previous next


ASY´LUM (ἄσυλον).


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. 5.71; Thuc. 1.126). Bp. 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. Mostell. 5.1, 45, 65). He might also be starved out, as in the well-known instance of Pausanias (Thuc. 1.134; 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, 7; 3.5, 6; 7, 10); that of Poseidon, in Calauria (Strabo viii. p.373; Plut. Dem. 29; Paus. 2.33, 3); of Poseidon, at Taenarum, the favourite refuge of Spartan slaves, Helots, and Perioeci under oppression (Thuc. 1.128, 133; Corn. Nep. Paus. 100.4; Paus. 7.25, 3; Aelian, Ael. VH 6.7; Plut. Pomp. 24); and of Athena Chalcioecos at Sparta (Thuc. 1.128, 134; Plb. 4.35; Paus. 3.17, 7). 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. 23, 26). 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; Pollux, 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 Pity (Ἔλεος) 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. 37) has erroneously stated. (See Tac. Ann. 3.60-63, 4.14; 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. i. p. 335) and Förster (de Asylis Graecorum,, p. 39): the former is upheld by Caillemer (ap. D. and S.), and seems to us intrinsically the more probable. (Compare K. F. Hermann, Staatsalterth., § 10, n. 6; Gottesd. Alterth. § 10, n. 15, 16; § 49, n. 10; Förster, de Asylis Graecorum, Berlin, 1847).

2. Roman

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; Vell. 1.9; Dionys. A. R. 2.15), was, according to the legend, a place of refuge for the inhabitants of [p. 1.236]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 Graeci appellant. 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. 47.19). By a constitutio of 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 runaway--fugitivus (Dig. 21, 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. (Dig. 47, 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, in Gronov. Thesaur. vol. vi.; Simon, Sur les Asyles, in Mém. de l'Acad. des Inscript. vol. iii.; Bringer, de Asylorum Origine, Usu, et Abusu, 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 Römer, p. 896.)

[W.S] [W.W]

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: