The manuscripts of a work entitled Opus agriculturae identify its author as Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius. Although we may infer that he was of senatorial status from the fact that the codices call him a vir illustris, it is difficult to establish any other facts about his life or chronology. A terminus post quem may be fixed at 372 AD, the year in which Valentinian made vir illustris a formal title; a clear terminus ante quem, on the other hand, is offered by the citation of Palladius’ text in Cassiodorus’ Institutiones (1.28.6). Critics generally date our author between the 4th and 5th c., but have proposed different candidates in trying to identify him with known individuals, e.g. the Palladius who served as comes sacrarum largitionum in 381 AD, was magister officiorum in 382 AD, and to whom Symmachus addressed one of his letters (9.1); or the figure to whom Rutilius Namatianus dedicated some of his verses: Palladius, a young Gallic member of the poet’s family who had recently moved to Rome to complete his study of law (De reditu suo 1.208-15).
Uncertainty on these points is exacerbated by the fact that Palladius - unlike Varro and Columella - does not use his agricultural treatise as a vehicle for autobiography. A few passages indicate that he held land within Italy, near the city of Rome (circa Urbem), and in Sardinia (3.25.20; 3.10.24; 4.10.16), and he is generally deemed to have had personal, practical experience with agriculture and the management of a landed estate. Even so, his Opus agriculturae draws freely from earlier treatises on agronomics, especially that of Columella; the type of estate Palladius seems to have in mind, however, functions as a closed economy, i.e. one that is self-contained rather than directed at commerce. He never refers to any historical or contemporary events. The only living person named in the treatise is a certain Pasiphilus, to whom the work is dedicated. This man is also hard to identify: he could be the Fabius Felix Paulinus Pasiphilus who was praefectus Urbi in 355 AD (Codex Theodosianus 2.8.1) or the philosopher whom Ammianus Marcellinus tells us was implicated in a conspiracy against Valens (29.2.36). [A. Borgna; tr. C. L. Caterine].