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The 12 tables


The laws of the 12 tables codificated by the decemvirs (tenmen) in 450 BC. These laws were engraved in twelve bronze tablets. These tablets were almost certainly destroyed 60 years later when the Gauls captured and almost destroyed Rome (390BC). Since no copies survided either, many scholars have tried to reconstruct these twelve tables. No two of these reconstructions are the same; the laws on this page therfor can be disputed.

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Table I

  1. If a Roman summons another man to appear before a tribunal, that man shall appear.
  2. If he does not, the summoner has to summon him again, this time with a witness and bring him with force if necessary.
  3. If the summoned man shirks or runs, let the plaintiff capture him.
  4. If the physical condition of the accused prevents him to appear before the tribunal, the plaintiff must furnish him with an animal as means of transport.
  5. The summoned can be represented by a defender or sponsor.
  6. Only a landowner is allowed to represent another landowner.
  7. If the litigants settle their dispute on the way to the magistrate, the judge will accept this compromise as just and confirm this agreement
  8. In case they do not reach an agreement, the judge will have them both explain their view on the matter at hand. This must be done in the Comitium or the Forum before noon.
  9. After noon if one party fails to be present, the magistrate will pronounce the verdict in favor of the man present.
  10. If both men are present the judge must render his decision before sunset.

Table II

  1. Parties shall appear in person unless prevented by a serious disease or vows have to be discharged or the absence is caused by business for the state.
  2. In case of the absence of one of the parties as described in law 1, the hearing shall be postponed.
  3. If a witness, necessary for evidence in the matter, doesn't show up, let him be called in front of his house on three consecutive market days.
  4. If anyone is caught while stealing during the night and is killed in this action, this killing is with impunity.
  5. If anyone is caught while stealing during the day, he will be scourged and given as a slave to the person he was stealing from. A slave who is caught stealing will be beaten with rods and hurled from the Tarpeian rock.
  6. If a thief surprised in daylight, defends himself with a weapon of any kind and gets killed in being apprehended, is killed legally.
  7. If stolen goods are found while searching a house, this is treated as manifest theft and punished in the same manner.

Table III

  1. If someone pinches property, that is in his possession for safekeeping, but belongs to someone else, shall be condemned to pay double the value of these goods.
  2. If anyone collects an interest higher than legally allowed shall pay the quadruple amount.
  3. Acquiring goods by means of usucaption, is not possible for aliens. Romans always have the right to reclaim their possession from aliens.
  4. A judge will grant a debtor thirty days to pay the debt to his creditor.
  5. If a debtor fails to pay his debt within these thirty days, the creditor can seize him and bring him back to the tribunal.
  6. If a defendant fails to pay his debts within thirty days after he was condemned by a tribunal to do so, the plaintiff can bind or chain him, providing the chains are not heavier than fifteen pounds.
  7. A debtor in custody of the creditor is allowed to support himself with food, is he is able to do so by his own means. If he cannot the creditor shall give him at least one pound of grain each day.
  8. If a party kept in custody does not come to terms with his creditor shell be held in chains for 60 days, and brought before the judge for three consecutive market days.
  9. After the debtor has been held in chains for 60 days, he shall be reduced to slavery by his creditor or if the creditor prefers be sold beyond the Tiber.
  10. If a debtor is convicted for debts to more persons and after he has been exposed on the Forum for three market days, they may, if they desire to do so, divide their debtor into different parts.
  11. Anyone accused of theft that is not manifest and the stolen object are not found, has to repay double the value of the stolen goods.
  12. For each illegal cutdown trees that belong to someone else the culprit shall pay 20 asses.
  13. If anyone makes a compromise with a thief over stolen goods, he cannot prosecute the thief afterwards.
  14. Stolen goods will always be the property of the one whom it belonged to, no matter for how long the goods were not in his possession. The goods can never be acquired by someone else , no matter how.

Table IV

  1. A father has the right over life and death of his children born in a legal marriage.
  2. If a father sells his son three times, the latter shall be no longer in his manus.
  3. Recently born children, dreadfully deformed, shall be put to death immediately by the father.
  4. Children born with ten months after the death of the legal husband of the mother shall be born in a legal marriage and his legal heir.

