Pliny and paleoclimatology : towards an archaeology of Roman climate awareness




Millar, Jane Ellen

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This report examines the past and potential contributions of Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis on the subject of Roman perceptions and experiences of environmental change. It asks in particular whether classicists, archaeologists, and environmental historians can responsibly use the Historia Naturalis as a source on ancient climate. It begins with a brief introduction to paleoclimatology of the Roman world, a rapidly advancing discipline enabling the identification of ancient climate changes with increasing precision and confidence. It then turns to the reliability of Pliny as an authority on ancient climate by examining his accuracy, objectivity, and use of source material in literary and historical context, including his understudied rhetorical goals. A close reading of passages on environmental and climate change follows, then a discussion of phenology and meteorology in Pliny’s unique agrarian calendar. The final section discusses Pliny through the lens of the Anthropocene, the era wherein humans are the major drivers of global environmental change. For his anthropocentrism, pragmatic observations, and emphasis on local knowledge, I argue that Pliny has much to contribute to an understanding of Roman-period climate change beyond the isolated facts for which he is often cited, by offering a contextualized intellectual framework for Roman climate awareness