Ancient/Classical History/The number 12

Advertisement


Question
I have a question that i would love an answer for. why are the romans so attracted to the number 12? I know they have twelve laws and they made a foot 12 inches and all, but where did it all start? what was the original catalyst that cuased the number 12 to hold so much value? an answer would be greatly appreciated, thank you -Ben

Answer
Hello,

actually  the Romans were not so attracted by the number 12, since for example they had 7 kings  between 753 BC (when Rome was founded) and 509 BC, and 2 consuls, i.e. two highest magistrates, chosen annually, after the expulsion of the kings in 509 BC and the beginning of the Roman Republic which lasted until 27 BC  when Octavian, then called Augustus, became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire until his death in 14 AD.  After him there were  many emperors until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD.

So, as you can see, the number 12 was of little interest to the ancient Romans whose laws from their earliest  attempt to create a Code of Law,traditionally dated 451–450 BC, were very accurate and numerous so that they somewhat form  still today the basis of many modern legal systems.

As for the twelve  laws that you mention, please note that these laws were much more numerous than 12 and were called  Law of the Twelve Tables (Latin, “Lex XII Tabularum”) simply because  such a code of laws was  inscribed on 12 bronze  tables, after a  commission of ten men (Latin "Decemviri") was appointed (c. 455 BC) to draw up a code of law binding on both the privileged class (patricians) and the common people (plebeians)  and which consuls would have to enforce.

So, the Decemviri(=ten men) wrote many laws that filled 10 bronze tables, but this attempt was not  entirely satisfactory to the plebeians so that 2 additional tables with other laws were added.
As you can see, this Law of the Twelve Tables was originally composed of 10 tables, not of 12.
Hence the proof that the number 12 was not a cabbalistic number!

In short, you are wrong when you say “I know they have twelve laws”.

As for “a foot 12 inches”, such a  Roman unit of measurement based on the length of the human foot, which  survives still today in the UK ( where it was brought by the Romans who conquered and  ruled England from 43 AD to 410 AD) and in some English-speaking countries, was composed of 12 inches as the inch (“uncia” in Latin, denoting originally the width of a man's thumb) was the twelfth part of a Roman foot (“pes” in Latin) that could be correspond to the length of a man's foot made of 12 man's thumbs approximately.
So, as you can see, the number 12  depends on the length of a man's foot as a  standard foot was 12 inches.

To conclude, the Romans were not attracted  at all by the number 12 as a cabbalistic number.

Best regards,

Maria

Ancient/Classical History

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Maria

Expertise

My field of expertise is Ancient Greek and Roman History.

Experience

Over 25 years teaching experience.

Education/Credentials
I received my Ph.D.in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

This expert accepts donations:

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.