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Article updated to include a detailed discussion of the Twelve Table's tradition and historical context. Bibliography updated to incorporate recent scholarship.

Updated on 27 July 2017. The previous version of this content can be found here.
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date: 21 January 2019

Summary and Keywords

According to the tradition, during the early Republic (451–450 bce), during the Struggle of the Orders, a commission was set up to make the laws for the Romans. After two years, the results of the commission’s work were published on twelve boards of wood, perhaps bronze. These were known as the “Twelve Tables.” Tradition says they became fundamental to Rome’s institutional frame. Unfortunately, this is not easy to prove, for the text was lost during the early Middle Ages. The reconstructed versions are due to the casual quotes of historians, jurists, and antiquarians from later times, who happened to call upon its authority while discussing other subjects. The Humanists (16th century ce) made several attempts to reconstruct it, and the versions now available are due to their efforts.

Scholarship has debated almost every aspect of the text, from its origin, to its scope, its contents, and its grammar. Only a few conclusions are widely held. Most scholars believe the document was written during the 5th century bce under the influence of Greek models. Its importance seems to lie in the fact that it managed to merge law and legislation in a way that put statutes at the centre of the Roman legal system.

Keywords: Twelve Tables, decemvirs, Archaic law, legal code, Early law

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