Pliny the Younger Channeled by Karl Mollison 02Jan2022
Pliny the Younger 61 – c. 113 was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him.
Pliny the Younger wrote hundreds of letters, of which 247 survive, and which are of great historical value. Some are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian Tacitus.
Pliny served as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned 98–117) and his letters to Trajan provide one of the few surviving records of the relationship between the imperial office and provincial governors.
Pliny rose through a series of civil and military offices, the cursus honorum. He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and might have employed the biographer Suetonius on his staff. Pliny also came into contact with other well-known men of the period, including the philosophers Artemidorus and Euphrates the Stoic, during his time in Syria.
Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia and Pontus (now in modern Turkey) wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan around AD 112 and asked for counsel on dealing with the early Christian community. The letter (Epistulae X.96) details an account of how Pliny conducted trials of suspected Christians who appeared before him as a result of anonymous accusations and asks for the Emperor’s guidance on how they should be treated.
Neither Pliny nor Trajan mentions the crime that Christians had committed, except for being a Christian; and other historical sources do not provide a simple answer to what that crime could be, but most likely due to the stubborn refusal of Christians to worship Roman gods; making them appear as objecting to Roman rule.
Pliny states that he gives Christians multiple chances to affirm they are innocent and if they refuse three times, they are executed.
Pliny states that his investigations have revealed nothing on the Christians’ part but harmless practices and “depraved, excessive superstition.” However, Pliny seems concerned about the rapid spread of their practices and views Christian gatherings as a potential starting point for sedition.
The letter is the first pagan account to refer to Christianity, providing key information on early Christian beliefs and practices and how these were viewed and dealt with by the Romans. The letter and Trajan’s reply indicate that at the time of its writing there was no systematic and official persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
There was persecution of Christians before this but only on a local basis, like the Neronian persecution in Rome or the expulsion of Jewish-Christians and Jews from Rome by order of Claudius. Trajan’s reply also offers valuable insight into the relationship between Roman provincial governors and Emperors and indicates that at the time Christians were not sought out or tracked down by imperial orders, and that persecutions could be local and sporadic.