Did Pliny’s House Look Like The Getty?

Pliny the Elder obviously lived in what we would call a Governor’s House in Roman Trier. What did such a place look like? None of the original Roman villas survives to this day intact, not in Trier, not in Italy, and not in Great Britain. In such places you don’t usually have more than a few standing columns or perhaps a floor full of mosaics to give you a clue of its former grandeur.

Probably the best example of such a villa nowadays exists in a place that Romans never visited and Romans never dreamed about. Such a villa has been painstakingly reconstructed on the California coast, land of dreams and elaborate reconstructions such as Disneyland and Hollywood.

It is no mere fantasy. In fact, it is an elaborate reconstruction of the villa of Calpurnius Piso, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar and father of Caesar’s last wife, Calpurnia, the one with the dreams and nightmares in Shakespeare’s play. It would be very similar to anything that Pliny would have owned. Both men were intellectuals of their day. Calpurnius Piso was a Stoic philosopher. Pliny the Elder was the author of the Natural History, the first of all encyclopedias in the western tradition.

This California villa was reconstructed by John Paul Getty, the billionaire who had a hobby of collecting Greek and Roman antiquities on a large scale. He wanted to build a place to house them. The Getty Villa opened in 1974. The Los Angeles Times interviewed John Paul Getty. Getty said: “It is fortunate that the United States has one ancient private building which is authentic in spirit. One could say go to Pompeii and Herculaneum and see Roman villas the way they are now — then go to Malibu and see the way they were in ancient times.”

Pliny also owned a villa on the seacoast along the Bay of Naples, so this comparision seems appropriate. It is inspirational to think that Pliny strolled through his peristylium and viewed the classical sculptures you find at the Getty.

Pliny the Elder is a character in two upcoming volumes of the Edward Ware Thriller Series: Old Faithful Plot and Pliny: A Novel.

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Has Pliny The Elder Been Re-Discovered?

In the early 1980s the excavation of Herculaneum, sister city to Pompeii, was excavated. A large group of skeletons was found in a boat shed facing the sea as if they were attempting to escape but ran out of time.

Just how they may have been planning to escape is knowledge provided to us by the writings of an ancient Rome author named Pliny the Younger who wrote our only surviving eyewitness account of the Vesuvius eruption. He claimed that his more famous uncle, Pliny the Elder, was going to rescue these unfortunate escapees. How so? Pliny the Elder was the admiral of a Roman fleet stationed at Misenum, north of Naples, on August 24, 79AD, the day Vesuvius erupted. His nephew says he was curious to observe the volcano erupting from close up. He had wide ranging scientific interests and was the author of Pliny’s Natural History, the first encyclopedia in western history. Supposedly he had gotten word from friends that they needed to be resuced and he took off with his fleet to rescue them, leaving his teenage nephew behind to write for the ages.

Now Italian scientists are trying to date and identify the remains of a man found in such a rescue boat and hope they have discovered Pliny the Elder himself. It sounds far fetched but interesting nevertheless. It would be nice to have a reconstructed drawing of Pliny based on his skeleton since no sculpture portraits survive from antiquity.

Pliny the Elder and his family are the subjects of two historical thrillers which Cheops Books LLC is about to publish. The Roman statesman and scientist appears in Old Faithful Plot and Vesuvius Plot. In Old Faithful Plot Pliny is the subject of a time tunnel manhunt on the part of Adolf Hitler. The dictator thinks that the ancient Roman threatens the German people. In Vesuvius Plot as the governor of Germany Pliny must fight off the hordes of German tribes.

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Pliny The Elder’s Trier: As Seen By The Germans

These photos suggest the Trier of Pliny the Elder in 79 AD. None of these buildings or monuments actually come from that era, though. Trier was founded in 16BC and was initially called the City of Augusta Treverorum, or the “City of Augustus in the Land of the Treveri”. By the time of Pliny’s tenure as the Roman governor there the town was about 95 years old — almost one century. The monuments at that point were about to be replaced with later ones that have survived to the present day. Some of these statues and gardens were even built as late as the Renaissance but in a classical style. In other words, we can only imagine what Pliny the Elder’s Governor’s Palace and Palace Gardens in ancient Trier must have looked like. When the authors of the book, Vesuvius Plot, visited Trier, they were looking for inspiration to recreate the life and times of Pliny. These statues, gardens, baths, bridges, and city walls and gates come as close as anything we are likely to find in the future.

During the scenes in the historical thriller when the German tribes attack Pliny in the Governor’s Palace in Trier, imagine them attacking in this classical setting with the reflecting pond surrounded by classical statues and gardens cut in precise geometric form. Pliny overcomes the tribes and tricks them with this supreme sense of order which is the hallmark of the author of the world’s first encyclopedia, Pliny’s Natural History. He fights battles with the same order with which he lives and works. He overcomes the barbarians who tried to push the Romans out of Germany only several decades before in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which forms the subject of another Edward Ware Thrillers at War novel, the Cherusci Plot. His right hand man in the grandson of the Roman who drew the maps for the Emperor Augustus in the time of the Teutoburg Forest, Caius Antonius.

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