The codification of laws is something which dates back to as early as 1760 BC. The first real civil code was the Code of Hammurabi, which was started by Hammurabi the ruler of Babylon. This code went by the principle of “an eye for an eye”, which in modern terms would be known as retribution.

An example of a rule in this code was that if a son slaps his father, his hand will be cut off. This code by Hammurabi holds significance to this day and helped serve as an example to lawmakers in Rome. In the Roman Empire, two codes were established.

The first Roman code was the Lex Duodecim Tabularum, which was followed much later by a second code known as the Corpus Juris Civilis. Both of these codes helped establish a guideline for Rome to follow and made it into a dominant empire for centuries.

Lex Duodecim Tabularum or the Twelve Tables was the first real codification of laws in Rome. The main reason for its creation was to ensure that plebeians were aware of the law before they made decisions.

The code was started in 451 BC by a board of ten men called a Decemvirate, and was finally finished in 449 BC (The Laws of the Twelve Tables, c.450 B.C.).

The code was similar to most other early codes in that it combined extremely strict punishment with very strict procedures. The code was made into twelve tables dealing with different aspects of Roman life.

Some of the major topics covered include civil procedure, debt, parents and children, inheritance, property, torts, and marriage. Examples of laws introduced through this code were that a deformed child must be put to death, and marriage between patricians and plebeians was prohibited.

The Twelve Tables have great importance for three main reasons. First, the twelve tables are the foundation of the Roman Republic (The Twelve Tables: Basis of Roman Law). Original laws in Rome had only been made to benefit the patricians, and the plebeians wanted to change this. In 494 BC, the plebeians threatened to secede from Rome, and the patricians were forced to take notice and craft laws that applied to all citizens (The Twelve Tables: Basis of Roman Law).

Once the laws were finalized by being written down in 449 BC, lawmakers and law enforcement could no longer change the rules to suit themselves (The Twelve Tables: Basis of Roman Law). So, with the establishment of the Twelve Tables, the plebeian class was given rights that they could have only dreamed of forty years earlier.

The twelve tables also really formed the basis of Roman law. Through these tables, Rome was able to become a much more efficient and organized society. Most great societies throughout history have had a really strict and defined set of laws, and through this establishment, Rome became a member of that elite company as well. 

The Twelve Tables was also set the precedent for future ideas such as the philosophy of John Locke, and humanism. Much of what Locke believed on social and political issues were formed by his knowledge of the Twelve Tables. Much of the beliefs of humanism including basic human rights, as well as social justice were spawned from the twelve tables.

The other great code to come out of Rome was the Corpus Juris Civilis, otherwise known as the Justinian Code. This code was completed in 534 CE (Justinian Code: Ancient Rome/ Byzantine Empire). The Justinian Code began a revival in the study of Roman law in the middle Ages. This new code became the new form of law in all civil law jurisdictions in the empire.

This code of laws took laws from as far back as Romulus and Remus and organized them into a fashion that was not confusing for the average citizen to understand. The Justinian Code dealt heavily with religion as it enforced laws against heresy, paganism, and Judaism. The Justinian code was also divided into two sects of law. There was public law for dealings with the government, and there was private law which was for the dealings of individuals (Justinian Code: Ancient Rome/ Byzantine Empire).

Justinian Code was significant for two main reasons. First, it really made the law simple and organized so that all people could have an understanding of it. The Justinian code contained a codification of Roman laws, a guide for judges, as well as an introduction to law and the code for law students (Justinian Code: Ancient Rome/ Byzantine Empire). 

Due to its simplicity and organization, the Justinian Code became the basis of law for a lot of countries throughout most western European countries. The Justinian code was also very successful at combining three types of law in order to form private law. The combination of natural law, the law of nations, and civil law were huge in the formation of private law (Justinian Code: Ancient Rome/ Byzantine Empire).

Natural law dealt with human nature when it comes to how to decide what should be made into a law. The law of nations is laws that apply to each nation throughout the world when it comes to lawmaking. Civil law deals with laws that are specific to that nation only. Through the use of these three aspects to make private law, Rome had a code that worked perfectly to ensure that its citizens were treated fairly.

The impact of these codes on Rome as well as a modern society can still be felt today. The use of the Twelve Tables to give an understanding of basic law was crucial to the success of Rome. More civil rights were established and less social corruption occurred as a result of the introduction of the Twelve Tables.

Through the Justinian Code, the world was truly shown how organized and precise law-making can be and set a guideline for the rest of the world to follow. There is no denying the impact and importance of the codification of laws during this time period. Without this monumental step, law enforcement and law-making would be nowhere near as advanced as it is today.

Works Cited

“Justinian Code:Ancient Rome/ Byzantine Empire.”
. California-Berkeley, 1 July
2004. Web. 3 Jan. 2010. <

“The Laws of the Twelve Tables, c.450 B.C.”
. N.p., 3 Aug. 2009. Web. 3 Jan. 2010.
<>. stiniancode.htm>.

“The Twelve Tables: Basis of Roman Law.”
. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2010.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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