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Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source  

Law in Early Roman Society:
The Regulation of Women and Family
(c. 600 B.C.E.; 451-450 B.C.E.)
Numa Pompilius; Anonymous

Much of what historians know about the early Roman Republic has come from law codes. Law codes are an excellent source to reveal those things which a society values and criminalizes, and how a society regulates relationships among citizens and within families. In this selection, a group of laws from early Roman law codes, including the fundamental Twelve Tables of the early Republic, provide the modern reader with a view of Roman ideals concerning gender and family.

Questions to Consider
  • These laws seem to focus greatly on children and property. Why?

  • What can we infer about the status of women from these laws?

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.

The Twelve Tables. Rome; traditional dates, 450 B.C.

Table IV. Paternal power

1. A notably deformed child shall be killed immediately.

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

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.

2. The conveyable possessions of a woman who is under guardianship of male agnates 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.


Source: Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, eds., Women's Life in Greece and Rome (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 173-174.