The Twelve Tables(Lex XII Tabularum
) were the earliest codification of Roman Law
. It came about in 450 B.C., in response to demonstrations by the plebeians
, who protested for written laws that supposedly would protect them from arbitrary judgements of the upper classes. No complete copy of the original survives, but the tables were widely quoted
by later authors (especially Cicero
) and can thus be reconstructed. These laws were almost certainly preexisting customs now published in the form of statutes, inscribed on twelve tablets that were fastened to the speaker's stand in the Roman Forum. It shows the importance of form in Roman law as well as another Roman legacy in modern society.
Though all the world exclaim against me, I will say what I think: that single little book of the Twelve Tables, if anyone looks to the fountains and sources of laws, seems to me, assuredly, to surpass the libraries of all the philosophers, both in weight and authority, and in plenitude of utility. (Cicero, De Oratore, I.44)
The laws are in sequential order below, without some sections which have not yet been reconstructed:
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.
3. If illness or old age is the hindrance, let the summoner provide a team. He need not provide a covered carriage
with a pallet unless he chooses.
4. Let the protector of a landholder
be a landholder; for one of the proletariat
, let anyone that cares, be protector.
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
, 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.
2. On the third market day let them divide his body among them. If they cut more or less than each one's share it
shall be no crime.
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 his father.
3. As a man has provided in his will in regard to his money and the care of his property, so let it be binding. If he
has no heir and dies intestate, let the nearest agnate have the inheritance. If there is no agnate, let the members of his gens
have the inheritance.
4. If one is mad but has no guardian, the power over him and his money shall belong to his agnates and the members of his gens.
5. A child
born after ten months since the father's death will not be admitted into a legal inheritance
should remain in guardianship even when they have attained their majority.
1. When one makes a bond and a conveyance of property, as he has made formal declaration
so let it be binding.
3. A beam that is built into a house or a vineyard trellis one may not take from its place.
5. Usucapio of movable things requires one year's possession
for its completion; but usucapio of an estate and buildings
6. Any woman who does not wish to be subjected in this manner to the hand of her husband should be absent three nights
in succession every year, and so interrupt the usucapio
of each year.
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 bend 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 man's farm
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 coins.
3. If one is slain while committing theft
by night, he is rightly slain.
4. If a patron shall have devised any deceit against his client, let him be accursed.
5. If one shall permit himself to be summoned as a witness, or has been a weigher, if he does not give his testimony,
let him be noted as dishonest and incapable of acting again as witness.
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 punishment.
12. If the theft has been done by night, if the owner kills the thief, the thief shall be held to be lawfully killed.
13. It is unlawful for a thief to be killed by day
....unless he defends himself with a weapon; even though he has come with a weapon, unless he shall use the weapon and fight back, you shall not kill him. And even if he resists, first call out so that someone may hear and come up.
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 decision.
: 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 forbidden.
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 funeral.
5. If one obtains a crown himself, or if his chattel does so because of his honor and valor, if it is placed on his
head, or the head of his parents, it shall be no crime.
1. Marriages should not take place between plebeians
2. If a slave shall have committed theft or done damage with his master's knowledge, the action for damages is in the
5. Whatever the people had last ordained should be held as binding by law.
Source: Professor Ronald Mellor, History 117B, University of California, Los Angeles