Each Roman dictator was granted power to rule for six months. After that time, he had to give up power. Romans particularly admired Cincinnatus(SIHN suh NA tuhs) as a model dictator.

Cincinnatus organized an army, led the Romans to victory over the attacking enemy, attended victory celebrations, and returned to work his fields—all within 15 days.

Plebeians Demand Equality

At first, all government officials were patricians. Plebeians (plih BEE uhnz), the farmers, merchants, and artisans who made up most of the population, were citizens but had little influence. Plebeian demands for power shaped politics in the early republic.

The plebeians' first breakthrough came in 450 B.C., when the government had the laws of Rome inscribed on 12 tablets, which were set up in the Forum, Rome's marketplace. For the first time, the Laws of the Twelve Tables made it possible for plebeians to appeal a judgment handed down by a patrician judge.

In time, the plebeians gained the right to elect their own officials, called tribunes, to protect their interests. The tribunes could veto, or block, laws that they felt were harmful to plebeians. Little by little, plebeians forced the senate to choose plebeians as consuls, appoint them to high offices, and finally to admit them to the senate. These changes made Rome's government more representative.

A Lasting Legacy

Although the senate still dominated the government, the common people had gained access to power and won safeguards for their rights without having to resort to war or revolution.

More than 2,000 years later, the framers of the United States Constitution would adapt such Roman ideas as the senate, the veto, and a system of checks and balances on political power.

Roman Society

The family was the basic unit of Roman society. Under Roman law, the male head of the household—usually the father—had absolute power in the family. He enforced strict discipline and demanded total respect for his authority. His wife was subject to his authority and was not allowed to administer her own affairs. The ideal Roman woman was loving, dutiful, dignified, and strong.

LAWS OF THE TWELVE TABLES
TABLE I Procedure: for courts and trials
TABLE II Trial continuance and evidence
TABLE III Debt
TABLE IV Rights of fathers (paterfamilias) over the family; infanticide
TABLE V Legal guardianship and inheritance laws
TABLE VI Acquisition and possession; marriage
TABLE VII Land rights
TABLE VIII Torts and delicts (Laws of injury)
TABLE IX Public law
TABLE X Sacred law
TABLE XI Marriage between a patrician and a plebeian forbidden
TABLE XII Binding law: power of the people

Analyze Charts

Posting the Laws of the Twelve Tables in the Forum made Rome's laws accessible to all of its citizens. Which of the Twelve Tables laws dealt with family law?

The Role of Women

During the early Roman Republic, women had few rights. Later, they gained more freedom, and played a larger role in society than did Greek women.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments