Twelve Tables

The Law of the Twelve Tables (Latin: Leges Duodecim Tabularum or Duodecim Tabulae) was the legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law. The Tables consolidated earlier traditions into an enduring set of laws.[1][2]

Displayed in the Forum, "The Twelve Tables" stated the rights and duties of the Roman citizen. Their formulation was the result of considerable agitation by the plebeian class, who had hitherto been excluded from the higher benefits of the Republic. The law had previously been unwritten and exclusively interpreted by upper-class priests, the pontifices. Something of the regard with which later Romans came to view the Twelve Tables is captured in the remark of Cicero (106–43 BC) that the "Twelve Tables...seems to me, assuredly to surpass the libraries of all the philosophers, both in weight of authority, and in plenitude of utility". Cicero scarcely exaggerated; the Twelve Tables formed the basis of Roman law for a thousand years.[3]

The Twelve Tables are sufficiently comprehensive that their substance has been described as a 'code',[4] although modern scholars consider this characterization exaggerated.[2] The Tables were 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. The provisions were often highly specific and diverse.[5]

Drafting and development

The Twelve Tables of Roman society were said by the Romans to have come about as a result of the long social struggle between patricians and plebeians. After the expulsion of the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, the Republic was governed by a hierarchy of magistrates. Initially, only patricians were eligible to become magistrates and this, among other plebeian complaints, was a source of discontent for plebeians. In the context of this unequal status, plebeians would take action to secure concessions for themselves using the threat of secession. They would threaten to leave the city with the consequence that it would grind to a halt, as the plebeians were Rome's labor force. Tradition held that one of the most important concessions won in this class struggle was the establishment of the Twelve Tables, establishing basic procedural rights for all Roman citizens in relation to each other.[6] The drafting of the Twelve Tables may have been fomented by a desire for self-regulation by the patricians, or for other reasons.[2]

Around 450 BC, the first decemviri (decemvirate, board of "Ten Men") were appointed to draw up the first ten tables. According to Livy, they sent an embassy to Greece to study the legislative system of Athens, known as the Solonian Constitution, but also to find out about the legislation of other Greek cities.[7][8] Some scholars dispute the veracity of any claim that the Romans imitated the Greeks in this respect[9] or suggest that they visited the Greek cities of Southern Italy, and did not travel all the way to Greece.[10] In 450 BC, the second decemviri started to work on the last two tables.

The first decemvirate completed the first ten codes in 450 BC. Here is how Livy describes their creation,

"...every citizen should quietly consider each point, then talk it over with his friends, and, finally, bring forward for public discussion any additions or subtractions which seemed desirable." (cf. Liv. III.34)

In 449 BC, the second decemvirate completed the last two codes, and after a secessio plebis to force the Senate to consider them, the Law of the Twelve Tables was formally promulgated.[11] According to Livy (AUC 3.57.10) the Twelve Tables were inscribed on bronze (Pomponius (Dig. 1 tit. 2 s2 §4) alone says on ivory), and posted publicly, so all Romans could read and know them.

Some of the provisions are procedural to ensure fairness among all Romans in the courts, while other established legal terms dictating the legality of capital crimes, intentional homicide, treason, perjury, judicial corruption, and writing slanderous poems.[12] The Romans valued keeping peace in the city and the Twelve Tables were a mechanism of establishing and continuing peace and equality.[12]

Laws of the Twelve Tables

Table 1 Procedure: for courts and trials
Table 2 Trials continued & Theft
Table 3 Debt
Table 4 Rights of fathers (pater familias) over the family
Table 5 Legal guardianship and inheritance laws
Table 6 Acquisition and possession
Table 7 Land rights & crimes
Table 8 Torts and delicts (Laws of injury)
Table 9 Public law
Table 10 Sacred law
Table 11 Supplement I
Table 12 Supplement II

Table III: Debt

The laws the Twelve Tables covered were a way to publicly display rights that each citizen had in the public and private sphere. These Twelve Tables displayed what was previously understood in Roman society as the unwritten laws. The public display of the copper tablets allowed for a more balanced society between the Roman patricians who were educated and understood the laws of legal transactions, and the Roman plebeians who had little education or experience in understanding law. By revealing the unwritten rules of society to the public, the Twelve Tables provided a means of safeguard for Plebeians allowing them the opportunity to avoid financial exploitation and added balance to the Roman economy.

Featured within the Twelve Tables are five rules about how to handle debtors and creditors. These rules show how the ancient Romans maintained peace with financial policy. In his article Development of the Roman Law of Debt Security, Donald E. Phillipson states the Twelve Tables were, “A set of statutes known as the Twelve Tables that was passed by an early assembly served as the foundation of the Roman private law. The Twelve Tables were enacted in the mid-fifth century B.C. as the result of a conflict among social classes in ancient Rome.” (pp. 1231–1232).[13] Phillipson also describes the leniency of the relationship between debtor and creditor on how it was changed and arranged in the 5th century BC and how Roman law surrounding it was tweaked within the Twelve Tables that initially drew out the legal boundaries surrounding debt. Specially discussing the influence of creditors rights, Phillipson states, “In the fifth century B.C. only movables were pledged under pignus, although any res in which bonitary ownership was held was capable of being pledged. However, by the late Republic, land and buildings were increasingly pledged in pignus arrangements. This increased usage paralleled the expansion of creditors' rights with respect to the pledged property. The right of possession and seizure (jus possidendi) and the right of foreclosure and sale (jus distrahendi) were probably the most important of the developing creditors' rights. These increased creditors' rights also encouraged and contributed to the expansion of the types of res in which bonitary ownership, and thus pignus arrangements, were possible. For example, the use of pignus expanded to include usufructs, rustic servitudes, rights of way, and even pledges themselves by the second century A.D.” (p. 1239).[13]

In the book, The Twelve Tables, written by an anonymous source due to its origins being collaborated through a series of translations of tablets and ancient references, P.R. Coleman-Norton arranged and translated many of the significant features of debt that the Twelve Tables enacted into law during the 5th century. The translation of the legal features surrounding debt and derived from the known sources of the Twelve Tables are stated as such

“1. Of debt acknowledged and for matters judged in court (in iure) thirty days shall be allowed by law [for payment or for satisfaction].

2. After that [elapse of thirty days without payment] hand shall be laid on (manus iniectio) [the debtor]. He shall be brought into court (in ius).

3. Unless he (the debtor) discharge the debt or unless some one appear in court (in iure) to guarantee payment for him, he (the creditor) shall take [the debtor] with him. He shall bind [him] either with thong or with fetters, of which the weight shall be not less than fifteen pounds or shall be more, if he (the creditor) choose.

4. If he (the debtor) choose, he shall live on his own [means]. If he live not on his own [means], [the creditor,] who shall hold him in bonds, shall give [him] a pound of bread daily; if he (the creditor) shall so desire, he shall give [him] more.

5. Unless they (the debtors) make a compromise, they (the debtors) shall be held in bonds for sixty days. During those days they shall be brought to [the magistrate] into the comitium (meeting-place) on three successive market[…]”[14]

The five mandates of the Twelve Tables encompassing debt created a new understanding within social classes in ancient Rome that insured financial exploitation would be limited within legal business transactions.

Women: Tables V, VI & X

The Twelve Tables have three sections that pertain to women as they concern estates and guardianship, ownership and possession, and religion, which give a basic understanding as to the legal rights of females.

  • Table V (Estates and Guardianship): “Female heirs should remain under guardianship even when they have attained the age of majority, but exception is made for the Vestal Virgins.”[12]
  • Table VI (Ownership and Possession): “Where a woman, who has not been united to a man in marriage, lives with him for an entire year without an interruption of three nights, she shall pass into his power as his legal wife.”[12]
  • Table X (Religion): “Women shall not during a funeral lacerate their faces, or tear their cheeks with their nails; nor shall they utter loud cries bewailing the dead.”[12]

One of the aspects highlighted in the Twelve Tables is a woman's legal status and standing in society. Women were considered to be a form of guardianship similar to that of minors,[15] and sections on ownership and possession give off the impression that women were considered to be akin to a piece of real estate or property due to the use of terms such as "ownership" and "possession".[15]

The Supplements: Tables XI & XII

  • Table XI (Marriage Between Classes): A person of a certain class shall not partake in marriage with a person of a lower class.
  • Table XII (Binding into Law): Whatever one or more persons have ordered into law, shall be held by the law.

