Roman law in the earliest period known is typically expressed in the Twelve Tables with their marked formalism. The usual early procedure was also stereotyped; it was the legis actio, a form of charge and denial the words of which had to be followed exactly by the parties at the risk of losing the suit. Exact knowledge of the words constituting the legis actiones was limited to a body of patrician priests, the College of Pontiffs. The reduction of these forms to writing (c.250 B.C.) was a victory for the plebeians and a step in reducing the religious and formal element in the law. Soon the primary source of law became the lex (plural leges ), a statutory enactment that was proposed by a magistrate and accepted by a popular assembly. Among the assemblies empowered to enact leges was that of the plebeians.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.