Quintus Mucius Scaevola, who governed the Roman province of Asia in the 90s BCE, became a classic example of the ‘good governor’ and a fêted exception to the corruption and exploitation generally associated with provincial governance during the Roman republic. In this paper, I argue that Scaevola not only became an example but set out to do so, as a means of reforming the administration of Asia and the practice of provincial governance more generally. Scaevola and his legate Publius Rutilius Rufus went to Asia at a time when complicity between governors and tax farmers had intensified the exploitation of provincials and created discontent within the province. Scaevola’s solution combined new legal protections for provincials with a programme of consciously exemplary behaviour that promoted strict ethical standards. This approach produced results where a series of extortion laws had failed: in Asia, Scaevola was celebrated with games and honours; in Rome, he was commended by the senate as a model for future governors. The reform project was short-lived. Rutilius’ subsequent conviction by equestrian jurors resentful of his handling of the tax farmers deterred other governors from protecting provincials. Conditions in Asia deteriorated again, to the point where King Mithridates VI of Pontus was able to seize the province, with enthusiastic participation from its inhabitants. Nonetheless, subsequent reformers could look to Scaevola and Rutilius not only as an example of how to govern a province but of how to pursue reform where legislation had proved ineffective—a problem that persists today.


[Since completing her PhD at the University of Sydney in 2014, Kit Morrell has held positions as postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam and as Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellow at the University of Melbourne. From July 2020 she will join the University of Queensland as Susan Blake Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History. Kit’s research focusses on the history, politics, and law of the late Roman republic. Her publications include a monograph, Pompey, Cato, and the Governance of the Roman Empire (Oxford University Press, 2017), and The Alternative Augustan Age (Oxford University Press, 2019), co-edited with Josiah Osgood and Kathryn Welch. Her current research activities include her DECRA project, ‘Reforming the Roman Republic’, on the idea and practice of ‘reform’ in republican Rome, and a co-edited volume on The Rule of Law in Ancient Rome.