Influence and significance

Twelve Tables Engraving
Roman civilians examining the Twelve Tables after they were first implemented.

The Twelve Tables are often cited as the foundation for ancient Roman law. Although faced with many issues, the Twelve Tables provided a premature understanding of some key concepts such as justice, equality, and punishment.[16] While these ideas were not fully understood, the Twelve Tables play a significant role in the basis of the early American legal system. Political theorists, such as James Madison have highlighted the importance of the Twelve Tables in crafting the United States Bill of Rights.[17] The idea of property was also perpetuated in the Twelve Tables, including the different forms of money, land, and slaves.

Although legal reform occurred soon after the implementation of the Twelve Tables, these ancient laws provided social protection and civil rights for both the patricians and plebeians. At this time, there was extreme tension between the privileged class and the common people resulting in the need for some form of social order. While the existing laws had major flaws that were in need of reform, the Twelve Tables eased the civil tension and violence between the plebeians and patricians.[18]

The influence of the Twelve Tables is still evident in the modern day. For example, the Twelve Tables are tied into the notion of Jus Commune, which translates as "common law", but is commonly referred to as "civil law" in English-speaking countries. Some countries including South Africa and San Marino still base their current legal system on aspects of jus commune.[18] In addition, law school students throughout the world are still required to study the Twelve Tables as well as other facets of Roman Law in order to better understand the current legal system in place.[19]


The Twelve Tables are no longer extant: although they remained an important source through the Republic, they gradually became obsolete, eventually being only of historical interest.[2] The original tablets may have been destroyed when the Gauls under Brennus burned Rome in 387 BC. Cicero claimed[20] that he learned them by heart as a boy in school, but that no one did so any longer. What we have of them today are brief excerpts and quotations from these laws in other authors, often in clearly updated language. They are written in an archaic, laconic Latin (described as Saturnian verse). As such, though it cannot be determined whether the quoted fragments accurately preserve the original form, what is present gives some insight into the grammar of early Latin. Some claim that the text was written as such so plebeians could more easily memorize the laws, as literacy was not commonplace during early Rome. Roman Republican scholars wrote commentaries upon the Twelve Tables, such as L. Aelius Stilo,[21] teacher of both Varro and Cicero.[22]

Like most other early codes of law, they were largely procedural, combining 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 and records, many of which do not include the original lines, but paraphrases. It cannot be known with any certainty from what survives that the originals ever were organized this way, or even if they ever were organized by subject at all.[2]


  1. ^ Jolowicz, H.F. Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law (Cambridge, 1952), 108
  2. ^ a b c d e Crawford, M.H. 'Twelve Tables' in Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow (eds.) Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.)
  3. ^ Book: "The Age of Classical Civilization"; Chapter "The Twelve Tables c. 450 BC"; p. 27
  4. ^ Mommsen, T. The History of Rome trans. W.P. Dickson (London, 1864) 290
  5. ^ Steinberg, S. 'The Twelve Tables and Their Origins: An Eighteenth-Century Debate' Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 43, No. 3 (1982) 379–396, 381
  6. ^ du Plessis, Paul (2010). Borkowski's Textbook on Roman Law (4th ed.). Oxford. pp. 5–6, 29–30. ISBN 978-0-19-957488-9.
  7. ^ Livy, 2002, p. 23
  8. ^ Durant, 1942, p. 23
  9. ^ Steinberg, S. 'The Twelve Tables and Their Origins: An Eighteenth-Century Debate' Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 43, No. 3 (1982) 379–396
  10. ^ Grant, Michael (1978). History of Rome (1st ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 75. ISBN 0-02-345610-8.
  11. ^ McCarty, Nick "Rome The Greatest Empire of the Ancient World", The Rosen Publishing Group, 2008
  12. ^ a b c d e Ronald., Mellor (2013). The historians of ancient Rome: an anthology of the major writings. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415527163. OCLC 819515201.
  13. ^ a b Phillipson, D.E. (1968). Development of the Roman Law of Debt Security. Stanford Law Review,20(6), 1230. doi:10.2307/1227498
  14. ^ Coleman-Norton, P.R. (1960). The Twelve Tables. Princeton: Princeton University, Dept. of Classics.
  15. ^ a b Hurri, Samuli (November 2005). "The Twelve Tables" (PDF). NoFo. 1: 13–23.
  16. ^ Gary, Forsythe. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2005,
  17. ^ Denis, Fustel De Coulanges Numa. The Ancient City a Study on the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. Print.
  18. ^ a b "Law in Ancient Rome, The Twelve Tables". Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  19. ^ Baker, Keir (2016-04-11). "Studying Roman law: Juno it's more useful than you'd think". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  20. ^ Cic. Leg. 2.59
  21. ^ cf. Funaioli GRF p57
  22. ^ Cicero, Brutus 205; Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 16.8.2.

