Laws of the Kings, 753 - 510 B.C.


The history of early Rome and its seven kings is largely legendary, but the Romans of classical times had certain customs and institutions inherited from their remote past. To provide a sanction for these, they ascribed them to their traditional kings ...Romulus and his six successors. It was believed that a certain Sextus (or Publius) Papirius, a contemporary of Tarquin the Proud, the last king, had committed these laws to writing. Papirius is entitled to the same uncertain standing in scientific history as the traditional seven kings; but there is no question that oral tradition preserved many rules and customs, which antiquarians and historians have recorded for posterity.

Bruns, Girard, and Riccobono have made collections of these laws, of which Girard's Textes is the smallest. Riccobono's text, as found in FIRA, has been taken for this translation, which reproduces its marks of omission.

LAWS OF THE KINGS, 753 - 510 B.C.

I. Romulus (753 - 716 B.C.)

1. After Romulus had distinguished the persons of higher rank from those of inferior condition, then he passed laws and apportioned the duties for each to do: the patricians to be priests and magistrates and judges; the plebeians to be farmers, cattle breeders, and artisans of gainful trades. ... He entrusted and gave the plebeians to the patricians by permitting each plebeian ... to choose for his patron the patrician whom he wished ... and by calling this protection patronage.

2. The following regulations in regard to patronage were determined then by him: the patricians were required to interpret the law for their own clients; ... to bring suit on behalf of clients when wronged; ... and to support them in the action; ... the clients were required to contribute to the dowry of their patrons... daughters, when they were given in marriage and their parents were impoverished; ... to pay ransom to the enemy, if their patrons or their children became prisoners of war; to discharge the obligation from their own resources, if their patron was condemned in a private suit or incurred a monetary penalty in a public suit.... In common to both it was neither holy nor lawful to bring suit, to testify, or to cast a vote the one against the other. ... He who was convicted of doing any of these things was held by the law of treason, which Romulus enacted, so that it was lawful for anyone to slay the person convicted of this crime, as a sacrifice to the god of the underworld.

3. After Romulus had regulated these matters, he immediately resolved to appoint senators, with whom he would administer public affairs, and he chose 100 men from the patricians. ... When he had determined these regulations, he distinguished the ... powers which he wished each class to have. For the king he chose the following prerogatives: first, to have the chief authority in rites and sacrifices, ... then, to maintain the guardianship of the laws and the national customs, ... to judge in person the greatest crimes, but to leave the lesser crimes to the senators, ... to summon the Senate and to convoke the Assembly, to have absolute command in war. To the council of the Senate ... he assigned the following authority: to decide and to vote on whatever matter the king introduced. ... To the common people he granted these three things: to elect the magistrates and to ratify the laws and to decide on war whenever the king permitted ... The people did not vote all together, but they were convoked by curias.

4. Romulus compelled the citizens ... to rear every male child and the first-born of the females, and be forbade them to put to death any child under three years of are, unless it was a cripple or a monster from birth. He did not prevent the parents from exposing such children, provided that they had displayed them first to their five nearest neighbors and had secured their approval. For those who disobeyed the law he prescribed the confiscation of half of their property as well as other penalties.

5. To many persons he assigned administration of divine worship; ... he ordained by law that from each curia two men over fifty years old should be appointed; ... and he ordered that these men should have these honors no for any determined period, but for all their life, freed from military service because of their age and from municipal duties because of the law. ... He ordained by law that all priests. ... should be appointed by the curias and that they should be confirmed by the persons who interpret divine matters by divination.

6. By the enactment of a single ... law ... Romulus brought the women to great prudence and orderly conduct ... The law was as follows: A woman united with her husband by a sacred marriage shall share in all his possessions and in his sacred rites.

7. The cognates sitting in judgment with the husband ... were given power to pass sentence in cases of adultery and ... if any wife was found drinking wine Romulus allowed the death penalty for both crimes.

8. The lawgiver of the Romans gave the father absolute power over his son throughout his whole lifetime, whether for imprisonment, for flogging, for keeping in bonds for labor in the fields, or for putting to death ... He also allowed the father to sell his son ... and he permitted the father to make profit from his son until the third sale. ... After the third sale the son was released from the father's power.

