The Twelve Tables 450 BCE

The Twelve Tables 450 BCE

The Twelve Tables
The Twelve Tables

Roman law, like that of other ancient civilizations, sprang from an oral heritage of customs passed down down the generations. The nobility and commoners of Rome agreed to a commission of ten jurists, the decemviri, to consolidate and codify the laws in the mid-fifth century BCE. As a result, the Twelve Tables, the earliest documented Roman laws, were created.

The Twelve Tables were inspired by the ongoing feud between Rome’s patrician and plebeian classes, who objected to the patricians’ arbitrary interpretation and execution of the law, hoping that a written rule would temper, if not eliminate, such behaviors. The laws were written on twelve wooden or metal tablets (historians differ) and displayed in the forum for all to see. The importance of the Twelve Tables, according to noted legal historian Sir Henry Maine, lay not in their classifications or “terseness and clarity of speech,” but in their “publicity and in the understanding which they provided to everyone as to what he was to do and what he was not to do.”

Both substantive and procedural law were addressed by the Twelve Tables. The procedural rules covered a variety of themes, including how to start a legal action with an oral summons, how to handle witnesses, and how to execute judgements.

Validation (negating Solon’s deletion) of the customary concept that allowed enslavement for unpaid debts, as well as punishments for both intentional and unintentional homicide, were among the substantive issues. (In the case of intentional murder, the punishment was selected by the victim’s family, which may include vengeance.) Compensation for human injuries and property damage was also addressed in the Tables. Bribery, treason, and slander were the only three offenses in the Twelve Tables that warranted the death penalty.

The Twelve Tables were revered by the Romans. “Boys were required to memorize the twelve tables by heart, as a carmen necessarium, or indispensable lesson, to stamp on their young brains an early understanding of the rules and government of their country,” writes William Blackstone in his Commentaries. These ordinances had a lasting impact that spanned hundreds of years.

The Twelve Tables 450 BCE


The Draconian Code (621 BCE);

The Laws of Solon (594 BCE);

The Justinian Code (529).


Law of the Twelve Tables Roman law

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)