The Romans



Another significant development was the appointment in 451BC of the decemviri, a committee of ten, to refine, standardize, and record a statutory code of law. The result, known as the Twelve Tables, was engraved in copper and permanently displayed to public view. They constituted a condensed set of rules for public, private, and political behaviour, covering in each case a variety of circumstances within a precise format.

Even more important than the actual details - and the laws contained in the Twelve Tables were never formally repealed in Roman times - was the fact that now everyone, patrician, plebeian, consul, senator, state official, ordinary citizen, was subject to the same written code, professionally drafted and precisely stated in terms which demonstrate the Roman aptitude for legal expression and constitute the starting point of European as well as of Roman law.

Cut-away reconstruction drawing of the interior of the Basilica Julia in the Forum. Begun probably in 54 BC, it was rebuilt by Augustus after being destroyed by fire. During the early empire it was where meetings of the court of the centumviri were held, to adjudicate principally on matters of inheritance. Pliny the Younger describes pleading a case before them (Letters 6. 33). (VRoma: from Ch. Huelsen, The Roman Forum: Its History and Its Monuments, tr. J. B. Carter, 1909: Barbara McManus)

Overview of this page [Ref 2.3]


The Twelve Tables publicly proclaim equality under the law.


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Believe it or not:

Among the laws contained in the Twelve Tables is one that stipulates that a if a man is killed by the owner of a property while committing a theft by night, that killing is lawful; another states that if a plaintiff is unable to turn up at court because of disease or age, the defendant must supply transport, but if it is a covered carriage, he need not furnish it with cushions.