Gaius Plinius Secundus on diamonds and mining / by Anthony Gibbins

Gaius Plinius Secundus was born in AD 23 or 24. His great work, Historia Naturalis, is an encyclopedic account of the natural sciences, interspersed with essays and digressions on the achievements of humankind and contains, according to Pliny himself, 20 000 facts, taken from 2 000 works by 100 authors. In truth, however, the work quotes over 146 Roman and 327 non-Roman authors! I’m not sure that the facts have ever been recounted. Here, as our sailor obtains a gemstone in exchange for a suitcase, are Plinius’ thoughts on diamonds and mining;

on diamonds

The diamond, known for a long time only to kings, and even then to very few of them, has greater value than any other human possession, and not merely than any other gemstone.

on mining

In some places we dig for riches, when our life style requires gold, silver, electrum and copper; and in others out of sheer self-indulgence, when gems and pigments for wall-paintings are required; and yet in other places we dig with sheer recklessness when iron is needed – a metal even more welcome than gold amid the bloodsheds of war.

We search for riches deep within the bowels of the earth where the spirits of the dead have their abode, as though the part we walk upon is not sufficiently bountiful and productive.

But what the earth has hidden and kept underground – those things that cannot be found immediately – destroy us and drive us to our depths. As a result, the mind boggles at the thought of the long term effect of draining the earth’s resources and the full impact of greed. How innocent, how happy, indeed how comfortable, life might be if it coveted nothing from anywhere other than the surface of the earth – in brief, nothing except what is immediately available.  

The woman gives a precious gem, taken from out of her pocket, to the sailor. The sailor, once the suitcase has been given to the woman, departs without a word.