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Laws of the Twelve Tables

Render Unto Caesar:
Misunderstood New Testament Passage



450 BC In the early republican period, matters between private individuals were settled by customary law rather than by leges.

In the framework of the social struggle, the growing complaints of plebeians at the arbitrary application of the unwritten law by the ruling elite of patricians lead to the formulation of Laws of the Twelve Tables.

This codification was preceded by direct contacts with the Greek world (including Greek colonies in Southern Italy), where there were already important models such as the codification by Solon (640 – 560 BC).

"Solon was commissioned to draw a new code of laws in order to solve a civil crisis threatening the fabric of Athens as a city-state." - Kelcy Sagstetter

A rising tide of class warfare had reached a critical point because wealthy landowners had enslaved or impoverished most of the poor farmers.

Solon canceled all debt and ended the wide-spread practice of debt-slavery.

In ancient Roman society their is a relation between patronus ("patron") and cliens ("client").

Patricians, or upper-class Romans, were patrons to plebian clients.

The patrons provided many types of support to their clients who, in turn, rendered services and loyalty to their patrons.

The number of clients and sometimes the status of clients conferred prestige on the patron.

The patron is the protector, sponsor, and benefactor of the client; the technical term for this protection was patrocinium.

Benefits a patron might confer include legal representation in court, loans of money, influencing business deals or marriages, and supporting a client's candidacy for political office or a priesthood.

In Rome a client was a free man who entrusted himself to another and received protection in return.

This ancient oath of fealty carries through into the current age and can be seen being exercised by presidential cronies.

Clientship was a hereditary social status consecrated by usage and recognized, though not defined or enforced, by the law.

Clients were expected to offer their services to their patron as needed.

A freedman became the client of his former master.

A patronage relationship might also exist between a general and his soldiers, a founder and colonists, and a conqueror and a dependent foreign colony.

'CLIENS' contains the same element as the verb cluere, to "hear" or "obey," and to Niebuhr equivalent with the German word hoeriger, "a dependent."



Patrons and Clients in Roman Society



"In the time of Cicero, we find patronus in the sense of adviser, advocate, or defender, opposed to cliens in the sense of the person defended, or the consultor; and this use of the word must be referred, as we shall see, to the original character of the patronus.

The relation of a master to his liberated slave (libertus) was also expressed by the word patronus, and the libertus was the cliens of his patronus.

Any Roman citizen who wanted a protector, might attach himself to a patronus, and would thenceforward be a cliens.

Strangers who came into exilium at Rome might do the same (jus applicationis).

Distinguished Romans were also sometimes the patroni of states and cities, which were in a certain relation of subjection or friendship to Rome; and in this respect they may be compared to colonial agents, or persons among us, who are employed to look after the interests of the colony in the mother country; except that among the Romans such services were never remunerated directly, though there might be an indirect remuneration.

This relationship between patronus and cliens was expressed by the word Clientela, which also expressed the whole body of a man's clients." - George Long, Fellow of Trinity College: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, published John Murray, London, 1875




Table I. Proceedings Preliminary to Trial

1. If the plaintiff summons the defendant to court the defendant shall go.

If the defendant does not go the plaintiff shall call a witness thereto.

Only then the plaintiff shall seize the defendant.

2. If the defendant attempts evasion or takes flight the plaintiff shall lay hand on him.

3. If sickness or age is an impediment he who summons the defendant to court shall grant him a vehicle. If he a does not wish he shall not spread a carriage with cushions.

4. For a freeholder' a freeholder shall be surety; for a proletary anyone who wishes shall be surety.

5. There shall be the same right of bond and of conveyance with the Roman people for a steadfast person and for a person restored to allegiance.

6. When the parties agree on the matter the magistrate shall announce it.

7. If they agree not on terms the parties shall state their case before the assembly in the meeting place or before the magistrate in the market place before noon. Both parties being present shall plead the case throughout together.

8. If one of the parties does not appear the magistrate shall adjudge the case, after noon, in favor of the one present.

9. If both parties are present sunset shall be the time limit of the proceedings.




Table II. Trial

1a. The penal sum in an action shall be either 500 assēs or 50 assēs.

It shall be argued by solemn deposit with 500 assēs, when the property is valued at 1,000 asses or more, but with 50 asses, when the property is valued at less than 1,000 assēs.

If the controversy is about the freedom of a person the case shall be argued by a deposit of 50 assēs.

1b. An action by demand for a judex concerning that which is claimed in accordance with a stipulation concerning division of an inheritance among joint heirs.

2. If circumstances are an impediment for the judex or for the arbiter or for either litigant, on that account the day of trial shall be postponed.

3. Whoever needs evidence shall go every third day to shout before the doorway.




Table III. Execution of Judgment

1. Thirty days shall be allowed by law for payment of confessed debt and for settlement of matters adjudged in court.

2. After this time the creditor shall have the right of laying hand on the debtor.

3. Unless the debtor discharges the debt adjudged or unless someone offers surety for him in court the creditor shall take the debtor and bind him either with a thong or with fetters.

