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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
The most important Graeco-Roman city of Crete stood on the N edge
of the plain of Mesara, 15 km E of the great Bronze Age palatial site at Phaistos.
Prehistoric remains at the site are scarce, although some evidence of Neolithic
and Minoan occupation was found nearby at Mitropolis, and a little Late Minoan
material has been found at Gortyn itself. References to the city in the Iliad
(2.646) and Odyssey (3.294) suggest that there was probably a Late Bronze Age
settlement somewhere in the vicinity of the Graeco-Roman city. The foundation
of the city is variously ascribed to Lakonians (Konon, History 36), Tegeans (Paus.
8.53) and to Minos (Strab. 10.476-7), but the beginnings of the Graeco-Roman city
can best be ascribed to the Geometric or early archaic period. The earliest inscriptions
from the site date from the later 7th c., and the oldest of the temples was either
a Geometric or archaic foundation. By the 3d c. B.C. it had become one of the
major cities of Crete, and had conquered Phaistos and taken over its harbor at
Matala. In 221 B.C., however, civil war broke out in the city between those who
favored an alliance with Knossos and those who preferred alliance with Lyttos.
The result of the war is uncertain, but there followed a long period of intermittent
hostilities with Knossos, which were really ended only by the Roman conquest of
Crete in 68 B.C. Gortyn allied with Rome, and while Knossos was destroyed, Gortyn
became the capital of the new province of Crete and Cyrene. The city was finally
destroyed by the Saracens in A.D. 824.
The city was built on either side of the Lethaios River, but there
are few surviving remains to be seen to the W of the river. Immediately W of the
river, however, is the acropolis with traces of its ancient wall and with the
early temple mentioned above. This was a slightly oblong building with a cella,
toward the back of which was a bothros flanked by two repositories. The building
was restored in Classical, Hellenistic, and early Roman times. At the foot of
the acropolis, by the river, are the remains of a theater.
Immediately opposite the theater, on the E bank, is the odeion, which
was built in the late 1st c. B.C. and, after being damaged by an earthquake, was
restored by Trajan. Behind the brick-floored stage was a facade with three portals
and four built niches, while on the N side, incorporated into the foundations,
were the 12 stone blocks carrying the famous law code. These had been built into
an earlier, Hellenistic building which may well have been a law court, but the
inscription was first cut in the first half of the 5th c. B.C. The code itself
undoubtedly contains much that is archaic and indeed Minoan.
To the S of the odeion lay the agora and the Temple of Asklepios,
about both of which little is known, although the cult statue from the temple
is preserved in the Herakleion Museum. South of the agora, and close to the modern
road, is the Church of Haghios Titus. It was probably built in the 6th c. A.D.,
but much of what survives certainly belongs to later repairs and additions. Originally
there appear to have been transeptal apses and flanking chapels on either side
of the great central apse and altar.
To the S of the modern road are several other important public buildings.
Close together stand the Temple of Apollo Pythios and the Temple of Isis. The
former is said to have stood at the center of the city and to have been its most
important temple. Its foundation date is uncertain but it was restored and enlarged
during the Hellenistic period, when a pronaos was added, with six half-columns
of the Doric order. Between the columns were placed inscribed blocks carrying
the treaties made between Gortyn and other Cretan cities during the 2d c. B.C.
In the cella two rows of four Corinthian columns, the bases of which are still
in situ, divided the interior into three aisles. Other subsequent additions included
the great stepped altar which stood before the pronaos and was built during the
Roman period. The Temple of Isis, just N of the Temple of Apollo, is known from
an inscription to have been dedicated in fact to Isis, Serapis, and various Egyptian
deities. The altar stand on the E wall, opposite the entrance, was in fact divided
into three and took statues of Isis, Serapis, and Anubis. Niches for further statues
were situated in the other walls and a number of inscriptions were recovered from
East of the Temple of Apollo was a small nymphaion built at the end
of the 2d c. A.D., and subsequently (6th-7th c. A.D.) made into a reservoir and
fountain. A similar fate befell a second nymphaion, built perhaps a little earlier,
and situated some distance S of the first. Immediately S of the N nymphaion is
the building known as the Praetorium, and identified as the residence of the governor
of the province. It was originally built at the beginning of the 2d c. B.C. during
the reign of Trajan and may then have been a domestic residence for the governor
and little more. Rebuilding following earthquake damage in the 4th c., however,
saw the construction of the great basilican hall, which signifies that the building
was now, if not before, used as an administrative center.
