To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Book 3 of the Natural History, the first geographical book, confines itself to southern Europe, from the outlet of the Mediterranean at the west to the mouth of the Danube at the northeast, excluding the Greek peninsula. After a brief introduction about geography and Pliny’s technique (1–2) and comments about Europe as a whole (3–5), the narrative moves through Hispania (6–30), Gaul (31–7), and Italy from the Alps to Sicily (38–138). The Italian portion is nearly two-thirds of the book, which concludes with the regions east of the Adriatic as far as the Danube (139–51). Discussion of mainland Greece is reserved for the following book (NH 4.1–39), whose beginning follows directly on the end of Book 3. The account of the lands west of Italy is limited to the Mediterranean coasts: the remaining portions of the Iberian peninsula and Europe are examined in Book 4 (94–120).
C. Plinius Secundus was born at Comum (modern Como) in late ad 23 or sometime the following year. Comum, at the southern end of Lake Larius (modern Lago di Como), had been an obscure Celtic village until a century previously, when the Romans established a presence there. Virtually nothing is known about Pliny’s youth or education, but by ad 47 he had embarked on an equestrian military career in Germania under the command of Cn. Domitius Corbulo. He had returned to Rome by the ad 50s, and seems to have remained relatively obscure during the principate of Nero. But with the accession of Vespasian – whom he already knew – in ad 69 he returned to public service and became a procurator (financial officer), with positions in various locations, including Narbonensis, Tarraconensis, Belgica, Africa, and perhaps elsewhere. He became a close advisor to the emperor, confering with him on a daily basis when in Rome. He also practiced law. Eventually he became fleet commander at Misenum, the Roman naval base established by Augustus at the end of the long peninsula that forms the western side of the Bay of Naples. His sister Plinia and her son, also C.
Book 4, the shortest of the geographical books of the Natural History, begins at the Acroceraunian Promontory on the west coast of the Balkan Peninsula, at the northern edge of Epiros. It thus connects with NH 3.145, where Pliny completed his discussion of the Adriatic coast. The book includes the entire Greek peninsula, described in a counter-clockwise fashion from Epiros through the Peloponnesus and north to Macedonia (4.1–39), Thrace and the Aegean (4.40–51), the Greek islands (4.52–74), and the European side of the Black Sea (4.75–93). Rather than cross into Asia at this point, and continue along the eastern coast of the sea, the narrative heads back west into northern Europe (3.94–101), and then passes through the British Isles into the interior parts of Gallia and Hispania (4.102–120), regions that were not discussed in Book 3. The circular itinerary, unusual in Greco-Roman geographical studies, allowed Pliny to complete Europe before moving to the other continents, yet retain the coastal orientation that is an essential part of the geographical portions of the Natural History. But it meant that the central nature of Europe – the location of Rome – was emphasized before moving to the other continents.
One of the features of the Natural History is the catalogue of topics and sources that comprises Book 1, a rare component of an ancient text. It provides the subjects of each book, followed by a list of the number of items within it. For Book 2 this is limited to “facts, investigations, and observations,” but for books 3–6 there is the number of “towns and peoples, famous rivers, famous mountains, islands, towns and peoples that have perished,” and then the summary, “facts, investigations, and observations.” The actual numbers for Books 3 and 4 are missing. Only the number of islands (118) survives for Book 5, and Book 6 has the complete sequence of numbers.
Book 2 of the Natural History, the opening book of the text proper, is not strictly geographical, but its discussion of the cosmos is a fitting introduction for the geographical examination that follows. There is an emphasis on the divinity (deus) and its relevance to Roman life, yet this is a divinity that has little or no concern in human affairs. This lays the groundwork for the sense of utility that underlies much of the Natural History, more apparent, perhaps, in practical sections such as those on agriculture and zoology than geography.
This is the first thorough English commentary on the geographical books of Pliny the Elder, written in the AD 70s. Pliny's account is the longest in Latin, and represents the geographical knowledge of that era, when the Roman Empire was the dominant force in the Mediterranean world. The work serves both cultural and ideological functions: much of it is topographical, but it also demonstrates the political need to express a geographical basis for the importance of the Roman state. In five books, Pliny covers the entire world as it was known in his era and includes some of the first information on the extremities of the inhabited region, including Scandinavia and the Baltic, eastern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The commentary provides a detailed analysis of all the points Pliny raises: his sources, toponyms, and understanding of the place of the earth in the cosmos.