be remembered how difficult it is to bear in mind what you have learned if you never practise it. Consequently, when liberty was restored it found us inexperienced and all at sea, and we are so charmed by its sweetness that we are compelled to do certain things before we have learned the way to do them.

The old custom of Rome was for young people to learn from their elders the proper course of conduct, by watching their behaviour as well as by listening to their spoken instructions, and they afterwards and in turn, so to speak, taught their juniors in the same way. When they were growing up, they had camp duties drilled into them without loss of time, that, by obeying, they might grow accustomed to command, and learn by following the art of leading then, when they were standing for office, they used to haunt the doors of the senate-house, and watch the course of public business before ever they look part therein. Each one look his parent for his guide, or, if he had no parent, he chose the noblest and most aged senator to supply the place of one. They were taught by practical examples - and that is the surest way of imparting knowledge - what were the powers of the mover of a resolution, what the regulations governing those who spoke to a motion, the powers of the magistrates, and the privileges of the ordinary members, when they ought to give way, when to show opposition and keep silence, what limits to set to their speeches, how to weigh the merits of rival propositions, how to discuss a rider tacked on to an original motion - in fact, the whole duty of a senator.

But when we were young men, although it is true that we served in the army, it was at a time when virtue was suspected, when idleness obtained promotion, when generals had no authority, and soldiers no respect for their leaders, when no one knew how to command and how to obey, when everything was in a state of chaos and disorder, and turned topsy-turvy, and when the lessons one learned deserved rather to be forgotten than remembered. We, too, attended the senate-house as spectators, but it was a trembling and tongueless body, for to speak your mind was perilous, and to speak against your conscience was a wretched and miserable performance. What lessons could we learn at such a time, and what profit could we get by learning them, when the senate was only summoned to idle its time away, or to perpetrate some piece of villainy, when the meeting was prolonged, either to cover the senators with ridicule, or sentence some poor wretch to die, while the debates were never serious, though they often involved tragic consequences. When we became senators we took our place in this lamentable state of affairs, and witnessed and endured these crying scandals for many a long year. We have enjoyed but a short time - for the happiest time always appears the shortest - in which we have had the heart to learn what our powers really are, and to put those powers into execution. So I have all the better claim to ask you, first, to pardon my mistake, if indeed I made one, and then that you will put me right from your store of knowledge, inasmuch as you have always made a special study of private and public law, both ancient and modern, and are as familiar with the by-ways as with the beaten track of your subject. For my own part, I think that even the lawyers, who, by constant handling of all sorts of constitutional questions, come to know almost everything, are by no means at home with - even if they are not wholly without experience of - the kind of question which I am putting before you. So there will be all the more excuse for me if I did make a mistake, and you will deserve all the more praise if you can set me right on a point which I doubt whether you have come across in your experience.

The motion before the senate was concerned with the freedmen of the consul Afranius Dexter, who had come to a violent end, but it was not clear whether he had met his death at the hands of his own people, and, even supposing he had, no one knew whether they had foully murdered him, or whether he had commanded them to kill him. One proposal - if you ask "whose?" I admit it was my own, though that has no bearing on the matter - was that these freedmen should be set at liberty after being put to the question another was that they should be banished to an island and a third was that they should be put to death. In other words, the proposals showed such diversity of view that they could not be reconciled, and had to stand or fall singly. For what is there in common between execution and banishment? Obviously nothing more than between banishment and acquittal, though there is a nearer approximation to a sentence of banishment in a sentence of acquittal than in a sentence of execution, inasmuch as the latter robs a man of the life which is left him by the other two. However, for the time being, those who were in favour of banishment sat on the same side of the house as those who advocated execution, and by this temporary pretence of agreement adjourned, so to speak, the differences between them. I demanded that the three parties should be counted singly, and that no two parties should join forces by a momentary truce. In other words, I strongly pressed that those who thought the freedmen should be put to death should separate themselves from those who advocated banishment, and should not crowd together to outvote those in favour of an acquittal, when they were sure to disagree among themselves a little later my argument being that, as they were not agreed on the same policy, their agreement in disapproving a third policy was of little account. What seemed to me so extraordinary was that he who had proposed that the freedmen should be banished and the slaves put to the question should be forced to vote separately thereon, while he who was for passing sentence of death should vote on the same side as those who were for banishment. For if it were right that a separate vote should be taken on the first proposal, because it really contained two, I could not see how the proposals of those who advocated such widely different sentences could be justly joined together. Permit me, therefore, to explain to you why I held that view, as though I were in the senate-house again to deal with a closed case as though no decision had yet been arrived at and to string together, now that I am at my leisure, the reasons which then I could only urge in a disconnected way, owing to the number of interruptions.

Let us suppose that the decision of this case lies with just three judges, and that one of them is in favour of the freedmen being put to death, another advocating banishment, and the third acquittal. Will those in favour of first two join forces and overcome the third, or will each one of them be taken separately and have just as much weight as the other two, there being no more chance of the first and second joining forces than of the second and third ? Similarly in the senate, when men propose resolutions which are incompatible with one another, they ought not to be found on the same side when the votes are counted. If one and the same person proposes that criminals should be both put to death and banished, how are the criminals, in accordance with the sentence, to suffer both punishments? In a word, how can a sentence be reckoned as a single one when it joins together two such incompatible propositions ? Similarly, when one person proposes death and another banishment, is the sentence any the more to be considered as one because it is proposed by two people, when it was not so considered on being proposed by one person? Well, then, does not the law clearly tell us that proposals for death and banishment ought to be taken separately, when it uses the following words as a formula for a division ? - "All you who agree go to this side of the house, and all who are in favour of any other course go to that part of the house where others think like you." Take the words one by one and sec what they mean. "All who agree" - that means all you who are for banishment. "To this side of the house" - that means to the side on which the member who advocated banishment is sitting. Hence it is clear that those who are in favour of death cannot remain on the same side. "All who are in favour of any other course" - here you notice that the law is not content to say, "some other course," but strengthens it by saying, "any other course." Can there be any question that they who advocate death "are in favour of any other course," compared with those who advocate banishment? "Go to that part of the house where others think like you" - does not the law itself seem to call, impel, and drive those who disagree to go to the opposite side? Does not the Consul also - not only with this formula, but by a wave of the hand and gesture - point out to each where he ought to stay, or to which side he ought to cross over ?

But it may be objected that if a separate vote is taken on the proposals for death and banishment, the proposal for acquittal may carry the day. Granted, but what has that to do with those who give their votes? It certainly would be a scandal if they were to strain every nerve and resort to every possible artifice to prevent the more humane sentence from being carried. Or it may be urged that those who are for death and banishment should first vote together against those who are in favour of acquittal, and afterwards vote against one another. That is to say, just as at the public games it sometimes happens that, in the drawing of the lots, a gladiator draws a bye and is put on one side to cope with the victor of an early round, so in the senate there are first rounds and second rounds, and there may be a third proposition waiting to be pitted against the winner of other two propositions. But what of the fact that, if the first proposition is approved, the others will fall to the ground ? How can one justify the refusal to give all the propositions the same equal chances, when, after a division has taken place, the equality of chances is gone for ever? Let me sum the matter up in plainer language. My point is that, unless those who are in favour of the death sentence at once withdraw to another part of the house as soon as the proposer of the sentence of banishment makes his speech, it will be no good their disagreeing with him afterwards, when but a moment before they were agreeing with him.

But why do I write as though I were teaching you law, when my desire is to learn from you whether these propositions ought to have been split up, and separate divisions taken or not ? It is true that I carried my point, but I none the less ask you whether I ought to have pressed it. But how did I carry my point? you ask. Why, the senator who proposed the death sentence - whether he was convinced by the strict legality of my demand I can't say, but its equity certainly convinced him - withdrew his proposal, and joined forces with the mover of the sentence of banishment. He was afraid, I fancy, that if the proposals were voted on separately, as it seemed probable they would be, he would be outvoted by those who were in favour of an acquittal. For there were far more in favour of this course alone than in favour of the other two put together. Thereupon those whom he had brought over to his way of thinking, on finding themselves deserted by him when he crossed over, abandoned a proposal which even its mover had turned his back upon, and continued, as it were, to follow his lead when he changed his camp as they had done when he acted as their leader. So the three proposals dwindled to two, and one of the two remaining ones carried the day the third one simply dropped out, for when its supporters saw that they could not overcome the other two, they took their choice to which of the other two they would submit. Farewell.

(*) In particular, during the reign of Domitian.

I have laden you heavily by sending you all these volumes at once, but I have done so, first, because you asked me to, and, secondly, because you tell me that your grape harvest is so slight that I may be quite certain that you will have time, as the saying goes, to read a book. I am getting similar reports from my own estates, and so I shall have plenty of leisure to write compositions for you to read, if only I can find a place to buy paper. If the paper is rough or spongy I must either refrain from writing at all, or else, whatever I write, good or bad, I cannot help but smudge.

I have been greatly upset by illness in my household, some of my servants having died, and at an early age. I have two consolations, which, though they are by no means equivalent to my grief, do certainly afford me comfort. One is, that I have been generous in giving them their freedom, - for I do not consider that I have lost them altogether immaturely when they died free men, - and the other is, that I allow my slaves to make, as it were, valid wills, and I preserve them as I should strictly legal documents. * They lay their commissions and requests before me just as they please, and I carry them out as though I were obeying an order. They have full power to divide their property and leave donations and bequests as they will, provided that the beneficiaries are members of my household, for with slaves their master's house takes the place of commonwealth and state. But though I have these consolations to make my mind easier, I feel shattered and broken by just that same sense of common humanity which led me to grant them these indulgences. Not that I wish I were harder of heart. I am quite aware that there are other people who call misfortunes of this kind a mere pecuniary loss, and plume themselves thereon as great men and wise. Whether they are great and wise I do not know, but they certainly are not men. The true man is sensible to pain and feeling, and even while he fights against his trouble admits consolations he is not a person who never knows the need of comfort. Perhaps I have written more than I ought, though it is still less than I desired. For there is a certain pleasure even in feeling pain, especially if your tears are falling while the arm of a friend is around you, and he is ready to applaud or excuse them as they fall. Farewell.

(*) Slaves were not allowed by Roman law to hold or bequeath property.

