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Cn. Fla'vius

the son of a freedman, who is called by Livy Cneius, by Gellius and Pliny Annius, was born in humble circumstances, but became secretary to App. Claudius Caecus [CLAUDIUS, No. 10], and, in consequence of this connection, together with his own shrewdness and eloquence, attained distinguished honours in the commonwealth. He is celebrated in the annals of Roman law for having been the first to divulge certain technicalities of procedure, which previously had been kept secret as the exclusive patrimony of the pontiffs and the patricians. The relative share which the pontiffs, as such, and the patricians, who were not pontiffs, possessed in the administration and interpretation of early Roman law, cannot now be accurately determined. Among the portions of law which were kept in the knowledge of a few, were the greater part of the actus legitimi and the actiones legis. These appear to have included the whole of legal practice, the actus legitimi ordinarily designating the technicalities of private legal transactions, and the actiones legis the ceremonies of judicial procedure, although this distinction is not always observed. To the hidden law of practice belonged the rules of the Kalendar (Fasti), and the greater part of the Formulae. The rules of the Kalendar determined what legal acts were to be done, and what omitted, on particular days. The Formulae related chiefly to technical pleading, or, in other words, to that part of forensic practice which determined the mode of stating a claim and making a defence; but there were also formulae for acts not connected with litigation, as mancipatio, sponsio, adoptio, and formulae of this latter kind cannot be supposed to have been so little known to the people at large as forms of pleading, whether oral or written, may have been. Flavius made himself master of the rules of the Kalendar and the Formulae, either by stealing a book in which they had been laid down and reduced to order by App. Claudius (Dig. 1. tit. 2. s. 2.7), or by frequently consulting those who were able to give advice upon the subject, by noting down their answers, and by applying his sagacious intellect to discover the system from which such detached answers proceeded. Pliny (H.N. 33.1) says that Flavius pursued the latter course, at the recommendation of App. Claudius (ejus hortatu exceperat eos dies, consultando assidue sagaci ingenio). He thus picked the brains of the jurists he consulted (ab ipsis cautis jurisconsultis eorum sapientiam compilavit, Cic. pro Mur. 11). The expressions of some writers who mention the publication of Flavius seem to confine his discoveries to the rules of the Kalendar; but there are other passages which make it likely that he published other rules connected with the legis actiones, especially the formulae of pleading. (Compare Liv. 9.46; Macr. 1.15; Cic. de Fin. 4.27, ad Att. 6.1, de Orat. 1.41.)


The collection of legal rules thus published by Flavius was called the Jus Flavianum ; and, next to the Jus Civile Papirianum, it was the earliest private work in Roman law. The patrician jurists were grieved and indignant when they saw that their advice and intervention were rendered unnecessary by this publication. In order to regain their lost powers, they framed new rules relating to the legis actiones, and, in order to keep the new rules secret, invented a cypher (notae) to preserve them in. (Cic. pro Mur. 11, where by notae some commentators understand, not a secret notation or cypher, but the new formulae invented by the jurists). These new rules in another century underwent the same fate with their predecessors, for in the year B. C. 200 they were made known to the people at large by Sex. Aelius Catus, in a publication termed Jas Aelianum.

Flavius was not content with divulging the legal mysteries through the medium of a book, but, according to Livy, he exposed the Fasti to view on a whited tablet in the Forum. (Fastos circa Forum in albo proposuit, 9.46.) It is not unlikely, from a comparison of the narrative of Livy with the accounts of other writers, that the latter exposure took place after he had been promoted to the office of curule aedile, in consequence of the popularity he had acquired by the previous publication of his book.

Results of his popularity

The first fruits of his popularity were his appointments to the offices of triumvir nocturnus and triumvir coloniae deducendae ; and, in order to qualify himself for the acceptance of such honours, he ceased to practise his former business of scribe. He was afterwards made a senator by App. Claudius, in spite of his ignominious birth, and was elected curule aedile in the year B. C. 303. His election was carried by the forensis factio, which had been created and had gained strength during the censorship of App. Claudius, and now became a distinct party in the state, in opposition to those who called themselves the fautores bonorum. From Licinius Macer, quoted by Livy, it would appear that he had been previously tribune, whereas Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.1) states that the tribunate of the plebs was conferred upon him in addition to the aedileship. The circumstance of his election so disgusted the greater part of the senate and the nobles, that they laid aside their golden rings and other ornaments (phalerae). Flavius met the contemptuous treatment of the nobles with equal hauteur. He consecrated the Temple of Concordia, on which occasion the Pontifex Maximus, Cornelius Barbatus, was obliged by the populace to take a leading part in the ceremony, notwithstanding his previous declaration that none but a consul or an imperator ought, according to ancient custom, to dedicate a temple. When Flavius went to visit his colleague, who was unwell, a party of young nobles, who were present, refused to rise on his entrance, whereupon he sent for his curule chair, and, from his seat of rank, looked down with triumph upon his jealous enemies. (Liv. 9.46; Gel. 6.9.) Valerius Maximus (9.3) says that he was made praetor.

Further Information

Puchta, Cursus der Institutionen, vol. i. p. 677.


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hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 46
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 6.9
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