The Twelve Tables

The Twelve Tables, a pivotal set of Roman laws from 451-450 BCE, established transparency, consistency, and fairness in the legal system. Publicly displayed on bronze tablets, they ensured equal treatment for all citizens, laying the groundwork for modern civil law and promoting justice over time.

The rules are not used today, but they did help to make things better for Roman people.  The Tables marked the start of laws being written down so that people knew about them.

Before the Tables, people were told about laws. They couldn’t see them.

Twelve Tables Facts

  • Created in ancient Rome in 451-450 BCE.
  • Set of 12 bronze tablets with laws.
  • First written legal code in Rome.
  • Publicly displayed for all to see.
  • Promoted fairness and equality.
  • Laws for citizens and non-citizens.
  • Covered civil, criminal, and religious laws.
  • Influenced later Roman law codes.
  • The basis for modern civil law systems.
  • An important step towards legal transparency.

Why were the laws made?

The Twelve Tables were made to settle a big argument between the people of Rome.  There were two main groups of people in Rome.

The first group were the rich people and their families.  The first group were called the Patricians.  The rich people had the most control and could do what they wanted.

The second group were the people who weren’t rich.  These were everyday Romans who were paid for their work.  The second group were called the Plebeians.

The Plebeians were very unhappy with the Patricians.  They did not like the Patricians being able to do what they wanted.

The Plebeians wished to have a voice and be part of what Rome did.  The Plebeians said that they would leave Rome or would not work unless things changed.

It was then agreed that the new laws or tables would be written down.

What did the Tables say?

The Twelve Tables set out how Roman citizens could hope to be treated.  The Tables give information on what the punishment could be for certain crimes.

There are strange laws that we don’t use today.  Some of the silly rules include;

  • Parents can sell their children into slavery
  • If someone is found to be lying, they have to pay a very large fine or be put to death
  • If someone has a debt, they can be sent to prison after 30 days and sold into slavery after 60 days

Problems with the Tables

The Tables were good at letting the people of Rome know what was going on.  But, not all people of Rome were equal, which meant the laws didn’t help them.  Women and slaves were treated less equally and were not helped by the laws.  Women could own property and work, but they couldn’t vote.  For slaves, it was even worse because they were not free and had no choices.

More Fun Facts about the Twelve Tables

  • Each of the Tables or Laws was written on bronze with ivory letters
  • The Tables helped to make future laws.  Now every law needs to be written down somewhere
  • After they were made, there were big changes in how the people of Rome were treated.  The Plebeians had more rights in the future.  Slaves were still treated badly
  • There are eight punishments in the tables.  These can be being put in chains, thrown off a cliff, or death
  • The tables were shown in the Forum so that everyone could see them.  The Forum was the center of Rome
  • The laws were similar to ancient Greek laws
  • The tables helped to keep peace with all the Roman people
  • The original Tables were lost, and it was thought the Gaul’s (the French) burnt them

Questions about the Twelve Tables

  • What were the Twelve Tables?
  • The twelve tables were written on paper.  True or false?
  • What year were the laws made?
    450 BC
  • The laws of Rome were made because the Plebeians were unhappy with how they were treated.  True or false?
  • The laws say that parents could sell their children into slavery.  True or false?
  • Back to – Ancient Rome