To the W, and close to the Temple of Apollo is a small brick-built
theater of the Roman period. Some distance S of it are the remains of a substantial
building of the Roman period which is almost certainly the main public baths.
East of the baths is the brick and masonry amphitheater, another of the buildings
erected early in the 2d c. A.D. The oval cavea is partially taken up by a built
stage for theatrical performances, while on the outside wall of the building built
niches were originally embellished with statues, one of which (of Antoninus Pius)
is still preserved--the trunk on the site and the head in the Heraklion Museum.
Fragments of other sculptured pieces survive in the vicinity of the amphitheater.
South of it some of the supporting arches of the great circus or stadium can be
During the Roman period water was supplied to the city by a built
aqueduct which ran from a source somewhere along the line of the Lethaios river.
Finds from the site are on display in the Heraklion Archaeological
Museum, and in the small museum on the W outskirts of the village of Haghia Deka
where a number of statues and inscriptions are displayed.
K. Branigan, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
An ancient city in Crete on the southern shore of the island,
and situated on the banks of the river Lethaeus. By its two harbours, Metallum
and Lebena, it communicated with the sea. Here were temples to Zeus, Apollo, and
Artemis; and near the fountain of Saurus was a spring overhung by a palm-tree,
a spot which tradition declared to be the scene of the loves of Zeus and Europa.
Next to Cnossus, Gortyn was the most powerful town of Crete, and between these
two cities there existed an almost continuous feud. Under the Romans, Gortyn became
the capital of the island. In 1884, an archaic inscription was found on the site
of Gortyn, by Halbherr, in the bed of a millstream. Two fragments of the same
inscription had been previously found, the new discovery making a practically
complete record of a collection of laws regulating the private relations of the
people of the city, with regard to such subjects as inheritance, adoption, heiresses,
marriage, and divorce. The inscription is regarded as a little earlier than the
year B.C. 400.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Perseus Encyclopedia Site Text
...On the southwestern coast of Crete lies the town of Sphakion, whose people
have been known throughout history as lovers of freedom. In earlier days Sphakion
was a thriving seaport due to its heavy trade with north Africa. The size of the
town has since dwindled. Further west, along the south coast of Crete, is the
Mesara plain. Its size, fertility and favorable climate have encouraged settlement
since Minoan times. Gortyn, situated in the middle of the plain,
was not inhabited until c. 500 B.C., the date of the Code of Laws. This archaic
inscription is the most important single document for the study of ancient law
codes. The acropolis above the plain has remains from the Neolithic period, and
from the end of the Bronze Age, and there existed a rectangular temple from the
Geometric to Archaic periods. In the Hellenistic period, Gortyn was one of a group
of allied cities in the Cretan Koinon, and after the Roman conquest, it was made
capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica.
This extract is cited Nov 2003 from
Perseus Project URL bellow, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Crete: Perseus Encyclopedia
Gortyn, Gortyna, Gortyne, Gortynians
- Gortyn, Gortyna: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
- Perseus: Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary(1879)
- Gortynians: Perseus Lookup Tool, text search
The Catholic Encyclopedia
A titular see, and in the Greek Church metropolitan see, of the Island
of Crete. The city, situated
at the foot of Mount Ida,
not far from the River Lethe, was first called Larissa, afterwards Cremnia, then
Gortys, and finally Gortyna.