Works cited

External links

Acerra (incense box)

In Ancient Roman sacrificial tradition, an acerra (Greek: λιβανωτρίς) was the incense box used in sacrifices. The incense was taken out of the acerra and let fall upon the burning altar; hence, we have the expression de acerra libare. (turibulum)

The acerra was also, according to Festus, a small altar, placed before the dead, on which perfumes were burnt. There was a law in the Twelve Tables, which restricted the use of acerrae at funerals.

Antonia (gens)

The gens Antonia was a Roman family of great antiquity, with both patrician and plebeian branches. The first of the gens to achieve prominence was Titus Antonius Merenda, one of the second group of Decemviri called, in 450 BC, to help draft what became the Law of the Twelve Tables.The most prominent member of the gens was Marcus Antonius.

Chez l'Ami Louis

Chez l'Ami Louis (French pronunciation: ​[ʃe lami lwi], Our friend Louis's) is a restaurant at 32, rue du Vertbois, in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, France, founded in 1924.

The restaurant, which has been called "the world's most famous bistro" and "the worst restaurant in the world", has only twelve tables and serves meals in a traditional French setting. It was founded by the chef Antoine Magnin, who died in 1987. Gault Millau said of him that he had "an eagle eye for choosing produce" and that the meat and poultry he served was the best in Paris. The current host is Louis Gadby.L'Ami Louis specializes in traditional French cuisine, including lamb and foie gras. Notable clients have included Francis Ford Coppola and Alice Waters, who has named it as her favourite restaurant. L'Ami Louis has been visited by Bill Clinton and Jacques Chirac and was the venue for the 60th birthday party of writer Anthony Dias Blue and the 70th birthday party of R. W. Apple, Jr..


The decemviri or decemvirs (Latin for "ten men") were any of several 10-man commissions established by the Roman Republic.

The most important were those of the two Decemvirates, formally the "Decemvirs Writing the Laws with Consular Imperium" (Latin: Decemviri Legibus Scribundis Consulari Imperio) who reformed and codified Roman law during the Conflict of the Orders between ancient Rome's patrician aristocracy and plebeian commoners. Other decemviri include the "Decemviri Adjudging Litigation" (Decemviri Stlitibus Judicandis), the "Decemviri Making Sacrifices" (Decemviri Sacris Faciundis), and the "Decemviri Distributing Public Lands" (Decemviri Agris Dandis Adsignandis).


Furtum was a delict of Roman law comparable to the modern offence of theft (as it is usually translated) despite being a civil and not criminal wrong. In the classical law and later, it denoted the contrectatio ("handling") of most types of property with a particular sort of intention – fraud and in the later law, a view to gain. It is unclear whether a view to gain was always required or added later, and, if the latter, when. This meant that the owner did not consent, although Justinian broadened this in at least one case. The law of furtum protected a variety of property interests, but not land, things without an owner, or types of state or religious things. An owner could commit theft by taking his things back in certain circumstances, as could a borrower or similar user through misuse.

The Romans distinguished between "manifest" and "non-manifest" theft based on how close to the scene of the crime the thief was caught, although exactly where the line was debated by jurists. Under the Twelve Tables, death or flogging could be expected for a manifest thief, later changed to damages of four times the thing. The penalty for non-manifest theft was two times. There were complementary actions against the occupier of the property where the stolen goods were found, if the defendant did not bring the thing to court or refused a search. Vindicatio or condictio could also be undertaken by the owner of the thing, in addition to an action under furtum.