Have you, where you are, been having inclement and tempestuous weather? Here we have had nothing but storm after storm and constant deluges of rain. Tiber has deserted his proper channel and is now deep over the more low-lying banks. In spite of the drainage of the ditches constructed with great foresight by the Emperor, the river overwhelms the valleys all the fields are under water, and wherever the ground is level there you can see only water in place of dry ground. Consequently, instead of receiving as usual the streams which flow into it and carrying off their waters mingled with its own, it places as it were a barrier in their path and checks their progress, and so covers the fields, which it does not touch itself, with an alien flood. Even the Anio, that daintiest of rivers, so dainty that it seems to be tempted to linger by the villas on its banks, has thrown down and carried off in great measure the woods which lend it their shade it has overthrown mountains, and then, shut in by the masses of debris, has overturned buildings in its efforts to regain its lost channel, and raised and spread itself upon their ruins. Those who were caught by the storm upon higher ground saw everywhere around them, here the ruined remains of rich and splendid furniture, there the implements of husbandry, oxen and ploughs and their drivers, mingled with herds of cattle, loose and free from restraint, with trunks of trees and crossbeams from ruined villas, all floating to and fro in wide confusion. Nor have those places which lay too high for the river to reach them escaped disaster. For, instead of being inundated by the river, they suffered from continued rains and whirlwinds, which rushed down from the rainclouds, which tore down the hedges enclosing their rich fields, and shook the public buildings to their foundations when they did not lay them low. A number of people have been maimed, overwhelmed, and crushed by these accidents, and so their material losses have been made the heavier by their being thrown into mourning. I am much afraid that you, where you are, will have had a similar experience proportionate to the dangers of your position and I beg of you, if you have not, to relieve my anxiety on your account as soon as possible, and if you have, that you will tell me all about it. For it makes little difference whether you actually meet with disaster or only apprehend it, except that you can put a limit to your grief, but not to your fears. Our griefs can be apportioned to what we know has befallen us, but our apprehensions rise to what may befall us. Farewell.

Though it is commonly thought that a man's character can be seen in his will, as clearly almost as in a mirror, that idea is quite a delusion. For example, there is the case of Domitius Tullus, who has shown himself to be a much better man at his death than ever he was in life for, though he had allowed the legacy-hunters to fasten upon him, he has left as his heiress the daughter whom he shared with his brother - for she was really his brother's child, and he had adopted her. He has given his grandson a number of most acceptable legacies nor did he forget his great-grandchild. In a word, his will was full of family affection, which was the more striking as it was entirely unexpected.

Consequently, everywhere in Rome people are talking about it, and passing very different verdicts. Some are saying that he was an ungrateful and perfidious hypocrite, though, in so attacking him, they give themselves away by confessing the baseness of their motives, inasmuch as they are finding fault with a man who was a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, as though he had been without a relative in the world. Others again praise him loudly just because he cheated the hopes of rascals whom, as the times are what they are, it is prudent to deceive in the way he did. Moreover, they say that he was not at liberty to leave any other will at his death, and that he did not so much bequeath his riches to his daughter as restore them to her, inasmuch as it was through her that he acquired them. For Curtilius Mancia, who hated his son-in-law, Domitius Lucanus - the brother of Tullus -, had made Lucanus's daughter, who was his own granddaughter, his heiress, only on condition that she was allowed to pass out of her father's control. Her father therefore made her free, and her uncle adopted her, and so Mancia's will was practically evaded, the brother, who was a partner in the spoils, restoring the daughter after she had been emancipated from her father's power back to it again by the trick of adoption, and giving back at the same time her rich inheritance.

In other instances also these two brothers seemed to be fated to become rich, though that was the very last thing that those who enriched them desired. Indeed, Domitius Afer, who gave them his name by adopting them, left a will signed eighteen years before, which he disapproved to such an extent subsequently that he caused the property of their father to be confiscated. His harshness was just as remarkable as their good luck, for it was equally strange that he should be so harsh as to procure the banishment of a man whose children he had adopted, and that they should be so lucky as to find a father in the very person who had driven their father into banishment. But the property he inherited from Afer, as well as the other spoils which he and his brother acquired together, was also properly passed on to his brother's daughter, as he had made Tullus his sole heir in preference to his daughter, in order to induce his brother to be more kindly disposed to her. That makes the will the more praiseworthy, as it was inspired by feelings of family affection, loyalty, and shame, and as it contained legacies to all his relatives, according to their respective merits, besides one to his wife.

The latter came in for some very charming villas and a large sum of money. She was an excellent wife, and had shown herself the very soul of patience, and she deserved all the more of her husband because she had been severely blamed for marrying him. For she was a woman of distinguished family, she bore a fine character, she was already well advanced in years and had long been a widow, and had had children by a previous husband. Hence it was thought that she was scarcely acting with a proper sense of what was expected of her in marrying a rich old man, who was such a confirmed invalid that he must have worn out the patience of the wife whom he had married when he was young and healthy. He was so crippled and racked in every limb that he had no other means of enjoying his great riches than by looking at them, and he could not even turn himself in bed without assistance. So weak was he that he had to get others to clean and wash his teeth for him - a pitiful detail that revolts one's imagination. He was often heard to say, when bewailing the indignities to which his weakness exposed him, that he licked every day the fingers of his own slaves. Yet he kept on living and clung to life, thanks mainly to his wife's nursing, who, by her patience, turned to praise the reproaches of those who blamed her for entering into the match.

There, I have told you all the gossip of the town, for Tullus is the universal theme. The sale of his effects is being greatly looked forward to, for he had such a store of things that on the very day on which he bought some large gardens he furnished them with a number of rare old statues. So great was his stock of the choicest works of art which he had stored away, and to which he used to pay no attention whatever. I hope that if anything occurs in your neighbourhood that is worth writing about, you will not think it too much trouble to send me a letter, for not only is news pleasant to listen to, but we learn by concrete examples the lessons by which to mould our lives. Farewell.

I find in study both delight and consolation. There is nothing in the world so pleasant as to give more pleasure than study can bestow, and there is no sorrow so grievous that it cannot alleviate. So while I have been sorely troubled by the illness of my wife and the ill-health of my household, some of whom even have died, I have fled to study as the one and only thing that could assuage my grief, for, while making me more sensible of my trouble, it also helps me to bear it with greater patience. But I have a habit of asking my friends to lend me their critical faculties upon any book which I am about to publish to the world, and I especially ask for yours. Will you please give special attention, closer even than you have given before, to the volume which you will receive with this letter, for I am afraid that, owing to my depression of spirit, I have hardly bestowed upon it the pains I ought. I could, indeed, master my grief sufficiently to write, but not sufficiently to write without preoccupation of mind and sadness of heart, for while on the one hand study leads to happiness, so on the other it needs a cheerful frame of mind before one can study to best advantage. Farewell.

Though we often take long journeys and cross the seas to examine curiosities, we neglect them when they lie beneath our very eyes, either because Nature has made us prone to be heedless of what is near to our hands, and intent only upon what lies at a distance from us, or because the more easy a thing is of access the less our desire to see it becomes, or because we postpone the journey with the idea that we shall frequently pay a visit to what we can see as often as we feel the inclination thereto. But whatever the reason may be, there are many objects of interest in our city and near to it which we have not even heard of, much less seen, though if they had been located in Achaia, Egypt, Asia, or any other land which is rich in marvels and advertises them well, we should have heard of them, read of them, and examined them long ago.

I myself quite recently was told of and visited a curiosity which I had never visited or heard of before. My wife's grandfather had induced me to inspect his estates at Ameria. While I was walking round them I had pointed out to me a sheet of water called Lake Vadimon, which lay close by, and at the same time I heard some extraordinary stories concerning it. I went to see it. The lake is circular in shape, exactly like a wheel lying on the ground, and it is perfectly round. There are no indentations in the side, and no irregularities all the measurements are exactly equal, as though it were an artificial sheet of water hollowed out and cut to a plan. In colour it is clearer than azure, the tint being greener and sharper it has a sulphurous smell and a medicinal taste, with properties that are excellent for strengthening fractured limbs. In size it is but moderate, yet large enough to feel the effects of the winds and to break into waves. No boat is allowed on its surface - for it is sacred water - but there are islands floating in it, all of which are covered with reeds and rushes, and with the various plants which grow in greater profusion in the marshy ground and at the extremities of the lake itself. Each island has its distinct shape and size, and all are smooth at the sides, for they are constantly driven against the shore and against one another, and the edges of each are thus worn away they all stand at an equal height out of the water and are equally heavy, while their roots, which do not go deep down, are shaped like the keel of a ship. This form of theirs can be seen from all sides, and is just as much out of the water as in it. Sometimes the islands are joined together in a string and look like one piece of land sometimes they are dispersed by the winds in different directions and occasionally they float along singly and separately when the lake is perfectly still. Often the smaller islands cling alongside the larger ones, like small boats in tow of a big ship often both large and small seem, as it were, to choose their own course and race with one another or at other times they are all driven into the same corner and form an addition to the shore where they are clustered together, making the lake smaller, and then restoring it to its full size, first in one spot and then in another, and only leaving its size unaltered when they are out in the middle of it.

It is no uncommon thing for cattle while grazing to walk on to the islands, which they take to be the edge of the shore, nor do they discover the instability of the ground upon which they are standing until they are torn from the bank, and are terrified at the lake surrounding them on all sides, as though they had been transported and set down where they find themselves. Then, when they make their escape at the point whither their island is blown by the wind, they no more know when they have set foot on land than they were aware of having stepped on to an island. This same lake finds outlet in a river which, after running above ground for a little while, is lost to sight in a cave, and pursues its course at a great depth but if any object is thrown into it before it is drawn below, it preserves it and throws it up again at its outlet. I have given you these details because I fancy that they are as new to you as they were to me, for you and I are alike in this respect, that we find our greatest pleasures in the works of Nature. Farewell.

As in my daily life, so in my studies I think it is most becoming as well as most natural for a man to mingle grave and gay together, lest too much gravity should result in austerity, and too much gaiety in wantonness. That is what leads me to intersperse my more serious works with trifles and playful poems. I chose the most suitable time and place for launching them, and, after having had desks placed before the couches, I called together my friends in the month of July, when law business is at its quietest, in order that my poems might get accustomed to receive a hearing from lazy people over dinner. It so happened that on that very day I was summoned to take part as counsel in a case which came on very suddenly, and this made it necessary for me to say something by way of preface. I begged that no one would think me disrespectful because I had not kept clear of the courts and business on a day when I was to give a reading, especially as my audience was to be a select number of my friends, that is to say, people who were doubly my friends. I added that I made it an invariable rule in my writing to put business before pleasure, and take serious matter before amusements, and that my first object as I wrote was to please my friends and then myself.

My volume was a mélange of different subjects and metres, for those of us who are not quite sure about our genius choose variety, in order to minimise the risk of boring our readers. The reading lasted for two days, this being necessitated by the applause of my audience for though some people in giving a reading skip whole passages, and by so doing imply that what they skip is bad, I never pass over a word, and I even boldly acknowledge that I do not. I read every line in order that I may correct every line, and this cannot be done by those who read only selected passages. You may say that the other course is the more modest, and perhaps shows a greater regard for the audience. It may be so, but my plan is the more frank and the more friendly. For it is the man who is so sure of the affection of his audience that he is not afraid of wearying them, who is their real friend and, besides, what are acquaintances worth if they merely come to your house to gratify themselves alone? He who prefers to listen to a good volume written by his friend rather than help to make it a good volume, is a self-indulgent fellow, who is no better than a mere stranger.

I don't doubt that you, with your usual kindness towards me, are anxious to read this book of mine, which is still quite new, as soon as possible. Well, you shall, but only when it has been carefully revised, for that was the object I had in view when I gave the reading. With parts of it, indeed, you are already familiar, but these I have subsequently changed, either for better or possibly for worse - as is sometimes the case, when we revise long after the original was written - and when you read them you will find that they are new to you and entirely re-written. For when we have made a number of alterations, even the passages which have not been touched seem to have been altered too. Farewell.