Table V

  1. The will of the head of a household has the power of a law.
  2. If a free man dies intestate and without an heir, his nearest agnate will be his heir. If there is none the next of kin.
  3. If a freed man dies intestate without heirs, his patron or his children will be heirs.
  4. In case of debts heirs can only sue or be sued in proportion of their share of the inheritance.
  5. The judge shall appoint three arbiters when an estate has to be divided between heirs.
  6. When an heir has not reached the age of puberty at the time the head of the family dies intestate, his nearest agnate shall be his guardian.
  7. Females shall have a guardian even after they have rached the age of puberty
  8. The nearest agnates of an insane persons for whom has not been appointed a guardian, will take charge of his property, or if there are none his other nearest relatives.

Table VI

  1. If anyone makes a verbal statement or agreement about an obligation concerning his property this statement has the force of law. if he later denies this statement and legal proceedings are instituted, he shall pay twice the value of the property in question.
  2. When a slave, who is manumitted by a will under certain conditions, complies to these conditions he shall be free. The slave who, pays his price to the purchaser and claims his freedom, shall be free.
  3. Sold property will not be acquired by the purchaser until he payed the agreed price or otherwise satisfies the vendor, even if the property already in his possession.
  4. After a period of two years, immovable property shall be acquired by usucaption; movable property after a lapse of one year.
  5. When a woman lives with a man for a year, without being legally married, will pass into his power as his legal wife by usucaption, unless this period has been interrupted for at least three nights.
  6. In a dispute before the judge both pasties are entitled to state their claims in the presence of a witness.
  7. If someone wishes to manumit a slave under the condition of servitude, the judge will rule in favour of the freedom.
  8. It is not allowed to remove anything, that form a material part of it, from a building or vineyard. He who attaches a beam or anything else to a building or vineyard, shall be fined to pay double it's value.
  9. Materials ready for building, but not yet attached to a building,that are removed, can be recovered like they were stolen.
  10. A husband cannot divorce from his wife without giving a reason.After a period of two years, Immovable property shall acquired by usucaption; movable property after a lapse of one year.
  11. When a woman lives with a man for a year, without being legally married, will pass into his power as his legal wife by usucaption, unless this period has been interrupted for at least three nights.
  12. In a dispute before the judge both pasties are entitled to state their claims in the presence of a witness.
  13. If someone wishes to manumit a slave under the condition of servitude, the judge will rule in favour of the freedom.
  14. It is not allowed to remove anything, that form a material part of it, from a building or vineyard. He who attaches a beam or anything else to a building or vineyard, shall be fined to pay double it's value.
  15. Materials ready for building, but not yet attached to a building,that are removed, can be recovered like they were stolen.
  16. A husband cannot divorce from his wife without giving a reason.Sold property will not be acquired by the purchaser until he payed the agreed price or otherwise satisfied the vendor, even if the property already in his possession.

Table VII

  1. If an animal causes damage to anyone, the owner of the animal is obliged to pay the damage. If he refuses, the injure party is entitles to take the animal that caused the injury.
  2. He who causes unlawful damage is obliged to compensate the loss, either by repairing the damage or by payment.
  3. When grain or crops are prevented from growing by means incantation or magic, the perpetrator shall be sacrificed to Ceres.
  4. He who steals by night the crop of some else will be sacrificed to Ceres and hung. If he has not reached the age of puberty shall be scourged and must pay twice the amount of the loss.
  5. Cattle that is pastured on the land of another, shall be surrendered as compensation.
  6. Anyone who purposely sets fire to a house or a heap of grain near the house, will be scourged and put to death by fire. If it happened by accident he will compensate the damage. If he can't compensate, he shall receive a lighter punishment.
  7. He who causes injury which is not serious shall be fined to pay 20 asses.
  8. He who writes insulting poems or abuses another publicly in loud voice, shall be beaten to death with a rod.
  9. Anyone who breaks a member of another and is unwilling to compensate and satisfy the other, shall be punished by retaliation.
  10. Knocking out a tooth shall be fined with 300 asses for the tooth a free men and 150 for the tooth of a slave.
  11. When anyone, after being asked, has witnessed a sale, the execution of a will and afterwards refuses to give evidence about the genuineness of the transaction, can testify afterwards and will become infamous.
  12. Giving a false testimony, shall be punished by being hurled from the Tarpeian rock.
  13. Killing a freeman on purpose is a capital crime. He who kills a freeman by accident shall publicly offer a ram as expiation and for the appeasing of the children of the murdered person.
  14. Poisoning another or rendering him ill or inactive by means of magic or diabolical arts is a capital crime and punishable by death.
  15. He who kills a ascendant will be wrapped in a cloth, sewn in a sack and thrown into the water.
  16. A guardian who is guilty of fraud in his administration shall be considered infamous. If after the guardianship ended theft is proven shall pay double the amount of the loss as compensation.
  17. He who defrauds his client shall be dedicated to the hellish gods.

