THE LAWS OF THE TWELVE TABLES
Concerning the summons to court.
When anyone summons another before the tribunal of a judge, the latter
must, without hesitation, immediately appear.
If, after having been summoned, he does not appear, or refuses to come
before the tribunal of the judge, let the party who summoned him call upon any
citizens who are present to bear witness. Then let him seize his
reluctant adversary; so that he may be brought into court, as a captive, by
When anyone who has been summoned to court is guilty of evasion, or
attempts to flee, let him be arrested by the plaintiff.
If bodily infirmity or advanced age should prevent the party summoned to
court from appearing, let him who summoned him furnish him with an animal, as a
means of transport. If he is unwilling to accept it, the plaintiff cannot
legally be compelled to provide the defendant with a vehicle constructed of
boards, or a covered litter.
 Under the Roman method of procedure, until the thorough
organization of the judicial system by the emperors, service of summons was
always made by the plaintiff in the action. This was even sometimes done after
the custom of regularly appointing court officials for that purpose had been
established. — Ed.
 Notification of the bystanders was made to show that the
arrest of the defendant was to compel his appearance before the tribunal, a
proceeding authorized by law; and not to insult him, or forcibly restrain him
of his liberty, which might form the ground of prosecution for an illegal act.
 Litters were originally used exclusively by women and
sick persons during the early ages of Greece and Rome. They, afterwards, in the
time of the Empire, became a favorite mode of conveyance with the Romans, and
especially with the wealthy nobles, who vied with one another in the profuse
and costly decoration of their luxurious lecticŠ, upholstered in
silk, embellished with ebony, ivory, and lazulite, and glittering with precious
stones and gold. The sella, one form of the litter, was almost identical
with the sedan chair of the eighteenth century. The vehicle referred to in the
text was probably a public one, like our cabs and carriages for hire. —
If he who is summoned has either a sponsor or a defender, let him be
dismissed, and his representative can take his place in
The defender, or the surety of a wealthy man, must himself be rich; but
anyone who desires to do so can come to the assistance of a person who is poor,
and occupy his place.
When litigants wish to settle their dispute among themselves, even while
they are on their way to appear before the PrŠtor, they shall have the
right to make peace; and whatever agreement they enter into, it shall be
considered just, and shall be confirmed.
If the plaintiff and defendant do not settle their dispute, as above
mentioned, let them state their cases either in the Comitium or the
Forum, by making a brief statement in the presence of the judge, between the
rising of the sun and noon; and, both of them being present, let them speak so
that each party may hear.
In the afternoon, let the judge grant the right to bring the action, and
render his decision in the presence of the plaintiff and the defendant.
The setting of the sun shall be the extreme limit of time within which a
judge must render his decision.
Concerning judgments and thefts.
When issue has been joined in the presence of the judge, sureties and
their substitutes for appearance at the trial must be furnished on both sides.
The parties shall appear in person, unless prevented by disease of a serious character; or where vows which they have taken must
be discharged to the Gods; or where the proceedings are interrupted through
their absence on business for the State; or where a day has been appointed by
them to meet an alien.
 From this it will be seen that the office of defensor, or
"defender," of the party sued was one of the most ancient recognized by Roman
jurisprudence. Its duties were often undertaken without solicitation, through
motives of friendship or compassion, or the influence of family ties; and, as
the defendant's representative, he occupied the legal position of the former,
including the unqualified assumption of all his liabilities arising from, or
dependent upon the matter in litigation. — Ed.
If any of the above mentioned occurrences takes place, that is, if one
of the parties is seriously ill, or a vow has to be performed, or one of them
is absent on business for the State, or a day has been appointed for an
interview with an alien, so that the judge, the arbiter, or the defendant is
prevented from being present, and the furnishing of security is postponed on
this account, the hearing of the case shall be deferred.
Where anyone is deprived of the evidence of a witness let him call him
with a loud voice in front of his house, on three market-days.
Where anyone commits a theft by night, and having been caught in the act
is killed, he is legally killed.
 While the ordinary presumption certainly arises that no
one can encounter a desperate malefactor in his house at night without
incurring risk of serious injury; still, the Roman jurists, in enacting this
provision, evidently had in view the prevention of homicide except when
absolutely necessary, even under circumstances which might justify almost any
violent act in the defence of life and property. Other lawgivers, generally
speaking, did not recognize such nice distinctions.
The rule, somewhat modified, has been adopted by the majority of
subsequent judicial systems as being thoroughly consonant with the principles
of justice. It was incorporated, with but slight alteration, into the
Visigothic Code, and Las Siete Partidas. "Fur nocturnus captus in furto, dum
res furtivas secum portare conatur, si fuerit occisus, mors eius nullo modo
vindicetur." (Forum Judicum, VII, II, 16.) "Otro tal decimos quo seria,
si algun one /allasse algun ladron de noche en su casa, e lo quisiesse prender
para darlo a la justicia del lugar, si el ladron se amparasse con armas. Ca
entonce, si lo matare, non cŠ por esso en pena." (Las Siete Partidas,
VII, VIII, 3.) As stated above, to render the modicide justifiable, the
Visigoths required that the thief should be in possession of the stolen
property; and the Castilian law provided that he should be armed and resist
arrest while in the house of the owner. Under the law of Athens, a thief taken
flagrante delicto, at night, could be killed with impunity. (Potter,
Antiquities of Greece, I, 24, 126.)