9. He also made certain laws, one of which is severe, namely, that which does not permit a wife to divorce her husband, but gives him power to divorce her for the used drugs or magic on account of children or for counterfeiting the keys or for adultery. The law ordered that if he should divorce her for any other cause part of his estate should go to the wife and that part should be dedicated to Ceres. Anyone who sold his wife was sacrificed to the gods of the underworld.

10. It is strange, ... when he established no penalty against patricides, that he called all homicide patricide.

11. If a daughter-in-law strikes her father-in-law she shall be dedicated as a sacrifice to his ancestral deities.

12. This extent of the year was ordained by Romulus, who . . . determined that the year must be of ten months, but of 304 days, and so arranged the months that, of these, four should have thirty-one days, but six should have thirty days.

13. It is reported variously when ... was the first intercalation. Licinius Macer, indeed, assigns to Romulus the origin of this practice.

II. Numa Pompilius (716 - 673 B.C.)

1. Numa ordered that fish which have no scales, except the scar, should not be offered to the gods.

2. When spoils of the first class are captured by a general with a citizen army under his auspices, he shall sacrifice an ox to Jupiter Feretrius. To the captor 300 pounds of bronze shall properly be given. In spoils of the second dais the captor shall sacrifice a boar, a ram, and an ox. full grown or sucklings, as he chooses, on the Altar of Mars in the Campus Martius. The captor shall receive 200 pounds of bronze. For spoils of the third class he shall sacrifice a ram to Janus Quirinus. The captor shall receive 100 pounds of bronze. The commanding general shall make propitiatory sacrifice to the gods.

3. From Numa's ... laws, in which this also has been written: if a father allows his son to marry a wife who legally will have a share in his religious rites and his prophet the father no longer shall have the right to sell his son.

4. Having embraced . . . all his legislation about religious matters in writing, he divided it into eight parts, as many as were the classes of priests.

5. Legislation about the boundaries of landed property: Having ordered each one to draw a line around his own landed property and to set stones on the boundaries, he consecrated the stones to Jupiter Terminus. . . . But he ordained by law that if anyone destroyed or displaced the boundaries the person who had done this should be dedicated as a sacrifice to the god.

6. He made holidays and business days, because at some time or other it would be profitable that nothing should be discussed in the popular Assembly.

7. One shall not sprinkle the funeral pyre with wine.

8. He ordained it an act of impiety to make libations to the gods with wine from unpruned vines.

9.On the vestal virgins he conferred high honors, among which was the right of making a will while their fathers lived and of doing all other juristic acts without a guardian.

10. He determined that the time allotted for mourning should be according to certain ages and times. For example, mourning for a child under three years of age was forbidden; for an older child a month of morning was allowed for every year of his age until ten years, but no longer, for ten months was the limit of the period of longest mourning for anyone. And for this period the widows of the deceased remain unmarried. If a widow had remarried earlier, she sacrificed a cow in calf according to his law.

11. Of his other political institutions, the distribution of the populace according to crafts is particularly admired ... This was the distribution according to crafts: flutists, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, cobblers, leatherworkers, coppersmiths, potters. The remaining crafts he combined in one and from all these he produced one composite group, assigning associations and assemblies and religious worships appropriate to each class, etc.

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.

14. If a thunderbolt kills a man one shall not lift the body above the knees. If a man is killed by a thunderbolt the proper burial ritual shall not be performed.

15. If anyone acts contrary to this law he shall be dedicated as a sacrifice to Jupiter.

16. If anyone with malice aforethought slays a free man he shall be guilty of parricide.

17. In Numa...s laws it is provided that if anyone kills another accidentally he shall offer a ram for the life of the slain man to his agnates in the presence of the assembled people.

18. Numa added fifty days, ... so that the year was extended to 354 days, within which he believed that the moon's twelve courses were completed. And to these fifty added by him he annexed six others, drawn from those six months that had thirty days, ... and the fifty-six days thus created he divided in an equal way into two new months: and .. . the former he named January and willed it to be the first of the year, ... the latter he dedicated to the god Februus. ... A little later Numa added a day, which he gave to January ... in honor of an unequal number. Therefore, January, April, June, Sextilis, September, November, December were reckoned with twenty-nine days; ... but March, May, Quintilis, and October had thirty days each, but February retained twenty-eight days.

