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Who Is Publius Rutilius Rufus? An Introduction To The Man Who Could Not Be Corrupted



Publius Rutilius Rufus was one of the preeminent Stoic of the late Republic. He studied philosophy under Panaetius, another great Stoic who once wrote, “The life of men who pass their time in the midst of affairs, and who wish to be helpful to themselves and to others, is exposed to constant and almost daily troubles and sudden dangers.” Though he wasn’t speaking about Rutilius, he might as well have been. Rutilius stared down daily troubles and sudden dangers and all of Rome’s corruption with a fierce and noble resolve that was as rare among his peers as it is today. 

A promising young man in a rapidly growing empire, Rutilius’ advancement appeared both limitless and obvious to anyone who crossed paths with him. He was well read, well-trained, and as a speaker, according to one witness, “acute and systematic.” His Stoicism was obvious too, as the same observer said of Rutilius, the self-sufficiency of the philosophy “was in him exemplified in its firmest and most unswerving form.”

But living in a time of intrigue and political violence and outright corruption, it was only a matter of time that the meticulously honest Rutilius, ruled by his sense of Stoic duty, would eventually find himself a target. Rutilius was at the center of a major controversy that wound up triggering what the writer and podcaster Mike Duncan would later describe it, “the storm before the storm.”  As Duncan detailed in our interview, “In 94 BC, Rutilius was sent to the province Asia (western Turkey) to help fix the corrupt tax farming system. Incredulous that Rutilius was messing with their profits, the powerful tax farming companies back in Rome conspired to have Rutilius brought up on charges for corruption and extortion. The charges were ludicrous as Rutilius was a model of probity and would later be cited by Cicero as the perfect model of a Roman administrator. In the face of this farce, Rutilius refused to even offer a defense so as not to acknowledge its legitimacy.” 

And just like *that*, Rutilius’ property was seized and he was exiled. He was offered one small dignity: the choice of the place of his exile. With the stone-hard determination of a man who knows he did nothing wrong, Rutilius chose the very city he had allegedly defrauded. There, Duncan added, “he lived among the people he had allegedly abused, but who actually loved him because he had stopped the abuse.” 

Was he bitter or broken by the dishonor done to him? No, he doesn’t seem to have been. He just got on with his life and his work. We know that he wrote his History Of Rome there in exile. And we are told that a consoling fri