Pliny’s Rome: Vesuvius, vice and vestal virgins

Pliny the Younger's letters are a gold mine of detail on life in imperial Rome. Daisy Dunn reveals what this lawyer, senator and orator's writings can tell us about everything from religious dissent to tyrannical emperors

In his native Como, Pliny the Younger's fame is reflected in his statue on the city cathedral's imposing west front, which was built in the 15th century. (Image by AKG Images)

Pliny on… the law courts

The silver-tongued lawyer who talked his way to the top

Pliny the Younger’s career took off shortly after the tragedy of Vesuvius. Within months of his brush with death, he was in Rome, embarking upon a legal career in the ‘centumviral court of 100 men’. This was a system arranged over four tribunals, where the 100 (or, more often, 180) men would gather in a basilica in the Roman Forum to deliberate over civil cases. Pliny spoke before them for the prosecution or defence, and settled disputes over wills.

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