Rome, 450 B.C. (traditional date). (FIRA2, vol. 1, p. 23. Tr. ARS. L)

These laws, the basis of Roman civil law, have their origins in what the Romans called mos maiorum, the tradition of their ancestors. The codification and publication of the ancestral laws on twelve bronze tablets in the Roman Forum represented a victory for the plebeian class, which hitherto had been subject to prejudiced legal interpretations by the patricians. Though some of the laws became outdated, the code was never abolished.

Table IV. Paternal power

1. A notably deformed child shall be killed immediately.

3. To repudiate his wife, her husband shall order her … to have her own property for herself, shall take the keys, shall expel her. [3]

4. A child born within ten months of the father’s death shall enter into the inheritance … 

Table V. Inheritance and guardianship 
1. … Women, even though they are of full age, because of their levity of mind shall be under guardianship … except Vestal Virgins, who … shall be free from guardianship. [4]

2. The conveyable possessions of a woman who is under guardianship of male agnates [5] shall not be acquired by prescriptive right unless they are transferred by the woman herself with the authorisation of her guardian … 

4. If anyone who has no direct heir dies intestate, the nearest male agnate shall have the estate;

5. If there is not a male agnate, the male clansmen shall have the estate.

6. The agnatic relatives are guardians of those who are not given a guardian by will. [6]

Table VI. Ownership and possession 
5. … If any woman is unwilling to be subjected in this manner to her husband’s marital control, she shall absent herself for three successive nights in every year and by this means shall interrupt his prescriptive right of each year. [7]

Table X. Sacred law

4. Woman shall not tear their cheeks or shall not make a sorrowful outcry on account of a funeral.


3. In the later Republic and the Empire, either spouse-or father, if a spouse was still in his power-could divorce the other by simple notification and 

4. Twenty-five was the age of majority for both women and men. A woman remained subject to either her father’s power (potestas) or her husband’s (manus) or, lacking both, that of a tutor. See below, no. 115-17, on guardianship, and on vestal virgins, no. 408.

5. Agnatic relationships are traced through the male line and can include artificial relationships, as through adoption; cognatic relationships are traced through the female line and are confined to blood relations.

6. Boys 7-14, girls 7-12, and women who were not under a father’s or husband’s power. This law, for which there is no surviving text, is derived from Gaius, Institutes 1.155.

7. This law too is derived from the Institutes of Gaius 1.111 (below, no. 000), where the jurist explains that the institution had become obsolete by his day.