With the Jews, homicide was not punishable when the culprit was killed
under circumstances essential to constitute the crime known to us as burglary.
"If a thief be found breaking up, and he be smitten that he die. no blood shall
be shed for him; but if the sun be risen upon him, there shall blood be shed
for him; for he should have made full restitution." (Exodus XXII, 2.)
With the Anglo-Saxons, a thief caught in the act, at any time, either by
day or by night, could be slain with impunity. "He who slays a thief must
declare on oath that he slew him offending." (Ancient Laws and Institutes of
England; Laws of King Ine, 16.)
This principle does not appear to have been accepted in the earliest age
of the Common Law. Glanvil does not mention it. Bracton, however, refers to it
as being sound, and applicable by day or by night, without regard to place,
if the homicide, at the time, could not avoid serious personal injury. "Qui
latronem occiderit, non tenetur, nocturnum vel diurnum, si aliter periculum
evadere non possit." (Bracton, De Legibus et Covsuetudinibus
AngliŠ, III, 155, 36.)
Fleta says: "Quicunqiie enim furem nocturnum interfecerit, non
teneatur, & qui invasorem domus suŠ, se ipsum & hospitium suum
saltem illa hora defendendo interfecerit, juste interficit." (Fleta,
Commentarius Juris AnglicanŠ, I, XXIII, 14.) This applied not only
to a burglar, but to anyone found in the "curtilage," or enclosure containing
the residence, at any hour between nine P. M. and six A. M.; and under these
conditions, homicide was authorized either in self-defense, or when it occurred
in an attempt to arrest the intruder, or was committed in order to prevent his
escape. The necessity for the homicide must be absolute in order to render it
justifiable. "Si necessitas evitabilis fuerit, absque occasione, reus est
homicidii, qui si fuerit inevitabilis, ad pœnam homicidii non tenebitur,
eo quod felonice non occidit." (Ibid. I, 23.) It is held by Coke that the
act of killing must be in self-defence, and be preceded by violent aggression
on the part of the thief. "If a thiefe offer to rob or murder B, either abroad
or in his house, and thereupon assault him, and B, defend himself without any
giving back, and in his defence killeth the thiefe; this is no felony." (Coke,
Institutes of the Laws of England, Vol. IV, Ch. 8.)
This doctrine is explicitly set forth in Stat. 24, Hen. VIII, Chap. 5.
"If any person do attempt to break any mansion-house in the night time, and
shall happen to be slain by any person or persons, etc. (tho a lodger or
servant) they shall upon their trial be acquitted and discharged." The above
mentioned Statute, as is held by a high authority, may be construed to apply to
an illegal act of this kind committed during the day with felonious intent "It
seems it extends not to a braking the house in the day-time, unless it be such
a braking, as imports with it, apparent robbery, or an intention or attempt
thereof." (Hale, The History of the Pleas of the Crown, I, XL, Page 488.)
This was also the rule in Scotland, "It is lawful to kill a Thief, who
in the night offers to break our Houses, or steal our Goods, even though he
defend not himself, because we know not but he designs against our Life; and
Murder may be easily committed upon us in the night, but it is not lawful to
kill a Thief who steals in the day time, except he resist us when we offer to
take him, and present him to Justice." (Mackenzie, The Laws and Customes of
Scotland in Matters Criminal, I, XI, III.) The general rule, while well
established, was formerly, to a certain extent, so far as its application is
concerned, largely dependent upon the circumstances of each particular case. No
distinction was made between an invasion of the house and an attack upon the
person, provided the alarm experienced by the homicide was considered to be so
well founded as to justify his act. In some respects great latitude was allowed
the injured party. "The same right of defending our property, may also justify
our killing a thief, or predonious invader, in the act of running away with our
goods, if he cannot otherwise be taken, or the goods secured." (Burnett, A
Treatise on the Criminal Law of Scotland, I, page 57.)
The laws of France and Italy excuse the homicide of an intruder who
commits burglary or theft with violence. (Code PÚnal de France,
III, II, Arts. 322, 329.) (Codice Penale, II, III, Art. 376.)
In the United States, killing is only justifiable where the crime could
not otherwise have been prevented, and where force is employed. When an attempt
is made to commit a secret felony, without violence, the right does not
exist. It is different, however, where the precincts of a man's home are
invaded in the daytime, or at night. "An attack on a house or its inmates may
be resisted by taking life. This may be when burglars threaten an entrance, or
when there is apparent ground to believe that a felonious assault is to be made
on any of the inmates of the house, or when an attempt is made violently to
enter the house in defiance of the owner's rights."
"But this right is only one of prevention. It cannot be extended so as
to excuse the killing of persons not actually breaking into or violently
threatening a house." (Wharton, A Treatise on Criminal Law, Secs. 629, 630,
634, 635.) — Ed.
If anyone commits a theft during the day, and is caught in the act, he
shall be scourged, and given up as a slave to the person against whom the theft
was committed. If he who perpetrated the theft is a slave, he shall be beaten with rods and hurled from the Tarpeian
Rock. If he is under the age of puberty, the PrŠtor shall
decide whether he shall be scourged, and surrendered by way of reparation for
When any persons commit a theft during the day and in the light, whether
they be freemen or slaves, of full age or minors, and attempt to defend
themselves with weapons, or with any kind of implements; and the party against
whom the violence is committed raises the cry of thief, and calls upon other
persons, if any are present, to come to his assistance; and this is done, and
the thieves are killed by him in the defence of his person and property, it is
legal, and no liability attaches to the homicide.
