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The Law of the Twelve Tables (Latin: Leges Duodecim Tabularum or Duodecim Tabulae) was the ancient legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law. The Law of the Twelve Tables formed the centrepiece of the constitution of the Roman Republic and the core of the mos maiorum (custom of the ancestors).

The Twelve Tables came about as a result of the long social struggle between patricians and plebeians. After the expulsion of the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, the Republic was governed by a hierarchy of magistrates. Initially only patricians were eligible to become magistrates and this, among other plebeian complaints, was a source of discontent for plebeians. In the context of this unequal status, plebeians would take action to secure concessions for themselves using the threat of secession. They would threaten to leave the city with the consequence that it would grind to a halt, as the plebeians were Rome's labour force. One of the most important concessions won in this class struggle was the establishment of the Twelve Tables, establishing basic procedural rights for all Roman citizens as against one another.[1]

Patricians long opposed this request, but around 451 BC, the first decemviri (decemvirate - board of "Ten Men") were appointed to draw up the first ten tables. According to Livy, they sent an embassy to Greece to study the legislative system of Athens, known as the Solonian Constitution, but also to find out about the legislation of other Greek cities.[2][3] Modern scholars believe the Roman assembly most likely visited the Greek cities of Southern Italy, and did not travel all the way to Greece.[4] In 450 BC, the second decemviri started work on the last two tables.

The first decemvirate completed the first ten codes in 450 BC. Here is how Livy describes their creation,

"...every citizen should quietly consider each point, then talk it over with his friends, and, finally, bring forward for public discussion any additions or subtractions which seemed desirable." (cf. Liv. III 34)

In 449 BC, the second decemvirate completed the last two codes, and after a secessio plebis to force the Senate to consider them, the Law of the Twelve Tables was formally promulgated.[5] According to Livy (AUC 3.57.10) the Twelve Tables were inscribed on bronze (Pomponius (Dig. 1 tit. 2 s2 §4) alone says on ivory), and posted publicly, so all Romans could read and know them. It was not a comprehensive statement of all law, but a sequence of definitions of various private rights and procedures. They generally took for granted such things as the institutions of the family and various rituals for formal transactions.

Some believe that the original tablets must have been destroyed when the Gauls under Brennus burnt Rome in 387 BC. Cicero claimed (de leg. 2.59) that he learned them by heart as a boy in school, but that no one did so any longer. What we have of them today are brief excerpts and quotations from these laws in other authors, often in clearly updated language. They are written in an archaic, laconic Latin (described as Saturnian verse). As such, though it cannot be determined whether the quoted fragments accurately preserve the original form, what is present gives some insight into the grammar of early Latin. Some claim that the text was written as such so plebeians could more easily memorize the laws, as literacy was not commonplace during early Rome.

Like most other early codes of law, they were largely procedural, combining strict and rigorous penalties with equally strict and rigorous procedural forms. In most of the surviving quotations from these texts, the original table that held them is not given. Scholars have guessed at where surviving fragments belong by comparing them with the few known attributions and records, many of which do not include the original lines, but paraphrases. It cannot be known with any certainty from what survives that the originals ever were organized this way, or even if they ever were organized by subject at all.


  1. ^ du Plessis, Paul (2010). Borkowski's Textbook on Roman Law (4th ed.). Oxford. pp. 5–6, 29–30. ISBN 978-0-19-957488-9. 
  2. ^ Livy, 2002, p. 23
  3. ^ Durant, 1942, p. 23
  4. ^ Grant, Michael (1978). History of Rome (1st ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 75. ISBN 0-02-345610-8. 
  5. ^ McCarty, Nick "Rome The Greatest Empire of the Ancient World", The Rosen Publishing Group, 2008


External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Tables — Please support Wikipedia.
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4 news items

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 04:09:02 -0700

The laws of the Twelve Tables - Roman legislation written in approximately 450 BC - specified a road should be 8 ft (2.45 m) wide when straight, and 16 ft (4.90 m) where curved. The Tables added Romans should give wayfarers the right to pass over ...
Huffington Post
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:46:55 -0700

As declared in Rome's The Twelve Tables: "Deformed infants shall be killed." These assumptions about "useful" human lives, according to historians, were "infamously universal" among the Greeks and Romans (as well as virtually every other ancient society).

The National Interest Online

The National Interest Online
Thu, 03 Jul 2014 16:26:15 -0700

But now, because of the pleb agitation, the customary law of Rome was codified into the famous Twelve Tables, displayed in the Forum for all to see. “This seemingly trivial event,” writes Durant, “was epochal in Roman history and in the history of ...
Tue, 08 Jul 2014 13:38:30 -0700

நம் ஒவ்வொருவருக்கும் ஒவ்வொரு வயது இருக்கும் என்றாலும் மனித குலத்தின் (Homo sapiens) வயது என்று பார்த்தால் ஐந்து லட்சம் வருடங்கள். இரண்டு ...

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