Homer mentions it as a fortified city, which gives an idea of its
great antiquity. Previous to the Roman occupation it was continually at war with
the two neighbouring and rival cities of Cnossus
and Cydonia, contending with
them for supremacy. The result was desolation in an island predestined to happiness
by its geographical position, climate, and soil.
Under Roman rule Gortyna became the civil and ecclesiastical metropolis
of the island, which then prospered in a degree hitherto unknown. Its first bishop
was St. Titus, the disciple to whom St. Paul addressed one of his Epistles. A
basilica dedicated to St. Titus, discovered at Gortyna partly in ruins, dates
from the fifth, perhaps from the fourth, century. In 170 St. Dionysius, Bishop
of Corinth, addressed a letter
to the community of Gortyna, then probably the metropolitan see of Crete.
In 825 the island was taken by the Arabs, Archbishop Cyril was slain
for refusing to apostatize, and Gortyna was so completely destroyed that it never
rose from its ruins. Thenceforth, moreover, the metropolitan ceased to bear the
title of Gortyna, took that of Crete,
and resided elsewhere, probably at Candia, a city built by the Arabs and made
capital of the island.
In the tenth century Nicephorus Phocas reconquered Crete
for the Byzantine Empire, which held it until 1204, when it fell into the hands
of the Venetians, who retained the island until 1669, when the Turks took possession
of it. The Venetians did not allow the Greek bishops to reside in Crete,
while the Latin archbishop bore the title of Candia, not of Gortyna.
The extensive ruins of Gortyna are located near the village of Hagioi
Deka. Among them are a temple of Apollo, several statues, the basilica of
St. Titus, and numerous inscriptions, among which is the text of the so-called
Laws of Gortyna, found in 1884.
S. Vailhe, ed.
Transcribed by: Gerald M. Knight
This extract is cited June 2003 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908)
Educational institutions WebPages
Gortys, that was one of the most important cities of Crete, lay 46km south of Heraklion.
The history of the city has its origins in the Minoan era, as testified by the ruins of the 16th century B.C. farmhouse, which has been excavated, but the city flourished particularly during the Roman era. Gortys was the capital of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica.
The most distinctive monuments are the Praetorium (2nd century A.D.), residence of the Roman governor of the province and the Nymphaion (2nd century A.D.), where the Nymphs were worshipped; the temple of Pythian Apollo; the sanctuary of the Egyptian divinities; and the Odeon, where the famous inscription with the laws of Gortyn was found. Plato spoke of these laws, which were written in a Doric dialect and date from the 6th century B.C., with admiration.
Gortyn is located 45km southwest of Iraklion on the Iraklion - Agia
Varvara - Agii Deka - Gortyn road.
Gortyn is one of the most important archaeological sites on Crete. Although continuously
inhabited from Neolithic times, it did not develop into a strong power until the
Greek era. The city was flourishing by the fifth century B.C. Gortyn defeated
and destroyed Festos in 220 B.C. and from then it used the two harbours at Matala
and Lehena (Lendas). It was at war continuously with either Knossos or Lyttos.
When the Romans invaded the island in 65 B.C., Gortyn did not resist. It became
the capital of Roman Crete and flourished during the Roman era. Gortyn also flourished
during the early Byzantine years but it was destroyed by the Arabs.
The fame of Gortyn lives on, due, in part, to the famous Gortyn Law Code found
here. The twelve stone tablets are inscribed in the Doric Cretan dialect. This
script reads from right to left on one line and left to right on the subsequent
line. These tablets contain the foundation of an entire legal system including
rules of civil procedure and provide great insight into the social system of the
time. Many of the provisions of modern criminal law are still based on these ancient
The archaeological site of Gortyn is extensive, straddling the road to the north
and south. One of the most important buildings is the basilica of Agios Titos.
It dates from around the seventh century and has three aisles. One aisle contains
a shrine to Agios Titos which locals adorn with offerings.
The fenced site of Gortyn is just north of the road and east of the river. It
includes the church of Agios Titos, the Agora area, the Odion and the very important
Law Code of Gortyn.
