Glencoe World History

Chapter 5: Rome and the Rise of Christianity, 600 B.C.– A.D. 500

Student Web Activity

The Twelve Tables

The Twelve Tables represent an early attempt by the Romans to form a system of civil law for their 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 Twelve Tables remain important today. Others would be rejected in a democratic society. In this activity you will read and interpret the laws.

Destination Title: The Twelve Tables

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Start at the Twelve Tables Web site.

  • Read the brief history of the Twelve Tables and the translation of the laws, taking notes as you go.

After you have read the information, answer the following questions.

What is the punishment for defrauding a client?
Why were women required to have a guardian? Try to phrase your answer in simple English.
What is required of the courts before a person can be put to death?
Other than death, what types of punishment did the tables include? Try to phrase your answer in simple English.
In writing the 12 Tables, the early Romans were developing legal principles that would endure for centuries. On a separate piece of paper, make a list of 10 laws from the tables (most of the tables contain several laws). For each law that you chose, identify the principle(s) you think the Romans were trying to apply. For example, in law IX.6 you'll recognize the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." Then, indicate whether that principle would apply in a democratic society. (For example, in a democratic society, the principle "innocent until proven guilty" applies in all criminal cases.)
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