Quintus Mucius Scaevola

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Son of Publius Mucius Scaevola, whom he surpassed both as an orator and a lawyer. In his most famous case, the causa Curiana (Cic. De or. 1. 180 f.), he defended the strict wording of a will, against the defence of aequitas (equity) and intention by Lucius Licinius Crassus. As consuls (95 bc), he and Crassus passed the lex Licinia Mucia instituting a quaestio (tribunal of inquiry) against aliens who had been illegally enrolled as citizens. Perhaps on the motion of Aemilius Scaurus, he was sent as proconsul to govern Asia, either after his praetorship, or more probably after his consulship. He reorganized the troubled province with the aid of his legate Rutilius and, departing after nine months, left Rutilius in charge. When Rutilius was prosecuted in 92, he escaped prosecution, probably through his remote connection with Marius and because of his high prestige, and in 89 he became pontifex maximus (head of the most important of the priestly colleges at Rome), the last civil lawyer known to have held this office.

After Marius' death he was threatened by Gaius Flavius Fimbria, but escaped harm and remained in Rome under the government of Cinna and Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, loyal to the government and advising compromise with Sulla. He was killed by Lucius Junius Brutus Damasippus in 82, probably when on the point of joining Sulla.

Scaevola, known in legal circles as ‘Quintus Mucius’, was perhaps the leading lawyer of the later Roman republic. His eighteen books (libri) on the civil law (De iure civili) was the most famous legal treatise of the period and was still the subject of commentary by the lawyer Sextus Pomponius and others in the 2nd cent. ad. He also compiled a book of definitions (Horoi: the title comes from the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus). He was the first lawyer to give serious attention to classification; thus, he distinguished five types of guardianship. But, despite his grounding in Greek, especially middle Stoic, culture he did not succeed in reducing the civil law to a system, though he helped to make it morally more acceptable. Thus he fixed on the conscientious head of a family (diligens paterfamilias) as the pattern of correct behaviour in avoiding harm to others. His large legal practice was attended by many pupils including Gaius Aquil(l)ius Gallus and, after his father P. Mucius Scaevola's death, Cicero.

Ernst Badian; Tony Honoré

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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