Almost opposite of the entrance of the fenced site a road starts south to Lendas,
making a T with the road from Agii Deka to Festos. On the lower east part of the
subdivided space are many more remains of the ancient city of Gortyn, most of
This text is cited Dec 2002 from the Crete TOURnet URL below, which contains image.
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Gortyn, Gortyna (Gortun, Gortuna: Eth. Gortunios), a town of Crete
which appears in the Homeric poems, under the form of Gortun (Il. ii. 646, Od.
iii. 294); but afterwards became usually Gortuna (comp. Tzchuck ad Pomp. Melam,
vol. iii. pt. ii. p. 811), according to Steph. B. (s. v.) it was originally called
Larissa (Larissa) and Cremnia (Kremnia).
This important city was next to Cnossus in importance and splendour;
in early times these two great towns had entered into a league which enabled them
to reduce the whole of Crete under their power; in after-times when dissensions
arose among them they were engaged in continual hostilities (Strab. x. p. 478).
It was originally of very considerable size, since Strabo reckons its circuit
at 50 stadia; but when he wrote it was very much diminished. He adds that Ptolemy
Philopator had begun to enclose it with fresh walls; but the work was not carried
on for more than 8 stadia. In the Peloponnesian War, Gortyna seems to have had
relations with Athens. (Thuc. ii. 85). In B.C. 201, Philopoemen, who had been
invited over by the inhabitants, assumed the command of the forces of Gortyna.
(Plut. Philop. 13.) In B.C. 197, five hundred of the Gortynians, under their commander,
Cydas, which seems to have been a common name at Gortyna, joined Quinctius Flamininus
in Thessaly (Liv. xxxiii. 3.)
Gortyna stood on a plain watered by the river Lethaeus, and at a distance
of 90 stadia from the Libyan Sea, on which were situated its two harbours, Lebena
and Metallum (Strab.), and is mentioned by Pliny (iv. 20), Scylax (p. 19), Ptolemy
(iii. 17. § 10), and Hierocles, who commenced his tour of the island with this
In the neighbourhood of Gortyna, the fountain of Sauros is said to
have been surrounded by poplars which bore fruits (Theophrast. H. P. iii. 5);
and on the banks of the Lethaeus was another famous spring, which the naturalists
said was shaded by a plane-tree, which retained its foliage through the winter,
and which the people believed to have covered the marriage-bed of Europa and the
metamorphosed Zeus. (Theophrast. H. P. i. 15; Varr. de Re Rustic. i. 7; Plin.
The ruins of Gortyna, as they existed previously, have been described
more or less diffusely by various writers (Belon, Les Observ. des plus Singul.
p. 8; Tournefort, Voyage du Levant, pp. 58-64; Pococke, Trav. vol. ii. pt. i.
pp. 252-255; Savary, Lettres sur la Grece, xxiii.); their statements, along with
the full account of the Venetian MS. of the 16th century, will be found in the
Museum of Classical Antiquities, vol. ii. pp. 277-286. The site of Gortyna cannot,
till the survey of the island is completed, be made out, but Mr. Pashley (Trav.
vol. i. p. 295) has placed it near the modern Haghius Dheka, where the ten Saints
of Gortyna, according to tradition, suffered martyrdom in the reign of Decius
(comp. Cornelius, Creta Sacra, vol. i. pp. 156-166). In this neighbourhood is
the cavern which Mr. Cockerell (Walpole, Memoirs, vol. ii. pp. 402-406) has conjectured
to be the far-famed labyrinth; but as the ancients with the exception of Claudian
(Sext. Cons. Hon. 634), who, probably, used the name of the town as equivalent
to Cretan, are unanimous in fixing the legend of the Minotaur at Cnossus, the
identification must be presumed to be purely fanciful. The coins of Gortyna are
of very ancient workmanship. Besides the autonomous, there are numerous imperial
coins, ranging from Augustus to Hadrian. (Eckhel, vol. ii. p. 312; Sestini, p.
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)