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12 Tables of Roman Law
In the history of governments, the Twelve Tables occupy a special place. At once, they are the basis of
the Roman Republic, the basis of Roman Law for centuries, and the germ of the idea that evolved into
humanism, the philosophy of John Locke, and the Declaration if Independence.
We're talking about, of course, the protection of certain rights.
By about the 6th century B.C., Roman people (who weren't slaves) could be divided into two classes:
patricians and plebeians. The former were wealthy, landowning citizens who had money and power and
wealth and the right to vote. The latter were none of the above (or very little) but were not slaves.
Since the patricians made up most of the ruling class and made the laws, they tended to make laws to
protect their own interests. If the interests of the plebeians got in the way, then the laws came first--at
least that's what the patricians thought.
The plebeians had other ideas. They wanted certain basic rights, and they were willing to cause civil
disturbances to get it. They even threatened to secede, in 494. By this time, the sheer numbers of the
plebeian class made the patricians sit up in their governing chairs and take notice. The result was the
Twelve Tables.
The Tables themselves, which were finalized in the mid-5th century, were pieces of stone with writing
carved into them. The main benefit of having laws written down was that the lawmakers and lawenforcers couldn't change them to suit their whims. Once a law was made public (and carving it into
stone was about as public as it got), the law was known to everyone. This also had the benefit for the
lawmakers and law-enforcers of ruling out a lawbreaker's protestation that he or she didn't know that
what he or she was doing was against the law. If a law was made public, then it was everyone's
responsibility to know and obey.
Specifically, of the fragments of the Twelve Tables we have remaining, here are some points
of interest:
Table I mandates that when a person is accused of something, both accused and accuser must
be present at a hearing or trial on the matter. Also, if both parties don't show up for a court
date, the judge is free to rule in favor of the party that did show up.
Table III gives debtors 30 days to pay off a debt. After that, a creditor is free to seize the
debtor and make him or her a prisoner.
Table IV makes a man's will binding.
Table VIII lists specific punishments for certain crimes. It also says that if a person fails to
show up as a trial witness, then that person will never again be allowed to be a witness. Most
importantly, it says that a person shown to have lied in court will be put to death.
Table IX specifies capital punishment for judges who have taken bribes and for people who
have committed treason.
It's also interesting to note that Table XI prohibits marriages between plebeians and patricians. So,
even though the plebeians got some very important rights through the Twelve Tables, they couldn't
marry into the upper class. The ruling class had to keep the other hand, after all.
More examples of Roman laws:
VI. 2 Marriage by `usage' (usus): If a man and woman live together continuously for a year, they are considered to be
married; the woman legally is treated as the man's daughter.
VIII. 1 "If any person has sung or composed against another person a SONG (carmen) such as was causing slander or
insult.... he shall be clubbed to death."
VIII. 2 "If a person has maimed another's limb, let there be retaliation in kind, unless he agrees to make compensation
with him." (Lex talionis)
VIII. 21 "If a patron shall defraud his client, he must be solemnly forfeited (`killed')."
VIII. 23 "Whoever is convicted of speaking false witness shall be flung from the Tarpeian Rock."
VIII. 26 "No person shall hold meetings in the City at night."
IX. 3 "The penalty shall be capital punishment for a judge or arbiter legally appointed who has been found guilty of
receiving a bribe for giving a decision."
IX. 6 "Putting to death... of any man who has not been convicted, whosoever he might be, is forbidden."
X. 4 "Women must not tear cheeks or hold chorus of `Alas!' on account of a funeral."
Roman Coliseum
The Colosseum, (the Flavian Amphitheatre) is one of Rome's most famous buildings and enduring
monuments to the culture of the ancient Romans. Construction was initiated by the Emperor Vespasian
around 72 AD. His son Titus reigned over its completion and the official opening ceremonies, about 8 years
later, in 80 AD. It was built near the site of Nero's Domus Aurea "Golden House". This is significant in that
his successor, Vespasian wanted to erase the memory of Nero's extravagant reign from the minds of Romans.
It got its popular name, the Colosseum, because of Nero's colossus (120 ft. high) statue of himself, which
was nearby.
The huge theater was originally built encompassing four floors. The first three had arched entrances, while
the fourth floor utilized rectangular doorways. The floors each measured between 10,5-13,9 meters (32-42
feet) in height. The total height of the construction was approximately 48 meters (144 feet). The arena
measured 79 x 45 meters (237-135 feet), and consisted of wood and sand. (The word "arena" is derived from
the Latin arena, which means "sand.") Nets along the sides protected the audience.
The Colosseum had a total spectator capacity of 45,000-55,000. The Amphitheater is built of travertine
outside, and of tufa and brick in the interior. The main pedestals were built of marble blocks weighing 5
metric tons (11,000 pounds.) Initially the huge marble blocks were held together by metal-pins. However, the
pins were soon carried off by thieves, and had to be replaced by mortar. The total amount of marble needed
for the construction measured approximately 100,000 cubic meters. It was carried by 200 ox-pulled carts,
which supplied a sufficient flow of needed materials.
There were no less than 76 numbered entrances and 4 additional entrances reserved for the Emperor, other
VIP's and the gladiators. The Colosseum was designed for easy crowd dispersal; the entire audience could
exit the building in five minutes. The interior was divided into three parts: the arena, the podium, and the
cavea. Now more than two-thirds of the original building has been removed and the rows of the seats in the
cavea are missing. It is very similar to other amphitheaters except this one is much bigger.