4. If the debtor wishes he shall live on his own means.

If he does not live on his own means the creditor who holds him in bonds shall give him a pound of grits daily.

5. They shall have the right to compromise, and unless they compromise the debtor shall be held in bond for sixty days.

They shall be brought to the praetor into the meeting place on three successive market days, and the amount for which they have been judged liable shall be declared publicly.

On the third market day they shall suffer capital punishment or shall be delivered for sale abroad across the Tiber River.

6. On the third market day the creditors shall cut shares.

If they have cut more or less than their shares it shall be without prejudice.




Table IV. Paternal Power

1. A notably deformed child shall be killed immediately.

2a. To a father shall be given over a son the power of life and death.

2b. If a father thrice surrenders a son for sale the son shall be free from the father.

3. To repudiate his wife her husband shall take her property, take the keys and expel her.

4. A child born within ten months of the father's death shall enter into the inheritance.




Table V. Inheritance and Guardianship

1. Women, even of full age, because of their levity of mind shall be under guardianship except vestal virgins, who shall be free from guardianship.

2. The conveyable possessions of a woman under guardianship of male authority shall not be acquired by prescriptive right unless transferred by herself with the authorization of her guardian.

3. According as a person has made bequest regarding his personal property or the guardianship of his estate so shall be the law.

4. If anyone who has no direct heir dies nearest male authority shall have the estate.

5. If there is not a familial authority the male clansmen shall have the estate.

6. Persons for whom by will a guardian is not given, their male authority shall be guardians.

If a person is insane authority over him and his personal property shall belong to familial authority and in default of these to his male clansmen.

7. A spendthrift, forbidden from administering his own goods, shall be under guardianship of his familial authority.

8. If a Roman citizen freed man dies intestate without a direct heir, to his patron shall fall the inheritance.

9. Debts of the estate shall be divided among the heirs proportional to the share of inheritance.

10. Action for division of an estate shall be available for joint heirs wishing to withdraw.




Table VI. Ownership and Possession

1. When a person makes bond and conveyance, his verbal contract is a pledge enforced by law.

2. It shall be sufficient to make good faults confessed by tongue, for those flaws denied expressly when questioned about them vendor shall undergo a penalty of double damages.

3. Warranty of prescriptive right in land shall be two years to acquire ownership.

Of all other things, prescriptive right shall be for one year to acquire ownership.

4. Against an alien a warranty of ownership or prescriptive right shall be valid forever.

5. If any woman is unwilling to be subjected to husband's marital control she shall absent herself for three successive nights in every year and by this means shall interrupt his prescriptive right.

6a. If the parties join their hands on the disputed property when pleading in court both conveyance and surrender in court shall be confirmed.

7. Interim possession shall be granted in favor of liberty.

8. One shall not take from framework timber fixed in buildings or in vineyard.

One who is convicted of having torn down framework double damages shall be given.




Table VII. Real Property

1. Clearance shall be two and one-half feet in an action for regulating boundaries.

4. In ownership through prescriptive right three arbiters shall regulate boundaries.

6. The width of a road shall be eight feet on a straight stretch, on a bend sixteen feet.

7. They shall build and repair the road and keep it free from stones so one shall drive one's beast or carriage where one wishes.

8b. If a watercourse conducted through a public place does damage to a private person the said person shall have the right to bring an action.

9a. Branches of a tree shall be pruned all around to a height of fifteen feet.

9b. If a tree from a neighbor has been felled by the wind it belongs to the land.

10. It shall be lawful to gather fruit falling upon another's farm.

11. Articles sold and undelivered are not owned by the purchaser unless he pays the price or tenders a surety or a pledge.

12. A slave is ordered in a will to be a free man under this condition: "If he has given 10,000 assēs to the heir"; although the slave has been alienated by the heir, yet the slave by giving the said money to the buyer shall enter into his freedom.




Table VIII. Torts or Delicts

1. Whoever enchants by singing an evil incantation that can cause dishonor or disgrace to another shall suffer a capital penalty.

2. If anyone has broken another's limb there shall be compensation in kind with him.

3. If a person breaks a bone of a freeman with hand or by club, he shall undergo a penalty of 300 assēs; or of 150 assēs, if of a slave.

4. If one commits an outrage against another the penalty shall be twenty-five assēs.

5. ... One has broken ... One shall make amends.

6. If a quadruped caused damage an action either for surrendering replacment that which was damage to the aggrieved person or for offering an assessment of the damage.

7. If fruit from your tree falls onto my farm I may feed my flock.

9. If anyone pastures on or cuts by night another's crops obtained by cultivation the penalty for an adult shall be capital punishment.

A person below the age of puberty at the praetor's decision shall be scourged and shall be judged as a person either to be surrendered to the plaintiff for damage done or to pay double damages.

10. Whoever destroys by burning a building or a stack of grain placed beside a house, shall be bound, scourged, burned to death, provided that knowingly he committed this crime; if by negligence, either he shall repair the damage or if he is unable he shall be corporally punished.