Table VIII

  1. Between two building must be left a space of two feet and a half.
  2. Societies, and associations have the right to create the contracts and rules as they desire, provided they have the right to assemble and do not violate the laws.
  3. Between two adjoining field shall be left a space of 5 feet. This space can never be acquired by usucaption.
  4. In case of a dispute about the boundaries of two adjoining fields the judge will appoint three arbiters who will establish the right boundaries.
  5. If an overhanging tree causes injury by it's branches or it's shade, shall be cut of 15 feet from the ground.
  6. The owner of a fruit tree has the right to collect fallen fruit from the land of his neighbour
  7. When the rain runs from one person's land to that of another and damage his property, the judge will appoint three arbiters to make the water stays on the property and to establish compensation.
  8. A road shall be 8 feet wide except in curves where it will be 16 feet wide.
  9. The owner of a piece of land next to a highway, can fence his land off in any way he wants. If he does not animals can be driven freely over his land.

Table IX

  1. No privileges will be given to any private person,if that harms other people in their use of the common laws.
  2. The laws that have been enacted for the Roman citizens are considered to have been enacted to people residing in and beyond Latium.
  3. A judge or an arbiter who accepts a bribe in a case where he is appointed shall be punished by death.
  4. Only by the vote of the Roman people can a decision about the life or liberty of a Roman citizen be rendered.
  5. The people of Rome shall appoint the public accusers.
  6. He who causes nocturnal assemblies is punishable by death.
  7. He who delivers a Roman citizen into the hands of an enemy or causes a war against Rome shall be punished by death.

Table X

  1. For the purpose of good faith, an oath shall have the greatest force and effect.
  2. Every member of a Roman family can make use of religious rites adopted earlier by his family.
  3. It is not allowed to burn or bury corpses in the city.
  4. In funeral ceremonies it is not allowed to make greater expenses or mournings than proper.
  5. The limits established by this law for funeral rites , shall hereafter not be exceeded.
  6. Wood for building a funeral pyre shall be rough and unpolished.
  7. No more than the women covered with mourning veils shall be admitted to perform the mourning services. The in purple robes wrapped body shall be accompanied by no more than ten flute players in the funeral procession.
  8. It is not allowed for women to damage their face or to utter load cries when bewailing the dead.
  9. After a funeral ceremony it is not allowed to take bones from de body of the deceased in order to repeat the ceremony somewhere else. Parts of a body may be transferred to his ancestors burial
  10. place, when he died in a foreign country or in a war.
  11. The corpse of a slave shall be buried without any honor: No drinking or banquet shall be held nor shall the body be anointed.
  12. No precious beverage, like wine flavoured with myrrh, shall be poured over the body or the pile.
  13. No one shall wear large wreaths at a funeral, nor shall anyone burn perfumes on the altars.
  14. Anyone who deserved a wreath during his lifetime, no matter how, has the right to have placed that wreath upon his dead body while at home and when he is carried away.
  15. It is forbidden to prepare several biers, since only one funeral at the time can take place.
  16. Except teeth fasten with gold in the mouth of the deceased all gold, no matter in what form, shall be removed from the dead body at the time of the funeral.
  17. No funeral pyre or tomb shall be erected within 60 feet of a building without the consent of the owner of that building.
  18. A tomb, it vestibule or the approach cannot be acquired by usucaption.
  19. During the obsequies of any man distinguished in the state,there shall be no assembly of the people.

Table XI

  1. Affairs of great importance can only be transacted with the vote of the people. Only the people of Roma has the power to appoint magistrates, can condemn citizens and enact laws. Newly passed laws take preference over old laws.
  2. There shall be no marriage contracts between those who belong to the senatorial order (patricians) and plebeians.

Table XI

  1. Affairs of great importance can only be transacted with the vote of the people. Only the people of Roma has the power to appoint magistrates, can condemn citizens and enact laws. Newly passed laws take preference over old laws.
  2. There shall be no marriage contracts between those who belong to the senatorial order (patricians) and plebeians.

Table XII

  1. If anyone rendered property, to which is controversy in court, renders sacred shall pay double it value as a penalty.
  2. If a claim after a judgement was rendered proves to be false, the judge shall appoint three arbiters and the person in who's favour the judgement was rendered shall pay double the amount as compensation.
  3. A theft committed or cause damage by a slave , with the knowledge of his master, will be compensated with the transfer of that slave to the other party.