Modeling the Sources and Topics of Pliny’s Natural History


  • Jeff Rydberg-Cox University of Missouri, Kansas City



Network Analysis, Pliny the Elder


Pliny’s Natural History, a large-scale encyclopedia containing more than 1.1 million words from the first century CE, provides a snapshot of scientific knowledge in the Roman Empire with sections devoted to topics such as geography, geology, zoology, botany, anthropology, minerology and an important overview of the history of Greek art.    While scholars have used the Natural History as an ad hoc source for investigations about specific aspects of scientific knowledge in the Roman Empire, it is much more difficult to define the broader models that unify the work’s disparate parts because of its size and scope. Quantitative and computational text technologies provide a methodology that help us understand the nature of this monumental compendium of scientific knowledge from the Roman Empire and allow us to answer specific questions such as the nature of sources that were used, the interrelations of the topics covered in the text, and the ways that these topics have been adopted or reflected in the publication history of the work.  This paper explores the ways that other scholars and editors have tried to make this massive work more manageable, and then talk about the ways that network analysis and other quantitative approaches can help us understand the sources that Pliny used when writing his work.




How to Cite

Rydberg-Cox, J. (2021). Modeling the Sources and Topics of Pliny’s Natural History. Umanistica Digitale, 5(11), 217–229.