Domitius Ulpianus

Quick Reference

Came from Tyre, where an inscription honouring him has been found. He followed an equestrian career in Rome, drafting replies to petitions (see constitutions) for Septimius Severus, to judge from their style, from ad 202 to 209, and at least from 205 onwards did so as secretary for petitions. On Severus' death at Eburacum in 211 he sided with Caracalla, who in 212 by the constitūtio Antonīniana (see constitution, antonine) extended Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. Presumably in response to this extension, which suited his outlook, Ulpian was galvanized into activity in the following years (213–217), systematically composing more than 200 books in which he expounded Roman law for the benefit, among others, of the new citizenry, emphasized its rational and universal character and appealed to its basis in natural law. Probably under the emperor Elagabalus he became prefect of the corn supply, in which capacity he is attested early in the reign of Severus Alexander, who in the same year made him praetorian prefect and set him over the two existing prefects. The resulting clashes allowed the praetorian troops, with whom he lacked authority, to mutiny and murder him in 223.

Ulpian had an exalted idea of a lawyer's calling: lawyers were ‘priests of justice’ devoted to ‘the true philosophy’. His fame was immediate and lasting, his works more widely used than those of any other lawyer. His clarity and forthright self‐confidence make him an attractive writer, inspired by cosmopolitan tendencies, a search for consensus, and a regard for private rights. His work, both comprehensive and closely documented, foreshadows Justinian's Digesta (see justinian's codification) which incorporated so much of it. For these reasons he has proved the most influential of Roman lawyers, having done more than anyone to present the law in a form in which it could be adapted to the very different needs of medieval and Renaissance Europe.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

Reference entries