If a theft be detected by means of a dish and a girdle, it is the same
as manifest theft, and shall be punished as such.
 This mode of punishment was considered especially
ignominious by the Romans, and was usually inflicted upon traitors.
"The rock Tarpeian, Fittest goal for treason's race, The promontory
whence the traitor's leap Cured all ambition." — Ed.
 Various explanations have been suggested for the
elucidation of this obscure passage. It has been supposed by some that a dish,
perforated with two holes for the eyes, was carried by the thief to hide his
face and conceal his identity; the girdle being intended for the removal of the
booty. Others have advanced the theory that religious impostors, masquerading
as members of the priesthood, passed the dish for the collection of money for
alleged sacrificial purposes, and appropriated the amounts obtained to their
own use. A few have maintained that the dish was employed to hold a piece of
bread which had been subjected to certain magic ceremonies, and, for this
reason compelled the thief to confess as soon as he had eaten it, a species of
ordeal, as it were. The most plausible interpretation of the furtum per
lancem et licium refertum is, however, that when the officer appointed for
that purpose entered a house to seek for property which had been stolen, he was
required to be naked, except for a girdle, and to hold a dish before his face,
as a concession to the modesty of any woman he might encounter. The owner of
the property was also entitled to make search under the same conditions.
Nakedness was regarded as necessary in order to avoid anything being carried
into the house which might afford ground for a false accusation. — Ed.
When anyone accuses and convicts another of theft which is not manifest,
and no stolen property is found, judgment shall be rendered to compel the thief
to pay double the value of what was stolen.
Where anyone secretly cuts down trees belonging to another, he shall pay
twenty-five asses for each tree cut down.
Where anyone, in order to favor a thief, makes a compromise for the loss
sustained, he cannot afterwards prosecute him for theft.
Stolen property shall always be his to whom it formerly belonged; nor
can the lawful owner ever be deprived of it by long possession, without regard
to its duration; nor can it ever be acquired by another, no matter in what way
this may take place.
TABLE III. Concerning property which is lent.
When anyone, with fraudulent intent, appropriates property deposited
with him for safe keeping, he shall be condemned to pay double its value.
When anyone collects interest on money loaned at a higher rate per annum
than that of the unciŠ, he shall pay quadruple the amount by way
 This doctrine as set forth in the maxim "Spoliatus
debet, ante omnia, restitui," is recognized by the courts of all civilized,
and most semi-barbarous nations. — Ed.
 The rate of interest authorized by law at Rome was,
despite statutory regulations, often a matter of avarice on one side and
necessity on the other. Money lenders were accustomed to wring from distressed
borrowers the last sesterce which heartless rapacity and extortion could
exact. The rate was usually dependent upon agreement, and while the collection
of compound interest was illegal, a bond for the increase of what was in
arrears was sometimes required, which amounted to the same thing.
As shown by the text, the Twelve Tables forbade anything in excess of
the unciarum fœmus, or interest on the twelve "ounces" into which
the as, the integral amount representing capital for one year, as well
as an estate when its assets were estimated for distribution, were divided. The
term, however, is ambiguous, and has been interpreted in several ways. The best
authorities hold that ten per cent is the rate referred to. — Ed.
An alien cannot acquire the property of another by usucaption; but a
Roman citizen, who is the lawful owner of the property, shall always have the
right to demand it from him.
Where anyone, having acknowledged a debt, has a judgment rendered
against him requiring payment, thirty days shall be given to him in which to
pay the money and satisfy the judgment.
After the term of thirty days granted by the law to debtors who have had
judgment rendered against them has expired, and in the meantime, they have not
satisfied the judgment, their creditors shall be permitted to forcibly seize
them and bring them again into court.
When a defendant, after thirty days have elapsed, is brought into court
a second time by the plaintiff, and does not satisfy the judgment; or, in the
meantime, another party, or his surety does not pay it out of his own money,
the creditor, or the plaintiff, after the debtor has been delivered up to him,
can take the latter with him and bind him or place him in fetters; provided his
chains are not of more than fifteen pounds weight; he can, however, place him
in others which are lighter, if he desires to do so.
If, after a debtor has been delivered up to his creditor, or has been
placed in chains, he desires to obtain food and has the means, he shall be
permitted to support himself out of his own property. But if he has nothing on
which to live, his creditor, who holds him in chains, shall give him a pound of
grain every day, or he can give him more than a pound, if he wishes to do
In the meantime, the party who has been delivered up to his creditor can
make terms with him. If he does not, he shall be kept in chains for sixty days;
and for three consecutive market-days he shall be brought before the
PrŠtor in the place of assembly in the Forum, and the amount of the
judgment against him shall be publicly proclaimed.
After he has been kept in chains for sixty days, and the sum for which
he is liable has been three times publicly proclaimed in the Forum, he shall be
condemned to be reduced to slavery by him to whom he was delivered up; or, if
the latter prefers, he can be sold beyond the Tiber.
