2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The Demand for Written Laws, I.Decemvirs and the XII. Tables, II.Second Secession and Its Results, III.


   Proposals of Terentilius Harsa (B.C. 462).—The conflict between the two orders had been going on for nearly fifty years; and yet no real solution had been found for their difficulties. The plebeians were at a great disadvantage during all this time, because the law was administered solely by the patricians, who kept the knowledge of it to themselves, and who regarded it as a precious legacy from their ancestors, too sacred to be shared with the lowborn plebeians. The laws had never been written down or published. The patricians could therefore administer them as they saw fit. This was a great injustice to the lower classes. It was clear that there was not much hope for the plebeians until they were made equal before the law. It was also clear that they could not be equal before the law as long as they themselves had no knowledge of what the law was. Accordingly one of the tribunes, Gaius Terentilius Harsa, proposed that a commission be appointed to gather up the law, and to publish it to the whole people. This proposal, though both fair and just, was bitterly opposed by the patricians, and was followed by ten years of strife and dissension.

   Concessions to the Plebeians.—To rescue the city from these troubles, the senate tried to conciliate the plebeians by making certain concessions to them. For example, the number of tribunes was increased from two to five, and then to ten. This was supposed to give them greater protection than they had had before. Then it was decided to give up to them the public land on the Aventine hill, and thus to atone for not carrying out the agrarian law of Sp. Cassius. Finally, the amount of fine which any magistrate could impose was limited to two sheep and thirty oxen. It was thought that such concessions would appease the discontented people and divert their minds from the main point of the controversy.

   Compromise between the Orders.—But these concessions did not satisfy the plebeians, who still clung to their demand for equal rights before the law. The struggle over the proposal of Terentilius, which lasted for nearly ten years, was ended only by a compromise. It was finally agreed that a commission of ten men, called decemvirs, should be appointed to draw up the law, and that this law should be published and be binding upon patricians and plebeians alike. It was also agreed that the commissioners should all be patricians; and that they should have entire control of the government while compiling the laws. The patricians were thus to give up their consuls and quaestors; and the plebeians were to give up their tribunes and aediles. Both parties were to cease their quarreling, and await the work of the decemvirs.


   The Commission to Greece.—It is said that a commission of three men was sent to Greece, to consult the laws of Solon and other Greek codes. However true this story may be, it is not likely that the Romans intended to borrow the laws of another country by which to govern their own. The complaint of the plebeians was not that they did not have any laws, but that the laws which they had were unwritten and known only to the patricians. What they wanted was that the unwritten laws should be published; so that they could know what they were, and whether they were properly administered or not.

   Formation of the XII. Tables (B.C. 450).—The first body of commissioners, or the First Decemvirate, entered upon the work assigned to it, gathered together the law which had hitherto been kept secret, and inscribed it on ten tables of brass. These tables were erected in the Forum, where they could be seen by everyone, and were declared binding on all the people. At the close of the year, a Second Decemvirate was appointed to complete the code, and two more tables were added. This whole body of law was called the Twelve Tables, and formed the basis of the most remarkable system of law that the world has ever seen. There was nothing strange, however, in the XII. Tables themselves. They contained nothing especially new. The old law of debt remained as it was, and the distinction between patricians and plebeians was not destroyed. The XII. Tables were important, because they put the law before the eyes of the people; and plebeians, as well as patricians, could know what were their rights. So highly valued was this code that it formed a part of Roman education, and the boys in school were obliged to commit it to memory.

   Tyranny of the Second Decemvirate.—Although the second body of decemvirs had the honor of completing the XII. Tables, the way in which they exercised their power brought them into dishonor. With all their professed love of equal laws, they still hated the plebeians and used their authority in an oppressive manner. They appeared in the Forum each with twelve lictors, carrying the axes in the fasces as a sign that they claimed the power of life and death over every citizen. At the close of their year of office, they refused to resign, and continued their oppressive rule under the leadership of Appius Claudius. The story goes—whether true or not—that Appius Claudius attempted to gain possession of Virginia, who was the beautiful daughter of a plebeian soldier, and who was killed by her own father to save her from dishonor. The repeated acts of tyranny committed by the second body of decemvirs at last made their rule intolerable.


   Second Secession of the Plebs.—The tragic death of Virginia, it is said, aroused the people to vengeance. With his bloody knife in hand, Virginius rushed to the camp outside of the city and called upon the soldiers to resist the infamous power of the decemvirs. With the memory of the Sacred Mount still in mind, the army once more seceded from the city, and, followed by a multitude of citizens, took up their station again on this hill, determined no longer to fight in defense of tyranny. The Roman state seemed again on the point of ruin, and the decemvirs were forced to resign. The old government was restored. Two new consuls were elected, both of whom were friendly to the plebeians. These were Valerius and Horatius, names which the Roman people ever delighted to honor.

   The Valerio-Horatian Laws (B.C. 448).—The second secession of the plebeians resulted in the overthrow of the decemvirate and the restoration of the consulship; but it also resulted in making the plebeians more respected than they had been before. The patricians were becoming more and more convinced that the plebeians were not only brave in fighting the enemies of Rome, but were also determined to defend their own liberties. The new consuls, Valerius and Horatius, came forward as their champions. Two of the rights of the people had been continually disregarded, namely, the right of appeal to the people, and the right of the tribunes to be sacredly protected in the exercise of their duties. These two rights were now solemnly reaffirmed. But what was quite as important, the assembly of the plebeians (concilium plebis) was now given power to make laws binding upon the whole people. It is supposed that this assembly had by this time been reorganized and based upon the tribal districts so as to include the patricians as well as the plebeians. This newly organized assembly came to be known as the comitia tributa, and we shall see it grow in influence and dignity, until it becomes the most important assembly of the republic. These laws of Valerius and Horatius we may call the “second charter of Roman liberty.”

   The Right of Intermarriage.—The patricians and plebeians had long lived side by side; but they had been kept socially distinct because it was not legal for them to intermarry. This prejudice was now passing away, as the plebeians were showing a spirit worthy of the patricians themselves. A great step toward equalizing the classes was now taken by the passage of a law (lex Canuleia, B.C. 445) which granted the right of intermarriage between the two orders. This insured their social and civil equality, and paved the way for their political equality, and finally their union into a harmonious people.


Arnold, Hist., Ch. 13, “The Terentilian Law” (
Ihne, Early Rome, Ch. 18, “Decemvirs and the XII. Tables” (5).
Mommsen, abridged, pp. 58-61, “The Decemvirate” (2).
Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 8, “Efforts to obtain Equal Laws” (1).
Livy, Bk. III., Chs. 36-38, Tyranny of the Second Decemvirate (4).


   THE TWELVE TABLES.—How and Leigh, p. 70 (1); Shuckburgh, pp. 101-104 (1); Mommsen, Vol. I., pp. 363-368 (2); Liddell, Ch. 11 (1) ; Harper’s Dict. Antiqq., “Twelve Tables” (8); Morey, Roman Law, pp. 25-43 (15).

1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


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