On an island full of Minoan remains, the ruins of Ancient Gortys gives a insight into a later era. The site is small however, impressive, with the basilica of Ayios Titos scattered with remnants of this important city  surrounding its fields and olive groves. 


The settlement of Gortys dates back to Minoan times. Built along the River Letheos also known as the Mitropolitanos, on the fertile plain of Mesara. The city prospered under the Dorian Greeks and by the 8th century B.C. became the most important city in southern Crete. After the Romans conquered the island in 6th B.C. they made Gortys the capital of their province of Cyrenaica, this included Crete and much of North Africa.


A century later, St. Titus the Apostle, made his base here, he was a descendant of a noble Cretan family. Journeyed to Jerusalem, where he became a devoted disciple of St. Paul and travelled with him on his missions in Asia and Southern Europe when St. Paul brought Christianity to the island around 59 A.D. He left St. Titus to establish the Cretan Church. Here St. Titus became Crete's first bishop, he died at the age of 94 around 1055 A.D. St Titus set about converting the population making the city the religious and political centre of Crete. During the reign of The Roman Emperor Decius 251 A.D. ten young Christians were put to death here. In their memory, the modern village which was built near this ancient town was called 'Ayii Deka' The Holy Ten. Gortys flourished throughout Byzantine times until the Saracen raiders sacked the city in 828 it never recovered after that and was soon abandoned and its scattered pieces are still left for us to see today.


The main ruins excavated so far lie within a fenced area on the north side of the road. As you enter, the massive shell of the once important Christian Cathedral, Ayios Titos draws you to the left, built in the 6th century it is one of the best preserved early Christian churches on Crete and was the seat of the archbishops until the Arab invasion. The holy relics of St. Titus were kept here until 962 when they were moved to a new church in Heraklion. A service is still held here once a year on 23rd December, the saints feast day.


On the opposite bank of the river you can see the remains of a larger theatre. Above, on the hilltop, are the ancient acropolis and the ruins of a Greek temple, a Roman hall (the Kastro) and ramparts. Dotted thought the open fields on the south side of the main road, stretching back to Ayii Deka, are various remains, of the Roman city. Many are little more than scant walls and piles of stone, set amongst the giant olive trees. Several of the main sites lie along a track, including the Temple of Isis and Serapis, dedicated to the Egyptian gods. 

IMG_3348 by Silvan Mugliett.


To the south, the Temple of Apollo Pythios with its stepped monumental altar was the main place of worship in pre-Roman times. To the east is the praetorium, the Roman governor's palace. Through the fence you can see its paved courtyards, carved columns and capitals and the nymphaeum or bath suite.




Beyond the church is an area through to the ancient agora, or forum. Here, overlooking the remain of the Roman Odeion (a small theatre used for musical performances and poetry recitals) is a modern building sheltering Gortys's greatest find, the law code. Carved by the Dorian Greeks around 500 B.C. onto massive stone blocks it represents the earliest known written laws in Europe. The original building was 100 feet in diameter, the 12 columns of text which survive are 30 feet in length and 5 feet in height and contain some 600 lines of text. In addition, some further broken texts survive.


It is the largest continuous piece of Greek writing to be found in a complete group of tablets and is known as the “Queen of Inscriptions.” Evidence suggests it is the work of a single sculptor. The inscription has been dated to the first half of the 5th century B.C. The inscriptions are read alternately left to right and right to left - a style known as boustrophedon, a word which describes the pattern made by an ox plough. 


The first fragment of the code was discovered in the 1850s. Italian archaeologist Federico Halbherr  found a further four columns of the text while excavating a site near a local mill in 1884. Since this was evidently part of a larger text he and his team obtained permission to excavate the rest of the site, revealing 8 more text columns whose stones had been reused as part of the foundations of a Roman Odeion from the 1st century B.C. The wall bearing the Code has now been partially reconstructed. Written in a Dorian dialect and is one of a number of legal inscriptions found scattered across Crete.


They provide invaluable insight into this period of Greek history, particularly its social organisation. The code is actually a series of rulings clarifying laws that pertain to marriage, divorce, adoption, property and rights of inheritance. It also laid down penalties for adultery, rape, assault and other offences. 

Rape under the Gortyn code is punished with fines. The fine is largely determined by the difference in social status between the victim and the accused. A free man convicted of raping a serf or a slave would receive the lowest fine, a slave convicted of raping a free man or female would warrant the highest fine.

Adultery is punished similarly to rape under the code, but also takes into consideration the location of the crime. The code dictates higher fines for adultery committed within the household of the female's father, husband, or brother, as opposed to another location. These fines are levied against the male involved in the adultery, not the female. The code does not provide for the punishment of the female.


The Gortyn law code grants a modicum of property rights to women in the case of divorce. Divorced women are entitled to any property that they brought to the marriage, as well as half of the joint income, if derived from her property. The code also provides for a portion of the household property. The code stipulates that any children conceived before the divorce, but born after the divorce, fall under the custody of the father. If the father does not accept the child, it reverts to the mother.


The Gortyn law code devotes a great deal of attention to the allocation and management of property. Although the husband manages the majority of the family property, the wife's property is still delineated. If the wife dies, the husband becomes the trustee to her property and may take no action on it without the consent of her children. In the case of remarriage, the first wife's property immediately comes into her children's possession. If the wife dies childless, her property reverts to her blood relatives.

If the husband dies with children, the property is held in trust by the wife for the children. If the children are of age upon their father's death, the property is divided between the children, with males receiving all of the land. In the event that the husband dies without any children, the wife is compelled to remarry.

Adopted children receive all the inheritance rights of natural children and are considered legitimate heirs in all cases. Women are not allowed to adopt children

Gortys's population was divided into a distinct hierarchy of rulers, citizens or freemen, serfs and slaves, and the rights and penalties varied greatly among the classes.




Europa was the beautiful daughter of the Phoenician king of Tyre, Agenor. Zeus, the King of the gods according to Greek mythology, had a weakness other women even though he had a lovely and faithful wife named Hera. Once Zeus saw Europa as she was gathering flowers by the sea he immediately fell in love with her. Overwhelmed by love for Europa, Zeus had to find new ways of sneaking away from his wife and once day this incorrigible womaniser managed  to  transform himself into the form of a magnificent white bull, appearing on the shoreline of Sidona (Lebanon) where Europa was playing with her maidens. The great bull walked gently over to where she stood still and then knelt at her feet. 

Europa and the bull


The appearance and movements of the bull were so gentle that Europa spread flowers about his neck and dared to climb upon his back overcoming her natural fear of the great animal. But suddenly, the bull rushed out to sea abducting Europa. She could not swim so she could only hold on tightly. Only then the bull revealed its true identity which calmed her and he then swam with Europa to the Mediterranean island of Crete and landed on the beach at Lendas. There, Zeus cast off the shape of the white bull, and back into his human form, taking her to one of the most idyllic places of the islandon the banks of the river Litheos which was covered with plane trees. He made love to Europa beneath a simple cypress tree. Europa became the first queen of Crete and had by Zeus three sons: King Minos of Crete, King Rhadamanthus of the Cyclades Islands, and, according to some legends, Prince Sarpedon of Lycia. She later married the king of Crete, who adopted her sons, and she was worshiped under the name of Hellotis in Crete, where the festival Hellotia was held in her honour. At last, Zeus reproduced the shape of the white bull, used by Zeus to seduce Europa, in the stars. Even today we can recognize its shape in the constellation Taurus.

The name Europa was given to one of Jupiter's 16 original moons. Europa is special, because it is one of the few moons in our solar system that may have liquid water.





 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Gortys : Knossos:



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