Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113) was a successful ancient Roman lawyer, bureaucrat, politician, and financial advisor who worked closely with the emperors of his day. In addition to his influence, he was also a very wealthy man, owning several estates in the cities and countryside of the Roman Empire. Judged in the currency of ancient Rome’s denarii and sesterces, Pliny was a multimillionaire, yet he also had a reputation for being more frugal than the average well-to-do Roman aristocrat, and this reputation for money management was a reason why he was frequently hired to serve in roles such as treasurer and assessor. Pliny the Younger did, however, splurge with his money every now and then. These expenditures were sometimes personal purchases, like commissioning or acquiring new additions for his bronze statue collection. Other times, his costly projects were for the benefit of the public—such as the creation of a library or a temple. Yet, Pliny the Younger also was known to give generous gifts to individuals, doling out small fortunes to friends and acquaintances in need. In a previous article, an instance when Pliny the Younger gave his former nurse a small farm was highlighted. In this article, however, we will take a look at the time Pliny gave a sizable monetary gift to the newly engaged daughter of his friend, Quintilianus.
Quintilianus’ daughter, whose name unfortunately has been lost to time, became engaged in a prestigious match with a certain public official named Nonius Celer. Pliny the Younger, when he heard of the engagement, thought it would be a wonderful union, and he decided to help out his friend’s family by contributing greatly to (or fully covering) the dowry that Quintilianus’ daughter would bring to the marriage. Pliny the Younger discussed this arrangement in a letter to Quintilianus, in which he wrote:
“[A]s she is to marry so distinguished a person as Nonius Celer, whose public duties oblige him to keep up a certain amount of style, she ought to be provided with clothes and attendants in keeping with her husband’s position. These things cannot increase her worth, but can give it the setting it needs. I know too that you are rich in intellectual gifts but that your means are limited, so I want to share your burden and play the part of a second father to your daughter. I am therefore settling 50,000 sesterces on her, and would offer more were I not sure that it is only the trifling nature of the gift which will prevail on your sense of delicacy to accept it” (Pliny the Younger, Letter, 6.32).
In this blunt, if not condescending, letter to Quintilianus, Pliny the Younger pledged to give a fund of 50,000 sesterces (or 12,500 denarii) to serve as a personal fund that Quintilianus’ daughter could use to cover her needs and improve her quality of life. In particular, Pliny hoped she would use the funds to buy a new wardrobe of fine clothing and to hire attendants that would assist her in her day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, no further follow-up letters were preserved between Pliny the Younger and Quintilianus or his daughter.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration inspired by the marriage of Queen Wilhelmina in 1901, by Pieter de Josselin de Jong (c. 1871 – 1906), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum.jpg).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.