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Perhaps the single most important and lasting innovation in the Roman state around the middle of the fifth century B.C. was the Law of the Twelve Tables, so-called because this first major codification of law was initially engraved on twelve bronze tablets and was displayed in public. Even though many of this early lawcode’s specific provisions eventually became obsolete, it nevertheless continued to be of significance, as it was the precondition for all the subsequent development of Roman law.1 In Cicero’s youth, Roman schoolboys were still being required to memorize its provisions (Cic. De Legibus 2.9 and 2.59), and eminent Roman jurists as early as c. 200 B.C. and as late as c. 150 A.D. wrote learned commentaries on this lawcode. In addition, since the Law of the Twelve Tables represented the earliest major Latin text and therefore contained numerous peculiar words and phrases, it received considerable attention from later antiquarians and philologists. As the result of the widespread and sustained ancient interest in this legal text, we are fortunate to possess a very large number of fragments from it (i.e., verbatim quotations or paraphrases). Given the lateness and basic unreliability of the ancient literary sources on Rome during the fifth century , the surviving portions of the Law of the Twelve Tables may provide us Chapter 7 Rome of the Twelve Tables 201 1. For other modern treatments of the subjects covered in this chapter, see Ogilvie 1965, 390–525; Heurgon 1973, 169–73; Scullard 1980, 86–91; and Cornell 1995, 272–92. For other treatments of the decemvirate and the Twelve Tables, see Täubler 1921; Beloch 1926, 236–46; Wieacker in Origines de la République Romaine 1967, 293–356; Watson 1975; Gutberlet 1985, 72–98; the essays by Ungern-Sternberg, Eder, and Toher in Raaflaub 1986 (77–104, 262–300, and 301–26 respectively); Wieacker 1988, 287–309; D’Ippolito in Momigliano and Schiavone 1988, 397–413; Humbert in Crise et Transformation 1990, 263–87; and Watson 1992. The best critical introduction to and edition of the Law of the Twelve Tables is Crawford 1996, 555–721. with our most accurate information about the social and economic conditions prevailing in early Rome. Since the Law of the Twelve Tables formed an important stage in Rome’s internal development, later Roman historians did not fail to portray the political background of this innovation in terms of the struggle of the orders. Codifying the law was first suggested in 462 B.C. by a plebeian tribune , Terentilius Harsa, who proposed the appointment of a commission of five men to accomplish this task. In Livy’s narrative (3.9.1–5), the tribune introduces his bill with inflammatory political rhetoric redolent of the late republic, in which the senate and consuls are charged with tyranny, insolence, and a lack of all restraints. The tribune therefore proposes that the appointed commission draft laws concerning consular imperium (“legibus de imperio consulari scribendis”), so that the consuls henceforth will be obliged to exercise their power according to what the people have conceded by law, rather than out of their own caprice and licentiousness. Thus we are led to expect that one of the principal issues addressed in the Law of the Twelve Tables would be to define the constitutional powers of the consuls . The extant fragments of the lawcode, however, contain no such provisions . Only a few clauses pertain to constitutional matters. Rather, as we might expect of a lawcode designed for a community’s practical use, it is almost entirely concerned with private law (Watson 1992, 14–18). Even if one wished to validate the historicity of Livy’s presentation of the original reason for codification by asserting that the provisions defining or circumscribing consular imperium have not survived, this argument from silence could be nullified. Given the relative abundance of ancient evidence concerning the nature of imperium as well as the ancients’ familiarity with the Law of the Twelve Tables, we should expect any such provisions to have been cited in the numerous debates and controversies over governorships and military commands during the late republic and early principate. Moreover, since the ancient accounts state that the commission charged with codifying the law did so with consular authority (imperio consulari legibus scribundis), it seems likely that putting the codification in the context of the struggle of the orders was a later annalistic maneuver, accomplished by...


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