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Inscribed marble stele found at ancient Greek city of Teos

Excavations that are ongoing in the ancient Greek city of Teos in İzmir’s Seferihisar district have unearthed a 2,200-year-old inscription, thought to be the most comprehensive rental agreement in the history of Asia Minor.

Inscribed marble stele found at ancient Greek city of Teos
The inscribed stele is cleaned after excavation [Credit: DHA]
The agreement, which was apparently made with a guarantor and six witnesses, including the notables of the city, also outlines punishments against the improper use of the land containing buildings.

Professor Mustafa Adak, the head of Akdeniz University’s Prehistoric Languages and Cultures Department, said Herodotos provided information about the ancient Teos, which was founded by Minyans from Orchomenus, Ionians and Boeotians in the proto-Geometric period.

“‘It is located in the world’s most mild place,’ Herodotos says about this city. It is currently within the borders of the Seferihisar district. Excavations were carried out in the 1960s but since 2010 work has continued under the leadership of Professor Musa Kadıoğlu, the head of the Ankara University Archaeology Department,” Adak said.

“Teos is one of the most productive Greek cities in Asia Minor in terms of the number of inscriptions recovered. The administrative and regional structure of the city can be understood from the inscriptions, which give very detailed information about the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Some 200 inscriptions were discovered in Teos up to 2010 and this number has since been doubled. As of 2016, we have some 400 inscriptions,” he added.

A rental agreement 

“Among the inscriptions, one is particularly interesting, with quite rich content. An agreement was made on a 1.5-metre-long marble stele. It contains an impressive 58 lines of Greek text outlining the details of a lease on property in the city’s gymnasium. According to the inscription, the Gymnasium students between the age of 20 and 30 - called Neos (Neoi pl.) - inherited the land from a person in Teos. This person donated his land, which included structures, slaves and the holy altar, to the Neoi."

Inscribed marble stele found at ancient Greek city of Teos
Lease agreement carved in stone 2,200 years ago, Teos, western Turkey [Credit: DHA]
"In order to meet the expenses of this land and to get income, the Neoi rented the land. The inscription tells us who owned the land in the past and what it includes. It also mentions a holy altar. The Neoi express in the agreement that they want to use this holy place three days a year. They put the land up for auction — just for lease — and it was rented to the highest bidder. Because of the altar on the land, the property was categorized as holy and therefore exempt from taxes. The tablet records the name of the previous owner and of the lessor.” Adak said. “One guarantor and six witnesses, three of them city administrators, were required to validate the agreement,” he added.

“This inscription reveals the structure of the Gymnasium and that the Neoi owned the property. This is the first and only example in the ancient world. Almost half of the inscription is filled with punishment forms. If the renter causes damage to the land, does not pay the annual rent or does not repair the buildings, he will be punished. The Neoi also vow to inspect the land every year,” said the Akdeniz University professor.

“There are two particularly interesting legal terms used in the inscription, which are completely new and hitherto unattested. Ancient writers and legal documents need to be consulted in order to understand what these words mean,” Adak said.

He also added that the concept of citizenship was very important and that people could become citizens at the age of 20 on condition that their parents were citizens.

“The Neoi served as civil servants in politics and assemblies,” he said.

Inscribed marble stele found at ancient Greek city of Teos
Aerial view of Teos [Credit: DHA]
The head of the Teos excavations, Musa Kadıoğlu, said the inscriptions were unearthed in the western part of the site’s Dionysos temple.

“The inscription provides information about the social life and judicial system of Teos in the Hellenistic era,” Kadıoğlu added.

One of the 12 Ionian cities, Teos was examined by the British Society of Dilettanti in 1764, 1765 and 1862, by the French in 1924 and 1925, and by Ankara University academics Yusuf Boysal and Baki Öğün between 1962 and 1967, said Kadıoğlu.

In the second half of the 3rd century, the Ionia and Hellespontos Dionysos Artists Union, which included poets, theatre musicians and singers, was formed in the city, he added.

“Some time later, this union was seen as a source of unrest in the city and they were sent to Ephesos first and then to Myonnessos [Doğanbey] and Lebedos [Ürkmez]. Renowned poets and philosophers such as Anakreon, Antimakhos, Herakleitos, Epikouros, Nausiphanes and Apellikon, and the historian Hekataios lived in Teos,” Kadıoğlu stated.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News [October 04, 2016]

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