The Law of the Twelve Tables
(c. 450 B.C.)

Table I: Preliminaries to a Trial; Rules for Trial.

1. If plaintiff summons defendant to court, he shall go. If he does not go, plaintiff shall call witness thereto. Then only shall he take defendant by force.

2. If defendant shirks or takes to heels, plaintiff shall lay hands on him.

3. If disease or age shall be an impediment, he shall grant him a team (for transport); he should not spread with cushions a covered carriage if he shall not so desire.

4. For a landowner (adsiduus), a landowner shall be protector (vindex); but for a proletarian person, let any one who shall be willing be protector.

5. There shall be the same right, for a staunch person and for a person restored to allegiance, of bond (nexum) and conveyance (mancipium) with the Roman people.

6-9. When the parties compromise the matter, an official shall announce it. If they do not compromise, they shall state the outline of the case in the meeting place (in comitio) or market (in foro) before noon. They shall plead it out together in person. After noon, the judge shall adjudge the case to the party that is present. If both are present, sunset shall be the time limit (of the proceedings).

Table II: The Trial

1. 500 as-pieces shall be the sum when the object of dispute under solemn deposit is valued at 1,000 in bronze or more, 50 pieces when less. Concerning the liberty of a human being, 50 pieces shall be the solemn deposit under which the dispute should be undertaken.

2. . . . [serious disease] or else the day appointed with a stranger (cum hoste). If any of these be an impediment for the judge, referee, or party, on that account the day of trial shall be broken off.

3. Whoever is in need of evidence, he shall go on every third day to shout before the witness' doorway.

Table III: Debt

1-6. When debt has been acknowledged, or judgment about the matter had been pronounced in court, 30 days must be the legitimate time of grace. After that, then arrest of debtor may be made by laying on hands. Bring him into court. If he does not satisfy the judgment, or no one in court offers himself as surety on his behalf, the creditor may take the defaulter with him. He may bind him either in stocks or in chains; he may bind him with weight not less than fifteen pounds or with more if he shall so desire. The debtor, if he shall wish it, may live on his own. If he does not live on his own, the person [who shall hold him in bonds] shall give him one pound of grits for each day. He may give more if he shall so desire. On the third market day, creditors shall cut pieces (partis secanto). Should they have cut more or less than their due, it shall be with impunity.

7. Against a stranger (adversus hostem), title of ownership shall hold good forever.

Table IV: Rights of Fathers

1. A dreadfully deformed child shall be quickly killed.

2. If a father surrenders his son for sale three times, the son shall be free from his father.

3. [He has given orders for her] to mind her own affairs and has taken away her keys . . .

4. A child born after ten months since the father's death will not be admitted into a legal inheritance.

Table V: Succession and Guardianship

1. Females should remain in guardianship even when they have attained their majority . . . except the Vestal Virgins . . .

2. Conveyable possessions of a woman under the guardianship of agnates shall not rightfully be acquired by usucapio or long usage save such possession as have been delivered up by her with a guardian’s sanction.

4. If a person dies intestate, and has no self-successor (suus heres), the nearest agnate male kinsman shall have possession of the deceased’s household.

5. If there be no agnate male kinsman, the deceased’s clansmen (gentiles) shall have possession of his household.

6. To persons for whom a guardian has not been appointed by will, to them agnates are guardians.

7. If a man is raving mad, rightful authority over his person and chattels shall belong to his agnates or to his clansmen. A spendthrift is forbidden to exercise administration over his own goods and shall be under the guardianship of his agnates.

8. The inheritance of a Roman citizen-freedman shall be made over to his patron if the freedman has died intestate and having no self-successor.

Table VI: Acquisition; Possession.

1a. When a party shall made bond (nexum) or conveyance (mancipium), according as he has affirmed by word of mouth (lingua nuncupassit), so shall the right hold good.

1b. . . . mancipationem et in iure cessionem . . .

1c. Articles sold and handed over (venditae et traditae) are not acquired by a buyer otherwise than when he has paid the price to the seller of has satisfied him in some other way, that is, be providing a guarantor or a security.

2. . . . sufficient to make good such faults as had been affirmed by word of mouth, and for any flaws which the vendor had expressly denied, he should undergo a penalty of double damages . . .

3. Usucapio of movable things requires one year’s possession for its completion; but usucapio of an estate and buildings, two years.

4. Any woman who did not wish to be subjected in this manner to the hand (in manum) of her husband should be absent for 3 nights in succession every year, and so interrupt the usucapio of each year.

5. If parties lay on hands together in law . . .

7-9. A person shall not dislodge from its framework a beam fixed in buildings or vineyards . . . double amount of damage against the person found guilty of fixing such beam.

Table VII: Rights Concerning Land

1. . . . ownership within a 5-foot strip shall not be acquired by long usage (usus capionem).

5. If parties disagree . . . boundaries shall be marked by . . . three arbitrators.

6. The width of a road . . . 8 feet where it runs straight ahead, 16 round a bend . . .

7. Persons shall mend the roadway. If they keep it not laid with stones, [the holder of the servitude] may drive beasts where he shall wish.

8. If rainwater does damage . . . must be restrained according to an arbitrator’s order.

91. Branches of a tree may be lopped off all round to a height of more than 15 feet . . .

9b. Should a tree on a neighbor's farm be bent crooked by the wind and lean over your farm, you may take legal action for removal of that tree.

10. A man might gather up fruit that was falling down onto another man's farm.

Table VIII: Torts or Delicts

1a. If any person had sung or composed against another person a song such as was causing slander or insult to another . . . he should be clubbed to death.

