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Part of the Here Lies the Truth Project Witness of Roman Historian - Pliny the Elder

Witness of the Roman historian Pliny the Elder.

The Natural History is an encyclopaedia published circa AD 77-79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny. The work became a model for all later encyclopaedias in terms of the breadth of subject matter examined, the need to reference original authors, and a comprehensive index list of the contents. The work is dedicated to the emperor Titus, son of Pliny's close friend, the emperor Vespasian, in the first year of Titus's reign. It is the only work by Pliny to have survived and the last that he published, lacking a final revision at his sudden and unexpected death in the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius.

Here is Pliny on dragons and serpents.

'In Ethyopia there be as great dragons bred, as in India, namely, twentie cubites long (35ft). But I marvel much at this one thing, why king Iuba should thinke that they were crested. They are bred most in a country of Ethyopia, where the Asachæi inhabited. It is reported, that upon their coasts they are enwrapped four or five of them together, one within another, like to a hurdle or lattice work, and thus passe the seas, for to find better pasturage in Arabia, cutting the waves, and bearing up their heads aloft, which serve them in steed of sailes.'

Chapter XIIII.

Of monstrous great serpents, and namely of those called Boae.

'Megasthenes writeth that there are Serpents in India which grow to such a Size that they are able to swallow Stags or Bulls whole. Metrodorus saith that about the River Rhyndacus, in Pontus, there are Serpents which catch and devour the Fowls of the Air as they fly over them, however high or rapid their Flight may be. It is well known that Regulus, Imperator during the Wars against the Carthaginians, near the River Bograda assailed Serpent with his Military Engines, the Balistae and Tormentum, as he would have done to a Town...

Illustration below: a horse drawn ballistae.

...and when Subdued, the Length of the Serpent was found to be 120 Feet. The Skin and Jaws of this Serpent were preserved in a Temple at Rome until the War of Numantia. And this is rendered the more credible from the Serpents that we see in Italy that are called Boae, which increase to such Size, that in the Days of the Prince Dlvus Claudius there was one of them killed in the Vatican, within the Belly of which there was found an Infant Child...’