Gaius (jurist)

Gaius (; fl. AD 130–180) was a celebrated Roman jurist. Scholars know very little of his personal life. It is impossible to discover even his full name, Gaius or Caius being merely his personal name (praenomen). As with his name it is difficult to ascertain the span of his life, but it is safe to assume he lived from AD 110 to at least AD 179, since he wrote on legislation passed within that time.

From internal evidence in his works it may be gathered that he flourished in the reigns of the emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. His works were thus composed between the years 130 and 180. After his death, however, his writings were recognized as of great authority, and the emperor Theodosius II named him in the Law of Citations, along with Papinian, Ulpian, Modestinus and Paulus, as one of the five jurists whose opinions were to be followed by judicial officers in deciding cases. The works of these jurists accordingly became most important sources of Roman law.

Besides the Institutes, which are a complete exposition of the elements of Roman law, Gaius was the author of a treatise on the Edicts of the Magistrates, of Commentaries on the Twelve Tables, and on the important Lex Papia Poppaea, and several other works. His interest in the antiquities of Roman law is apparent, and for this reason his work is most valuable to the historian of early institutions. In the disputes between the two schools of Roman jurists he generally attached himself to that of the Sabinians, who were said to be followers of Ateius Capito, of whose life we have some account in the Annals of Tacitus, and to advocate a strict adherence as far as possible to ancient rules, and to resist innovation. Many quotations from the works of Gaius occur in the Digest, created by Tribonian at the direction of Justinian I, and so acquired a permanent place in the system of Roman law; while a comparison of the Institutes of Justinian with those of Gaius shows that the whole method and arrangement of the later work were copied from that of the earlier, and very numerous passages are word for word the same. The Digest and the Institutes of Justinian are part of the Corpus Juris Civilis. Probably, for the greater part of the period of three centuries which elapsed between Gaius and Justinian, his Institutes had been the familiar textbook for all students of Roman law.


The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch or court system) is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in a country,state or an international community. The first legal systems of the world were set up to allow citizens to settle conflicts without violence.The judiciary mainly interprets and applies the law, but can in some systems create law.

Lex Cincia

Lex Cincia (The Law of the tribune Marcus Cincius Alimentus) was a plebiscite (law passed by the Plebeian Council) passed in 204 BC, and was intended to reform the legal system of the Roman Republic. One provision of this law forbade lawyers from being compensated after pleading a case. By the time of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, this law was confirmed by a decree of the Roman Senate (senatus consultum) and a penalty of four times the sum received was imposed on the lawyer. This was a part of Augustus' attempt to restore the ancient virtues of the republic. By the time of the emperor Claudius, this law had been modified to allow the lawyer to receive a payment of up to ten thousand sesterces. If he took any sum beyond that, he was liable to be prosecuted. By the time of the emperor Trajan, lawyers were not allowed to be paid until their work was done.The restrictions on compensation for pleading a case typically concerned the early stages of the case, although some provisions applied beyond these early stages. Some provisions applied to gifts in general. Small gifts could be given freely, but large gifts required certain formalities. One common formality was known as In Jure Cessio, which was an ancient legal doctrine, dating back to the Twelve Tables of 450 BC. In this process, the lawyer would claim the right to the gift in the presence of a Roman Magistrate and the person making the gift. The magistrate would ask the owner for a defense, the owner would not claim one, and the gift would be transferred to the lawyer. This was intended to prevent foolish and hasty gifts of a large amount, and also to prevent fraud. These same provisions applied equally to relatives. The emperor Antoninus Pius introduced an exception in favor of parents and children, and also of other close relatives, although this exception appears to have been subsequently abolished, and then restored by the emperor Constantine in 319.

List of Roman laws

This is a partial list of Roman laws. A Roman law (Latin: lex) is usually named for the sponsoring legislator and designated by the adjectival form of his gens name (nomen gentilicum), in the feminine form because the noun lex (plural leges) is of feminine grammatical gender. When a law is the initiative of the two consuls, it is given the name of both, with the nomen of the senior consul first. Sometimes a law is further specified by a short phrase describing the content of the law, to distinguish that law from others sponsored by members of the same gens.

