Rome had changed. The people of Rome had changed. They were tired of being ruled by others. They wanted to rule themselves. So after years of fighting against the last king of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, the people of Rome created a new form of government. It was called a republic. In a republic, every citizen votes for leaders who create their laws.
In the Roman republic, every citizen could vote for their leaders, but who were the citizens? Only adult free men could be citizens. That meant women, children and slaves were not citizens, and could not vote.
The new Roman Republic wanted everyone to know what the laws were. They also wanted to make sure that the law applied to everyone, rich and poor alike. So they engraved the law on tablets of metal and put them in the forum for everyone to read. They remained there, on display, throughout the time period that Rome was a republic. These laws were called the Twelve Tables because there were twelve different sections. These laws were about crime and property and family matters like marriage and inheritance.
It didn't matter if you were rich or poor; the law applied to every citizen.
Here are a few of the laws of the Roman Republic from the Twelve Tables
These have been simplified and reworded but hopefully the meanings have not been changed.
- If you are called to appear in court you have to go. If you don't you can be arrested and forced to go.
- If you need a witness in court and they refuse to go you can stand in front of their house and shout out how they are refusing to do their duty as a citizen. You can do this once every three days.
- Should a tree on a neighbor's farm be bent by the wind and lean over onto your farm, you can go to court and get the tree cut down.
- If fruit falls from your trees it is yours no matter where it falls.
- If you lied in court you would be thrown off of the Tarpeian Rock.
- You could not hold a political or business meeting at night. Dinner parties and religious festivals at night were ok.
- Everyone who died had to buried or burned outside the city.
- Rich people could not marry poor people and vice versa (plebeians and patricians). This law did get changed later.
Crime and Justice in Ancient Rome