The Gortyn Code c. 480 BCE

The brief history of The Gortyn Code.

The Gortyn Code
The Gortyn Code

Prior to the Roman conquest of Greece in 67 BCE, Gortyn, which was located near modern-day Heraklion, was one of Crete’s most powerful cities. Archaeologists excavating in the area began uncovering limestone blocks in and around a stream in the 1850s. The Gortyn Code was written in Doric inscriptions on the blocks, which date from approximately 480 and 460 BCE.
The entire Code was engraved on twelve huge columns that formed part of a circular wall of a building that was thought to have been a court, totaling around 600 lines of text. The Code, which dealt mostly with family law, includes old laws, amended laws, and new laws, representing the evolution of legislation over time. It dealt with marriage, property rights, including those of a divorced wife and the sale of family property, children of mixed marriages, adoption, succession (though not testamentary succession), rape, seduction, and adultery, slave ownership and slave marriages, and heiresses’ marriage and inheritance (those women who were the sole descendant of a deceased father).

The Gortyn Code, like the Code of Hammurabi more than a thousand years before it, divided society into three classes: free citizens, privileged persons (freed slaves and others without political rights), and slaves. The fines differed by class, with slaves receiving the lowest. Class-based evidentiary requirements also differed substantially. A free person needed the testimony of four witnesses, while the unprivileged only needed two, and a slave only needed the testimony of his master and one other.

The code also distinguished between males and females based on gender and age: males were classed as ungrown, grown, or “runner,” while females were classified as ungrown or grown. For both boys and girls, puberty marked the start of adulthood, and men became “runners” whenever they were granted permission to exercise in a public gym, usually between the ages of seventeen and twenty. The Code is remarkable “in its scale, precision, and organizing of so many facets of social life under the sanction of law,” according to Ronald Willetts, a Cretan studies scholar.

The brief history of The Gortyn Code.


The Draconian Code (621 BCE);

The Laws of Solon (594 BCE);

The Twelve Tables (450 BCE).


Code of Gortyn ancient Greece

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)