Twelve Tables

From Academic Kids

The Law of the Twelve Tables (Lex Duodecim Tabularum, more informally simply Duodecim Tabulae) were 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. The Twelve Tables must be carefully distinguished from the unrelated, much older "twelve shields" of King Numa Pompilius.

According to traditional, semi-legendary historical accounts preserved in Livy, during the earliest period of the Republic the laws were kept secret by the pontifices and other representatives of the patrician class, and were enforced with untoward severity, especially against the plebeian class. A plebeian named Terentilius proposed in 462 BC that an official legal code should be published, so that plebeians could not be surprised and would know the law.

For several years the patricians opposed this request, but in 451 BC a Decemvirate, or board of ten men, was appointed to draw up a code. They allegedly sent an embassy to study legislative system of Greeks, particulary the laws of Solon, possibly in the Greek colonies of southern Italy.

The first ten codes were completed by the first Decemvirate in 450 BC; the last two codes were completed in 449 BC by the second Decemvirate and the Law of the Twelve Tables was formally promulgated. The Twelve Tables were literally drawn up on twelve wooden tablets which were posted in the Forum Romanum so that all Romans could read and know them.

The laws of the Twelve Tables are not a comprehensive statement of all law; they are 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. They are somewhat comparable to a Bill of Rights, but the modern observer must be careful not to project a modern understanding of rights and government onto ancient institutions and laws.

For such an important document, it is somewhat surprising that the original text has been lost. The original tablets were destroyed when the Gauls under Brennus burnt Rome in 390 BC. There was no other official promulgation of them to survive, only unofficial editions. What we have of them today is brief excerpts and quotations from these laws in other authors. They are written in a strange, archaic, laconic, and somewhat childish and sing-song version of Latin. As such, though we cannot tell whether the quoted fragments accurately preserve the original form, what we have gives us some insight into the grammar of early Latin.

Like most other primitive laws, they combine 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. It cannot be known with any certainty from what survives that the originals ever were organised this way, or even if they ever were organised by subject at all.


Excerpts from the Twelve Tables

TABVLA I (Civil procedure)

Si in ius vocat, ito. Ni it, antestamino. Igitur em capito.

If someone is called to go to court, let him go. If he doesn't go, a witness should be called. Only then should he be captured.

Si calvitur pedemve struit, manum endo iacito. Si morbus ævitasve vitium escit, iumentum dato. Si nolet, arceram ne sternito.

If he shirks or flees, he should be captured. If illness or old age is an impediment, let him be given a carriage. If he doesn't want it, it should not be covered.

Adsiduo vindex adsiduus esto. Proletario iam civi quis volet vindex esto.

Only a landowner should be surety for another landowner. But any citizen can be surety for a proletarian.

Rem ubi pacunt, orato. Ni pacunt, in comitio aut in foro ante meridiem caussam coiciunto. Com peroranto ambo præsentes. Post meridiem præsenti litem addicito. Si ambo præsentes, solis occasus suprema tempestas esto.

When parties have made an agreement, announce it. If they don't agree, they shall state their case in the Forum before noon. They shall plead together in person. After noon, let the judge pronounce. If both are present, the case shall end at sunset.

TABVLA II (Civil procedure)

. . . morbus sonticus . . . aut status dies cum hoste . . . quid horum fuit unum iudici arbitrove reove, eo dies diffensus esto.

Serious illness. . . or else a day appointed with an enemy; . . . if any of these is an impediment for the judge or any party, on that day proceedings must end.

Cui testimonium defuerit, is tertiis diebus ob portum obvagulatum ito.

One who seeks the testimony from an absent person should wail before his doorway every third day.


Æris confessi rebusque iure iudicatis XXX dies iusti sunto.

A person who admits to owing money or has been adjudged to owe money must be given 30 days to pay.

Post deinde manus iniectio esto. In ius ducito. Ni iudicatum facit aut quis endo eo in iure vindicit, secum ducito, vincito aut nervo aut compedibus XV pondo, ne maiore aut si volet minore vincito. Si volet suo vivito, ni suo vivit, qui eum vinctum habebit, libras faris endo dies dato. Si volet, plus dato.

