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Roman tradition claimed that the laws of the early Roman Republic were publicly displayed on what were known as the Twelve Tables in the Forum in the sixth century B.C.E.. These laws, which were more than likely a consolidated version of older laws, contained everything from debt procedures (creditors were allowed to enslave debtors who couldn't pay) to slander laws (a person who composed a slanderous song could be clubbed to death.) Like most legal codes before the modern era, they made blatant distinctions between social classes, especially plebeians and patricians. The laws were supposedly composed by a special commission of respected men before being approved by a representative assembly. While many of the laws seem arbitrary and brutal by modern standards (a "dreadfully deformed child," for example, was to be "quickly killed") the very fact that the laws were published represented a sort of check on the power of Roman officials. One could not enforce laws that were not written and many ordinary Romans could find protection from the law when they had been wronged. Even after the fall of the Republic more than 500 years after the posting of the Twelve Tables, Romans looked back to these laws as the foundation of Roman law.
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