Did you ever come across people who are themselves the slaves of all kinds of passions, yet are so indignant at the vices of others as to appear to grudge them their viciousness - people who show no mercy to those whom they most resemble in character ? And this in spite of the fact that those who themselves need the charitable judgment of others ought above all things to be lenient in their judgments ! For my own part, I consider the best and most finished type of man to be the person who is always ready to make allowances for others, on the ground that never a day passes without his being in fault himself, yet who keeps as clear of faults as if he never pardoned them in others. Let this be our rule, then, at home and out-of-doors, and in every department of life, to be remorseless in our judgment of ourselves, yet considerate even to those who are incapable of overlooking faults in any but themselves let us ever keep in remembrance that favourite saying of Thrasea, who was one of the gentlest and therefore one of the noblest of men : "He who detests men's vices, detests mankind." You may ask what has moved me to write in this strain. Well, just recently a certain person - but no it will be better to tell you all about it when we meet, or, better still, not to mention it even then, for I am afraid that, if I indulge in any bitter criticism and fault-finding, I shall be breaking the very rule which I have just been laying down. So let me keep my lips shut as to the identity and quality of the person in question, for to give his name would not point the moral any better, and to refrain from giving it is a much more charitable act. Farewell.

The poignancy of my grief at the death of Junius Avitus has quite prostrated me. It has interrupted all my studies, cut me off from all my other duties, and robbed me of all my usual recreations. It was in my house that he first put on the latus clavus it was my interest which had helped him in all his elections for office, and he had such an affection and so much respect for me that he used to take me as his model in character, and look upon me as his teacher. Among the young men of our time there have not been many who have acted thus, for how few of them there are who show the deference proper to youth to a person of age and position! They think they are wisdom personified, and that they know everything at once they pay respect to no one they imitate no one they are their own models. But it was not so with Avitus, who showed his wisdom most in recognising that others were wiser than he was, and his learning by the fact that he was always eager to learn. He used constantly to be consulting his friends, either on some point in his studies, or on some point of social duty, and every time he went away with the consciousness of self-improvement. And improved he certainly was, either from the advice that had been given him, or from the mere fact of his having sought information. How deferential he showed himself to Servianus, that most punctilious of men ! When the latter was legate, and was passing from Germany into Pannonia, Avitus was military tribune, and he thoroughly understood his chief's character and charmed him, escorting him on his journey, not so much as a colleague in arms, but as a companion and admirer. When he was quaestor, how attentive he was to his duties, how modest in his bearing to the consuls, - and he served a considerable number, - making himself not only pleasant and agreeable, but rendering them real services ! How eager and assiduous he was to obtain the aedileship from which he has been so prematurely torn away !

It is this which makes my grief so poignant, more even than anything else, when I think of all his labour being thrown away, all his now fruitless entreaties, and the honour which he so thoroughly deserved. I call to mind his putting on the latus clavus in my own house, and all the canvassing I did for him at his first and last elections, all our conversations and consultations. I grieve when I think how young he was, and how his relatives are left sorrowing. His father is stricken in years there is his wife, whom he married as a girl only a year ago there is his daughter, who was born to him just before he died. To think of so many hopes and so much joy being turned to despair in a single day! Just appointed aedile-designate, but recently married and just become a father, he has left behind him his honours unenjoyed, his mother childless, his wife a widow, his infant daughter deprived of the privilege of knowing her grandfather and father. It makes my tears flow the more to think that I was away at the time, and in ignorance of the blow that was to fall, and that I heard at one and the same moment that he was ill and that he was dead, and so had no time to grow accustomed to so terrible a shock. I am in such grief in writing this letter that I can touch on no other subject, and indeed I can neither think nor speak of anything else. Farewell.

My affection for you is such that I feel compelled not to direct you - for you have no need of a director - but to strongly advise you to keep in strict remembrance certain points that you are well aware of, and to realise their truth even more than you now do. Bear in mind that you have been sent to the province of Achaia, which is the real and genuine Greece, where the humanities, literature, and even the science of agriculture are believed to have been discovered that your mission is to regulate the status of the free cities, or, in other words, that you will have to deal with men who are really men and free, men who have preserved the rights, given to them by nature, by their own virtues, merits, friendship, and by the ties of treaties and religious observance. Pay all due respect to the gods and the names of the gods, whom they regard as their founders respect their ancient glory, and just that quality of age which in a man is venerable, but in cities is hallowed. Show deference to antiquity, to glorious deeds, and even to their legends. Do not whittle away any man's dignity or liberties, or even humble anyone's self-conceit. Keep constantly before you the thought that this is the land which sent us our constitutional rights, and gave us our laws, not as a conqueror, but in answer to our request. *

Remember that the city you are going to is Athens, that the city you will govern is Lacedaemon, and that it would be a brutal, savage, and barbarous deed to take from them the shadow and name of liberty, which are all that now remain to them. You will have noticed that though there is no difference between slaves and freemen when they are in ill-health, the freemen receive gentler and milder treatment at the hands of their medical attendants. Remember, therefore, the past of each city, not that you may despise it for ceasing to be great - no, let there be no trace of haughtiness and disdain in your conduct. Do not be afraid that people will despise you for your kindness, for is any man with full military command and the fasces despised, unless he is craven-spirited or mean, or first shows that he despises himself? It is a bad thing when a governor learns to feel his power by subjecting others to indignities, and a bad thing again when a man makes his power respected by striking terror into those around him. Affection is a far more potent lever by which to obtain what you desire than fear. For fear vanishes when you are absent, but affection remains and while the former turns to hate, the latter turns to reverence. You must constantly remember - for I will repeat what I said before - to bear in mind the real meaning of the title of your official position, and think what an important duty you are performing in regulating the status of the free cities. For what is more important in civil societies than proper regulations, and what is more precious than freedom ? How scandalous it would be if order were to be turned into confusion, and liberty into slavery ! You must also remember that you have to rival your own past record you are burdened by the excellent reputation which you brought back from Bithynia with you after your quaestorship, by the testimonials given you by the Emperor, by your tribuneship, praetorship, and by this very mission, which was assigned to you as a sort of reward for your splendid services. So you will have to do your best to prevent people from thinking that you have shown greater humanity, integrity, and tact in a far-off province than in one nearer Rome, among slaves than among freemen, and when you were chosen for the mission by lot rather than by deliberate choice, ** and that you were an untried and unknown man, and not one of tried and proved experience. Moreover, as you have often heard and read, it is much more disgraceful to lose a good reputation than to fail to win one.

As I said at the outset, I want you to take these words as those of a friend who is advising and not directing you, although I do direct you also, for I have no fear - such is my affection for you - of going beyond the limits of propriety. There is no danger of transgressing where the limits ought to be unbounded. Farewell.


Pliny The Younger

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, (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 98–117). 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 (see below). 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 Cilo to Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (his official title was an even greater mouthful: Gaius Plinius Luci filius 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.

Adult life

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.

Career summary

c. 81 One of the presiding judges in the centumviral court (decemvir litibus iudicandis)
c. 81 Tribunus militum (staff officer) of Legio III Gallica in Syria, probably for six months
80s Officer of the noble order of knights (sevir equitum Romanorum)
Later 80s Entered the Senate
88 or 89 Quaestor attached to the Emperor’s staff (quaestor imperatoris)
91 Tribune of the People (tribunus plebis)
93 Praetor
94–96 Prefect of the military treasury (praefectus aerari militaris)
98–100 Prefect of the treasury of Saturn (praefectus aerari Saturni)
100 Consul with Cornutus Tertullus
103 Propraetor of Bithynia
103–104 Publicly elected Augur
104–106 Superintendent for the banks of the Tiber (curator alvei Tiberis)
104–107 Three times a member of Trajan’s judicial council.
110 The imperial governor (legatus Augusti) of Bithynia et Pontus province

Writings

As a littérateur, 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. Recalling the speech in one of his letters, Pliny shrewdly defines his own motives thus:

“I hoped in the first place to encourage our Emperor in his virtues by a sincere tribute and, secondly, to show his successors what path to follow to win the same renown, not by offering instruction but by setting his example before them. To proffer advice on an Emperor’s duties might be a noble enterprise, but it would be a heavy responsibility verging on insolence, whereas to praise an excellent ruler (optimum principem) and thereby shine a beacon on the path posterity should follow would be equally effective without appearing presumptuous.”

Epistulae

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).

Epistles concerning the eruption of Mount Vesuvius

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.

Epistle concerning the Christian Religion

Pliny the Younger, as 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 was governor of Bithynia-Pontus. As governor, Pliny held large influence over all of the residents of his province. This demonstrated to be especially true in the legal treatment of Christians. The Roman legal construct of cognitio extra ordenum, afforded governors a large amount of discretion in deciding legal cases. Because of this, individual governors treated Christians very differently depending on the public and social environment of his province. For example, Tertullian wrote that no Christian blood was shed in Africa prior to 180. On the other hand, many governors, such as Pliny, executed the Christians that were brought before their court. Thus, given the primary role and control practiced by Roman governors, it does not serve well to think of the persecution of Christians as a systematic empire-wide pogrom ordered by the emperor prior to Emperor Domitian. As scholar Timothy Barnes summarizes, “Actual persecution…was local, sporadic, almost random”.Context of Pliny’s Letter

Although execution of Christians was not unheard-of or new by the time Pliny took office, there lacked to be a specific definition of their crime. Tacitus, along with Pliny, detested Christians for their “abominations” (flagitia) and believed them to be “deserving of exemplary punishment”. However, the question remained whether the cause for punishment was for simply being a Christian or for the crimes associated with being a Christian, such as flagitia (or arson in the case of Nero’s persecution). Pliny, who frequently wrote to Emperor Trajan for advice, was searching for the answer to this question in his Letter of Emperor Trajan.

Pliny’s Letter to Trajan

Opening Questions (Sections 1-4)

Pliny opens the letter with a question to Trajan concerning trials of Christians brought before him, since he says has never been present at any trials of Christians. This shows that previous trials have taken place and that Pliny is unaware of any existing edicts under Trajan for prosecuting Christians. He has three major questions: (1) Should any distinction be made by the age of the Christian? (2) Does denying being a Christian mean the accused is pardoned? and (3) Is the “name” of Christianity itself enough to condemn or is it the crimes associated with being a Christian? (Nomen ipsum si flagitiis careat an flagitia cohaerentia nomini puniantur.) As A.N. Sherwin-White states, “When the practice of a sect was banned…indictment of the nomen (“name”), i.e. of membership of a cult group, sufficed to secure conviction. This looked uncommonly like religious persecution to the victims themselves, but the underlying ground remained the flagitia (“shameful acts”) supposed to be inseparable from the practice of the cult.” Pliny appears to be following the Roman procedure of accusatio nominis (“accusation of the name”), a procedure that Trajan confirms in his reply without explaining the reasoning behind it.

