Papian, also known as Papinianus, became a prolific writer on Roman law, and much celebrated. Indeed, in the Law of Citations some 300 hundred years after his death, Theodosius II named him as the reigning Roman law elder; that his opinions would apply if contracted with that of any other, even such Roman law stalwarts as Gaius or Ulpian.
Like Ulpian, for whom Papinian served as an employer and mentor, he risked his life by his heavy involvement in the lives of reigning emperors.
Papinian became a favorite of the Emperor Severus (145-211) and traveled with him to the Island of Britain from 208 to 211.
Severus had himself been a jurst in his younger years. He had Papinian appointed prefect, which was the supreme judge and highest administrative position under the emperor. Two of Papinian's protégés were two other future greats of the Roman law, Ulpian and Paulus.
When Severus died in Britain, his sons were entrusted to Papinian's care even though they were young men.
But wild young men. Soon, the brothers feuded and one killed the other. Any known friends of the deceased became the enemy of the other.
Some 20,000 Romans were thus killed in 212.
According to Gibbons, Papinian was ordered to author a write a legal justification for the parricide and mass murder.
Choosing honor over life, he refused and was struck to death with an axe.
But his work in articulating Roman law reigns eternal.
In his lifetime, Papinian wrote or was responsible for the publication of four important works in Roman law: Quaestiones published in 198 (37 volumes), Responsa (19 volumes, published in about 204), Definitiones (2 volumes) and De adulteriis.
The Responsa became mandatory reading and study for law students in Roman law and upon that rite of passage, the students called themselves Papinianistae.
The ultimate compliment to Papinian came from the Law of Citations, which deferred to him on matters of controversy amongst Roman law jurists.
And then, in 533, when the Digests were published as part of Justinian's codification of the Roman law, Tribonian and his fellow commissioners used Papinian's theories six hundred times.
He, too, has been immortalized by the American House of Representatives in their Lawgivers Gallery (image, above left).
- Author unspecified, The History of Rome (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and Blanshard, 1837).
- Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law of Citations
- Gibbons, A., The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Oxford: Talboys and Wheeler, 1827)
- Hunter, W.A., A Systematic and Historical Exposition of Roman Law in the Order of a Code (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1803), pages 77-78.