Where a party is delivered up to several persons, on account of a debt,
after he has been exposed in the Forum on three market days, they shall be
permitted to divide their debtor into different parts, if they desire to do so;
and if anyone of them should, by the division, obtain more or less than he is
entitled to, he shall not be responsible.
TABLE IV. concerning the rights of a father, and of marriage.
A father shall have the right of life and death over his son born in
lawful marriage, and shall also have the power to render him independent, after
he has been sold three times.
 While a strict construction of the provisions of this law
has been rejected by some jurists, there can be little doubt that its abhorrent
features, far worse than those of the famous claim of Shylock, were susceptible
of literal interpretation, and that the partition of the body of the
unfortunate debtor was entirely dependent upon the inclination of his creditors
to whom he had been adjudged. The statement of Aulus Gellius relative to a fact
evidently well known to his countrymen, would seem to be conclusive upon this
point. "Nam, si plures forent, quibus reus esset judicatur, secare si
vellent, atque partiri corpus addicti sibi hominis permiserunt." (Aul.
Gell. Nodes AtticŠ. I. XX. 1.) Fabius, alluding to the same law,
says that public sentiment was opposed to its enforcement. "Quam legem mos
publicus repudiavit." In view of the eminent authority of these Roman
writers, and the clear meaning of the text, the opinion entertained by some
respectable commentators, that the word "secare," "to divide," merely
has reference to the apportionment of the debtor's property, is hardly tenable,
as it must have been already taken in execution and divided, before his person
was delivered up to gratify the resentment of his disappointed creditors.
 This privilege, the patria potestas, enjoyed by
Roman fathers, was a relic of the patriarchal authority originally asserted by
a man over his household, including the members of his immediate family, his
slaves, and other dependents. Derived from ancient custom, it continued to
exist for centuries after Rome had attained an exalted rank in the scale of
civilization, and other practices of barbarous origin and primitive character
had long been abandoned. It is said by Justinian (Code VI, 26) to have been an
institution peculiar to the Romans; for while other nations possessed authority
over their children unlimited by any legislative provision, few of their
regulations bore even a distant resemblance to those which confirmed the Roman
father in the exercise of his unquestioned and arbitrary power, the jus
vitŠ et necis. This power in early times was unbounded, and usually
endured through life.
A marked peculiarity of this relation was what was known as the
unitas personŠ, under which a father and his son subject to his
control were, by means of a legal fiction, held to be but a single person in
law. Hence, when the father died, the son at once succeeded him; for the reason
that, during his father's lifetime he had been a joint owner of the undivided
estate. Despite the unitas personŠ, the child was strictly not a
person but a thing, one of the res mancipi, which by quiritarian right
could be sold by the owner. The father was authorized to make any disposition
of his offspring that he chose; he could scourge, maim, imprison, torture,
or execute them at his pleasure. Nor was this right infrequently or
sparingly exercised; the Roman annals are full of instances where sons were
inhumanly treated and put to death by their fathers.
The acquisition of the patria potestas was dependent upon the
status of the parent at the time of the birth of the child; he must be free, or
sui juris, to be entitled to exercise paternal control, for if he were
subject to the authority of another ascendant, his child would also come under
the power of the latter.
Under ordinary circumstances, a son could acquire no property for
himself, all he obtained belonged to his father. Exceptions were subsequently
made in the cases of private, independent ownership of what was received by him
while preparing for, or engaged in military service, or as a member of the
priesthood; and finally of all acquisitions derived from maternal or other
inheritances, or which were the remuneration of his individual labor or skill.
This species of property designated peculium castrense, and quasi
peculium castrense, was the subject of numerous Imperial enactments, which,
in the course of time, afforded substantial relief to children oppressed by
this legalized tyranny; as the censors, in the time of the Republic, had
frequently exerted their authority for the same purpose.
Patria potestas was a necessary incident of lawful wedlock, which
indeed was indispensable; and the authority thereby obtained was imposed on all
the descendants through the son, but did not affect the offspring of a daughter
who was subject to the paterfamilias of the family into which she had
married. In addition to birth, paternal power could be acquired by means of the
public acknowledgment of legitimacy, by adoption, and by matrimony.
As a natural result of placing children in the same category with slaves
and domestic animals, liable to sale, barter, and the most cruel abuse, there
was a time at which a child could be given up to the injured party by way of
reparation for some unlawful act, or noxa, which it had committed; a
practice condemned by Justinian in unmeasured terms.
It was not until about 370, during the reign of Valentinian and Valens,
that measures were taken to place restrictions upon the irresponsible power of
the head of the household; an example which was followed by many succeeding
emperors. The sentiment expressed by Hadrian in condemning to exile a father
who had killed his son, discloses the change of public opinion with which the
excessive exercise of -paternal authority was, even in that day, regarded.
"Patria potestas in pietate debet, non in atrocitate, consistere."
This right, in a greatly modified form, and relating principally to the
obligations of obedience and support, is explicitly recognized by the
jurisprudence of Continental Europe. — Ed.
If a father sells his son three times, the latter shall be free from
A father shall immediately put to death a son recently born, who is a
monster, or has a form different from that of members of the human race.
When a woman brings forth a son within the next ten months after the
death of her husband, he shall be born in lawful marriage, and shall be the
legal heir of his estate.
 At Common Law, the time prescribed was forty weeks.
