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In ancient Greece, if you were harmed by someone whom you were unable to bring into court (e.g. a citizen of another city), you could seek compensation, with the consent of your polis, by seizing the property of the apprehended perpetrator or even the property of any other (innocent!) citizen of the same city from where the criminal came. This procedure was referred to as syle. Special places where individuals threatened with syle were offered sanctuary were known as asylia, which is the origin of today’s term “asylum”.

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In ancient Greece, if you were harmed by someone whom you were unable to bring into court (e.g. a citizen of another city), you could seek compensation, with the consent of your polis, by seizing the property of the apprehended perpetrator or even the property of any other (innocent!) citizen of the same city from where the criminal came. This procedure was referred to as syle. Special places where individuals threatened with syle were offered sanctuary were known as asylia, which is the origin of today’s term “asylum”. 
The inscription on syle dates back to the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 3rd century BC. It comes from Cyrene, one of the most splendid Greek colonies (nicknamed the “Athens of Africa”) and it contains a description of several legations sent by the Cyrenians to buy out the syle imposed on them by another polis. What did they do wrong for such a situation to occur? It remains unfortunately unknown. But the problem was serious and concerned the entire community. Due to the fault of several citizens, everyone suffered; for example, Cyrenian merchants could not travel safely and all contacts with the cities of the sufferers were risky.
Thus, the inscription on syle is more than just one of a few epigraphic monuments of key importance for the reconstruction of the political history of Cyrene at the end of the Classical Greek period and beginning of the Hellenistic period (for which we have a poor collection of literary sources). It is also a unique source for learning about the relations between Greek cities. Its content, the context of the creation and unabated interest of scientists make it one of the most important (if not the most important) Greek alphabetic inscriptions kept in Polish collections. 
 

Elaborated by Paweł Nowakowski (The Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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Greek inscription from Cirenaica

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