Gortyn in Crete, ca. 450 B.C. (Excerpts from the Gortyn Law Code, Inscr. Creticae 4.72, cols. ii.3-27, ii. 45-iv.54, v. 1-9. vi.31-46, vi.56-vii.2, vii.15-viii.19, xi. 18-9. G)[1]

The various laws recorded on this long and beautifully incised inscription differ in many respects from Athenian practice (cf. nos. 80 and 81). In Gortyn women appear to have somewhat more independence: instead of a dowry, daughters have a specific portion of the inheritance equal to half of that of a son; under certain (perhaps only remotely possible circumstances) even an heiress might be able to choose her husband; a women can keep her own property (rather than having her dowry returned to her father or kyrios) and half of the cloth she has woven during the course of the marriage.

Sexual offences

(ii.3-27) If a person rapes a free person, male or female, he shall pay 100 staters, and if [the victim] is from the house of an apetairos,[2] 10 staters; and if a slave rapes a free person, male or female, he shall pay double. If a free man rapes a serf, male or female, he shall pay 5 drachmas. If a male serf rapes a serf, male or female, he shall pay five staters.

If a person deflowers a female household serf, he shall pay 2 staters. If she has already been deflowered, 1 obol if in day-time, 2 obols if at night. The female slave’s oath takes precedence.[3]

If anyone makes an attempt to rape a free woman under the guardianship of a relative, he shall pay 10 staters, if a witness testifies.

If someone is taken in adultery with a free woman in her father’s house, or her brother’s or her husband’s, he is to pay 10 staters; if in another man’s house, 50 staters; if with the wife of an apetairos, 10 staters. But if a slave is taken in adultery with a free woman, he must pay double. If a slave is taken in adultery with a slave, 5 staters.

Disposition of property in divorce

(ii.45-iii.16) If a husband and wife divorce, she is to keep her property, whatever she brought to the marriage, and one-half the produce (if there is any) from her own property, and half of whatever she has woven within the house; also she is to have 5 staters if her husband is the cause of the divorce. If the husband swears that he is not the cause of the divorce, the judge is to take an oath and decide. If the wife carries away anything else belonging to the husband, she must pay five staters and whatever she carries away from him, and whatever she has stolen she must return to him. About what she denies [having taken], the judge is to order that she must sear by Artemis before the statue of [Artemis] Archeress in the Amyclean temple. If anyone takes anything from her after she has made her denial, he is to pay 5 staters and return the thing itself. If a stranger helps her to carry anything away, he must pay 10 staters and double the amount of whatever the judge swears that he helped her to take away.


(iii.17-44) If a man dies and leaves children behind, if the wife wishes, she may marry, keeping her own property and whatever her husband gave her according to an agreement written in the presence of three adult free witnesses. If she should take anything away that belongs to her children, that is grounds for a trial. If the husband leaves her without issue, she is to have her own property and half of whatever she has woven within the house, and she is to get her portion of the produce in the house along with the lawful heirs, and whatever her husband may have given her according to written agreement. But if she should take away anything else, it is grounds for a trial.

If a woman dies without issue the husband is to give her property back to her lawful heirs and half of what she has woven within and half of the produce if it comes from her property. If the husband or wife wishes to pay for its transport, it is to be in clothing or twelve staters or something worth 12 staters, but not more.

If a female serf is separated from a male serf while he is alive or if he dies, she is to keep what she has. If she takes anything else away, it is grounds for a trial.

Provisions for children in case of death or divorce

(iii.45-iv. 54) If a wife who is separated from her husband should bear a child, it is to be brought to the husband in his house in the presence of three witnesses, If he does not receive it, it is up to the mother to raise or expose the child. The oath of relatives and witnesses is to have preference, if they brought it. 

If a female serf should bear a child while separated [from her husband], she is to bring it to the master of the man who married her, in the presence of two witnesses. If he does not received the child, it is to be long to the master of the female serf. but if she marries the same man again before the end of the year, the child shall belong to the master of the male serf. The oaths of person who brought the child and of the witnesses shall have preference. 