Trial Format (Sections 4-6)

Pliny gives an account of how the trials are conducted and the various verdicts. He says he first asks if the accused is a Christian: if they confess that they are, he asks them twice more, for a total of three times, threatening them with death if they continue to confirm their beliefs. If they do not recant, then he orders them to be executed, or, if they are Roman citizens, orders them to be taken to Rome. Despite his uncertainly about the reasons for the accusations, Pliny says that he did not need to doubt for he knew that at least their obstinacy (obstinatio) and contumacy (pertinacia) deserved punishment. This indicates the assumption that Christians were being hostile to the Roman government and were openly defying a magistrate who was asking them to abandon an unwanted cult. Contumacia, defying an official, was sufficient for punishment since they often refused to obey a regulation concerned with civic bounds. While many scholars believe that contumacia is the reason for the guilty verdicts, G. E. M. de Ste. Croix argues that, since the obstinacy could not make an appearance until the trial itself, and therefore could not be used as an accusation, it was the “name” alone that was the only punishable offense. Most notably, the Christians present at the trial were accused by a private anonymous list and not by Pliny nor the empire. There were three categories of the accused Pliny mentions with corresponding verdicts. If the accused denied that they had ever been a Christian, then they must pray to the Roman gods, offer incense to an image of Trajan and the gods, and curse Christ – which Pliny says true Christians are unable to do. They were then discharged. Accused who were at one point Christians but had quit the religion also followed the aforementioned procedure and were let go. Sherwin-White says the procedure was approved by Trajan but it was not a way to “compel conformity to the state religion or imperial cult,” which was a voluntary practice. The gods might be referenced in the text simply because most Romans believed the greatest offense of Christianity was their “atheism.” Those who confessed to being Christians three times were executed.

Practices of Christians (Sections 7-10)

Pliny then details the practices of Christians: he says that they meet on a certain day before light where they gather and sing hymns to Christ as God. They take various oaths not to do any crimes such as fraud, theft, or adultery, and then dine together. However, Pliny says, all of these practices were abandoned by the Christians after Pliny forbade any political associations (hetaerias or “club”). These clubs were banned because Trajan saw them as a “natural breeding ground for grumbling” about both civic life and political affairs. One such instance of a banned club was a firemen’s association likewise, Christianity was seen as a political association that could be potentially harmful to the empire. However the Christians seem to have willingly complied with the edict and halted their practices. Pliny ends the letter by saying that Christianity has spread not only through the cities, but also through the rural villages as well (neque tantum…sed etiam), but that it will be possible to check it. He argues for his procedure to Trajan by saying that the temples and religious festivals, which before had been deserted, are now flourishing again and that there is a rising demand for sacrificial animals once more – a dip and rise which A.N. Sherwin-White believes is an exaggeration of the toll Christianity had taken on the traditional cult.

Trajan’s Reply

Trajan’s short reply to Pliny overall affirms Pliny’s procedure and details four orders: (1) Do not seek out the Christians for trial. (2) If the accused are guilty of being Christian, then they must be punished. (3) If the accused deny they are Christians and show proof that they are not by adorning the gods and such, then they may be pardoned. (4) Pliny should not allow anonymous lists of accusations. Leonard L. Thompson calls the policy “double-edged,” since, “on the one hand, Christians were not hunted down. They were tried only if accusations from local provincials were brought against them. But if accused and convicted, then Christians…were killed simply for being Christians.” Therefore Pliny’s view of Christians was not necessarily persecution but rather Christians were only executed when they were brought before him at trial and confessed however, pardons were also given to those who denied such charges. de Ste. Croix says the recommended course of action “was ‘accusatory’ and not ‘inquisitorial,’” so that it was never the governors themselves but instead private, local accusers (delatores) who brought forth accusations.

Significance

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 “seek[ing] 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.

In his correspondence with the emperor Trajan (Epistulae X.96 see Epistulae (Pliny)) he reported on his actions against the followers of Christ. He asks the Emperor for instructions dealing with Christians and explained that he forced Christians to curse Christ under painful torturous inquisition:

They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal–but ordinary and innocent food.

Pliny then explains to the Emperor how he questioned suspected Christians by torture and eventually sentenced them to death. In light of the fact that Christianity was recognized as a sect of Judaism and as a threat to public order, it is therefore likely that, while his knowledge of Christianity itself had to be second-hand, several Christian authors assert he must have been aware of Jesus’s existence, although he could not have been contemporary in time or place. More important here, however, is the testimony by Pliny that non-Roman suspects be executed for their confession of being Christians:

Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I therefore judged it so much more the necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.

In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel not doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others possessed of the same folly but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

This indicates that Jesus was worshiped, and that believers of Christ may be put to death for their beliefs, in a short period of the early second century by Roman jurisdiction. Pliny executed members of what were considered at the time a fanatical cult. This could lend circumstantial significance to the writings of early Christians. Being required to “curse Christ” is evidence that Pliny reported this as a means to force reactions of the suspect Christians under torturous inquisition. Also “a hymn to Christ as to a god” alleges that during that time Jesus had been accepted as both God and man.

Manuscripts

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.

Villas

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.


Letters, Volume II: Books 8-10. Panegyricus

The digital Loeb Classical Library extends the founding mission of James Loeb with an interconnected, fully searchable, perpetually growing virtual library of all that is important in Greek and Latin literature. Read more about the site&rsquos features »

The Younger Pliny was born in 61 or 62 CE, the son of Lucius Caecilius of Comum (Como) and the Elder Pliny&rsquos sister. He was educated at home and then in Rome under Quintilian. He was at Misenum at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 (described in two famous letters) when the Elder Pliny died.

Pliny started his career at the Roman bar at the age of eighteen. He moved through the regular offices in a senator&rsquos career, held two treasury appointments and a priesthood, and was consul in September and October 100. On this occasion he delivered the speech of thanks to the Emperor Trajan which he afterwards expanded and published as the Panegyricus. After his consulship he returned to advocacy in the court and Senate, and was also president of the Tiber Conservancy Board. His hopes of retirement were cut short when he was chosen by Trajan to go out to the province of Bithynia and Pontus on a special commission as the Emperor&rsquos direct representative. He is known to have been there two years, and is presumed to have died there before the end of 113. Book X of the Letters contains his correspondence with Trajan during this period, and includes letters about the early Christians.

Pliny&rsquos Letters are important as a social document of his times. They tell us about the man himself and his wide interests, and about his many friends, including Tacitus, Martial, and Suetonius. Pliny has a gift for description and a versatile prose style, and more than any of his contemporaries he gives an unprejudiced picture of Rome as he knew it.

The Loeb Classical Library edition of Pliny the Younger is in two volumes the first contains Books I&ndashVII of his Letters and an Introduction.

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To celebrate Pride Month, we are highlighting excerpts from books that explore the lives and experiences of the LGBT+ community. Nathaniel Frank&rsquos Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America tells the dramatic story of the struggle for same-sex couples to legally marry, something that is now taken for granted. Below, he describes the beginnings of the gay rights movement. For homophiles of the 1950s, identifying as gay was almost always a risky and radical act&hellip


Synopsis

Pliny begins Letter VI.16 by mentioning that the well-known historian Tacitus had previously asked him for an account of the death of his illustrious uncle, Pliny the Elder, and that he looked on the inclusion of such an account in a history book by Tacitus as the best way to immortalize the memory of his uncle.

He recounts how Pliny the Elder (along with Pliny the Younger himself and his mother) was stationed at Misenum at the time (August 79 CE), in his capacity as commander of the fleet. In the afternoon of August 24th, his mother pointed out a cloud of unusual size and appearance (similar in shape to a pine tree, rising on a very long “trunk” from which spread “branches”, mainly white but with dark patches of dirt and ash), apparently rising from a distant mountain across the bay, which later proved to be Mount Vesuvius.

His uncle was intrigued and determined to see it from closer at hand, and made ready a boat, the young Pliny staying to complete a writing exercise his uncle had set him. Just as he was leaving, though, a letter arrived from Tascius’ wife, Rectina, who lived at the foot of Vesuvius and was terrified by the looming danger. Pliny the Elder then changed his plans, and launched an expedition of rescue (both of Rectina, and if possible of any others living on the populous shore near Vesuvius), rather than one of scientific inquiry. Thus, he hurried towards a place from which many others were fleeing, bravely holding his course directly into the danger, all the while dictating notes on the phenomenon.

As they neared the volcano, ash began falling onto the ships, and then small pieces of pumice and finally rocks, blackened, burned and shattered by the fire. He paused for a moment, wondering whether to turn back, as his helmsman urged him, but with a cry of, “Fortune favours the brave, head for Pomponianus”, he forged on.

At Stabiae, on the other side of the gently curving bay, he met up with Pomponianus, who had his ships loaded but was trapped there by the very wind that had carried Pliny’s uncle towards him. Pliny the Elder bathed and dined, and even pretended to sleep, trying to lessen the other’s fear by showing his own apparently carefree unconcern.

By now, broad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts Vesuvius, all the more vivid in the darkness of the night. The mixture of ash and stones from the volcano gradually built up more and more outside the house, and the men discussed whether to remain under cover (despite the buildings being rocked by a series of strong tremors, and appearing to have come loose from their foundations and to be sliding around) or to risk the ash and flying debris in the open air.

They finally chose the latter, and headed down to the shore with pillows tied on top of their heads as protection against the shower of rock. However, the sea remained as rough and uncooperative as before, and soon there was a strong smell of sulphur, followed by the flames themselves. Pliny the Elder, never physically strong, found his breathing obstructed by the dust-laden air, and eventually his body simply shut down. When daylight finally came again, two days after he died, his body was found untouched and unharmed, in the clothing that he had worn, appearing more asleep than dead.

Letter VI.20 describes Pliny the Younger’s own activities in Misenum during the eruption, in response to a request for more information by Tacitus. He recounts how there had been tremors for many days before his uncle had sent off for Vesuvius (a common occurrence in Campania, and usually no cause for panic), but that night the shaking grew much stronger. The young seventeen-year old tried Pliny to reassure his worried mother, and returned to his study of a volume of Livy, despite the scoldings of a friend of his uncle’s for his apparent lack of concern.

The next day, he and his mother (along with many others from the town) decide to move away from the buildings, worried about possible collapses. Their carts were rolling this way and that, despite being on flat ground, and it seemed as though the sea was being sucked backwards, almost as though it were being pushed back by the shaking of the land. Huge dark clouds twisted and roiled, eventually stretching down to the ground and completely covering the sea, occasionally opening to reveal huge figures of flame, like lightning, but bigger.

Together, Pliny and his mother continued to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the centre of the conflagration, despite his mother urgings that he should go on alone as he would make better speed on his own. A dense cloud of dust pursued and eventually overtook them, and they sat down in the absolute darkness it brought, as people around them called out for their lost loved ones and some lamented the ending of the world. The fire itself actually stopped some distance away, but a new wave of darkness and ash came, seeming to crush them under its weight.

Eventually, the cloud thinned out and dwindled to no more than smoke or fog, and a weak sun finally shone though with a lurid glow, like after an eclipse. They returned to Misenum, which was buried in ash like snow, the earth still quaking. A number of people had gone mad and were shouting out terrifying prognostications. They refused to leave the town until they had heard news of Pliny ’s uncle, although new dangers were expected hourly.

