The decemvirs were not only authorized to draw up a new system of laws for the city, but were also intrusted with all governmental powers while they were engaged in this work. The offices of consul, tribune, etc., were temporarily suspended. Plebeians were eligible for office of decemvir. Ten so-called tables of laws were completed the first year and were engraved on metallic tables and set up in the forum. The work of the decemvirs was not considered complete, however, and a second set were elected for another year. The product of their work was the last two of the twelve tables. The decemvirs were overthrown by force before completion of this second year. The exact causes and details of this event are unknown.

The twelve tables contained little that was new in the law. Their importance lay in the fact that the law was now known and the officials were obliged to follow a known system instead of deciding cases according to their own caprice. A copy of the provisions of the twelve tables which are still preserved, is contained in Appendix B of this volume.