|The earliest attempt
by the Romans to create a code of law was the Laws of the Twelve Tables. A
commission of ten men (Decemviri) was appointed (c. 455 B.C.) to
draw up a code of law binding on both patrician and plebeian and which
consuls would have to enforce. The commission produced enough
statutes to fill ten bronze tablets. The plebeians were
dissatisfied and so a second commission of ten was therefore
appointed (450 B.C.) and two additional tablets were added. What follows
are a selection from the Twelve Tables. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of
Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1901),
Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 9-11. See also
Duodecim Tabularum, by George Long in William Smith, A
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875,
1. If anyone summons a man before the magistrate, he must go. If the
man summoned does not go, let the one summoning him call the bystanders to
witness and then take him by force.
2. If he shirks or runs away, let the summoner lay hands on him.
6-9. When the litigants settle their case by compromise, let the
magistrate announce it. If they do not compromise, let them state each his
own side of the case, in the comitium of the forum before noon.
Afterwards let them talk it out together, while both are present. After
noon, in case either party has failed to appear, let the magistrate
pronounce judgment in favor of the one who is present. If both are present
the trial may last until sunset but no later.
2. He whose witness has failed to appear may summon him by loud calls
before his house every third day.
1. One who has confessed a debt, or against whom judgment has been
pronounced, shall have thirty days to pay it in. After that forcible
seizure of his person is allowed. The creditor shall bring him before the
magistrate. Unless he pays the amount of the judgment or some one in the
presence of the magistrate interferes in his behalf as protector the
creditor so shall take him home and fasten him in stocks or fetters. He
shall fasten him with not less than fifteen pounds of weight or, if he
choose, with more. If the prisoner choose, he may furnish his own food. If
he does not, the creditor must give him a pound of meal daily; if he
choose he may give him more.
3. Against a foreigner the right in property shall be valid forever.
1. A dreadfully deformed child shall be quickly killed.
2. If a father sell his son three times, the son shall be free from
5. A child born after ten months since the father's death will not be
admitted into a legal inheritance.
1. Females should remain in guardianship even when they have attained
1. When one makes a bond and a conveyance of property, as he has made
formal declaration so let it be binding.
1. Let them keep the road in order. If they have not paved it, a man
may drive his team where he likes.
9. Should a tree on a neighbor's farm be bent crooked by the wind and
lean over your farm, you may take legal action for removal of that tree.
10. A man might gather up fruit that was falling down onto another
2. If one has maimed a limb and does not compromise with the injured
person, let there be retaliation. If one has broken a bone of a freeman
with his hand or with a cudgel, let him pay a penalty of three hundred
coins. If he has broken the bone of a slave, let him have one hundred and
fifty coins. If one is guilty of insult, the penalty shall be twenty-five
3. If one is slain while committing theft by night, he is rightly
4. If a patron shall have devised any deceit against his client, let
him be accursed.
10. Any person who destroys by burning any building or heap of corn
deposited alongside a house shall be bound, scourged, and put to death by
burning at the stake provided that he has committed the said misdeed with
malice aforethought; but if he shall have committed it by accident, that
is, by negligence, it is ordained that he repair the damage or, if he be
too poor to be competent for such punishment, he shall receive a lighter
23. A person who had been found guilty of giving false witness shall
be hurled down from the Tarpeian Rock.
26. No person shall hold meetings by night in the city.
4. The penalty shall be capital for a judge or arbiter legally
appointed who has been found guilty of receiving a bribe for giving a
5. Treason: he who shall have roused up a public enemy or handed over
a citizen to a public enemy must suffer capital punishment.
6. Putting to death of any man, whosoever he might be unconvicted is
1. None is to bury or burn a corpse in the city.
3. The women shall not tear their faces nor wail on account of the
1. Marriages should not take place between plebeians and patricians.
5. Whatever the people had last ordained should be held as binding by
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