The Twelve Tables are a landmark moment of early Republican Roman history. The lex duodecim tabularum see the codification of Rome’s laws!
The name ‘The Twelve Tables’ is derived from the idea that these laws were inscribed on to twelve oak tablets. We happen to know quite a lot about the content of the tables, even though they have not survived in epigraphic form. The evidence for the tables comes from extant literature.
Special Episode – The Twelve Tables
The main literary sources that we’re reading at the moment, Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, place the landmark moment of the codification around 450 BCE. The process is not a smooth one from their perspective! Normal magistracies are suspended in favour of a specially selected cohort of ten men who are granted authority to put together the law code.
Believe us when we tell you that the drama associated with the decemvirate has only just begun to be revealed in Episode 109.
The End of Long Struggle?
According to our literary sources, both of whom are writing hundreds of years after the events they describe, the Twelve Tables are the result of the Struggle of the Orders.
This ongoing rift between sections of the Roman population is contentious in its own ways, so it is worth considering the content of the Tables as a point of comparison. The difference between what we might expect of a law code that is the result of a class struggle and the laws themselves is quite something.
So that’s just what we’re going to do in this special mini-episode! Join as we dip into the details of the law code and some of the fascinating details we learn from this document 😊
Roman civilians examining the Twelve Tables after they were first implemented.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Looking to explore the Twelve Tables in more detail? You can read them all here!
Other readings to consider:
- Forsythe, G. 2006. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press – contains a chapter on the Twelve Tables and how the politics unfolds
- Bell, S., du Plessis, P. (eds.) 2020. Roman Law Before the Twelve Tables: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Edinburgh University Press – this one is hot off the press and we’re super excited to jump in and read it soon!
This shows the forum in ruins, but it is in this space that the Twelve Tables would have been present to the populace.
Image curtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Kimberlym21