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Aemilius Papinianus

Aemilius Papinianus
Born 142
Died 212 (aged 69–70)
Allegiance Roman Empire
Years of service 205–212
Rank Praetorian prefect
Unit Praetorian Guard

Aemilius Papinianus (142–212), also known as Papinian, was a celebrated Roman jurist, magister libellorum, attorney general (advocatus fisci) and, after the death of Gaius Fulvius Plautianus in 205, praetorian prefect.


  • Life 1
  • Works 2
  • Legacy 3
  • References 4


Bas-relief of Papinian from the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Little is known about Papinianus. He was of Syrian birth and a native of Emesa, for he is said to have been a kinsman of Septimius Severus' second wife, Julia Domna,[1] who was a member of the royal family of Emesa.

One source shows him as a follower of the casuistry[2] of Quintus Cervidius Scaevola,[3] another shows him to have been his pupil.[4][5] A concurring (but dubious) passage in the Augustan History claims that he studied law with Severus under Scaevola.

Papinianus was an intimate friend of the emperor Severus and accompanied him to [6] in response to an uprising by Scottish Highlanders.[7] He was at some time made a attorney general (advocatus fisci), master of petitions (requests), magister libellorum, by Severus.[8] He also served as Treasurer and Captain of the Guard for the Emperor.[9] Before the emperor's death, he commended his two sons Caracalla and Geta into the lawyer's charge. Sharing in the governorship of the Roman Empire with Geta proved unsatisfactory for Caracalla, who decided at some time to usurp his brother. Papinian trying to keep peace between the brothers, only proved to encourage the hatred of Caracalla, consequently passing an order to have the lawyer beheaded (Spartianus, Caracalla),[5][4][1] and his body dragged through the streets of Rome.[10] His death was following the 212 fratricide of Geta, amongst the general slaughter of his friends and those perceived associated with him, according to one source estimated as 20,000 persons.[7]

The author of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article though states that the details of Papinianus' death "are variously related, and have undergone legendary embellishment."


Much of his output has been lost, as what we have is small compared to other jurists such as Ulpian or Paul. The principal works of Papinianus include: Quaestiones in 37 books (written before 198); nineteen books of [11] Responsa (written sometime between 204 and his death); two books of [11] Definitiones; two books[12] De adulteriis, and other works,[11] the shortest of these being Αστυνόμικος (City-Administration) which was a manual on the duties for commissioners of streets and bridges.[12]


Papinianus was one of the most revered of Roman jurists by the Romans, as third year law students were given the title "Papinianistae" (meaning "they that are worthy to study Papinian"). In his time, he had been called "the Asylum of Right and Treasurer of the Laws".[5] Along with Gaius, Paulus, Modestinus and Ulpian, he was made one of the five jurists whose recorded views were considered decisive by the Law of Citations of 426; their views would later be considered the only suitable ones to be cited as primary sources for the Codex Theodosianus and the Corpus iuris civilis, provided that Papinian's views prevailed whenever those of the four other jurists were not congruent. French jurist Jacques Cujas later wrote that "there was never such a great lawyer before, nor ever will be after him".[5]


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ Definition of causistry from Brosnahan, T. (1908). Casuistry. In The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 8, 2012
  3. ^ Charles Phineas Sherman. Roman law in the modern world, Volume 1. New Haven Law Book Co., 1922. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  4. ^ a b William Smith. Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, Volume 3. C. C. Little and J. Brown; [etc., etc. ], 1849. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  5. ^ a b c d
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Joseph J. Reed. Outlines of universal history: in three parts; with a copious index to each part, showing the correct mode of pronouncing every name mentioned .... J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1862. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Patrick Mac Chombaich de Colquhoun. A summary of the Roman civil law: illustrated by commentaries on and parallels from the Mosaic, Canon, Mohammedan, English and foreign law, with an appendix, map, and general index, Volume 1. V. and R. Stevens and Sons, 1849. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  10. ^ Alexander Chalmers. The General Biographical Dictionary: A New Edition. Nichols, Son and Bentley 1815. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  11. ^ a b c   Translated by John Ashton Cross (title-subject sourced originally in Pollock & Maitland - The History of English Law, Volume 1)
  12. ^ a b Charles Sumner Lobingier. The Evolution of the Roman Law: From Before the Twelve Tables to the Corpus Juris. Wm. S. Hein Publishing, 1923. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
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