Pliny ends his account with an apology to Tacitus that his story is not really the material of history, but offers it to him anyway to use as he sees fit.


Letters, Volume II: Books 8-10. Panegyricus

The digital Loeb Classical Library extends the founding mission of James Loeb with an interconnected, fully searchable, perpetually growing virtual library of all that is important in Greek and Latin literature. Read more about the site&rsquos features »

The Younger Pliny was born in 61 or 62 CE, the son of Lucius Caecilius of Comum (Como) and the Elder Pliny&rsquos sister. He was educated at home and then in Rome under Quintilian. He was at Misenum at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 (described in two famous letters) when the Elder Pliny died.

Pliny started his career at the Roman bar at the age of eighteen. He moved through the regular offices in a senator&rsquos career, held two treasury appointments and a priesthood, and was consul in September and October 100. On this occasion he delivered the speech of thanks to the Emperor Trajan which he afterwards expanded and published as the Panegyricus. After his consulship he returned to advocacy in the court and Senate, and was also president of the Tiber Conservancy Board. His hopes of retirement were cut short when he was chosen by Trajan to go out to the province of Bithynia and Pontus on a special commission as the Emperor&rsquos direct representative. He is known to have been there two years, and is presumed to have died there before the end of 113. Book X of the Letters contains his correspondence with Trajan during this period, and includes letters about the early Christians.

Pliny&rsquos Letters are important as a social document of his times. They tell us about the man himself and his wide interests, and about his many friends, including Tacitus, Martial, and Suetonius. Pliny has a gift for description and a versatile prose style, and more than any of his contemporaries he gives an unprejudiced picture of Rome as he knew it.

The Loeb Classical Library edition of Pliny the Younger is in two volumes the first contains Books I&ndashVII of his Letters and an Introduction.

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Pliny and the Panegyricus

The younger Pliny was consul suffectus from September to October, A.d. 100, and delivered in the Senate his official gratiarum actio to the Emperor Trajan for his appointment. This practice went back to the days of Augustus, according to Ovid ( Ep. ex Ponto iv. 4. 35), though nothing is known of the senatorial decree which made it obligatory. Nor do we know if both consuls made speeches, or whether Pliny was following normal practice when he spoke on behalf of his colleague, Cornutus Tertullus. In Ep. ii. 1. 5 he tells us that Verginius Rufus was rehearsing a similar speech (to be addressed to Nerva) at the time of his fatal accident, and elsewhere (iii. 13) he writes of the boredom of having to listen to speeches of this kind, brief though they could be, and the distasteful duty of addressing words of insincere flattery to an emperor (Domitian) under whom freedom of speech was impossible. The custom of the official vote of thanks continued M. Cornelius Pronto was suffect consul in July-August 143, and delivered his speech to Antoninus Pius on 13 August (Pronto, Ep. ii. 1).


#102: Pliny’s Letter to Trajan

Pliny was a civil servant who served as governor of Bithynia, in the north of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), from 111-113 AD. Here he met Christians for the first time and was not sure how they should be dealt with. So he wrote the following letter to Emperor Trajan reporting what he had done so far and asking for guidance. Trajan&rsquos more succinct answer is also included below.

As well as being Pliny&rsquos first encounter with Christians, this is our earliest internal document showing the Roman Empire&rsquos attitude and policy towards the church. Moreover Pliny does historians the great favor of describing what he has discovered about the way Christians worshipped. So, this bit of political correspondence, though of very little importance in the political history of Rome, is very important for what it tells us about the way early Christians were seen by the authorities and about what they did.

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never before participated in trials of Christians, so I do not know what offenses are to be punished or investigated, or to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age, or no difference recognized between the very young and the more mature. Is pardon to be granted for repentance, or if a man has once been a Christian is it irrelevant whether he has ceased to be one? Is the name itself to be punished, even without offenses, or only the offenses perpetrated in connection with the name?

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have followed the following procedure: I interrogated them as to whether they were Christians those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread because of these proceedings, as usually happens, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and also cursed Christ &ndash none of which those who are really Christians can, it is said, be forced to do &mdash these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ. They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to do some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food &mdash but ordinary and innocent food.

Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition. I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it.

It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it &mdash that is, by worshiping our gods &mdash even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

Bible verses:

1 Peter 1:1-9
Revelation 7:9-17
Romans 13:1-7
Psalm 109
Deuteronomy 14:22-26

Study Questions

What is Pliny’s attitude towards the church? What do you think affects his attitude?

What is Pliny’s policy towards Christians? How does it compare with Trajan’s? Looking at it from their own perspective, from a purely political point of view, do you think their policies are sound ones?

What, according to Pliny’s sources, did the Christians’ Sunday consist of in Bythinia? How does this compare with a modern Christian Sunday? What accounts for the similarities and differences?

Do you think Pliny’s portrayal of Christian practice is likely to be accurate?

“…to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.” The word translated ‘oath’ is ‘sacramentum’, which could also mean a sacrament. Some suggest therefore that Pliny has got the wrong end of the stick and Christians pledged themselves by taking communion rather than speaking an oath. Does this sound likely to you?

Pliny says of the growth of Christianity, “But it seems possible to check and cure it.” He then documents some signs that Christianity is failing and paganism regaining ground. Was he right? Can Christianity be stopped?

Do you see any sign that Christianity is successfully turning back sin in your community? What can you do to make Christianity successful?


Pliny the Younger : Letters

Translated by J.B.Firth (1900) - a few words and phrases have been modified. The numbering of the letters in this book has been changed slightly to bring it into line with the most recent editions.

See key to translations for an explanation of the format. Click on the L symbols to go the Latin text of each letter.

You very justly, Sir, express the fear that the lake * may drain itself dry if its waters are turned into the river and so into the sea, but I fancy that I have discovered a way to meet this difficulty. For the lake might be brought right up to the river by means of a canal, and yet it need not be turned into it, but, by leaving a margin between them, the waters of both may be practically joined without actually being so and hence, though its waters will not mingle with those of the river, the result will be much the same as if they did, for it will be a simple matter to transfer goods which have been brought up the canal to boats on the river across the narrow strip of land dividing them. That course might be adopted if necessity demanded, but I hope it will not be necessary, for the lake itself is sufficiently deep, and even now has a river flowing out of it in a contrary direction. This could be intercepted and turned into the direction in which we desire it to flow, and so, without any injury to the lake, it would supply us with as much water as it now carries off. Moreover, there are several little streams in the district through which the canal would have to be constructed, and if these were carefully collected, their volume would increase the amount of water supplied by the lake. Again, if it were decided to extend the canal still farther, and narrow it and bring it down to the level of the sea, so that its waters might flow, not into the river, but into the sea, the counter-pressure of the sea would preserve and keep back whatever water comes down from the lake. If there had been none of these natural advantages, we should have had to moderate the flow of the water by floodgates. But all these points and sundry others will be examined and looked into with far greater knowledge by the surveyor whom you have promised to send, and whom, Sir, you really ought to send. For the undertaking is well worthy of your noble mind and your personal attention. Meantime, I have written to that excellent person, Calpurnius Macer, asking him, on your authority, to send me the most suitable surveyor for the purpose.

It is clear to me, my dear Pliny, that you have shown diligence and careful consideration in the matter of the lake you speak of, since you have thought out so many expedients to prevent all danger of its running dry and to increase its future usefulness for us. Do you, therefore, take whatever steps the matter seems to you to require. I think that Calpurnius Macer * will not fail to provide you with a surveyor, for the Asiatic provinces are never short of engineers for such undertakings.

Your freedman, Sir, Lycormas, wrote to me saying that if any embassy came from the Bosphorus on its way to Rome I was to detain it until his arrival. As yet no such deputation has come, or, at least, none has reached the city where I am staying. However, a courier has come from King Sauromates, and seizing the opportunity with which chance had presented me, I thought it advisable to send him on with the courier who outstripped Lycormas on his journey, so that you might be able to acquaint yourself with the letters of Lycormas and the king, both of which may be equally important for you to read.

King Sauromates has written to me saying that there are certain matters which you ought to know as soon as possible. For that reason I have given the courier whom he sent to me with the letter an official permit to enable him to travel more quickly.

Sir, the problem as to the status and cost of maintenance of children exposed at birth and then reared by others is an important one which affects the whole province. After listening to the decrees of former emperors on the subject, and finding there was no general or particular rule relating to Bithynia, I thought I ought to consult you on the course you desire to be adopted. For I considered that I ought not to be satisfied with mere precedents in a matter that requires an authoritative expression of your will. I had read to me an edict reputed to have been issued by Augustus respecting (?) Andania, letters of Vespasian to the Lacedaemonians and of Titus to the same people and to the Achaians, and of Domitian to the proconsuls Avidius Nigrinus and Armenius Brocchus, and again to the people of Lacedaemon. I have not sent them on to you, because they seemed to me to be not altogether correct copies, and some appeared to be of doubtful authenticity, and because I imagine that the genuine and correct documents will be found in your archives.

The question you raise as to those who were born free and exposed by their parents, and then reared by other people and brought up in a state of servitude, has often been dealt with, but I do not find in the records of my predecessors any general rule established for the whole of the provinces. Domitian certainly wrote letters to Avidius Nigrinus and Armenius Brocchus, which perhaps ought to be followed as precedents, but Bithynia is not one of the provinces covered by his letters. Consequently, I do not think that those who prove their right to freedom should have their claims refused, nor do I think that they should have to buy their freedom by paying the cost of their maintenance.

After the messenger of King Sauromates had stayed of his own free will for two days in Nicaea, where he found me, I thought, Sir, that he ought to delay no longer, in the first place, because it was still uncertain when your freedman Lycormas would put in an appearance, and, in the second, because I myself was bound by pressing official business to go and visit another part of my province. I have felt it my duty to bring these facts to your knowledge, as I just recently wrote and told you that I had been asked by Lycormas to keep back any deputation which might come from the Bosphorus until his arrival. There is now no justifiable reason for my delaying him any longer, especially as I fancy the letter of Lycormas which, as I said before, I did not like to keep back, will arrive in Rome some days before this messenger.

Several persons have petitioned me to grant them leave, as other proconsuls have done before my time, to transfer to other resting-places the remains of their ancestors, owing to the ravages of time, the inundation of rivers, or some other similar reasons. Knowing as I do that in Rome the permission of the pontifical college is necessary in such cases, I have thought that I ought to consult you. Sir, as pontifex maximus, as to the course you would wish me to pursue.

It would be very hard on the provincials to lay upon them the necessity of approaching the pontifical college whenever they desired for some sufficient reason to remove the ashes of their ancestors from one place to another. You should therefore follow the precedents set by those who have governed the province before you, and either give or withhold permission on the merits of each case.