19. This also was established by Numa: that priests should have their hair cut with bronze, but not with iron, shears.

20. Numa Pompilius ordained that if anyone plowed up a boundary stone both he and his oxen should be dedicated as a sacrifice to the gods.

III. Tullus Hostilius (673 - 640 B.C.)

1. He established the law by which wars should be declared. And this law ... he consecrated by fetial religious rite, so that every war which had not been announced and dedared should be adjudged unjust and impious.

2.There is a law, ... which is still in effect, enacted because of that event, ... ordering that if triplets are born they shall be maintained at public expense until puberty.

3.For his comrades and the accomplices of his treachery the king established courts and executed those of them convicted according to the law concerning deserters and traitors.

4.The king ... said: ...According to the law I create duumvirs to judge treason in the case of Horatius. ... The law was in a dreadful formula: ...The duumvirs shall judge treason. If the accused appeals from the duumvirs he shall prosecute his case by appeal; if they win, the lictor shall veil the head of the accused, shall hang him by a rope on a barren tree, shall scourge him either within the pomerium or outside the pomerium.

5.Claudius added that the rites and the expiations in accordance with the laws of King Tullus ... should be administered by the pontiffs.

IV. Ancus Marcius (640 - 616 B.C.)

1.Since Numa had instituted religious rites in peace, that religious ceremonies relating to war might be established by him and that wars not only should be waged, but also should be declared by some ritual, he copied from the ancient tribe of the Aequiculi the law, which now the fetials have, by which satisfaction is sought.

V.Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (616 - 578 B.C.)

1.Tarquin, ... when he enacted a law about his own power, first doubled. . the original number of senators, and called the old senators ... of the greater families, ... and these he asked their opinion first, and called those added by him ... of the lesser families....

2.The envoys ... were present ... bringing ... the symbols of sovereignty, with which they used to decorate their own kings, carrying a gold crown and an ivory throne and a scepter having an eagle on the tip and a purple tunic rnarked with gold and an embroidered purple robe. These honors Tarquin did not use immediately on receiving them, as most of the Roman writers relate, but, after allowing to the Senate and to the people the decision whether these things should be accepted, he then adopted them when all had so wished.

VI. Servius Tullius (578 - 5 34 B.C.)

1.He sanctioned laws by the curias on contracts and on delicts these laws were about fifty in number.

2.For a person who had not registered himself he set the penalty that he should be deprived of his property and, after having been scourged, should be sold into slavery.

3.Tullius permitted. . . freed slaves to share equality of civil rights. For, having ordered them along with all other freemen to register their properties, he distributed them among the four tribes in the city. ... And he allowed them to share all the privileges common to the other plebeians.

4.He separated public from private lawsuits and himself ma the examinations of the crimes relating to the public, but appointed private persons to be judges of private lawsuits and for them ordained norms and rules, which he himself had written as laws.

5.He instituted ... the census ... and distinguished classes and centuries ... and rank in accordance with the census.

6.If a son beats his father but the latter cries aloud the son shall be dedicated as a sacrifice to his ancestral deities.

VII. Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (534 - 510 B.C.)

1.He abolished all ... the laws written by Tullius, according to which ... the people were not injured, as previously, by the patricians in their contracts. He did not leave even the tablets on which these laws had been written, but he also ordered them to be removed from the Forum and he destroyed them


VIII. The Black Stone 48

This very ancient inscription found in the Roman Forum near the reputed grave of Romulus is in a poor state of preservation. Written in archaic letters and still unintelligible, it may be a boundary stone marking the limits of some sacred precinct or it may contain some laws of a very early period.

Ancient Roman statutes : translation, with introduction, commentary, glossary, and index
by Allan Chester Johnson, Paul Robinson Coleman-Norton, Frank Card Bourne ; general editor, Clyde Pharr
Austin : University of Texas Press, 1961

Used with the Permission of the University of Texas Press.

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.