The Great Inscription lies at the same site where it was discovered 120 years ago, at the Roman Odeum within the central archaeological site at Gortyn. It is housed in a small vaulted brick construction, built by the Archaeological Service in 1889. Visitors can now view it through an iron fence.
The inscription is hewn on ashlar blocks, which were initially built into another circular building, possibly the public Ekklesiasterion (boulefterion or law-court) of the Archaic and Hellenistic period. The inscription was initially dated to the 6th century (Archaic period), but more recently scholars had revised this estimate to the first half of the 5th century BC(circa 480-450).
The Significance of the Inscription
The Great Inscription also known as the 'Queen of Inscriptions'
, or the 'Twelve Columns or Deltoi'
, includes the Law Code of the large ancient city Gortyn and is unanimously regarded as the greatest contribution of Classical Crete to Ancient Greek civilization. It is the earliest European civil code into which old and new provisions of the law were classified. Its definition as a code is in fact no more than a convention, since it does not cover the entire range of the law, as every low code is expected to do. After Athens, Gortyn is the only ancient city whose private law is known to a satisfactory extent.
Even today the law of Gortyn is exemplary for the spirit of freedom and progress governing it. It is not just the closed and isolated law of a Cretan city-state, but the code of a Greek law in general, which has contributed to the recovery of the entire Greek law code. Together with the new provisions it contains the old law and takes us close to the earliest core of the manners and customs which formed the basis of the law of all Greeks. The greatest philosophers of the Antiquity, Plato and Aristotle, greatly appreciated the law and institutions of the Cretan cities. The progressiveness and freedom of the Gortyn law is widely thought to be due to the strong Minoan heritage of Crete. The Great Inscription is the largest collection of laws in Greek Antiquity. The code deals with matters concerning the family and inheritance law, adoption, succession and inheritance, divorces, children out of the wedlock and grants between spouses. It also deals with 'crimes against morals'(rapes, seduction and adultery), sales mortgages and dept, matter of personal freedom and rights of slaves.Procedural provisions are also included.
The Cretan cities were among the first cities in Greece to record and codify their laws. The codification of laws began in the 7th century B.C., first in the colonies of the West (Magna Graecia and Sicily). Some of the law codes , which were associated with certain legislators penetrated into the East Greece and the islands, while some cities of Asia Minor and some islands had their own legislation. The general view was that the first laws were associated with legislators who travelled to other countries and studied their legal systems, among which Crete was one of the first.
Crete was traditionally regarded as the center of old and just legislation, which was studied by legislators of other cities. The laws of Crete were thought to have been handed down by the gods, by Zeus himself, who afterwards gave them to his 'elected' sons Minos and Rhadamanthys. According to one widely held belief dating back to antiquity, the renowned legislation of Sparta was based in Cretan Law. Besides, the cities of Crete and Sparta were typically Doric and shared the same traditions. The Law of Gortyn which survived on the Great Inscription is a magnificent and highly significant example of this well known legislation in the ancient world.