"Et si ele eyt un enfant dedens t's XL semaines ad§ques soit cel
enfant receu el heritage." (Britton, Chap. 66, p. 166.) The countries whose
jurisprudence is directly derived from that of Rome, as well as Japan, follow
the rule of the text, and fix the limit at three hundred days. (Code Civil
de France, Art. 315. Cˇdigo Civil de Espa˝a, Art. 108.
Codice Civile de Italia, Art. 160. Codigo Civil Portugues, Art.
101. Civil Code of
TABLE V. concerning estates and guardianships.
No matter in what way the head of a household may dispose of his estate,
and appoint heirs to the same, or guardians; it shall have the force and effect
Japan. Art. 820.) According to Moslem law, the presumption of
legitimacy may be established at any time from six lunar months — adopted
as the shortest period of gestation — to two years. (Syed Ameer AU,
Mohammedan Law, Vol. II. II, 2, p. 191.) As is well known, the Civil Law maxim,
"Pater est quem nuptiŠ demonstrant," is not accepted by the Common
Law, which requires the birth to precede the marriage in every instance. The
law of Scotland coincides with that of Rome on both the above-mentioned points.
(More, Lectures on the Laws of Scotland, Vol. I, Chap. I. Sec. II.) —
 This law, which placed the distribution of his estate
absolutely in the hands of the testator, without regard to the natural claims
of consanguinity, was strictly observed for centuries. The abuse to which the
privilege was liable became in time so flagrant that various measures were
introduced to correct it. If the legacies bequeathed were large enough to
include all, or so much of the assets as to render the remainder undesirable or
burdensome, the estate was forthwith rejected by the heir. This act invalidated
the will, and the heir-at-law took possession, the legacies being, of course,
no longer of any effect. To obviate the confusion and injustice resulting from
this proceeding, the Tribunal of the Centumviri devised the querela
inofficiosi testamenti, or complaint of inofficious testament; by means of
which the will was declared void on account of the mental incapacity of the
testator, which was considered to be established prima facie by the
existence of the clause of disinheritance. The Lex Furia Testamentaria
limited the amount of a bequest to the insignificant sum of one thousand asses,
which the ingenuity of testators evaded by simply increasing the number of
The Lex Voconia, passed A. U. C. 594, prohibited any legatee from
accepting a bequest which exceeded in value the amount obtained by the heir.
Women were also discriminated against by this law, presumably to prevent the
affection of the testator from being indulged in their favor at the expense of
members of his family; as well as to avoid the excessive accumulation of
property in the hands of persons generally considered as ill-qualified to make
a proper use of it.
The Lex Voconia having proved ineffective, the Lex Falcidia,
by which the previous enactments on this subject were repealed, was
introduced one hundred and twenty years later. It provided that the heir,
should, under ordinary circumstances, be entitled to one-fourth of the estate
after all claims had been paid; and that no legacy should exceed three-fourths
of the amount of the same. In case this rule was violated, the heir was
authorized to diminish the bequests pro rata, until the sum to which he
was entitled was made up. This apportionment, known as the "Quarta
Falcidia," or "Falcidian Fourth," has, without substantial change,
under the name of "legitime," been incorporated into much of the
jurisprudence of Europe. It is in force in Louisiana, where it exists in favor
of all direct descendants, and of ascendants in the first degree. "Donations
inter vivos or mortis causa cannot exceed two thirds of the
property of the disposer, if he leaves at his decease a legitimate child; one
half, if he leaves two children, and one third, if he leaves three or a greater
number." (Civil Code of Louisiana, Arts. 1480, 1481.) With the exception of the
above-mentioned State, no similar restraints are, in this country, imposed upon
the testamentary disposition of property, which is, of course, always subject
to the dower of the widow. The same rule prevails in England. — Ed.
Where a father dies intestate, without leaving any proper heir, his
nearest agnate, or, if there is none, the next of kin among his family, shall
be his heir. '
When a freedman dies intestate, and does not leave any proper heir, but
his patron, or the children of the latter survive him; the inheritance of the
estate of the freedman shall be adjudged to the next of kin of the patron.
When a creditor or a debtor dies, his heirs can only sue, or be sued, in
proportion to their shares in the estate; and any claims, or remaining
property, shall be divided among them in the same proportion.
Where co-heirs desire to obtain their shares of the property of an
estate, which has not yet been divided, it shall be divided. In order that this
may be properly done and no loss be sustained by the litigants, the
PrŠtor shall appoint three arbiters, who can give to each one that to
which he is entitled in accordance with law and equity.
When the head of a family dies intestate, and leaves a proper heir who
has not reached the age of puberty, his nearest agnate shall obtain the
When no guardian has been appointed for an insane person, or a
spendthrift, his nearest agnates, or if there are none, his other relatives,
must take charge of his property.
 This was done under the presumption that the person most
closely connected with the minor by the ties of consanguinity, and being next
in the order of succession and hence directly interested in the preservation of
the estate, would be most likely to properly discharge the duties of the trust.
The English doctrine, which coincides with that adopted by the Greeks at the
instance of Solon, is directly the opposite. It excludes from guardianship
those who could, under any circumstances, become heirs, and therefore evinced a
preference for cognates. The temptation to foul play to which the next of kin
to the minor was supposed to be liable, is stated by the early English jurists
in very energetic language. "Nunquam enim custodia alicujus de jure alicui
remanet, de quo habeatur suspicio quod possit vel velit aliquod jus in ipsa,
hereditate clamare." (Glanvil VII, II.) Coke compares a guardian of this
description to a ravening wolf: "quasi agnem committere lupo ad
devorandum," are the terms in which he characterizes such an appointment.
