One of the most important cities of Crete, a very
important center in prehistoric and historic times,
south of the Mt. Ida, near the Lithaios river.
Sometimes called Elotis, Kremnia and Larisa, but took
its name from the mythical hero Gortys, son of
In the Minoan period, when thriving Knossos and Phaistos,
Gortyn was rather insignificant, but later, due to the
fertility of the valley of Messara, became rich and
Homer mentions Gortyn as one of the major cities of
Crete and says that had a strong wall around. Plato says that
Gortyn had the most organized law system in Crete, which was
confirmed by the inscription-law which found there.
The town was fortified
with walls in the age of Ptolemy IV and during the Roman period
was established as the capital of the province of Crete and
Cyrene. This favor of the conquerors to Gortyn was due to the
fact that Gortyn did not resist in the the Roman possession of
Gortyn made many wars against Knossos and Phaistos for the
Crete's hegemony. In the 3rd century BC defeated the army of
Phaistos and conquered it's fertile plains, and the port of
Matala. Later allied with the Achaean Confederation, and at the
early of the 2nd century BC. accepted Philopoemen as a general.
Became the capital of the Roman Governor of Crete, fine and
magnificent buildings were built, and was the richest city of
the island, as showing the ruins that survived. Apart from the
inscription mentioned, found many coins with Europe
representation on the back of the bull, some others with a
lion's head etc. It seems that the people honored Europe as a
great goddess. Coins were also cut by Quintus Metellus in 66 BC,
and by many other Romans.
Some of the most important
buildings of Gortyn are: the Pythian temple, a great temple of
Gortyn, the temple of Isis and the temple of Serapis, the
Praetorium (the center of the Roman governor), the church of St.
Titus, the ancient Agora and the theater. The Odeon built in the
early years of the imperial period (about 30 BC), and the big
square in the market area, some years later. Between the Agora
and the temple of Apollo, discovered a complex of baths (thermae). Many statues were
found, and the Nymphaeum a magnificent fountain.
The Law Code
During the excavations,
various inscriptions found in Gortyn, among which the most
important is a twelve column inscription, known as the Gortyn
Code. The inscription provides important information on the laws
of the city and, in general, about the prevalent law. The
inscription, despite the shortcomings and the gaps that presents
as a text, is the most comprehensive collection of laws of the
period (6th-4th cent.BC.), and a major source of legal
information, which historically was exceeded only by the
subsequent "Laws election" of the Isaurian Dynasty (Byzantine
period 717-802 AD.).
The discovery of the
inscriptions was partly made, during persistent excavations,
from the middle of the 19th century. However, the discovery of
the basic section of the Gortyn Code was made by the
archaeologist Federico Halbherr, with the support and the
guidance of the Italian antiquary Domenico Comparelli. On the
supplementation of the inscriptions helped the findings of other
archaeologists also. This discovery was considered the largest
of this period.
The twelve columns of the inscription (total 630-640 verses)
constitute the most comprehensive, the most and the most well
preserved ancient Greek text. There were many discussions and
disagreements on the interpretation and the age in which it
belongs. The most valid opinions place it between the 6th and
5th century BC. The confusion is mainly due to the fact that
while there are archaic points and patterns, the legal structure
seem to be very sophisticated.
The Code has created many problems and questions to the experts.
Among these the most important was whether the code constituted
a new law for that period, or was a recording and a more
effective use of the customary law. The text contains basically
urban, and especially family and inheritance law, in a
descriptive and incentive manner, without showing an ordering or
Interesting and detailed are the information about the private
law, where can be found sufficient regulation for many cases,
such as the law of persons (legal status of free persons, about
slaves, etc.), adoption, property relations between spouses,
inheritance cases, crimes, divorce and after divorce cases such
as parent-child relations and problems of children born after
the divorce, gifts between spouses, rules about the status of
epikliros (female inheritor of a property) etc.
Specifically interesting is the regulation of the rights of
slaves, although they did not had the right to acquire a certain
level of ownership. It is indirectly distinguished in the text a
respect in their personality, because some kind of behaviour
such as a serious insult of a slave or a slave's rape, etc. are
not left entirely unpunished. Also, the position of women seems
to be better than other places, as it was allowed in many cases
self-acting and self-determination.
The woman of Gortyn, for example, except that might have some
property, could appear in person to the law court and claim her
own right, could dispose at her volition everything that belongs
to her and -most important of all- could inherit the paternal
property, though in a lower percentage than her male brothers.
Generally in inheritance law, there was the succession of the
descendants with a preference for the male children, as happened
to all the ancient Greek world.
Also existed the «epikliros» institution of the Attic law,
called and «Patroiokoi», a fact which indicates the unity of the
ancient Greek law. This institution provided that if there were
no males in the family, and the father died, the daughter had to
marry a consanguineous to her father, so the race could be
continued with the birth of a boy. Then this child would inherit