11. Whoever fells unjustly another's trees shall pay twenty-five assēs for each tree.

12. If a thief commits a theft by night, if the owner kills the thief, the thief shall be killed lawfully.

13. By daylight if a thief defends himself with a weapon the owner shall shout before acting.

14. Thieves caught in the act shall be scourged and adjudged as bondsmen to the person against whom the theft has been committed provided that they have done this by daylight and have not defended themselves with a weapon; slaves caught in the act of theft, shall be whipped with scourges and shall be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock; children below the age of puberty shall be scourged at the praetor's decision and the damage done by them shall be repaired.

15. The penalty for detected planted theft shall be triple damages.

16. If a person prosecutes for theft which is not of the type wherein the thief is caught in the act the thief shall settle the loss by paying double damages.

17. Title to a stolen article shall not be acquired by prescriptive right.

18a. No person shall practice usury at a rate of more than one twelfths.

18b. A thief shall be condemned for double damages and a usurer for quadruple damages.

19. From a lawsuit about an article deposited, an action for double damages shall be given.

20. If guardians steal a ward's property there shall be an action against a guardian for double damages; each guardian shall be held for the entire sum.

21. If a patron defrauds a client he shall be accursed.

(The accursed became forfeit to the god(s). Anyone who killed him was considered to be performing a sacred duty and enjoyed impunity.)

22. Unless he speaks his testimony whoever allows himself to be called as a witness or is a scales-bearer shall be dishonored and incompetent to give or obtain testimony.

(Anyone unable to defend themsleves,without a Patron, was remanded to the slave master for sale by the State as a slave to the highest bidder.)

23. Whoever is convicted of speaking false witness shall be flung from the Tarpeian Rock.

24a. If a weapon has sped accidentally from one's hand, rather than if one has aimed and hurled it, to atone for the deed a ram is substituted as a peace offering to prevent blood revenge.

24b. If anyone pastures on or cuts stealthily by night another's crops the penalty shall be capital punishment, and, after having been hung up, death as a sacrifice to Ceres.

25. ... for administering a drug.

26. No person shall hold nocturnal meetings in the city.

27. Guild members shall have the power to make for themselves any rule that they may wish provided that they impair no part of the public law.




Table IX. Public Law

1. Laws of personal exception shall not be proposed.

2. Laws concerning capital punishment of a citizen shall not be passed except by the Great Assembly.

3. A judex or an arbiter legally appointed who has been convicted of receiving money for declaring a decision shall be punished capitally.

4. ... the investigators of murder ... who have charge ...

5. Whoever incites a public enemy or whoever betrays a citizen shall be punished capitally.

6. For anyone whomsoever to be put to death without a trial and unconvicted is forbidden.




Table X. Sacred Law

1. A dead person shall not be buried or burned in the city.

2. One shall not smooth a funeral pyre with a shovel.

3. Expenses of a funeral shall be limited to three mourners wearing veils and one mourner wearing an inexpensive purple tunic and ten flutists.

4. Women shall not tear their cheeks or shall not make a sorrowful outcry on account of a funeral.

5a. A dead person's bones shall not be collected that one may make a second funeral.

5b. An exception is for death in battle and on foreign soil.

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

6b. A myrrh-spiced drink shall not be poured on a dead person.

7. Whoever wins a crown himself or by his property, by honor, or by valor, the crown is bestowed on him at his burial.

8. No gold shall be added to a corpse.

If any one buries or burns a corpse that has gold dental work it shall be without prejudice.

9. It is forbidden to build a burning mound nearer than sixty feet to another building.

10. It is forbidden to acquire by prescriptive right of a sepulcher or a burning mound.




Table XI. Supplementary Laws

1. There shall not be intermarriage between plebeians and patricians.

2. regulations concerning insertion

3. regulations concerning days permissible for official legal action.




Table XII. Supplementary Laws

1. There shall be introduced a seizure of pledge against a person who buys an animal for sacrifice and does not pay the sacrifice price.

2. If a slave commits a theft or does damage to property the master will either undergo assessment of the claim or deliver the delinquent for compensation.

3. If one has obtained an unjustifiable grant of interim possession the magistrate shall grant three arbiters; the unjustifiable holder of interim possession shall settle the plaintiff's loss of enjoyment by paying double damages.

4. It is forbidden to dedicate for consecrated use a thing whose ownership is in controversy; otherwise a penalty of double the value involved shall be suffered.

5. Whatever the people last ordain shall be legally valid.





The jurists, who were usually patricians, began to record their legal decisions in writing, thus giving rise to a special legal literature, which became more and more differentiated over the course of time.

The work of the jurist Sextus Aelius on the Law of the Twelve Tables, the Tripertita, was the first written record of the interpretative activity of the jurists (interpretatio prudentium), deposited above all in the responsa (legal opinions), and became an independent source of law.

The auctoritas (reputation/dignity/authority) of the individual jurist lent assertiveness to his opinions, but many questions remained controversial.

Thus there came about the special character of Roman law as a ius controversum (controversial law) which, on the one hand, could not be tied down to clear rules, but on the other was not speculative.

Instead, the focus was always on the concrete case, and the decision, once arrived at, could be applied per analogiam (by analogy) to similar cases.




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