If a divorced woman should expose her child before presenting it according to the law, she shall pay 50 staters for a free child, and 5 for a slave, if she is convicted. If the man to whom she brings the child has no house, or she does not see him, she shall not pay a penalty if she exposes the child.

If a female serf who is not married conceives and bears a child, the child shall belong to the master of her father. If the father is not alive then to the masters of her brothers. 

The father has power over the children and division of property, and the mother over her own possessions. So long as [the father and mother] are alive, the property is not to be divided. But if one of them is fined, the person who is fined shall have his share reduced proportionately according to the law.

If a father dies, the city dwellings and whatever is inside the houses in which a serf who lives in the country does not reside, and the cattle which do not belong to a serf, shall belong to the sons. The other possessions shall be divided fairly, and the sons shall each get two parts, however many they are, and the daughters each get one part, however many they are.

The mother’s property shall also be divided if she dies, in the same way as prescribed for the father’s. But if there is no property other than the house, the daughters shall receive their share as prescribed. If the father during his lifetime should give to a married daughter, let him give her share as prescribed, but not more. The daughter to whom he gave or promised her share shall have it, but no additional possessions from her father’s property.

(v.1-9) If any woman does not have property either from a gift by her father or brother or from a pledge or from an inheritance given when the Aithalian clan consisting of Cyllus and his colleagues [where in power], these women are to have a portion, but it will not be lawful to take away gifts given previously.

(vi.31-46) If a mother dies leaving children, the father has power over the mother’s estate, but he should not sell or mortgage it, unless the children are of age and give their consent. If he marries another wife, the children are to have power over their mother’s estate.

Determination of social status

(vi.56-vii.2) If a slave goes to a free woman and marries her, the children shall be free. If a free woman goes to a slave, the children shall be slaves.

Heiresses [4]

(vii.15-viii.19) The heiress is to marry the oldest of her father’s living brothers. If her father has no living brothers but there are sons of the brothers, she is to marry the oldest brother’s son. If there are more heiresses and sons of brothers, the [additional heiress] is to marry the next son after the son of the oldest. The groom-elect is to have one heiress, and not more.

If the heiress is too young to marry, she is to have the house, if there is one, and the groom-elect is to have half of the revenue from everything. 

If he does not wish to marry her as prescribed by law, the heiress is to take all the property and marry the next one in succession, if there is one. If there is no one, she may marry whomever she wishes to of those who ask her from the same phratry. [5] If the heiress is of age and does not wish to marry the intended bridegroom, or the intended groom is too young and the heiress is unwilling to wait, she is to have the house, if there is one in the city, and whatever is in the house, and talking half of the remaining property she is to marry another of those from the phratry who ask her, but she is to give a share of the property to the groom [whom she rejected].

If there are no kinsmen as defined for the heiress, she is to take all the property and marry from the phratry whomever she wishes.

If no one from the phratry wishes to marry her, her relations should announce to the tribe ‘does anyone want to marry her?’ If someone wants to, it should be within thirty days of the announcement. If not, she is free to marry another man, whomever she can.

Restrictions concerning adoption

(xi. 18-19) A woman is not to adopt [a child] nor a man under age.


1. Cf. Willetts, 1967; Sealey, 1990, 50-81.

2. A free man, but not a citizen, perhaps roughly equivalent in status to the Attic metoikos, ‘resident alien’, who had more rights than a slave but fewer than a citizen.

3. Here and elsewhere in the Code, if oaths are sworn by both sides, the oath that has precedence wins by default; presumably, the oath was not merely an asseveration that one is telling the truth, but a solemn demand that the gods punish the swearer for lying.

4. Special provisions were made for daughters when no brothers were available to inherit.

5. The father’s kinship group, sometimes translated ‘tribe’ or ‘clan’.