Rome, 8th/7th cent. B.C. (FIRA 2, vol. 1, p. 3. Tr. ARS, rev. L)

Although the history of Rome’s regal period is based in large part on legend, and was so in antiquity, tradition was strong, and many of Rome’s laws and customs, committed to writing much later, have their roots in the distant past. The laws attributed to the kings of Rome and the Twelve Tables, which follow, have been reconstructed by modern editors from these later citations. Laws attributed to Romulus, the founder; traditional dates, 753-716 B.C.

4. Romulus compelled the citizens to rear every male child and the first-born of the females, and he forbade them to put to death any child under three years of age, unless it was a cripple or a monster from birth. He did not prevent the parents from exposing such children, provided that they had displayed them first to the five nearest neighbours and had secured their approval. For those who disobeyed the law he prescribed the confiscation of half of their property as well as other penalties.

6. By the enactment of a single … law … Romulus brought the women to great prudence and orderly conduct … The law was as follows: A woman united with her husband by a sacred marriage [1] shall share in all his possessions and in his sacred rites.

7. The cognates sitting in judgment with the husband … were given power to pass sentence in cases of adultery and … if any wife was found drinking wine Romulus allowed the death penalty for both crimes.

9. He also made certain laws, one of which is severe, namely that which does not permit a wife to divorce her husband, but gives him power to divorce her for the use of drugs or magic on account of children [2] or for counterfeiting the keys or for adultery. The law ordered that if he should divorce her for any other cause, part of his estate should go to the wife and that part should be dedicated to Ceres. Anyone who sold his wife was sacrificed to the gods of the underworld.

10. It is strange, … when he established no penalty against patricides, that he called all homicide patricide.

11. If a daughter-in-law strikes her father-in-law she shall be dedicated as a sacrifice to his ancestral deities.

Laws attributed to Numa Pompilius; traditional dates, 716-673 B.C.

9. On the Vestal Virgins he conferred high honours, among which was the right of making a will while their fathers lived and of doing all other juristic acts without a guardian.

12. A royal law forbids the burial of a pregnant woman before the child is extracted from the womb. Whoever violates this law is deemed to have destroyed the child’s expectancy of life along with the mother.

13. A concubine shall not touch the altar of Juno. If she touches it, she shall sacrifice, with her hair unbound, a ewe lamb to Juno.


1. Confarreatio. See below, no. 132.

2. Probably a reference to contraception and abortion. Divorce on grounds of sterility appears to have been first allowed in 235 B.C. (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 17.21.44). Complex laws concerning the disposition of the dowry-such as deductions for children or bad behaviour-operated to prevent ill-considered divorce.