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Publius Alfenus Varus


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Suffect consul 39 bc. Born at Cremona, he was the first Cisalpine to gain a consulship, and the only one under Augustus. (His son, consul ad 2, was presumably born in Rome, and of consular descent.) Porphyrio, on Hor. Sat. 1. 3. 130, identifies Alfenus vafer, a cobbler who has given up his trade, with Alfenus Varus from Cremona. The identification is doubtful, but the scholiast (ancient commentator) knew Varus' origin. In 41 Varus, with two other men, was concerned with confiscating land in northern Italy, or extorting money in lieu of land, for distribution to veterans. His title is variously given by different scholiasts, and there is no other information. He was harsh in treating Virgil's Mantua (see the anxious flattery of Ecl. 9. 26 ff.), but may have aided Virgil in regaining his land or getting compensation. Ecl. 6. 6f. shows that Varus (it must be Alfenus) had been an officer in a war, which was to be expected, in view of his extraordinary promotion. (The scholiast's ‘explanation’ is useless.) He studied law under Servius Sulpicius Rufus and became an eminent jurist: he composed 40 books of Digesta (‘Ordered Abstracts’), a title he was the first to employ. Of this work 70 excerpts survive in Justinian's compilation of the same name, the earliest coherent passages of legal writing to be preserved. Citing consultative opinions (responsa) of his teacher Servius along with his own, Alfenus lacks logical rigour but is prepared to see legal remedies extended to new situations. He analyses the facts of the cases in which he is consulted in greater detail than do later lawyers.

Ernst Badian; Tony Honoré

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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