A leading lawyer of the Severan age and a close associate of the emperor Septimius Severus, probably came, like him, from Africa and had some exposure to Hellenistic culture. He was assessor to a praetorian prefect, then from ad 194 to 202, to judge from their style, composed rescripts (replies to petitions), often of a highly technical character, for Septimius, latterly at least as a libellis (secretary for petitions). On the fall of Gaius Fulvius Plautianus in ad 205 he became praetorian prefect along with Quintus Aemilius Laetus, but on the death of Septimius in February 211 was dismissed by Caracalla. After the murder of Caracalla's brother and joint emperor Septimius Geta in 212 he was prosecuted by the praetorians and, without protest from Caracalla, put to death, an event which entered into legend as the martyrdom of a just man.
Leaving aside some perhaps early writings on Greek road officials (astynomikoi) and adultery, Papinian is best known for 37 books of Quaestiones (‘Problems’), which belong to the 190s and, between 206 and 212, nineteen of Digesta responsa (‘Ordered Opinions’), not confined to his own practice but drawing on a wide range of sources. His efforts to explore the ethical basis of legal rules goes along with a more crabbed style than is usual with Roman lawyers, but when properly understood his reasoning is as impressive as his technical mastery. Papinian was long regarded as the greatest Roman lawyer, and Constantine I declared invalid the (at times critical) notes of Paulus and Ulpian on his work. The Law of Citations of 426 gives him the leading position among the five writers of authority and a casting vote in case they are equally divided. Third-year law students, who had to study his work, were called Papinianists, but Justinian, while preserving this custom, rehabilitated Paulus' and Ulpian's notes on Papinian and esteemed Julianus more highly.
Subjects: History of Law — Classical Studies.