When I was looking about, Sir, for a place upon which to build the baths which you have graciously allowed to be erected at Prusa, * I was pleased with a site on which there once stood, I am told, a beautiful mansion which is now in a ruinous and unsightly condition. By choosing this we shall beautify what is an eyesore in the city, and we shall extend the city itself without pulling down any buildings, but by merely rebuilding on a finer scale structures which have crumbled away through old age. The history of this mansion is as follows :- Claudius Polyaenus left it in his will to Claudius Caesar, and gave orders that a temple should be erected to the Emperor in the colonnade and that the remainder of the house should be let. For some years the city enjoyed the rent arising therefrom, but as time went on the whole mansion fell in, parts of it being stolen and parts being allowed to decay, until now there is scarcely anything left of it but the ground it stood on. The city, Sir, will consider it a great favour if you will give them the site or order it to be put up for sale, as the situation is such a convenient one. For my own part, if you grant me your permission, I am thinking of clearing the courtyard and constructing the new baths upon it, and of surrounding with a hall and galleries the site on which the old buildings stood, and consecrating them to you, for the work will be a handsome one and worthy of bearing your name as its benefactor. I am sending to you a copy of the will, though it is an imperfect one, and from it you will see that Polyaenus left a considerable amount of furniture for the decoration of the mansion which, like the mansion itself, has now been lost, though I shall do my best to recover it as far as possible.

We may certainly utilise the courtyard and the ruined mansion, which you say is unoccupied, for the construction of the baths at Prusa. But you did not make it quite clear whether the temple in the colonnade was ever actually completed and consecrated to Claudius for if it was, then even though it is now in ruins, the ground still remains specially sacred to him.

I have been asked by certain persons to give decisions in cases where men claim they were born free, and demand the restitution of their birth-right, * and so act in accordance with the precedents set by the letter of Domitian to Minicius Rufus and by the proconsuls in office here before me. I have consulted the decree of the senate relating to that class of cases, and I find that it only deals with provinces which are governed by proconsuls ** and so, Sir, I have left the matter open, and postponed a decision until you advise me of the course you wish to be followed

(*) These men, who had been slaves and were afterwards manumitted, wished to have the same status as men who were born free.

(**) Bithynia was a 'senatorial province', which was usually governed by proconsuls but Pliny had been sent there as the legate of the emperor.

If you will send me the decree of the senate which has made you hesitate, I will form my opinion as to whether or not you ought to investigate cases in which the petitioners claim they were born free, and demand the restitution of their birth-right.

Sir, a soldier named Appuleius, who belongs to the garrison at Nicomedia, has written to tell us that a certain person of the name of Callidromus, on being forcibly detained by two bakers, Maximus and Dionysius, in whose employment he had been, fled for refuge to your statue, and on being brought before the magistrates admitted that he had at one time been the slave of Laberius Maximus, * that he had been made prisoner by Susagus in Moesia, and sent as a present by Decebalus to Pacorus, the Parthian king. After remaining in his service for many years he had made good his escape, and so found his way to Nicomedia. I had him brought before me, and when he had told me the same story, I thought the best plan was to send him to you. The reason for my delay in so doing is that I have been trying to find a ring bearing the likeness of Pacorus, which he said that he used to wear as an ornament, but which had been stolen from him. For it was my wish to forward this ring, if it could be found, just as I am sending a piece of ore, which the man declares he brought from a Parthian mine. I have sealed it with my own signet, the device on which is a four-horse chariot.

(*) One of Trajan's generals in command of the Dacian war. Susagus was a general serving under Decebalus, king of Dacia.

Sir, a person named Julius Largus, of Pontus, whom I had never seen or heard of before - he must have blindly followed the good opinion you have of me - has entrusted me with the management of the money with which he seeks to prove his loyalty towards you. For he has asked me in his will to undertake as heir the division of his property, and after keeping for myself 50,000 sesterces, hand over all that remains to the free cities of Heraclea and Tius. He leaves it to my discretion whether I think it better to erect public works and dedicate them to your glory, or to institute an athletic festival to be held every five years and be called "the Trajan games." I have decided to bring the facts to your notice, and for this special reason, that you may direct me in my choice.

Julius Largus, in picking you out for your loyalty, has acted as though he knew you intimately. So do you consider the circumstances of each place and the best means of perpetuating his memory, and follow the course you think best.

You acted with your usual prudence, Sir, in instructing that eminent man, Calpurnius Macer, to send a legionary centurion to Byzantium. Consider, I pray, whether for similar reasons one should be sent to Juliopolis also, which, though one of the tiniest of free cities, has very heavy burdens to bear, and if any wrong is done to it, it is the more serious owing to its weakness. Moreover, whatever favours you confer on the people of Juliopolis will benefit the whole province, for the city lies at the extremity of Bithynia, and through it the large number of persons who travel through the province have to pass.

It is owing to the situation of the free city of Byzantium, and the fact that so many travellers make their way into it from all sides, that, in conformity with established precedent, I have decided to send them a legionary centurion to protect their privileges. If I were to decide to assist the people of Juliopolis in the same way I should be burdening myself with a new precedent. For more and more cities would want the same favour, just in proportion to their weakness, and I have sufficient confidence in your diligence to feel certain that you will do your very best to protect them from harm. If, however, any persons act contrary to my rules, let them be promptly suppressed or if any are guilty of offences too grave to be sufficiently punished offhand, notify their commanding officers, if they are soldiers, of the crimes in which you have detected them, or if they are about to return to Rome write and let me know.

There is a provision, Sir, in the Lex Pompeia - which is in force in Bithynia - to the effect that no one is to hold office or sit in the senate who is under thirty years of age, and it is also provided in the same law that all ex-magistrates are to have a seat in that Chamber. Then followed an edict of the Emperor Augustus permitting persons to hold the minor offices from their twenty-second year. The question arises, therefore, whether a man who held office before he was thirty can be admitted by the censors to the senate, and, if he can, whether by the same interpretation those who have not held office may also be appointed senators when they reach the age at which they may become magistrates. This practice has already been followed in some places, and it is said to be unavoidable on the ground that it is much preferable to admit into the senate the sons of well-born persons than to admit plebeians. When I was asked my opinion by the censors-elect, I said I thought that those who had held office before they were thirty might be appointed senators in accordance with the terms of the edict of Augustus and the Lex Pompeia, inasmuch as Augustus allowed those under thirty to hold office, and the law declared that an ex-magistrate should sit in the senate. But I hesitated as to those who had not held office, though they had reached the age when they were eligible for such office. That is why, Sir, I ask your advice on the course you would have me adopt. I enclose with my letter both the heads of the Pompeian Law and the edict of Augustus.

I agree with the construction you place on the law, my dear Pliny, and I think that the Lex Pompeia is superseded by the edict of Augustus to the extent that persons not less than twenty-two years of age are eligible for office, and that, having held it, they necessarily become senators in all the free cities. But if they have not held office, I do not think that those who are under thirty can be appointed senators in any place, simply because they might hold office if they chose.

When, Sir, I was at Prusa, near Mt. Olympus, and was enjoying a rest from public business at my lodgings - I was about to leave the town on the same day - a magistrate named Asclepiades sent me a message saying that Claudius Eumolpus had appealed to me. It appeared that one Cocceianus Dion * had requested in the senate that the city should formally take over the public work on which he had been engaged, and that Eumolpus, who was appearing for Flavius Archippus, said that Dion ought to be made to produce plans of the work before it was handed over to the city, alleging that he had not finished it as he ought to have done. He added that your statue had been placed in the temple, together with the remains of Dion's wife and son, ** and demanded that I should investigate the matter in proper legal form. When I said that I would do so forthwith and postpone my journey, he asked that I would put off the day of hearing, so as to give him time to prepare his case, and that I would investigate the matter in another city. I replied that I would hear it tried at Nicaea and when I had taken my seat on the bench in that place to listen to the pleading, Eumolpus once more began to try and get a further adjournment on the ground that he was still not quite ready while Dion, on the other hand, demanded that the case should be heard at once. A good deal was said on both sides relating to the subject at issue. I thought that a further adjournment should be made, and that I had better consult you in a matter that looked like forming a precedent, and I told both parties to hand in written statements of their separate demands, for I wished that you should hear the points put forward as far as possible in their own words. Dion said that he would give in a statement, and Eumolpus also promised to set down in writing his points, so far as they related to matters of state. But in the charge about the remains he said that he was not the accuser, but merely the advocate of Flavius Archippus, whose commission he was undertaking. Archippus, who was being represented by Eumolpus, as at Prusa, then said that he too would make a written statement. Yet neither Eumolpus nor Archippus has yet handed in any, though I have waited a long time Dion, on the other hand, has done so, and I enclose it with this letter. I have visited the place in question and seen your statue in position in the library, while the building, where the wife and son of Dion are said to be buried, lies in the courtyard, which is enclosed by porticos. I beg you, Sir, to condescend to advise me in forming a decision on a case like this, for it has created great public interest, as it was bound to do, considering the facts are admitted, and there are precedents on both sides.

(*) Better known as Dio Chrysostom, the orator and philosopher his speeches On the Duty of a Ruler were addressed to Trajan.

(**) To place the statue of an emperor close to graves would be an act liable to prosecution.

You need have had no hesitation, my dear Pliny, on the point concerning which you have thought it necessary to consult me, for you are well aware of my fixed resolve not to seek to make people respect my name by fear and terrorism and charges of treason. Dismiss the inquiry, therefore, which I should not admit even if there were precedents to support it, and let Cocceianus Dion be required to submit the plan of the whole building he has raised under your supervision, as public interests demand that he should. Indeed he does not decline to do so - and ought not to, if he did.

I have been publicly asked, Sir, by what is and ought to be the most sacred thing in the world to me, I mean your eternal fame and well-being, to forward to you a memorial of the people of Nicaea, and therefore, as I did not think it right to refuse, I accepted it and enclose it with this letter.

As the people of Nicaea declare that Augustus conferred upon them the right to enjoy the property of those citizens who die intestate, you must inquire into the matter, and summon before you all who are concerned in the question, including Virdius Gemellinus and Epimachus, my freedman, who are procurators, and then, after giving due weight to the arguments on the other side, come to the decision you think best.

Sir, I have found Maximus, your freedman and procurator, all the time we have been together, a man of probity, industry, and diligence, and as devoted to discipline as he is eager to prosecute your interests, and I gladly, therefore, bear witness to you of his worth, as is my duty.

Sir, I can recommend to you most heartily, as it is my duty to do, Gabius Bassus, the prefect of the coast of Pontus, as an upright, honest, and diligent public servant, and as one who has showed me the greatest respect.

* . . . He has been trained in military service under your standard, and he owes the fact that he is worthy of your favour to the training he there received. The soldiers and country people around me have learned to trust his justice and humanity, and they have vied with one another in giving him public and private testimonials of their regard. These facts I bring before your notice as I am in duty bound to do.

(*) The beginning of this letter has been lost.

Sir, I served with Nymphidius Lupus in the army when he was chief centurion when he was prefect I was a military tribune, and from that time I began to have a strong affection for him. Subsequently, our affection increased as our friendship grew older, and so I imposed on him in his retirement and induced him to come to Bithynia with me and serve on my staff. This he has done and will continue to do in the most friendly way, without regard for his age and his due retirement. For this reason I look upon his near friends as my own, especially his son Nymphidius Lupus, a young man of integrity and industry, well worthy of such a father, and one who amply deserves your favour, as you may judge from the first proof he has given of his mettle. For as prefect of a cohort he has won glowing praise from two such excellent officers as Julius Ferox and Fuscus Salinator. My joy and self-congratulation will be satisfied by the advancement of the son.

