The underlying assumption is that legal authors like other authors have their own individual style and outlook and that, given a reasonable amount of text, it is usually possible to decide
how much of it should be attributed to a single author. Tony Honoré began exploring this method with a book on the famous second-century AD lawyer Gaius in 1962. In Ulpian (1982) he applied it in order to distinguish genuine works from those spuriously attributed to another famous legal author. The method can also be applied to texts composed by lawyers or non-lawyers on behalf of Roman emperors, who very seldom composed their own laws. For this purpose it is necessary to arrange the laws in chronological order (see Palingenesia) and then to read them carefully in order to detect when breaks in style occur. This technique yielded twenty secretaries a libellis in 193-305 AD and forty-nine quaestors in 379-455, besides some others who have formed the subject of separate articles in leading journals.


The next stage is to try to identify the officials who composed laws on the emperor’s behalf with writers or public figures known from other sources. In Emperors and Lawyers eight likely or possible identifications are put forward and since then a ninth has emerged as a result of the finding of a new inscription (No.7 = Licin(n)ius Rufinus). In Law in the Crisis of Empire twenty-four likely or possible identifications are proposed. So the method contributes to the study of personalities (prosopography) in the later Roman empire by filling out their careers with at least a few texts composed by them. Sometimes there are more than a hundred such texts.

The method, though criticised by some scholars, has proved remarkably robust. This is shown by the fact that in Emperors and Lawyers secretary No.19, whom the author had not identified, was successfully shown by another scholar, Detlef Liebs, to be the legal author Arcadius Charisius and by the new inscription which has led to the identification of secretary No.7 as Licinnius Rufinus.