In the Greek states the temples, altars, sacred groves, and statues of
the gods generally possessed the privilege of protecting slaves,
debtors, and even criminals, who fled to them for refuge. The laws,
however, do not appear to have recognised the right of all such sacred
places to afford the protection which was claimed. There was, in fact, a
clear distinction between the right of the suppliant (ἱκέτης
), which was everywhere acknowledged,
and the ἀσυλία,
or jus asyli,
limited to certain specially privileged
places. All sacred localities were held to protect the suppliant to a
certain extent, even if their right to do so was not legally recognised.
How purely formal the scruples of the Greeks were on this point, is
shown by the additional touch in Plutarch's narrative of the massacre of
the Cylonians, as compared with the accounts in Herodotus and
Thucydides. In the later version, the Cylonians, on surrendering,
attached a cord to the statue of the goddess, and as long as they held
it were safe; when the cord broke accidentally, their enemies looked
upon them as providentially delivered into their hands (Plut. Sol. 12
: cf. Hdt.
; Thuc. 1.126
Thirlwall calls this “too characteristic of the age to have been a
later invention” (H. G.
2.22). When the law
gave no protection, it seems to have been thought lawful to use any
means in order to compel those who had taken refuge to leave the
sanctuary, except dragging them out by personal violence. Thus it was
not uncommon to force a person from an altar or statue of a god, by the
application of fire (Eur. Andr. 257
with Schol.; Herc. Fur.
240 ff.; Plaut.
5.1, 45, 65). He might also be starved out, as
in the well-known instance of Pausanias (Thuc.
; cf. Hdt. 3.48
Among the Greek sanctuaries which were really privileged and where the
right of asylum was confirmed by law, we must distinguish between those
of merely local sanctity and those to which fugitives might have
recourse from a distance. To the latter, more famous, class belonged the
temple of Athena Alea at Tegea (Plut. Lys.,
30; Paus. 2.17
); that of
Poseidon, in Calauria (Strabo viii.
; Plut. Dem. 29
; Paus. 2.33
Poseidon, at Taenarum, the favourite refuge of Spartan slaves, Helots,
and Perioeci under oppression (Thuc. 1.128
; Corn. Nep.
; Aelian, Ael. VH 6.7
); and of Athena Chalcioecos at Sparta (Thuc. 1.128
; Plb. 4.35
; Paus. 3.17
). The treatment of
Pausanias by the Spartans, which was thought to have brought on the
calamities that soon afterwards afflicted their state, would have passed
without remark, but for the exceptional sanctity of the Brazen House.
The temples of Apollo at Delos, Actium, and Leucas; of Hera at Argos and
Samos, and on the Lacinian promontory; of the Lycaean Zeus; of Poseidon
at the Isthmus; of Aesculapius, both at Cos, the home of the
Asclepiadae, and Epidaurus; of the Chthonian Demeter at Hermione, and of
the hero Amphiaraus at Oropus,--all apparently belonged to this higher
class. The entire island of Samothrace claimed inviolability (Liv. 45.5
; Plut. Aem.
). On a somewhat lower
footing were those sanctuaries which possessed merely local privileges,
and were only occasionally used for places of refuge. Such were the
temples of Athena Itonia in Boeotia, of Artemis Hegemone at Ambracia, of
Artemis in Samos, of Hera at Corcyra, of Athena at Siris in Italy. There
were several places in Athens which possessed this privilege; of which
the best known was the Theseum, or temple of Theseus, in the city, which
was chiefly intended for the protection of ill-treated slaves, who could
take refuge in this place, and compel their masters to sell them to some
other person (Plut. Thes. 36
7.13; Schol. ad
Aristoph. Kn. 1312
; Hesych. and
Suidas, s. v. Θησεῖον
). The other
places in Athens which possessed the right of asylum were: the altar of
) in the agora, the altar
of Zeus Ἀγοραῖος,
the altars of the
twelve gods, the altar of the Eumenides on the Areiopagus, the Theseum
in the Peiraeus, and the altar of Artemis at Munychia (Meier and
Schömann, Att. Proc.
p. 404, original edition).
In the time of Tiberius, the number of places possessing the jus asyli
in Greece and Asia Minor became so
numerous, as seriously to impede the administration of justice. In
consequence of this, the senate, by the command of the emperor, limited
the jus asyli
to a few cities, but did not
entirely abolish it, as Suetonius (Suet. Tib.
) has erroneously stated. (See Tac.
; and Ernesti's Excursus
to Suet. l.c.
It is perhaps impossible to decide whether the right of sanctuary, as we
find it among the Greeks of the classical period, was a survival from
the primitive sanctity of temples in general, limited to a few of the
most important in consequence of the abuses to which it gave rise; or,
as some writers maintain, itself the growth of a later period. The
latter is the opinion of Wachsmuth (Hellen. Alterth.
p. 335) and Förster (de Asylis Graecorum,,
39): the former is upheld by Caillemer (ap. D. and S.), and seems to us
intrinsically the more probable. (Compare K. F. Hermann,
§ 10, n. 6; Gottesd.
§ 10, n. 15, 16; § 49, n. 10;
Förster, de Asylis Graecorum,
The asylum which Romulus is said to have opened at Rome on the Capitoline
hill, between its two summits, in order to increase the population of
the city (Liv. 1.8
; Dionys. A. R. 2.15
was, according to the legend, a place of refuge for the inhabitants of
other states, rather than a sanctuary for
those who had violated the laws of the city. In the republican and early
imperial times, a right of asylum, such as existed in the Greek states,
does not appear to have been recognised by the Roman law. Livy seems to
speak of the right (35.51) as peculiar to the Greeks:--Tenmplum
est Apollinis Delium--eo jure sancto quo sunt templa quae asyla
The temple of Divus Julius was constituted
an asylum by decree of the people,; but this, the historian himself
remarks, was quite exceptional (D. C.
). By a constitutio
Antoninus Pius, it was decreed that, if a slave in a province fled to
the temples of the gods or the statues of the emperors, to avoid the
ill-usage of his master, the praeses could compel the master to sell the
slave (Gaius, 1.53); and the slave was not regarded by the law as a
, tit. 1, s. 17.12). This constitutio
of Antoninus is quoted in Justinian's
Institutes (1, tit. 8, s. 2), with a slight alteration; the words
ad aedem sacram
are substituted for
ad fana deorum,
since the jus asyli
was in his time extended to churches.
Those slaves who took refuge at the statue of an emperor were considered
to inflict disgrace on their master, as it was reasonably supposed that
no slave would take such a step, unless he had received very bad usage
from his master. If it could be proved that any individual had
instigated the slave of another to flee to the statue of an emperor, he
was liable to an action corrupti servi.
, tit. 11, s. 5.) The right of
asylum seems to have been generally, but not entirely, confined to
slaves. (Dig. 48
, tit. 19, s. 28.7. Comp.
Osiander, de Asylis Gentilium,
vol. vi.; Simon, Sur les Asyles,
in Mém. de l'Acad. des Inscript.
Bringer, de Asylorum Origine, Usu, et
Lugd. Bat. 1828; C. Neu, de Asylis,
Gott. 1837. Respecting the right of asylum in the churches under the
Christian emperors, see Rein, Das Criminalrecht der