C. 450 BCE: The Twelve Tables

The Romans inscribe their first legislation on twelve bronze tables around 450 BCE. The law punishes speech crimes like slanders and libel with death. The tables are lost but can be reconstructed from the writings of later Romans:


“It was laid down that, if anyone was found to be uttering in public a slander, he should be clubbed to death.”
– Cornutus (ad Pers., S., I, 137)


“Our Twelve Tables, though they ordained a capital penalty for very few wrongs, among these capital crimes did see fit to include the following offence: If any person had sung or composed against another person a song such as was causing slander or insult to another . . .”
– Cicero (de Rep., IV, 12)