(Coke Inst. I. 88.) — Ed.
TABLE VI. concerning ownership and possession.
When anyone contracts a legal obligation with reference to his property,
or sells it, by making a verbal statement or agreement concerning the same,
this shall have the force and effect of law. If the party should afterwards
deny his statements, and legal proceedings are instituted, he shall, by way of
penalty, pay double the value of the property in question.
Where a slave is ordered to be free by a will, upon his compliance with
a certain condition, and he complies with the condition; or if, after having
paid his price to the purchaser, he claims his liberty, he shall be free.
Where property has been sold, even though it may have been delivered, it
shall by no means be acquired by the purchaser until the price has been paid,
or a surety or a pledge has been given, and the vendor satisfied in this
Immovable property shall be acquired by usucaption after the lapse of
two years; other property after the lapse of one year.
Where a woman, who has not been united to a man in marriage, lives with
him for an entire year without the usucaption of her being interrupted for
three nights, she shall pass into his power as his legal
Where parties have a dispute with reference to property before the
tribunal of the PrŠtor, both of them shall be permitted to state their
claims in the presence of witnesses.
Where anyone demands freedom for another against the claim of servitude,
the PrŠtor shall render judgment in favor of liberty.
 This indicates the existence of woman as a mere chattel
to be acquired by uninterrupted possession and use for a year, like any other
species of personal property. It has been stated, with much probability, that
this kind of matrimonial union was the most common and popular one in the early
days of Rome. Our Common Law marriage authorized by some States, and which
requires the public acknowledgment of the woman as a wife, bears a considerable
analogy, in certain respects, to the cohabitation, matrimonii causa, of
the text. — Ed.
No material forming part of either a building or a vineyard shall be
removed therefrom. Any one who, without the knowledge or consent of the owner,
attaches a beam or anything else to his house or vineyard, shall be condemned
to pay double its value.
Timbers which have been dressed and prepared for building purposes, but
which have not yet been attached to a building or a vineyard can legally be
recovered by the owner, if they are stolen from him.
If a husband desires to divorce his wife, and dissolve his marriage, he
must give a reason for doing so.
TABLE VII. concerning crimes.
If a quadruped causes injury to anyone, let the owner tender him the
estimated amount of the damage; and if he is unwilling to accept it, the owner
shall, by way of reparation, surrender the animal that caused the
If you cause any unlawful damage . . . . accidentally and
unintentionally, you must make good the loss, either by tendering what has
caused it, or by payment.
Anyone who, by means of incantations and magic arts, prevents grain or
crops of any kind belonging to another from growing, shall be sacrificed to
This was the origin of the proceedings growing out of noxa, an
injurious or unlawful act committed by an animal, a slave, or a child under
paternal control, for which the owner, master, or parent was held responsible.
Whatever caused the damage was held to be primarily liable, under the rule,
"omnes noxales actiones caput sequntur"; hence the injured party had a
right to seize the offending animal or slave, and hold it as security until his
claim was satisfied; which has an exact parallel in the case of a stray found
upon the premises of another, and detained or impounded under the English or
American law. At first, in neither instance, could me author of the damage be
sold, or the injury be otherwise redressed; this defect was, however,
subsequently remedied by the passage at Rome of the Lex Aquilia, which
granted an action directly against the owner; and by the enactment of the
Statutes 5 & 6 Wm. IV. which permitted a sale of the animal in question,
after certain legal formalities had been complied with. The American law is
similar. — Ed.
 Original manuscript illegible.
 The intimate association of religion with law in the
early life of Rome is disclosed by the frequent appearance of the formula
"sacer esto," "Let him be devoted to the infernal gods"; which was attached to many criminal enactments by way of penalty. This not only rendered the offender infamous, as implying the commission of an act of sacrilege, but was virtually a proclamation of outlawry, and enabled anyone to kill him with impunity.ED.
If anyone who has arrived at puberty, secretly, and by night, destroys or cuts and appropriates to his own use, the crop of another, which the owner of the land has laboriously obtained by plowing and the cultivation of the soil, he shall be sacrificed to Ceres, and hung.
If he is under the age of puberty, and not yet old enough to be accountable, he shall be scourged, in the discretion of the Praetor, and shall make good the loss by paying double its amount.
Anyone who turns cattle on the land of another, for the purpose of pasture, shall surrender the cattle, by way of reparation.
Anyone who, knowingly and maliciously, burns a building, or a heap of grain left near a building, after having been placed in chains and scourged, shall be put to death by fire. If, however, he caused the damage by accident, and without malice, he shall make it good; or, if he has not the means to do so, he shall receive a lighter punishment.
When a person, in any way, causes an injury to another which is not serious, he shall be punished with a fine of twenty asses.
When anyone publicly abuses another in a loud voice, or writes a poem for the purpose of insulting him, or rendering him infamous, he shall be beaten with a rod until he dies.
When anyone breaks a member of another, and is unwilling to come to make a settlement with him, he shall be punished by the law of retaliation.
