Publius Rutilius Rufus

Publius Rutilius Rufus
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
105 BC  105 BC
Serving with Gnaeus Mallius Maximus
Personal details
Born 158 BC
Died after 78 BC
Nationality Ancient Roman

Publius Rutilius Rufus (158 BC  after 78 BC) was a Roman statesman, consul, orator and historian of the Rutilius family, as well as great-uncle of Gaius Julius Caesar.

During his consulship, he reformed the drill system and improved army discipline. As legate to Quintus Mucius Scaevola, he attempted to protect the inhabitants of Asia from extortion by the equites, which led to him being falsely accused of extorting those provincials. The charge was false, but as the juries were chosen from the equestrian order, he was condemned. He was exiled, and went to Smyrna, where he wrote a history of Rome in Greek.

Early life

He was the third child of a Publius Rutilius, the other children being called Lucius and Rutilia (mother of Caius Cotta). Rufus studied philosophy under Panaetius (becoming a Stoic), law, public speaking under Sulpicius Galba[1] and Greek.

Military career and consulship

He started his military career in 134 BC, as a member of the staff of Scipio Africanus Minor during the Numantine War. Later on, Rufus was a legate of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus in the campaign against Jugurtha of Numidia of 109 BC, along with Gaius Marius.[1] He distinguished himself in the Battle of the Muthul, where he faced a charge by the foe Bomilcar and managed to capture or maim most of the Numidian war elephants.

In 115 BC Rufus was defeated for the consulship by Aemilius Scaurus and prosecuted him for ambitus. Scaurus in turn prosecuted Rufus for the same charge. Both charges failed. In 105 BC he was elected to the consulship[2] as a senior partner of Gnaeus Mallius Maximus. His main achievements concerned the discipline of the army and the introduction of an improved system of drill. Subsequently, he served as legate to Quintus Mucius Scaevola, governor of Asia.[1]

Exile and later life

By assisting his superior in his efforts to protect the inhabitants of Asia from the extortions of the publicani, or farmers of taxes, Rufus incurred the hatred of the equestrian order, to which the publicani belonged. In 92 BC he was charged with extorting money from the provincials, although he had made efforts to prevent them from being extorted. The charge was widely known to be false, but as the juries at that time were chosen from the equestrian order, he was condemned, as the order bore a grudge against him. Famous Roman gourmand Apicius had a hand in his demise. His property was confiscated to satisfy claims for compensation.[3] He retired to Mytilene, and afterwards to Smyrna, where he spent the rest of his life (possibly as an act of defiance against his prosecutors: he was welcomed with honour into the very city for which he was prosecuted as allegedly looting), and where Cicero visited him as late as the year 78 BC. Although invited by Lucius Cornelius Sulla to return to Rome, Rufus refused to do so. It was during his stay at Smyrna that he wrote his autobiography and a history of Rome in Greek, part of which is known to have been devoted to the Numantine War.[1] He possessed a thorough knowledge of law, and wrote treatises on that subject, some fragments of which are quoted in the Digests. He was also well acquainted with Greek literature.

Bankruptcy law reform

According to Professor Levinthal, in an article from 1918,[4] Rutilius happened to be a revolutionary for bankruptcy proceedings.

The process of general execution against the debtor's property introduced into Roman law by Rutilius was called bonorum emptio or venditio. Whether the debtor was solvent or insolvent, whether there were many creditors or there was but one creditor, the proceeding was the same, leading to a sale of the entire estate of the debtor for the benefit of his creditors. The bonorum venditio was only granted when the debtor had committed one of several acts.[5] These acts, which might be termed acts of bankruptcy, were (a) absconding (latitans) or hiding from creditors,[6] (b) leaving a judgment unsatisfied for thirty days, and (c) admitting, without discharging, a debt, and taking no steps to pay it. The creditor or creditors were granted by the Praetor a missio in possessionem, equivalent to the English "receiving order." In other words, they were put into possession of the debtor's estate. Then, at fixed intervals, followed three decrees: the first publicly advertised the sale and gave notice to the non-petitioning creditors to put in their claims; the second authorized the creditors to choose from among themselves a magister, equivalent to our trustee, to superintend the sale; and the last enabled them to publish the conditions under which the sale would take place. After a third interval, the estate, or universitas juris, of the debtor was put up to auction, and knocked down to the highest bidder (bonorum emptor), i. e., to the person who offered the creditors the highest percentage on their claims, the creditors being paid pro rata.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Rutilius Rufus, Publius". Oxford Reference. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  2. Smith, William (1871). A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography. New York, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. p. 761.
  3. Mommsen, Theodor (1867). The History of Rome. 3. London, England: Richard Bentley. p. 219.
  4. L Levinthal, ‘The Early History of Bankruptcy Law’ [1918] University of Pennsylvania Law Review 223, 235-6
  5. Gaius, iii, 78.
  6. Cf. Cic. Verr, ii, 24, s. 59. Compare the Pennsylvania statute of June 13, 1836, relating to domestic attachment.
Preceded by
Quintus Servilius Caepio and Gaius Atilius Serranus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Gnaeus Mallius Maximus
105 BC
Succeeded by
Gaius Flavius Fimbria and Gaius Marius
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