The Pliny and Trajan Correspondence
Bradley M. Peper and Mark DelCogliano
The tenth book of Pliny's letters (Epistulae X.1–121) is a collection of his official correspondence with Emperor Trajan. Pliny wrote the majority of these letters (Epistulae X.15–121) while he was governor of Bithynia-Pontus, a Roman maritime province bordering the southern coast of the Black Sea. Because BithyniaPontus experienced frequent problems after its annexation (66 BCE), Trajan convinced the Senate in 110 to remove the province's longtime public status and allow him to appoint a legatus Augusti pro praetore, a position in which the emperor decided both the individual to represent him and his length of term. For this new position, Trajan chose Gaius Plinius Luci filius Caecilius Secundus (61–112), commonly called Pliny the Younger to distinguish him from his famous uncle, the writer-historian Pliny the Elder (23–79). Upon his assumption of gubernatorial duties in the autumn of 110, Pliny spent the first year of his administration touring the western region of Bithynia and visiting such cities as Prusa, Nicaea, and Nicomedia.
It was only at the beginning of his second year in office, in the autumn of 111, that he visited the eastern part of his province, Pontus. From Pontus, he wrote to Trajan about a problem concerning the Christians, most likely from the seacoast city of Amisus, the inland capital of Amastris, or some city in between. The value of their correspondence extends beyond its being the sole surviving example of such communication between an emperor and a provincial governor; it is also among the earliest of the non-Christian references to Jesus and his followers (Tacitus wrote his description of Nero's persecution some five years later [An- nales XV.44]). Although these letters (Epistulae 96 and 97) do not paint a complete portrait of Jesus and the early Christian movement, they do provide an invaluable resource for both assessing the validity of the Christian accounts and reconstructing what they invariably omit. In particular, these letters provide evidence of the continued existence and development of institutions reportedly initiated by Jesus, an imperial perception of Christianity and the person of Jesus, the persecutions that the canonical Gospels portray Jesus as predicting, and how