I pray, Sir, that you may keep this birthday * and many others in the greatest happiness, and that in strength and security you may increase the fame and eternal praise of your glory by adding to the list of your noble achievements.

I acknowledge your prayer, my dear Pliny, that I may celebrate many happy birthdays, and that our Empire may continue to prosper.

The people of Sinope, Sir, are short of a proper water-supply, though a good and plentiful supply might be brought from a distance of about sixteen miles. However, there is a dangerously soft piece of ground a little more than a mile from the source, which I have in the meanwhile ordered to be surveyed, to see whether it could bear the weight of an aqueduct. If we undertake to build the funds will not be lacking, if you, Sir, grant permission to this healthy and pleasantly placed but very thirsty colony to begin the work.

Make a careful survey, my dear Pliny, as you have begun to do, to see whether the place which looks dangerous can support the weight of an aqueduct. I do not think we ought to hesitate about bringing a proper water-supply to the colony of Sinope, provided that it can bear the expense alone, inasmuch as the improvement would contribute both to its health and to its charms as a place of residence.

The free and allied city * of Amisus, thanks to your favour, enjoys its own special laws. I have enclosed with this letter, Sir, a memorial relating to their collections for the poor, that you may decide in what way the practice is to be permitted, to what lengths it may be carried, or where it should be checked.

(*) Civitas foederata : a city whose autonomy was assured by a formal treaty.

If permission has been granted to the people of Amisus, whose memorial you enclosed with your letter, in the laws which govern the terms of their alliance, to make a collection for the poor, we have no reason to prevent them and we can permit it the more readily in that the collection is utilised for the support of the distressed and not to bring people together and form illicit societies. But in other free states which are under our jurisdiction collections of this kind are not to be permitted.

Sir, I have long admired the character and literary abilities of Suetonius Tranquillus, a man of the highest integrity, probity, and learning he has been my constant companion, and I have begun to love him the better as I have learned to know him the more thoroughly. There are two reasons why the privileges of the ius trium liberorum should be conferred upon him. One is that he wins the final proof of his friends' good opinion of him and is mentioned in their wills, * and the other is that he has not been fortunate in his marriage. He has therefore to rely, through us, upon obtaining from your kindness what has been denied him by the perversity of Fortune. I know, Sir, how great is the favour I am asking, but I ask it none the less from you, inasmuch as I find you are always most indulgent in granting my requests. And you may see how earnestly I desire it, for I should not ask it when I am miles away if I were only half-hearted in preferring my petition.

(*) By the Lex Papia Poppaea, married persons, without children, were unable to take bequests in their entirety, a portion going to the public treasury.

You assuredly know, my dear Pliny, how sparingly I grant these favours, for I often declare in the senate that I have not exceeded the number with which I told that august order I should be content. However, I have granted your request, and I have ordered a note to be entered on my diaries that I have bestowed the privilege of the ius trium liberorum upon Suetonius Tranquillus on the customary understanding.

It is my custom, Sir, to refer to you in all cases where I do not feel sure, for who can better direct my doubts or inform my ignorance? I have never been present at any legal examination of the Christians, and I do not know, therefore, what are the usual penalties passed upon them, or the limits of those penalties, or how searching an inquiry should be made. I have hesitated a great deal in considering whether any distinctions should be drawn according to the ages of the accused whether the weak should be punished as severely as the more robust whether if they renounce their faith they should be pardoned, or whether the man who has once been a Christian should gain nothing by recanting whether the name itself, even though otherwise innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes that gather round it.

In the meantime, this is the plan which I have adopted in the case of those Christians who have been brought before me. I ask them whether they are Christians if they say yes, then I repeat the question a second and a third time, warning them of the penalties it entails, and if they still persist, I order them to be taken away to prison. For I do not doubt that, whatever the character of the crime may be which they confess, their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy certainly ought to be punished. * There were others who showed similar mad folly whom I reserved to be sent to Rome, as they were Roman citizens. ** Subsequently, as is usually the way, the very fact of my taking up this question led to a great increase of accusations, and a variety of cases were brought before me. A pamphlet was issued anonymously, containing the names of a number of people. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians and called upon the gods in the usual formula, reciting the words after me, those who offered incense and wine before your image, which I had given orders to be brought forward for this purpose, together with the statues of the deities - all such I considered should be discharged, especially as they cursed the name of Christ, which, it is said, those who are really Christians cannot be induced to do. Others, whose names were given me by an informer, first said that they were Christians and afterwards denied it, declaring that they had been but were so no longer, some of them having recanted many years before, and more than one so long as twenty years back. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the deities, and cursed the name of Christ. But they declared that the sum of their guilt or their error only amounted to this, that on a stated day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak and to recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god, and that so far from binding themselves by oath to commit any crime, their oath was to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, and from breach of faith, and not to deny trust money placed in their keeping when called upon to deliver it. When this ceremony was concluded, it had been their custom to depart and meet again to take food, but it was of no special character and quite harmless, and they had ceased this practice after the edict in which, in accordance with your orders, I had forbidden all secret societies. &dagger I thought it the more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in these statements by submitting two women, who were called deaconesses, to the torture, but I found nothing but a debased superstition carried to great lengths. So I postponed my examination, and immediately consulted you. The matter seems to me worthy of your consideration, especially as there are so many people involved in the danger. Many persons of all ages, and of both sexes alike, are being brought into peril of their lives by their accusers, and the process will go on. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only through the free cities, but into the villages and the rural districts, and yet it seems to me that it can be checked and set right. It is beyond doubt that the temples, which have been almost deserted, are beginning again to be thronged with worshippers, that the sacred rites which have for a long time been allowed to lapse are now being renewed, and that the food for the sacrificial victims is once more finding a sale, whereas, up to recently, a buyer was hardly to be found. From this it is easy to infer what vast numbers of people might be reclaimed, if only they were given an opportunity of repentance.

(*) Pliny leaves it unclear whether the Christians were accused of a specific crime it seems that to confess to being Christian was considered sufficient proof of guilt.

(**) Except by special delegation of the Emperor's own legal powers, no provincial governor had power to inflict the death penalty on a Roman citizen, but must allow him to take his trial at Rome.

(&dagger) Or 'political societies'. The same word < hetaeriae >is used in relation to a guild of firemen, in letter 34 of this book.

You have adopted the proper course, my dear Pliny, in examining into the cases of those who have been denounced to you as Christians, for no hard and fast rule can be laid down to meet a question of such wide extent. The Christians are not to be hunted out if they are brought before you and the offence is proved, they are to be punished, but with this reservation - that if any one denies that he is a Christian and makes it clear that he is not, by offering prayers to our deities, then he is to be pardoned because of his recantation, however suspicious his past conduct may have been. * But pamphlets published anonymously must not carry any weight whatever, no matter what the charge may be, for they are not only a precedent of the very worst type, but they are not in consonance with the spirit of our age.

(*) For an early Christian reaction to Trajan's decision, see Tertullian's 'Apology', chapter 2 (written in about 197 A.D.).

The city of Amastris, Sir, which is both elegantly and finely built, boasts among its most striking features a very beautiful and lengthy street, down one side of which, to its full extent, runs what is called a river, but it is really a sewer of the foulest kind. This is not only an eyesore because it is so disgusting to look at, but it is a danger to health from its shocking smells. For these reasons, both for the sake of health and appearance, it ought to be covered over, and this will be done if you give leave, while we will take care that the money shall be forthcoming for so important and necessary a work.

It stands to reason, my dear Pliny, that the stream which flows through the city of Amastris should be covered over, if by remaining uncovered it endangers the public health. I feel certain that, with your usual diligence, you will take care that the money for the work will be forthcoming.

We have paid. Sir, with joyfulness and alacrity the vows we publicly pronounced for the years that are past, and we have undertaken new ones, * the troops and the provincials vying with one another to show their loyalty. We pray the gods that they may preserve you and the State in prosperity and safety, and show you the good will which you have so richly deserved, not only by your exceeding and numerous virtues, but by your striking integrity of life and the obedience and honour you have paid to Heaven.

I have been glad to learn from your letter, my dear Pliny, that the troops and the provincials in joyful unison have paid the vows they made for my safety, reciting the formula after you, and that they have undertaken new vows for the future.

We have celebrated with all due religious observance the lucky day upon which you succeeded to the throne and the care of the human race was placed in your keeping, * and have commended our public vows and thanksgivings to the gods who set you to rule over us.

I have been glad to learn from your letter that the anniversary of my succession has been celebrated by the troops and the provincials with due thanksgiving, reciting the formula after you.

Valerius Paulinus, Sir, has left me the right of patronage over all his Latin freedmen * to the exclusion of his son Paulinus, and I beg of you in the meantime to grant the full Roman rights to three of them. I am afraid it would seem too much to request your indulgence for all alike, and I ought to be the more modest in asking your indulgence as it is granted to me so fully. But those for whom I beg this favour are Caius Valerius Astraeus, Caius Valerius Dionysius, and Caius Valerius Aper.

(*) Freedmen who had only limited rights, under the terms of the Lex Aelia Sentia.

Your early solicitation of my favour for those who have been placed under your patronage by Valerius Paulinus does you so much credit that I have in the meantime given orders for a note to be entered in my archives to the effect that I have bestowed the full Roman citizenship on those for whom you have asked it, and I will do the same for the others upon your making application.

Publius Attius Aquila, Sir, a centurion of the sixth cohort of horse, * asked me to forward to you a memorial in which he begs your indulgence on behalf of the status of his daughter. I thought it would be hard to deny him, especially as I know what a ready and kindly ear you turn to the requests of your soldiers.

(*) A mixed cohort of infantry as well as cavalry.

I have read the memorial which you sent to me from Publius Attius Aquila, a centurion of the sixth cohort of horse, and I have been moved by his entreaties to bestow upon his daughter the Roman citizenship. I am sending you a copy of the order, which you will please hand over to him.

I beg you, Sir, to send me word what legal rights you wish the cities of Bithynia and Pontus to possess in getting in moneys which may be due to them, either as rents or the proceeds of sales, or for any other cause. I have found that they have been granted the position of preferential creditors by many proconsuls, and that the privilege has acquired a sort of legal sanction. I think, however, that you should make some definite decree on the subject by means of which their rights may be established for the future, for the preferential claim, however justly granted to them by the proconsuls, will be short-lived and invalid unless it receives your official authorisation.

The legal position of the cities of Bithynia and Pontus, in getting in moneys which may be due to them for any reason, must be determined by consulting the special laws of each city. If they possess the privilege of ranking as preferential creditors, it must be respected if they do not, then I shall not think of granting it to the detriment of private creditors.

The public prosecutor, Sir, of the city of Amisus has claimed in court before me the sum of 40,000 denarii from Julius Piso, which was given to him out of the public funds twenty years before by the senate and confirmed by a public meeting, and he urged in defence of the claim your edicts, in which donations of that sort are forbidden. Piso, on the other hand, declared that he had made great monetary contributions to the city funds, and had well-nigh spent all his means. He urged, moreover, the length of time which had elapsed since the gift was made, and begged that he might not be compelled to pay back what he had received many years before for a number of services rendered, saying that to do so would mean the ruin of what position he still had left to him. For these reasons I thought it best to adjourn the case as it stood, that I might consult you on the course you think best to adopt.

