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Twelve Tables, Law of the

The law is important to any society because it establishes rules and protocols for governing how a particular kingdom, empire or state should operate. Around 509 B.C., the Roman Republic also needed effective laws to govern its people because it was no longer being governed by a sole ruler.

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Law is important to any society

Tarquin the Proud was the last king to have power in Rome. After he had been banished from Rome around 510 B.C., the leading members of Roman society realized that they could no longer allow kings to rule. After his banishment, the Senate set out to establish a more modern form of government that would be more effective than a monarchy, and they came up with the Republic.

The establishment of the republic led eventually to the Law of Twelve Tables established in 449 BC which is where it appears on the Bible Timeline Chart with World history. Once they established the Republic they realized that they needed more effective laws for keeping order and protection in Roman society. A well respected member of Roman society named Hermodorus had encouraged the Senate to send a group of learned Roman men to Greece to study their legal system.

The Senate ultimately agreed, and they sent a board of 10 men or decemvirate to Athens. Once the men arrived in Athens, they were greeted by the Athenian rulers and given permission to study the Solonian Constitution, which helped to create the legal system for the Greeks. This happened around 451 B.C. After the men had gained knowledge about the Greek legal system, they returned home and adjusted the laws to fit Roman society.

Once they formulated the laws they inscribed them on ten brass tablets. When the laws were created, they were written in a simple and remedial manner. The reason they were written in this way was because illiteracy was a major problem in Rome. Only the educated patrician class was able to read. There were few poor plebeians and slaves who were literate. After the initial ten tablets had been constructed they were put on display for all of the Roman citizens to view. They became such a huge success that Rome sent the same men back to Athens and this time they came back with more information to create two more tablets.

With the addition of the new information, Rome was able to create twelve tablets that revealed the law. The laws that were contained on the tablets were designed to limit the patricians from gaining too much power. They imposed strict and rigid penalties and fines for crimes such as embezzlement, theft or burglary. People could be executed when they were found guilty of murder, and they regulated the private rights for all citizens. They touched off on the agrarian laws that were already in use when the twelve tablets were being composed.

The patricians (wealthy) and the plebeians (poor) classes were constantly opposing each other over legal issues and matters before the twelve tablets were formed. The patrician class typically made the laws and used it to their advantage. The plebeians realized that they didn’t have any type of power to stop them so they decided to rebel by not working the patrician’s lands. This of course would have bankrupted many of the patricians who depended on them for labor. The twelve tables helped to improve the society of ancient Rome and through them Greece had influenced Roman civilization and way of life.