Twelve Tables, Law of the
Earliest codification of ancient Roman law, traditionally dated to 451–450 BC. They were purportedly written at the demand of the plebeians, who felt that their legal rights were hampered by the fact that court judgments were rendered according to unwritten custom preserved only within a small group of learned patricians. The Twelve Tables were not a reform or a liberalizing of old custom; they recognized the prerogatives of the patrician class and of the patriarchal family, the validity of enslavement for unpaid debt, and the interference of religious custom in civil cases. Because only random quotations from the Twelve Tables are extant, knowledge about their contents is largely derived from references in later juridical writings. Venerated by the Romans as a prime legal source, the Twelve Tables were superseded by later changes in Roman law but were never formally abolished.
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