An Overview of the Twelve Tables Essay

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An Overview of the Twelve Tables Essay

If anything, The Twelve Tables of the Roman Empire provide for the disposing of a common, stereotypical image of Roman society that it was a lawless, militaristic totalitarian state where the Emperor executed thousands of citizens with no care for the rule of law. While it is true that certain Emperors such as Caligula and Nero were hardly known for their excellent records for human rights, the reality is that Roman Society was a civilization that placed great emphasis on the legal structures and due process, albeit these laws also displayed a wanton cruelty designed to impose the Roman concept of order on the populace.

Per Cicero, “Though all the world exclaim against me, I will say what I think: that single little book of the Twelve Tables, if anyone look to the fountains and sources of laws, seems to me, assuredly, to surpass the libraries of all the philosophers, both in weight of authority, and in plenitude of utility.” (Halsall) That is, the authority of The Twelve Tables is absolute.

As an imperialist and occupying power, Rome was merciless. Its humanitarian goals were non-existent and it enslaved thousands. Domestically, Rome, while not as wanton, still remained harsh. While it did impose a series of harmless laws, usually centering on economic issues that provided a sense of order within the civilization, other rules were incredibly cruel. While there were statutes dealing with such benign issues as dealing with the paving of roads and civil litigation, there are a number of laws that also promote slavery, infanticide, torture, women’s subjugation and public executions, all of which promoted the state and the ruling class as the center of all moral authority.

In comparison to the Code of Hannurabi and the Code of Assura, there is a great deal of “overlap” in terms of how an established, orderly system had been designed in order to establish property rights that extended to including women and subjugated slaves as property.

In this regard, The Twelve Tables are highly derivative of these two codes as all three exist to impose the rule of a dominant, male ruling class where the state rules with an iron fist in order to maintain its control. Instead of an disorderly society where anarchy rules over all else, there is an established society with a code of laws, albeit unfair laws that can also wield the iron fist of cruelty where the moral relativism of the state is responsible for the brutality that it has sanctioned as legitimate.

In regards to the Covenants found in Hebrew society, while there is present the subjugation of women and capital punishment of crimes, the ultimate moral authority is God. “A covenant is more personal than a contract — it involves loyalty and allegiance, not just a financial exchange. God has made several agreements or covenants with humans. He gives commands and makes promises.” (Morrison)

That is, the existing Covenants are between God and his people as opposed to the people and the state as evidenced in the other three societies. Furthermore, Hebrew laws derived an authority from God that eliminated the moral ambiguity that allowed for the more violent laws of the secular societies used to crush decent and control the population. This is not to say that Hebrew Society was free of injustice, but it did not co-opt the wanton cruelty that existed in the other civilizations.

Roman society was not a society of disorganized laws that imposed cruelty. On the contrary, the cruelty imposed upon the populace in the Roman Empire were based on an orderly set of laws that while legal, were immoral, which begs that question as to whether or not the laws were ultimately legitimate.

Works Cited

Paul Halsall, 01 June 1998, Ancient History Sourcebook:

The Twelve Tables 04 November 2006 URL http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/12tables.html

Paul Halsall, 01 June 1998, Ancient History Sourcebook:

The Code of the Assura, 04 November 2006 URL

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/1075assyriancode.html

Michael Morrison, 1995, Covenants in the Bible, 04 November 2006

URL http://www.wcg.org/lit/law/covenants.htm

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