List of ancient legal codes

The legal code was a common feature of the legal systems of the ancient Middle East. The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100-2050 BC), then the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BC), are amongst the earliest originating in the Fertile Crescent. In the Roman empire, a number of codifications were developed, such as the Twelve Tables of Roman law (first compiled in 450 BC) and the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian, also known as the Justinian Code (429 - 534 CE). In ancient China, the first comprehensive criminal code was the Tang Code, created in 624 CE in the Tang Dynasty.

The following is a list of ancient legal codes in chronological order:

Code of Urukagina (2,380-2,360 BC)

Cuneiform law (2,350-1,400 BC)

Code of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (c. 2050 BC)

Laws of Eshnunna (c. 1930 BC)

Codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (c. 1870 BC)

Babylonian laws / Code of Hammurabi (c. 1790 BC)

Hittite laws (c. 1650–1100 BC)

Code of the Nesilim (c. 1650-1500 BC)

Law of Moses / Torah (10th-6th century BC)

Assyrian laws / Code of the Assura (c. 1075 BC)

Draconian constitution (7th century BC)

Gortyn code (5th century BC)

Twelve Tables of Roman Law (451 BC)

Edicts of Ashoka of Buddhist Law (269-236 BC)

Law of Manu (c. 200 BC)

Corpus Juris Civilis (Justinian code) (529 to 534 AD)

Sharia or Islamic Law (c. 570)

Tang Code (624 to 637)

Halakha (Jewish religious law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions)

Traditional Chinese law

Gentoo Code

Brehon Law

Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus

Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus (; c. 154 – 74 BC), of Lanuvium, is the earliest philologist of the Roman Republic. He came from a distinguished family and belonged to the equestrian order.

He was called Stilo (Latin stylus, "pen"), because he wrote speeches for others, and Praeconinus from his father's profession (praeco, "announcer, public crier, herald"). His aristocratic sympathies were so strong that he voluntarily accompanied Caecilius Metellus Numidicus into exile. At Rome he divided his time between teaching (although not as a professional schoolmaster) and literary work.His most famous pupils were Varro and Cicero, and amongst his friends was Coelius Antipater, the historian. According to Cicero, who expresses a poor opinion of his powers as an orator, Stilo was a follower of the Stoic school. Only a few fragments of his works remain. He wrote commentaries on the hymns of the Salii (Carmen Saliare), and probably also on the Twelve Tables. He analyzed the authenticity of comedies supposedly by Plautus, and recognized 25 as canonical, four more than were allowed by Varro.It is probable that he was the author of a general glossographical work, dealing with literary, historical and antiquarian questions. The rhetorical treatise Ad Herennium was attributed to him by some scholars of the early 20th century.


In Roman law, mancipatio (f. Latin manus "hand" and capere "to take hold of") was a solemn verbal contract by which the ownership of certain types of goods, called res mancipi, was transferred.

Mancipatio was also the legal procedure for drawing up wills, emancipating children from their parents, and adoption.Res mancipi were goods important in an early agrarian society, like land, rights over land, horses, cattle and slaves. The right of ownership (dominium) for such goods was reserved to Roman citizens (Quirites) and therefore called a "quiritian" or a "quiritary" right.

The procedure of acquisition of property by scales and bronze (per aes et libram) is described as follows by Gaius: "Mancipatio is effected in the presence of not less than five witnesses, who must be Roman citizens and of the age of puberty, and also in the presence of another person of the same condition, who holds a pair of brazen scales and hence is called Libripens. The purchaser, taking hold of the thing, says: HUNC EGO HOMINEM EX IURE QUIRITIUM MEUM ESSE AIO ISQUE MIHI EMPTUS ESTO HOC AERE AENEAQUE LIBRA (I affirm that this slave is mine according to quiritary right, and he is purchased by me with this piece of bronze and scales). He then strikes the scales with the piece of bronze, and gives it to the seller as a symbol of the price" (Gaius, Institutes, I.119).

Mancipatio existed even before the Twelve Tables. It fell into disuse during the Empire and was finally abolished by the code of Justinian.

