Publius Iuventius Celsus

Publius Iuventius Celsus

Publius Iuventius Celsus Titus Aufidius Hoenius Severianus (2nd. ct. AD) – the son of a little-known jurist of the same name, hence also Celsus filius – was, together with Julian, the most influential Ancient Roman jurist of the High Classical era.

Celsus was presumably born in Upper Italy, where the name of Iuventius was common and where senatorial Iuventii can also be found. In 106 or 107 Celsus was praetor. In 114/115 he was governor of Thracia, and immediately afterwards, in 115, he became suffect consul. In 129 Celsus held the office of consul the second time and became proconsul of Asia in 129/130.

Celsus succeeded his father Iuventius Celsus in the Proculian school of lawyers. He was part of the Consilium of Hadrian and helped bring about the Senatusconsultum Iuventianum, which held that a good-faith possessor of an inheritance only had to yield it back inasmuch as he was enriched by it. Another dictum of his, impossibilium nulla obligatio est – impossible obligations are void – has become a core tenet of civil law.

Celsus' legal style was bold and biting. He left us the only definition Roman law ever conceived for itself – ius est ars boni et aequi. Pliny the Younger did, hoverer, criticise his rhetorical weaknesses. Celsus' principal work are his 39 libri digestorum.

Notable dicta

  • Ius est ars boni et aequi – Law is the art of the good and the equitable (Dig. 1, 1, 1)
  • Scire leges non hoc est verba earum tenere, sed vim ac potestatem – Knowing the laws does not mean knowing their words, but their intent and purpose (Dig. 1, 3, 17)
  • Incivile est, nisi tota lege perspecta, una aliqua particula eius proposita iudicare vel respondere – It is not artful to judge or to counsel based on a snippet of the law, without taking into consideration the law in its entirety (Dig. 1, 3, 24)


  • Theo Mayer-Maly: Publius Iuventius Celsus. In: Pauly-Wissowa. Vol. 3, 1969, Sp. 31.
  • PIR ² I 882
  • Dlugosch, Michaela (2001). Juristen: ein biographisches Lexikon; von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert. 2nd edition, München: Beck. ISBN 3406 45957 9.

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