What Is the Significance of the Twelve Tables in Roman Law?

The Twelve Tables were the first attempt by the Romans to establish empire-wide laws. The tablets are also the oldest surviving piece of Roman literature. They were written around 450 B.C.

The Roman court appointed 10 men to draft the Twelve Tables which were largely based upon the statutes of other nations. The tables outlined the procedures for courts and trials; settling debt issues, fathership rights, inheritance and legal guardianship rights; land rights, and acquisition and possession rights. The Twelve Tables also established personal injury laws.

About a year after their completion, the Twelve Tables were paraphrased and chiseled into twelve ivory tablets and hung in the Roman Forum, an open-air plaza, so that every Roman citizen could read the most important parts of each law.

According to California State University at Northridge, the Twelve Tables stated eight types of punishment for breaking the laws: fine, fetters, flogging, exact-match retaliation, public disgrace, banishment, slavery and execution. The Twelve Tables also stated that men and women who lived together for a year were to be considered married, that a higher class member could not marry a lower class member and that a person be put to death for singing a slanderous song to another person.