Old Latin

Old Latin, also known as Early Latin or Archaic Latin, refers to the Latin language in the period before 75 BC, i.e. before the age of Classical Latin. (In New and Contemporary Latin, this language is called prisca Latinitas ["ancient Latin"] rather than vetus Latina ["old Latin"], as vetus Latina is used to refer to a set of Biblical texts written in Late Latin.) It is ultimately descended from the Proto-Italic language.

The use of "old", "early" and "archaic" has been standard in publications of Old Latin writings since at least the 18th century. The definition is not arbitrary, but the terms refer to writings with spelling conventions and word forms not generally found in works written under the Roman Empire. This article presents some of the major differences.

The earliest known specimen of the Latin language appears on the Praeneste fibula. A new analysis performed in 2011 declared it to be genuine "beyond any reasonable doubt" and dating from the Orientalizing period, in the first half of the seventh century BC.

Pater familias

The pater familias, also written as paterfamilias (plural patres familias), was the head of a Roman family. The pater familias was the oldest living male in a household, and exercised autocratic authority over his extended family. The term is Latin for "father of the family" or the "owner of the family estate". The form is archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive ending in -ās (see Latin declension), whereas in classical Latin the normal genitive ending was -ae. The pater familias always had to be a Roman citizen.

Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias within the community of his own extended familia. In Roman family law, the term "Patria potestas" (Latin: “power of a father”) refers to this concept. He held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral gods and to dutifully participate—and if possible, serve—in Rome's political, religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right. In practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.


In the early days of Ancient Rome, perduellio (Latin: [pɛrˈdwɛllɪ.oː]) was the term for the capital offense of high treason. It was set down plainly in the Law of the Twelve Tables as follows:

The Law of the Twelve Tables orders that he who has stirred up an enemy or who has handed over a citizen to the enemy is to be punished capitally. (Marcianus, D. 48, 4, 3) [1].

Under the terms of this law, those convicted of perduellio were subject to death either by being hanged from the arbor infelix (a tree deemed to be unfortunate) or by being thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. Their families were not allowed to mourn them and their houses were razed.

Political institutions of ancient Rome

Various lists regarding the political institutions of ancient Rome are presented. Each entry in a list is a link to a separate article. Categories included are: constitutions (5), laws (5), and legislatures (7); state offices (28) and office holders (6 lists); political factions (3) and social ranks (8). A political glossary (35) of similar construction follows.

Roman law

Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables (c. 449 BC), to the Corpus Juris Civilis (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. Roman law forms the basic framework for civil law, the most widely used legal system today, and the terms are sometimes used synonymously. The historical importance of Roman law is reflected by the continued use of Latin legal terminology in many legal systems influenced by it, including common law.

After the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, the Roman law remained in effect in the Eastern Roman Empire. From the 7th century onward, the legal language in the East was Greek.

Roman law also denoted the legal system applied in most of Western Europe until the end of the 18th century. In Germany, Roman law practice remained in place longer under the Holy Roman Empire (963–1806). Roman law thus served as a basis for legal practice throughout Western continental Europe, as well as in most former colonies of these European nations, including Latin America, and also in Ethiopia. English and Anglo-American common law were influenced also by Roman law, notably in their Latinate legal glossary (for example, stare decisis, culpa in contrahendo, pacta sunt servanda). Eastern Europe was also influenced by the jurisprudence of the Corpus Juris Civilis, especially in countries such as medieval Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, and some other medieval provinces/historical regions) which created a new system, a mixture of Roman and local law. Also, Eastern European law was influenced by the "Farmer's Law" of the medieval Byzantine legal system.

Sextus Aelius Paetus Catus

Sextus Aelius Paetus Catus (fl. 198-194 BC) or Sextus Aelius Q.f. Paetus Catus (or "the clever one"), was a Roman Republican consul, elected in 198 BC. Today, he is best known for his interpretation of the laws of the Twelve Tables, which is known to us only through the praise of Cicero. Paetus Catus came from a prominent plebeian noble family; his father was a praetor, and his elder brother was another consul, Publius Aelius Paetus.

Status in Roman legal system

In Roman law, status describes a person's legal status. The individual could be a Roman citizen (status civitatis), unlike foreigners; or he could be free (status libertatis), unlike slaves; or he could have a certain position in a Roman family (status familiae) either as head of the family (pater familias), or as a lower member (filii familias).

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