1b. Person who shall have enchanted by singing an evil spell . . .

2. If a person has maimed another's limb, let there be retaliation in kind (talio) unless he makes agreement for composition with him.

3. If he has broken or bruised a freemen's bone with his hand or a club, he shall undergo a penalty of 300 pieces; if a slave's, 150.

4. If he has done simple harm, the penalty shall be 25 pieces.

6. If a four-footed animal shall be said to have caused loss, a legal action shall be had either for the surrender of the thing which damaged or for assessment of the damage.

8a. A person who has enchanted crops away . . .

8b. . . . or decoy not another's grain.

9. For pasturing on, or cutting secretly by night, another’s crops acquired by tillage, an adult shall be hanged (suspensum) and put to death as a sacrifice to Ceres; and, in the case of a person under the age of puberty, either he shall be scourged or shall, for the harm done, make composition by paying double damages.

10. Any person who destroys by burning any building or heap of grain deposited alongside a house shall be bound, scourged, and put to death by burning at the stake provided that he has committed the said misdeed with malice aforethought; but if he shall have committed it by accident, that is, by negligence, it is ordained that he repair the damage or, if he be too poor to be competent for such punishment, he shall receive a lighter punishment.

11. Any person who has cut down another person’s trees with harmful intent shall pay 25 pieces for every tree.

12. If the theft has been done by night, if the owner kills the thief, the thief shall be held to be lawfully killed.

13. (It is unlawful for a thief to be) killed by day . . . unless he defends himself with a weapon; even though he has come with a weapon, unless he shall use the weapon and fight back, you shall not kill him. And even if he resists, first call out (so that someone may hear and come up).

14. If a thief is caught in the act (manifestis furibus), if he is a freedman let him be flogged and adjudged (addici) to the person against whom the theft has been committed, provided that the malefactor has committed it by day and has not defended himself with a weapon. Slaves caught in the act of theft shall be flogged and thrown from the Rock. [Children under the age of puberty] shall, at the consul’s discretion, be flogged and the damage done by them shall be repaired.

15. . . . with platter and loincloth (lance et licio).

16. If a persons pleads on case of theft, in which the thief shall be not caught in the act, the thief must compound for the loss by paying double damages.

17. A stolen thing is debarred from usucapio.

19. Arising out of a case concerning an article deposited, an action shall be granted for double damages.

21. If a patron shall have defrauded his client, he must be solemnly forfeited (sacer esto).

22. Whosoever shall have allowed himself to be called as a witness or shall have been scales-balancer (libripens), if he does not as a witness pronounce his testimony, he must be deemed dishonored and incapable of acting as witness (improbus intestablisque).

23. A person who had been found guilty of giving false witness shall be hurled down from the Tarpeian Rock.

24. If a missile has sped from the hand, and the holder has not aimed it . . .

25. . . . poison . . .

26. No person shall hold meetings by night in the city.

Table IX: Public Law

1-2. Laws of personal exception (privilegia) must not be proposed; cases in which the penalty affects the caput or person of a citizen must not be decided except through the greatest assembly (maximum comitiatum) and through those whom the [censors] have placed upon the register of citizens.

3. . . . capital punishment on a judge or arbiter legally appointed who had been found guilty of receiving a bribe for giving a decision.

4. . . . investigators of murder (quaestores parricidii).

5. He who shall have roused up a public enemy or handed over a citizen to a public enemy must suffer capital punishment.

6. Putting to death . . . of any man, whosoever he might be, unconvicted is forbidden.

Table X: Sacred Law

1. A dead man shall not be buried or burned within the city.

2. One must not do more than this; one must not smooth the pyre with an axe . . .

3. . . .three veils, one small purple tunic, and 10 flute-players.

4. A woman must not tear her cheeks or hold a chorus of “Alas!” on account of a funeral.

5. When a man is dead, one must not gather bones whereby to make an funeral after.

6. Anointing by slaves is abolished and every kind of drinking-bout. Let there be no costly sprinkling, . . . no long garlands, . . . no incense-boxes.

8-9. A person must not add gold (to the funeral pyre). But him whose teeth shall have been fastened together with gold, if a person shall bury or burn him along with that gold, it shall be with impunity.

Table XI: Supplementary Laws

1. [Marriages] should not take place between plebeians and patricians.

2. . . . intercalating into the calendar.

3. . . . days deemed favorable for official legal business . . .

Table XII: Supplementary Laws

1. . . . levying of distress (pignoris capio) against a person who had bought an animal for sacrifice and was a defaulter by nonpayment; likewise against a person who was a defaulter by nonpayment of the fee for a yoke-beat which any one had hired out for the purpose of raising therefrom money to spend on a sacred banquet . . .

2. If a slave shall have committed theft or done damage . . . Arising from delicts committed by children and slaves of a household . . actions for damages are appointed whereby the father or master shall be allowed either to undergo an assessment of damage or hand over the delinquent ot punishment . . .

3. If a person has taken a thing by false claim, if he should wish . . . official must grant three arbitrators; by their arbitration . . . defendant must compound for the loss caused by paying double damages from enjoyment of the article.

4. [A person is prohibited] from dedicating for consecrated use anything about which there is a controversy; otherwise we suffer a penalty of double the amount involved . . .

5. Whatever the people had last ordained should be held as binding by law.

Unplaced Fragments

6a. . . . fine, fetters, flogging, retaliation in kind (talio), civil disgrace, banishment, death, slavery . . .

(from E. H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin III, pp. 424-515)

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