Our sole source of knowledge of the code is the fragmentary boustrophedon inscription on the circular walls of what might have been a bouleuterion or other public civic building in the agora of Gortyn. The original building was 100 feet in diameter; the 12 columns of text which survive are 30 feet in length and 5 feet in height and contain some 600 lines of text. In addition, some further broken texts survive; the so-called second text. It is the longest extant ancient Greek inscription except for the inscription of Diogenes of Oenoanda. Evidence suggests it is the work of a single sculptor. The inscription has been dated to the first half of the 5th century BCE.
The first fragment of the code was discovered in the 1850s. Italian archaeologist Federico Halbherr found a further four columns of the text while excavating a site near a local mill in 1884. Since this was evidently part of a larger text he, Ernst Fabricius, and a team obtained permission to excavate the rest of the site, revealing 8 more text columns whose stones had been reused as part of the foundations of a Roman Odeion from the 1st century BCE. The wall bearing the Code has now been partially reconstructed.
The Great Code is written in the Dorian dialect and is one of a number of legal inscriptions found scattered across Crete, though curiously very few non-legal texts from ancient Crete survive. The Dorian language was the pervasive among Crete cities such as Knossos, Lyttos, Axos and various other areas of central Crete. The Code stands with a tradition of Cretan law which taken as a totality represents the only substantial corpus of Greek law from antiquity found outside Athens. The whole corpus of Cretan law may be divided into three broad categories: the earliest (I. Cret. IV 1-40., ca. 600 BCE to ca. 525 BCE) was inscribed on the steps and walls of the temple of Apollo Pythios, the next a sequence including the Great Code written on the walls in or near the agora between ca. 525 and 400 BCE (I. Cret. IV 41-140), followed by the laws (I. Cret. IV 141-159) which contain Ionian characters and so are dated to the 4th century.
Though all the texts are fragmentary they show evidence of a continuous amendment of the law, it has been possible to trace the development of the law from Archaic proscriptions onwards, notably the diminishing rights of women and the increasing rights of slaves, and also allows us to infer some aspects of public law. The high importance of the Great Code in illuminating pre-Hellenistic law and society has led some classicists[who?] in poeticising moments to refer to it as the "Queen of inscriptions" - Mommsen, however, used the same phrase for the Monumentum Ancyranum.
The code deals with such matters as disputed ownership of slaves, rape and adultery, the rights of a wife when divorced or a widow, the custody of children born after divorce, inheritance, sale and mortgaging of property, ransom, children of mixed (slave, free and foreign) marriages, and adoption. The code makes legal distinctions between different social classes. Free, serf, slave, and foreigner social statuses are recognized within the document.
The Gortyn Code provides a measure of protection for individuals prior to trial. Persons bringing suit are prohibited from seizing and detaining the accused before trial. Violations are punishable by fines, which vary depending on the status of the detained individual.
Rape and Adultery
Rape under the Gortyn code is punished with fines. The fine is largely determined by the difference in social status between the victim and the accused. A free man convicted of raping a serf or a slave would receive the lowest fine; a slave convicted of raping a free man or female would warrant the highest fine.
Adultery is punished similarly to rape under the code, but also takes into consideration the location of the crime. The code dictates higher fines for adultery committed within the household of the female's father, husband, or brother, as opposed to another location. These fines are levied against the male involved in the adultery, not the female. The code does not provide for the punishment of the female.
Divorce and Marriage Rights
The Gortyn law code grants a modicum of property rights to women in the case of divorce. Divorced women are entitled to any property that they brought to the marriage, as well as half of the joint income, if derived from her property. The code also provides for a portion of the household property. The code stipulates that any children conceived before the divorce, but born after the divorce, fall under the custody of the father. If the father does not accept the child, it reverts to the mother.
Property Rights and Inheritance
The Gortyn law code devotes a great deal of attention to the allocation and management of property. Although the husband manages the majority of the family property, the wife's property is still delineated. If the wife dies, the husband becomes the trustee to her property and may take no action on it without the consent of her children. In the case of remarriage, the first wife's property immediately comes into her children's possession. If the wife dies childless, her property reverts to her blood relatives.
If the husband dies with children, the property is held in trust by the wife for the children. If the children are of age upon their father's death, the property is divided between the children, with males receiving all of the land. In the event that the husband dies without any children, the wife is compelled to remarry.
Adopted children receive all the inheritance rights of natural children and are considered legitimate heirs in all cases. Women are not allowed to adopt children.
- I. Cret. IV.72
- The terms "Gortyn code" and "Great Code" may be used interchangeably for the text and the inscription.
- I. Cret. IV 41-50
- Willets 1967, p. 8
- See J. Whitley The Archaeology of Ancient Greece p. 248 for a statistical analysis.
- see Willetts, "The Law Code of Gortyn"
- See J. Davies:Deconstructing Gortyn: When is a CODE a Code?, in Greek Law in its Political Setting L Foxhall, ADE Lewis (eds).
- For a full discussion of the text see John Davies: The Gortyn Laws in The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law, pp. 305-327.
- M. Guarducci, Inscriptiones Creticae, 1935-1950.
- R. F. Willetts, The Law Code of Gortyn, 1967.
- Michael Gagarin, David J. Cohen (eds), Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law, 2005.
- J. Whitley, "Cretan Laws and Cretan Literacy", American Journal of Archaeology, 101(4), 1997.
- Ilias Arnaoutoglou, Ancient Greek Laws, 1998.
- M. Harris, Lene Rubinstein (eds), The Law and the Courts in Ancient Greece, 2004.
- Michael Gagarin, Writing Greek Law, 2008.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gortyn code.|
- The Law Code of Gortyn (Crete), c. 450 BCE from Ancient History Sourcebook
- PHI 200508 The Packard Humanities Institute (full Greek text after Willetts 1967).
- Codificiation, tradition and innovation in the law code of Gortyn