 The punishment, in this instance, is an adaptation of the lex talionis, and the atrocious character of the offence seemed, in the opinion of many of the nations of antiquity, to justify the extreme severity of the penalty. The Visigoths adopted it where the building was in a city. (For. Jud. VIII. II. 1.) The Gentoo Code applied it where any crops or houses were burned. (Gentoo Code XVIII.) The law of England also authorized it. "Ceux que ferount de ceo atteynts soient ars, issint que eux soient punys par meme cŕle chose dount Us pŕcherent." (Britton IX. 16.)' Bracton says the act must be maliciously and feloniously committed, and that, when this is the case, the crime is capital, but he does not specify the mode of execution. Arson was felony at Common Law. (Hale, Pleas of the Crown, Vol. I, Chap. XLIX.) Incendiaries are styled "fire raisers" in Scotland, and by the ancient law of that country the offence, if wilful, was treason, and was punished by hanging. (Mackenzie, The Laws and Customes of Scotland in Matters Criminal, I. IX. 1.) ED.
When anyone knocks a tooth out of the gum of a freeman, he shall be fined three hundred asses; if he knocks one out of the gum of a slave, he shall be fined a hundred and fifty asses.
If anyone, after having been asked, appears either as a witness or a balance-holder, at a sale, or the execution of a will, and refuses to testify when this is required to prove the genuineness of the transaction, he shall become infamous, and cannot afterwards give evidence.
Anyone who gives false testimony shall be hurled from the Tarpeian Rock.
If anyone knowingly and maliciously kills a freeman, he shall be guilty of a capital crime. If he kills him by accident, without malice and unintentionally, let him substitute a ram to be sacrificed publicly by way of expiation for the homicide of the deceased, and for the purpose of appeasing the children of the latter.
Anyone who annoys another by means of magic incantations or diabolical arts, and renders him inactive, or ill; or who prepares or administers poison to him, is guilty of a capital crime, and shall be punished with death.
Anyone who kills an ascendant, shall have his head wrapped in a cloth, and after having been sewed up in a sack, shall be thrown into the water.
Where anyone is guilty of fraud in the administration of a guardianship, he shall be considered infamous; and, even after the guardianship has been terminated, if any theft is proved to have been committed, he shall, by the payment of double damages, be compelled to make good the loss which he caused.
"Paricida esto." A mistake in the derivation of this word has resulted in much confusion. Paricidium was at first employed to denote felonious homicide, and was therefore synonymous with murder. The root is par, and not pater. The term afterwards obtained a much broader signification than it had originally, and was applied indiscriminately to the killing of relatives. It was sometimes even used to designate treason, or generally, any capital crime.ED.
 The scope of this lawthat took its name from a culeus, or leathernsack was vastly enlarged by the Lex Pompeia de Paricidiis, which virtually made every blood-relative, or person connected by affinity with the culprit, subject to its penalty. A dog, a viper, a cock, and an ape, were sewed up with him in the sack. The ancient writers have not assigned any reason for the selection of these singular companions that shared the fate of the murderer. If no body of water was at hand, the sack and its contents were exposed to wild beasts.ED.
When a patron defrauds his client, he shall be dedicated to the infernal
TABLE VIII. concerning the laws op real property.
A space of two feet and a half must be left between neighboring
Societies and associations which have the right to assemble, can make,
promulgate, and confirm for themselves such contracts and rules as they may
desire; provided nothing is done by them contrary to public enactments, or
which does not violate the common law.
The space of five feet shall be left between adjoining fields, by means
of which the owners can visit their property, or drive and plow around it. No
one shall ever have the right to acquire this space by usucaption.
If any persons are in possession of adjoining fields, and a dispute
arises with reference to the boundaries of the same, the PrŠtor shall
appoint three arbiters, who shall take cognizance of the case, and, after the
boundaries have been established, he shall assign to each party that to which
he is entitled.
When a tree overhangs the land of a neighbor, so as to cause injury by
its branches and its shade, it shall be cut off fifteen feet from the
When the fruit of a tree falls upon the premises of a neighbor, the
owner of the tree shall have a right to gather and remove it.
When rain falls upon the land of one person in such a quantity as to
cause water to rise and injure the property of another, the PrŠtor shall
appoint three arbiters for the purpose of confining the water, and providing
against damage to the other party.
 This was done in order to render access to the owner's
property more convenient, to prevent conflagrations, and to facilitate the
extinguishing of fire. — ed.
Where a road runs in a straight line, it shall be eight feet, and where
it curves, it shall be sixteen feet in width.
When a man's land lies adjacent to the highway, he can enclose it in any
way that he chooses; but if he neglects to do so, any other person can drive an
animal over the land wherever he pleases.
TABLE IX. concerning public law.
No privileges, or statutes, shall be enacted in favor of private
persons, to the injury of others contrary to the law common to all citizens,
and which individuals, no matter of what rank, have a right to make use of.
The same rights shall be conferred upon, and the same laws shall be
considered to have been enacted for all the people residing in and beyond
Latium, that have been enacted for good and steadfast Roman citizens.
When a judge, or an arbiter appointed to hear a case, accepts money, or
other gifts, for the purpose of influencing his decision, he shall suffer the
penalty of death.
No decision with reference to the life or liberty of a Roman citizen
shall be rendered except by the vote of the Greater Comitia.