After then, the creditor can lay hands on him and haul him to court. If he does not satisfy the judgment and no one is surety for him, the creditor may take the defendant with him in stocks or chains. He may bind him with weights of at least 15 pounds. The debtor may live where he wishes. If he does not live on his own, the creditor must give him a pound of wheat a day. If he wants to he may give more.

Tertiis nundinis partis secanto. Si plus minusve secuerunt, se fraude esto.

On the third market day, (creditors) may cut pieces. If they take more than they are due, they do so with impunity.

Adversus hostem æterna auctoritas esto.

Against an enemy, title is good forever.

TABVLA IV (Parents and children)

Cito necatus insignis ad deformitatem puer esto.

An obviously deformed child must be put to death.

Si pater filium ter venum duit, filius a patre liber esto.

If a father sells his son into slavery three times, the son shall be free of his father.

TABVLA V (Inheritance)

Si intestato moritur, cui suus heres nec escit, adgnatus proximus familiam habeto. Si adgnatus nec escit, gentiles familiam habento.

If a person dies intestate without heirs, the nearest male kinsman shall inherit. If there is no near male kinsmen, his clansmen shall inherit.

Si furiosus escit, adgnatum gentiliumque in eo pecuniaque eius potestas esto.

If someone goes mad, his nearest male kinsman shall have authority over his property.

TABVLA VI (Property)

Cum nexum faciet mancipiumque, uti lingua nuncupassit, ita ius esto.

When someone makes bond or conveyance and announces it orally, right shall be given.

Tignum iunctum ædibus vineave sei concapit ne solvito.

No one must displace beams from buildings or vineyards.

TABVLA VII (Real Property)

Viam muniunto: ni sam delapidassint, qua volet iumento agito.

Build roads; if they become dilapidated, passers-by can drive their beasts wherever they want.

Si aqua pluvia nocet . . . iubetur ex arbitrio coerceri.

If rainwater does damage, he shall be made to fix it by the judge.


Qui malum carmen incantassit . . .

Those who have sung an evil spell. . .

Si membrum rupsit, ni cum eo pacit, talio esto.

If one has maimed another and does not buy his peace, let there be retaliation in kind.

Manu fustive si os fregit libero, CCC, si servo, CL poenam subito si iniuriam faxsit, viginti quinque poenae sunto.

Someone who breaks another's bone by hand or club must pay 300 sesterces; for a slave, 150; if he has done simple harm against another, 25.

Qui fruges excantassit . . . neve alienam segetem pellexeris

Someone who charms away crops, or another's corn. . .

Patronus si clienti fraudem fecerit, sacer esto.

If a patron defrauds his client, let him be outlawed.

Qui se sierit testarier libripensve fuerit, ni testimonium fatiatur, inprobus intestabilisque esto.

If one has been called to witness, or hold the scales, unless he gives his testimony, let him be dishonoured and incapable of further testimony.

Si telum manu fugit magis quam iecit, arietem subicito.

If a weapon flies unaimed from your hand, you will owe a ram.

TABVLA IX (Constitutional principles)

Privilegia ne irroganto.

Private laws must not be proposed.

TABVLA X (Funeral regulations)

Hominem mortuum in urbe ne sepelito neve urito.

No dead man may be cremated nor buried in the City.

Qui coronam parit ipse pecuniave eius honoris virtutisve ergo arduitur ei . . .

When a man wins a crown, or his slave or cattle win a crown for him, . . .

Neve aurum addito. at cui auro dentes iuncti escunt. Ast in cum illo sepeliet uretve, se fraude esto.

No one must add gold (to a funeral pyre). But if his teeth are held together with gold, and are buried or burnt with him, it shall be with impunity.

TABVLA XI (Marriage)

Conubia plebi cum patribus sanxerunt.

Marriages between plebeians and patricians are forbidden.


Si servo furtum faxit noxiamve noxit.

If a slave has committed theft or harm. . . .

Si vindiciam falsam tulit, si velit is . . . tor arbitros tris dato, eorum arbitrio . . . fructus duplione damnum decidito.

Someone who has brought a false claim shall be brought before three judges, and shall pay a double penalty.

External Link:

fr:Loi des Douze Tables it:Leggi delle XII tavole nl:Twaalftafelenwet pl:Prawo XII tablic zh:十二铜表法


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