The Twelve Tables represent an early Roman attempt to form a system of civil
law for a simple farming society. Historians have only found fragments of the
tables, but these fragments provide much information about early Roman life
and values. Many of the principles covered in the 12 Tables remain important
today. Others would be rejected in a democratic society. This activity is an
opportunity for students to place Roman laws within the context of principles
with which they are familiar and to identify core values of the early Romans.
Students will read a brief historical account of the Twelve Tables followed
by the Tables themselves. Students will make a list of at least 10 of the laws
contained in the Tables (most of the tables contain multiple laws). Students
will then indicate the legal principle(s) that they think the Romans were trying
to apply in each of the laws they have chosen. Finally, students will describe
how each of those principles applies in a democratic society.
- Students will be able to identify the laws early Roman legalists considered
important for a stable society.
- Students will be able to discuss the Roman history of many modern legal
- Students will be able to compare Roman laws with the legal principles of
a democratic society.
Student Web Activity Answers
- The punishment for defrauding a client is death.
- Women were required to have a guardian because of their "levity of
disposition." In other words, they were considered incapable of taking
responsibility for themselves.
- A person must be convicted before he or she can be put to death.
- In addition to death, punishments listed at the end of the tables include
fine, fetters, flogging, retaliation in kind, civil disgrace, banishment,
- Students' lists of laws will vary. In identifying legal principles, the
goal is not for students to show legal expertise, but to demonstrate that
they understand the basic purpose of each law. Once they have identified a
principle, they should explain how that principle is implemented in a democratic
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