First Advisor

Brian D. Turner

Date of Publication

Spring 9-6-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Pliny the Elder. Naturalis historia, Pliny the Elder -- Criticism and interpretation, Political science, Imperialism, Natural history



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 109 pages)


Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, written in the 70s CE and perhaps left unfinished at its author's death in 79, is among the largest documents to have survived down to us from antiquity. It comprises some thirty-seven books on a breadth of topics about the natural world, and man's interaction with the world and marshalling of its resources. The work has often been referred to as the world's first encyclopedia. Recent scholarship has rescued Pliny's reputation from its degradation among the scholars of the early twentieth century, and modern scholars have approached the document via several analytical avenues, including an examination of the Historia's political themes. An additional line of scholarship was considered for this thesis as it relates to Pliny--that of the intersections between political and cosmological systems. This thesis lies at the intersection between those two lines--the study of the Historia's political themes, and the study of political cosmologies. The goal of this study is to show that the content of the Historia's second book supports the argument that Pliny was demonstrably a pro-imperialist, but also that this need not have been the author's conscious intent. Rather, Pliny's philosophical background and the language he used to describe the natural world had parallels in the political culture of his time. Like many ancients, Pliny infused his cosmology with political themes, and those reflect both Stoicism and a pro-Roman influence. This thesis, then, ought to be taken as a philological, primitivist rebuttal to the growing realist argument (alluded to by Murphy and Beagon, but propagated most clearly by Laehn) that the Historia Naturalis was consciously composed as a work of political philosophy.


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