The audience, upon entering, climbed sloping ramps to their seats, according to gender and social class.
Obviously, the higher one's social status, the better their seating arrangement would be. For example, women
(excepting spouses and perhaps imperial family) and the poor, stood or sat on wooden benches in the fourth
tier. For inclement or very hot weather conditions, an enormous, colored awning (velarium) could be
stretched overhead to protect the crowd.
A wooden floor covered subterranean chambers where the gladiators and animals were kept waiting to
perform. There is some debate over the idea that the Colosseum was occasionally flooded for mock naval
battles. There were canals in place that could have been used for this purpose but the brick used in
construction was not the same type of material that they normally used in water resistant materials.
The Colosseum was the Empire's primary stage for gladiatorial combat for nearly 4 centuries. In a show of
Rome's wealth and extravagance, during the opening ceremonies in 80 AD, 100 days of the games were held.
Roman Aqueducts
The great and highly advanced Roman waterway system known as the Aqueducts, are among the greatest
achievements in the ancient world. The running water, indoor plumbing and sewer system carrying away
disease from the population within the Empire wasn't surpassed in capability until very modern times. The
Aqueducts, being the most visible and glorious piece of the ancient water system, stand as a testament to
Roman engineering. Some of these ancient structures are still in use today in various capacities.
The aqueducts were built from a combination of stone, brick and the special volcanic cement pozzuolana.
While their visible remains leave a definite impression, the great bulk of the Roman waterway system ran
below ground. Channels bored through rock, or dug below the surface carried water where it was convenient
and possible. Of the approximately 260 miles in the aqueduct system, only 30 miles consisted of the visible,
mammoth arched structures. The aqueducts were built only to carry the flow of water in areas where digging,
burrowing, or surface grades presented problems, such as valleys. The entire system relied upon various
gradients and the use of gravity to maintain a continuous flow; and the engineering at the time was
remarkable. Without the aqueducts it would've been impossible to maintain the flow of water at the proper
grades required.
When water reached Rome it flowed into enormous cisterns (castella) maintained on the highest ground.
These large reservoirs held the water supply for the city and were connected to a vast network of lead pipes.
Everything from public fountains, baths and private villas could tap into the network, sometimes provided a
fee was paid. The water system was as politically motivated as any other massive public works project.
Providing additional sources of incoming flow, feeding the baths or simply providing water access to more
of the populace could grant great prestige.
Maintenance of the water system was a continuous task, and the Romans assigned a Curator Aquarum to
oversee this undertaking. Paid laborers, slaves and the legions all had parts in building parts of the water
system. The Curator Aquarum maintained the aqueducts of Rome, while similar curators oversaw those in
the provinces. The legions however, when building new colonies or forts, were responsible for providing
their own water supply. Just as they were the great road builders of the Empire, they most assuredly took part
in the aqueduct construction of outlying areas.
11 separate aqueducts supplied the city of Rome and were built over a span of 500 years. The first, the Aqua
Appia, was built in conjunction with the great southern road the Via Appia in 312 BC. Aqua Novus stretched
the farthest from the city, reaching approximately 59 miles away. At its largest extant, nearly 200 cities
within the empire were supplied buy aqueducts, far surpassing the capability of any civilization before or
after for nearly another 2 millennia. The last Roman aqueduct built was the Aqua Alexandrina built in 226
AD. In the waning days of the western empire, invading Germanic tribes cut the supply of water into Rome
and only the Aqua Virgo, which ran completely underground, continued to deliver water. During the middle
ages, a couple of the lines were restored, but full access to running water wasn't re-established until the
Renaissance. At the height of the ancient city's population of approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants, the water
system was capable of delivering up to 1 cubic meter of water per person in the city, more than what is
commonly available in most cities today.
Gladiators and games
Wealthy Romans often sponsored gladiator events and gave away food, money and gifts to the people
in order to gain popularity. Some of the events used to celebrate a triumph, festival or accomplishment were:
gladiator fights, animal hunts, mock sea battles, executions, races and plays. Roman politicians realized that
offering free entertainment and food to the people was a great way to keep the masses happy and
Competition and skill played much less of a role in arena events whose main function was to provide
spectators with the enjoyment of viewing the agonizing deaths of people pronounced guilty of capital
offenses. Unlike gladiators who trained in schools to fight successfully; criminals/captives were sent out to
almost certain deaths. They received no training or defensive equipment. If a man killed one opponent and
survived his fight, he immediately faced another opponent, and then another, until he grew exhausted and
was in turn slain. These spectacles were executions.
Some arena events involved wild animals. For executions, the unfortunate men were placed without
weapons and sometimes were tied up as well, in an arena with hungry animals such as lions or panthers. In
the wild animal “hunts,” men with weapons but no protective clothing were matched with animals. Seldom
did the “hunters” leave the arena alive. Sometimes animal was pitted against animal – bears chained to bulls,
or lions set upon elephants. Sometimes the animals were herded into the arena and shot by archers in the
stands. The Roman world was quite inventive in the ways of cruelty and devised many different methods for
slaughtering men and animals.
The popularity of gladiatorial matches, executions, and wild animal “hunts” increased in the imperial
period, when they began to be supported lavishly with public and imperial funds. In the 100 days of
spectacles, which accompanied the opening or the Coliseum in A.D. 80, 9000 animals were killed. At
Trajan’s games of A.D. 108, over 10,000 gladiators fought and 11,000 animals were killed.