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19th century statue of Ulpian in the neoclassical Palais de Justice in Brussels, Belgium.
Born170 AD
Tyre, Roman Syria
Died228 AD (aged 57–58)
Known forDigest (Roman law)

Ulpian (/ˈʌlpiən/; Latin: Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus; c. 170 – 223 or 228) was a Roman jurist born in Tyre in Roman Syria (modern Lebanon).[1][2] He moved to Rome and rose to become considered one of the great legal authorities of his time. He was one of the five jurists upon whom decisions were to be based according to the Law of Citations of Valentinian III,[3] and supplied the Justinian Digest about a third of its contents.[4]



The exact time and place of his birth are unknown. The period of his literary activity in which we are interested was between AD 211 and 222. He made his first appearance in public life as assessor in the auditorium of Papinian and member of the council of Septimius Severus; under Caracalla he was master of the requests (magister libellorum). Elagabalus (also known as Heliogabalus) banished him from Rome, but on the accession of Severus Alexander (222) he was reinstated, and finally became the emperor's chief adviser and Praefectus Praetorio.

During the Severan dynasty, the position of Praetorian prefect in Italy came increasingly to resemble a general administrative post, and there was a tendency to appoint jurists such as Papinian, who occupied the post from 203 until his elimination and execution at the ascent of Caracalla. Under Severus Alexander the Praetorian prefecture was held by Ulpian until his assassination by the Guard in the presence of the Emperor himself.

His curtailment of the privileges granted to the Praetorian Guard by Elagabalus provoked their enmity, and he narrowly escaped their vengeance; ultimately, he was murdered in the palace by the Guard, possibly in the course of a riot between the soldiers and the mob.[4]

He had a luxurious villa at Santa Marinella on the coast north of Rome.



His works include Ad Sabinum, a commentary on the ius civile, in over 50 books; Ad edictum, a commentary on the Edict, in 83 books; collections of opinions, responses and disputations; books of rules and institutions; treatises on the functions of the different magistrates — one of them, the De officio proconsulis libri x., being a comprehensive exposition of the criminal law; monographs on various statutes, on testamentary trusts, and a variety of other works. His writings altogether have supplied to Justinian's Digest about a third of its contents, and his commentary on the Edict alone about a fifth. As an author, he is characterized by doctrinal exposition of a high order, judiciousness of criticism, and lucidity of arrangement, style, and language.[4] He is also credited with the first life table ever.[5]

Domitii Ulpiani fragmenta, consisting of 29 titles, were first edited by Tilius (Paris, 1549). Other editions are by Hugo (Berlin, 1834), Booking (Bonn, 1836), containing fragments of the first book of the Institutiones discovered by Endlicher at Vienna in 1835, and in Girard's Textes de droit romain (Paris, 1890).[4]



In the study of law, Ulpian may be best remembered for the phrase "Juris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere (The basic principles of law are: to live honorably, not to harm any other person, to render each his own)".[6]

It had been assumed for a long time that Ulpian of Tyre was a model for Athenaeus' Ulpian in The Deipnosophists — or The Banquet of the Learned. Athenaeus makes 'Ulpian' out to be a grammarian and philologist, characterised by his customary interjections: "Where does this word occur in writing?". He is represented as a symposiarch and he occupies a couch alone; his death is passed over in silence in Book XV 686c. Scholars today agree that Athenaeus's Ulpian is not the historical Ulpian, but possibly his father.

A potential date of the real Ulpian's death, 228 AD, has been wrongly used to estimate the date of completion of The Deipnosophists. However the year of his death cannot be determined with certainty. Robert Lee Cleve makes a compelling case that Ulpian died in 223, citing a papyrus discovered in 1966.[7]


  • Angelosanto, Antonio; Marotta, Valerio; Pulitanò, Francesca; Schiavone, Aldo; Tamburi, Francesca, eds. (2023). Cnaeus Domitius Ulpianus. Ad edictum libri IV-VII. Scriptores iuris Romani, 16. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. ISBN 9788891320582.

See also



  1. ^ "Ulpian | Roman jurist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  2. ^ Liebs, Detlef; Garber, Rebecca L. R. (10 May 2012). Summoned to the Roman Courts: Famous Trials from Antiquity. Univ of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25962-1.
  3. ^ Kaiser, Wolfgang (2015). "Justinian and the Corpus Iuris Civilis". In Johnston, David (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Roman Law. Cambridge University Press. p. 120. ISBN 9781139034401.
  4. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ulpian". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 567.
  5. ^ Frier, Bruce (1982). "Roman Life Expectancy: Ulpian's Evidence". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 86: 213–251. doi:10.2307/311195. ISSN 0073-0688. JSTOR 311195.
  6. ^ Justinian, Digest 1.1.10, in Watson, Alan, ed. (1985). The Digest of Justinian. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  7. ^ Robert Lee Cleve, "Severus Alexander and the Severan Women" PhD diss (Los Angeles: University of California Los Angeles, 1982): 222ff.