Duhaime's LawGallery - The Law In Pictures


Gortys' Law Code, Crete, 480 BC.

  • Object type: Document
  • Formal Title: Law Code of Gortys or Gortyn (Crete) 480 BC, Extrait d'une loi sur les héritages
  • Creator: unknown
  • Date Created: circa 480 BC
  • Origin: Gortys, Crete
  • Current Location: Le Louvre, Paris

This piece, held at the Louvre in Paris, is a segment of the great law code of Gortyn which adorned the city-center of the ancient Crete city.

Gortys was once the capital of Crete and historians believe that in its heyday, about 600 BC, the population may have reached 300,000.

The full Code, written in a form of ancient Greek, was situated in the amphitheatre called Odeum. Four sets of these stones, each dealing with different legal topics, has survived. According to the Cambridge Ancient History, 2nd Edition, it: "is often described as the first European law-code; and it is the only one to have survived from ancient Greece".

The Code primarily dealt with private law matters so as to minimize and pre-determine common disputes such as property rights, compensation in the event of violence, land-ownership and debts.

The Code, as did most Greek laws after it, divided all men into one of three categories, with descending legal rights accordingly: feemen, vassals and slaves.

In this stone extract of the great Code of Gortys, the law as to inheritance rights of an adopted son are set out. In the event of the death of a father, adopted children did not take an equal share with natural sons. But if there were no natural sons, the Code established that the adopted child would share equally with any daughters and then goes on, in this stone, to add:

"... but he will not have to pay the deceased's taxes nor take his share of the estate; but he will not have a share greater than the daughters.

"If the adopted son dies without natural children, his share of the estate will revert to the estate.

"(While still alive), the father is at liberty, if he so desires, to revoke the adoption by making a statement to this effect in the public square before an assembly of citizens."

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