Silver Stater from Gortys, ca. 360 - 322 B. C.

  • said to be the place to which Zeus, in the form of a bull, carried Europa
    • they enacted their sacred marriage under a plane tree, which Theophrastus claims to have seen (in the late 4th or early 3rd century B. C.

  • Europa was an honored goddess in the city
    • many coins depicting her have been found in Gortys

Europa under a tree

The bull that carried Europa to Crete

  • signs of habitation on the site date to ca. 7000 B. C.

  • mentioned by Homer as a well-walled city

  • Hannibal stayed in Gortys briefly after his defeat by the Romans in 189 B. C.

  • in 68 - 67 B. C., Gortys helped the Romans defeat the rest of Crete
    • it then became the capital of the Roman province of Crete/Cyrene (Libya)

  • some estimates say the city had a population of 300,000 at its peak

  • destroyed in A. D. 828 by Arab invasion

Site Plan

Close up of the Gortys Law Code

  • laws of the city were inscribed in stone blocks ca. 460 B. C.

  • written in ‘boustrophedon’ style
    • the word literally means ‘cow turning’–the way an ox moves back and forth across a field, pulling a plow
    • first line in each column runs from right to left, second line from left to right, third from right to left, etc.

  • sometimes called ‘The Great Inscription’, sometimes the ‘The Queen of Inscriptions’

  • originally the blocks were built into the semi-circular wall of an agora or meeting point

  • this building was destroyed (reasons/causes unkown) and rebuilt in the 1st century B. C.

  • after an earthquake, this building was reconstructed near the end of the 1st century A. D. as an odeum

  • the preserved remains are from a major restoration in the 3rd century A. D.

  • one of the inscribed stones was discovered in 1857
    • it had been built into the wall of a nearby watermill
    • this stone is now in the Louvre in Paris

  • the inscribed stones in the wall of the odeum were discovered in 1884, and a portico was built to protect them

Above: excavation of the Roman Odeum at Gortys
Right: visitors examine the law code, before the
protective portico was constructed

(photos from Adonis S. Vasilakis, The Great Inscription of the Law Code of Gortyn, Mystis, Iraklio)

The stone from the Gortys Law Code that is now in the Louvre, Paris
(photo by Jastrow, 2006, Wikipedia, s. v. “Gortyn”)


  • built in the 7th century B. C.

  • monumental altar was added in Hellenistic era

  • converted to Christian basilica in the 2nd century A. D.


  • seat of the Roman governor of Crete

  • built in 1st century A. D.

  • was remodeled significantly over the next eight centuries

  • consisted of a basilica with a row of columns, a portico with three apses, and a peristyle court
    • next to this court were the public baths


  • north of the Temple of Apollo are the remains of a temple to various Egyptian deities, including Isis, Serapis, and Anubis