Law V. Public accusers in capital cases shall be appointed by the
 "QuŠstores Paricidii." These officials
discharged the triple functions of detectives, State attorneys, and
executioners. They were two in number, and are supposed by some authorities to
have been identical with the urban quŠstors of subsequent times, which
conjecture, however, has no positive evidence to support it. They were
originally appointed by the King, and, under the Republic, by the consuls. It
was their duty to investigate and prosecute capital crimes, such as arson,
murder, witchcraft, and the destruction of growing crops, all of which in
ancient times were punishable with death. They summoned the Comitia, or
Assembly of the People, for the trial of an offender, and executed the sentence
after it had been pronounced. — Ed.
If anyone should cause nocturnal assemblies in the City, he shall be put
If anyone should stir up war against his country, or delivers a Roman
citizen into the hands of the enemy, he shall be punished with death.
TABLE X. Concerning religious law.
An oath shall have the greatest force and effect, for the purpose of
compelling good faith.
Where a family adopts private religious rites every member of it can,
afterwards, always make use of them.
Law III. No burial or cremation of a corpse shall take place in a
No greater expenses or mourning than is proper shall be permitted in
No one shall, hereafter, exceed the limit established by these laws for
the celebration of funeral rites.
Wood employed for the purpose of constructing a funeral pyre shall not
be hewn, but shall be rough and unpolished.
 The Romans, like all primitive peoples, originally
worshipped their ancestors, of whom one, styled the lars
familiaris, was always selected as the tutelary diety. The various
ceremonies attending this worship were of a private character, and hence were
entirely distinct from those performed in the temples and at the public altars.
Religion being so closely interwoven with State affairs in the Roman polity,
its mode of celebration was, in every instance, rigidly prescribed by law.
 It was the custom at Rome, prior to the enactment of the
Laws of the Twelve Tables, for the deceased relatives of the family to be
buried in their own homes, which gave rise to the worship of the Lares,
above referred to. The inconvenience and unsanitary results growing out of this
practice no doubt contributed largely to its abrogation. — Ed.
When a corpse is prepared for burial at home, not more than three women
with their heads covered with mourning veils shall be permitted to perform this
service. The body may be enveloped in purple robes, and when borne outside, ten
flute players, at the most, shall accompany the funeral procession.
Women shall not during a funeral lacerate their faces, or tear their
cheeks with their nails; nor shall they utter loud cries bewailing the
No bones shall be taken from the body of a person who is dead, or from
his ashes after cremation, in order that funeral ceremonies may again be held
elsewhere. When, however, anyone dies in a foreign country, or is killed in
war, a part of his remains may be transferred to the burial place of his
The body of no dead slave shall be anointed; nor shall any drinking take
place at his funeral, nor a banquet of any kind be instituted in his honor.
No wine flavored with myrrh, or any other precious beverage, shall be
poured upon a corpse while it is burning; nor shall the funeral pile be
sprinkled with wine.
Large wreaths shall not be borne at a funeral; nor shall
perfumes be burned on the altars.
Anyone who has rendered himself deserving of a wreath, as the reward of
bravery in war, or through his having been the victor in public contests or
games, whether he has obtained it through his own exertions or by means of
others in his own name, and by his own money, through his horses, or his
slaves, shall have a right to have the said wreath placed upon his dead body,
or upon that of any of his ascendants, as long as the corpse is at his home, as
well as when it is borne away; so that, during his obsequies, he may enjoy the
honor which in his lifetime he acquired by his bravery or his good fortune.
Only one funeral of an individual can take place; and it shall not be
permitted to prepare several biers.
 "LongŠ CoronŠ." This term, while
obscure, would seem to refer to garlands of excessive size, exhibited by way of
pomp and ostentation at the celebration of funeral rites. The greater part of
the legislation of this Table was evidently framed for the correction of the
inordinate display of wealth and luxury already becoming prevalent at the
burial of the dead. — Ed.
Gold, no matter in what form it may be present, shall, by all means, be
removed from the corpse at the time of the funeral; but if anyone's teeth
should be fastened with gold, it shall be lawful either to burn, or to bury it
with the body.
No one, without the knowledge or consent of the owner, shall erect a
funeral pyre, or a tomb, nearer than sixty feet to the building of another.
No one can acquire by usucaption either the vestibule or approach to a
tomb, or the tomb itself.
No assembly of the people shall take place during the obsequies of any
man distinguished in the State.
TABLE XI. supplement to the five preceding ones.
Affairs of great importance shall not be transacted without the vote of
the people, with whom rests the power to appoint magistrates, to condemn
citizens, and to enact laws. Laws subsequently passed always take preference
over former ones.
Those who belong to the Senatorial Order and are styled Fathers, shall
not contract marriage with plebeians.
TABLE XII. supplement to the five preceding ones.
No one shall render sacred any property with reference to which there is
a controversy in court, where issue has already been joined; and if anyone does
render such property sacred, he shall pay double its value as a penalty.
If the claim of anyone in whose favor judgment was rendered after the
property had been illegally seized, or after possession of the same had been
delivered, is found to be false, the PrŠtor shall appoint three arbiters,
by whose award double the amount of the profits shall be restored by him in
whose favor the judgment was rendered.
If a slave, with the knowledge of his master, should commit a theft, or
cause damage to anyone, his master shall be given up to the other party by way
of reparation for the theft, injury, or damage committed by the slave.
END OF THE LAWS OF THE TWELVE TABLES.