Though it is true my edicts forbid the grants of public money to individuals, yet it does not follow that grants made years ago ought to be inquired into anew and revoked and annulled, for to do so would shatter the position of a host of persons. Let us therefore ignore all such donations that are twenty years old, for I wish to do what is best, not only for the public funds of each city, but for the individuals living therein.

The Lex Pompeia, Sir, which is in use in Bithynia and Pontus, does not make it compulsory for those who are appointed by the censors to a seat in the senate to pay a sum of money to the public funds, but those who by your special favour have been appointed senators in certain cities, over and above the usual number of those bodies, have paid either one or two thousand denarii. Subsequently, the proconsul Anicius Maximus gave orders that even those who were appointed by the censors should make some contribution of varying amounts to the public funds, at least in a few cities. It rests, therefore, with you to determine whether all who are appointed senators should be obliged to pay a fixed sum as entrance money, for it is only proper that a rule meant to be permanent should be drawn up by yourself, whose acts and words deserve to live for ever.

It is impossible for me to draw up a general rule as to whether newly-made senators in every city in Bithynia ought or ought not to pay an honorarium as entrance money. I think that the laws of each city should be observed - which is always the safest course to adopt . . . *

(*) The end of this letter is missing.

Sir, according to the Lex Pompeia, the free cities of Bithynia have the right to enrol anyone they please as a citizen, provided that he does not belong to any of the other Bithynian cities. The same law lays down provisions stating the causes for which a member of a senate may be expelled by the censors. Consequently, certain censors have consulted me on the point whether they ought to expel any member who belonged to another city. However, I was influenced by the fact that, though the law forbids the election of such a person, it does not order his expulsion from the senate for that reason and, besides, I was assured that in every city there were a number of senators belonging to other cities, and that any interference would seriously affect the position of a host of individuals and cities, inasmuch as that section of the law had for many years fallen into abeyance by general consent. So I thought it necessary to consult you as to the line you would wish me to adopt. I enclose with this letter the sections of the law on the subject.

You did right to hesitate, my dear Pliny, before giving your answer to the censors who consulted you about the admission to the senate of citizens belonging to other cities but to the same province. For the authority of the law, and the old-established custom of acting contrary to it, naturally pulled you different ways. My own feeling in the matter is that we should not attempt to disturb past arrangements, and that those persons who have been appointed senators, no matter what cities they belonged to, should retain their position. For the future, however, the Lex Pompeia must be observed, although to try and enforce it retrospectively would necessarily entail great disturbance.

It is the custom for those who assume the gown of manhood < toga virilis >, or who marry, or enter upon office, or dedicate any public work, to invite all the senate, and even a considerable number of the common people, and present each person with one or two denarii. I beg you will tell me whether you think this practice should be kept up, and to what extent, for while I think that the inviting of friends is permissible, especially on solemn occasions, I am afraid that those who invite a thousand persons, or sometimes more, exceed all due limits, and seem to be guilty of what may be regarded as a special kind of bribery.

I approve your apprehension that there is a look of bribery about invitations which are given on a wholesale scale and exceed due limits, and bring people together in whole societies, as it were, to receive customary presents, which is a very different thing from giving a present to each man because you know him. But the reason I selected your prudent self as governor was that you might exercise a moderating influence upon the customs of that province, and that you might so order matters as to secure its future quiet.

The athletes, Sir, think that the rewards which you have promised as prizes in the iselastic contests * ought to be due to them from the day they receive their laurel crowns, for they argue that the date of their entry into their native place is immaterial, and that the material fact is the time of their victory which entitles them to that entry. I am in the habit of countersigning the drafts for payment with the phrase "under the head of iselastic money," and I have a very strong feeling that the time ought to be dated from the day when they make their entry. The same people are also demanding the special rewards for the contest which you have made iselastic , although they were winners before it was so made by you, for they say it is only fair that they should receive the rewards for games which have now begun to be iselastic , considering that they do not receive the rewards for those which have ceased after their victory to be so. On this point I have the gravest doubts as to the advisability of making the prizes retrospective, and giving rewards to which the winners were not entitled when the contests took place. I beg you, therefore, to set my doubts at rest - that is to say, I beg that you will deign to explain the way you wish your generosity to be applied.

(*) Contests in public games, the victor in which was entitled to make a public entry (a "victory parade") into his native city.

It seems to me that the rewards ought to begin to be due from the date when the winner makes his public entry into his own city. The special rewards for those contests which I have been pleased to class as iselastic ought not to be retrospective, if they were not iselastic before. Nor does the fact that the victors no longer receive the rewards for the contests from which I have taken away the iselastic privileges assist their claim, for though the conditions of the contests are changed, the rewards which they have carried off are not reclaimed.

Up to the present moment, Sir, I have not granted anyone a special permit, * nor have I despatched any messenger except on your service. However, I have been obliged to break from this rule of mine, for when I heard of the death of my wife's grandfather, ** and my wife was anxious to hasten to the side of her aunt, &dagger I thought it would be hard to deny her the use of a permit, especially as the value of such an act of kindness on her part depended on her prompt arrival, and as I knew that I could approve to you the cause of a journey which was motivated by family affection. I have written this letter because I thought I should not be showing you the gratitude I ought, if I omitted to mention that I owed this particular favour to your kindness, in addition to all those you have showered upon me. I was so confident of your kindness that, without asking your permission, I did not hesitate to do what, if I had asked your permission, would have been done too late.

(*) Diploma : see letter 45 of this book.

You did right, my dear Pliny, in having confidence in my sympathy. There is no doubt that, if you had waited to ask my permission to expedite your wife's journey by the permits which I have given you for official purposes, they would have been of little service to her, especially as the speed with which she travelled must have made her arrival still more welcome to her aunt.


Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan on the Christians

God has made Himself known through Jesus of Nazareth, and, as Paul declared to Agrippa, the things which God accomplished through Jesus and His people did not take place in a corner (Acts 26:26 cf. Hebrews 1:1-3). The Apostles relied upon the people’s first-hand knowledge of what God did through Jesus (Acts 2:22, 10:36-43). Thus we do well to explore the various forms of evidence which exist for Jesus and Christianity.

One such piece of evidence does not come from a Christian but a pagan Roman named Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (popularly known as Pliny the Younger). Pliny was elevated to the role of governor of the province of Bithynia and Pontus (the northeast section of what is today Turkey). His correspondence has been preserved throughout time and has proven of great value to historians. Among his correspondence is a letter which he wrote to the Emperor Trajan regarding Christians in his province, as well as Trajan’s response (ca. 112 CE Epistulae X, 96-97). These letters represent the earliest documented reaction to Christianity from the pen of a Roman.

These letters can be accessed, in Latin and in English translations, here and here. In Epistulae X.96 Pliny began by establishing the purpose of his letter: he wanted advice from Trajan in regards to how to handle situations in which a person is accused of being a Christian. What should happen if they prove penitent and offer sacrifices to the gods? If they remain impertinent, should they all be punished alike?

Pliny then spoke of recent circumstances: some had been brought before him and accused to be Christians. They confessed they were, and were punished for their obstinacy. Soon afterward all sorts of charges began to be brought against many people. Many of those charged were actually lapsed Christians, and proved willing to worship the image of Trajan and to curse Christ (and Pliny noted that true Christians do not speak curses against Christ).

From these lapsed Christians Pliny said he learned the following:

They affirmed how the sum of their error or guilt was this: they used to convene on a stated day before dawn and sang together a song to Christ as a god and swore with an oath not to commit sin, or fraud, or theft, or adultery, or to break a pledge, or to deny funds placed in trust. Having performed these things it was their habit to leave and then return later to take a meal, mixed together although innocently which they desisted doing after my decree which forbids societies, which follows your edict (Author’s Translation).

Pliny would not trust their testimony alone he also found out the truth by torturing two women called ministrae (servants or deaconesses), but only discovered an “intemperate and depraved superstition.” He stopped his investigation to seek counsel from Trajan since a great number of the people in the cities, towns, and countryside had fallen prey to Christianity, and a many more might fall under its spell. Pliny was confident the superstition could be curbed, and spoke glowingly of how once-deserted temples were again filled and the food offered to sacrifices once again had buyers.

Trajan’s reply to Pliny is preserved in Epistulae X.97. Trajan assured Pliny regarding how he conducted himself in terms of Christians: there cannot be one hard and fast rule. Christians must not be searched out, but if accusations are made and confirmed, they must be punished. Anyone who changed their minds and prayed to the pagan gods should be pardoned. Anonymous lists, however, must not be permitted they represented a bad example, especially in their day.

Pliny’s Epistulae X.96-97 represent powerful testimony regarding many elements of Christian practice in the early second century, and all the more because the sources are not sympathetic to their cause. Perhaps some of the details are confused because of the perspective of the apostates as well as the attempt to make Christianity comprehensible to a pagan ruler nevertheless, we can see important continuity between many of the things we see in the New Testament period and how things are done in Bithynia and Pontus in 112. Christians are meeting on a specific day (Sunday cf. Revelation 1:10, Justin Martyr First Apology 67) on that day they sing together songs praising Christ as a god (cf. Ephesians 5:19, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 3:16) they would share a common meal independent of their assemblies until it was decreed otherwise, indicating that such meals went beyond the Lord’s Supper, able to be forsaken without difficulty (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34) they also proved willing to obey the decrees of earthly authorities (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18). They agreed to avoid sinfulness, evil behavior, and fornication, consistent with Ephesians 4:25-28 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 whether the binding by oath was an innovation contrary to the spirit of Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12 or merely an accommodative explanation to Pliny about Christian commitment in exhortation cannot be satisfactorily decided with present evidence. Christians held firm against participation in pagan temple rites and avoided eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Revelation 2:14) their message spread with sufficient strength so as to alarm Roman officials!

The text does mention two women serving in the role of ministrae, or deaconesses. One might try to suggest that such terminology could refer to their roles as servants of Christ, but the phraseology in the letter strongly suggests that these women did indeed serve as deaconesses in a church in Bithynia or Pontus in 112. The question is whether such is consistent with New Testament practice or was part of the innovations in leadership being introduced into the church at this time it is worth noting that Ignatius of Antioch is a contemporary of both Pliny the Younger and Trajan, eventually finding martyrdom at the hands of the latter, and Ignatius is one of the most influential agitators toward having one bishop preside over the elders and a local church, contrary to what is seen in Acts 14:23, Philippians 1:1, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.

In the early second century Christianity was well established in many parts of the Roman world and had attracted sufficient numbers of adherents to cause distress to local pagan religion and local governors. We can say such things with confidence on account of the witness of Pliny the Younger in his correspondence with the Emperor Trajan. May we hold firm to the faith of God in Christ and be saved!


Watch the video: LatinPerDiem Latin Lessons: Pliny the Younger, Epistulae 1 (February 2023).

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