Missing Dreros Inscription: Help Sought

Via the Classicists list:

Please find below a request from Professor John Keane for help to find the early constitutional law of Dreros (Meiggs and Lewis 1969, no. 2), which appears to have gone missing. Professor Keane is a research professor of politics at Westminster University and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin and a Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney. Any help in solving the mystery of its location would of course be appropriately acknowledged.

Dr David Pritchard (Sydney University)


The inscription I am looking for involves a little known legal text, the constitutional law of Dreros. According to this text, as from the end of the 7th century BC, a small Cretan city, the city of Dreros takes some measures to protect itself against excessive power ambitions. In it, three groups of persons have to commit by oath to respect the law: a. kosmos, involving the ensemble of the supreme magistrates; b. damioi and c. “twenty of the city”

It is written on a block of grey schist from the temple of Apollo Delphinius at Dreros, dated 650-600 BCE. Its picture along with a picture of its transcription appears in L.H. Jeffery’s The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990 (plate 59).

It seems that it was first mentioned by Henri Van Effenterre in Pierre Demargne, Henri Van Effenterre, “Recherches à Dréros”, BCH (Bulletin de correspondance hellénique), Année LXI, 1937, II, pp.333-348 and Henri Van Effenterre, “A propos du serment des Drériens”, Année LXI, 1937, II, pp. 327-332. The former included a picture of the transcription as this appears in Jeffery’s book.

My research assistant and I have been in contact with the Archaeological Museum of Herakleion where findings from Apollo Delphinius temple are kept but they confirmed that this block does not appear either on display or in their storage catalogues.

My request arises from research for the book The Life and Death of Democracy, which is due for publication in 2008.

The footnote from the text of the book reads as follows:

[1] The archaeological evidence of these non-Athenian experiments in government by assembly has been available for some time, but typically it has been neglected, partly because it has gone missing, or because it seems at first sight to be so thin and random, which adds to the sense of its unimportance. That conclusion is unwarranted, as suggested by the brief inscriptions on bronze or stone from Dreros, Chios and Locris. See Russell Meiggs and David Lewis (eds.), A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford 1969), texts numbered 2 (a block of grey schist from the temple of Apollo Delphinius at Dreros, dated 650-600 BCE); 8 (a stele of reddish trachyte found in southern Chios, dated 575-550 BCE, and mentioning ‘the demos’); and 13 (a bronze plaque from Psoriani in Aetolia or the neighbourhood of Naupaktos, dated 525-500 BCE). The first-mentioned inscription, said to be in the Dreros Museum and reproduced in L. H. Jeffery, The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece [Oxford 1961], plate 59. 1a, may be the earliest surviving Greek law on stone. It reads: ‘May God be kind (?). The city has thus decided; when a man has been a kosmos, the same man shall not be a kosmos again for ten years. If he does act as a kosmos, whatever judgements he gives, he shall owe double, and he shall lose his rights to office, as long as he lives, and whatever he does as kosmos shall be nothing. The swearers shall be the kosmos (i.e., the body of the kosmoi) and the damioi and the twenty of the city.’ During the course of research for this book, helped by the invaluable work of my research assistant, Maria Fotou, every effort was made to locate the original of this valuable text. The fraught search revealed some of the barriers facing those who are intent on proposing fresh conjectures about the earliest contours of democracy. It turned out, contrary to L.H. Jeffery and other scholars, that there is no museum in Dreros, and that all findings from the temple of Apollo Delphinius at Dreros are held in the Archaeological Museum of Herakleion. And so, in November 2005, the focus of our research shifted to that museum. Following letters and many telephone calls, contact was made with the Head Curator, Ms Vasso Marcellou. She was most helpful, but after many systematic efforts by her on our behalf to locate the text on grey schist, we reached the conclusion that our prized object of research was neither on display, nor in the museum catalogues, nor in its storage rooms. During the following several months, Ms Marcellou made contact with several specialists, including a recently retired archaeologist who had worked for many years in the museum in Herakkleion. A year later, none the wiser, we thanked Ms Marcellou for her valiant professionalism, licked our wounds, and dreamed of better times, when we would be able to examine with our own eyes the precious seventh-century block of grey schist.

Professor John Keane

Dr David Pritchard
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of Classics and Ancient History (A14)
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry
The University of Sydney
NSW 2006
Phone: +61-2-9351 6815
Fax: +61-2-9351 3918
E-mail: david.pritchard@arts.usyd.edu.au

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3 Responses to Missing Dreros Inscription: Help Sought

  1. Gustavo Veneciano says:

    In the last edition of the inscription of Dreros is stated that the stone is in the Archaeological collection of Neapolis (inv. 239). Today, this collection of finds from the region of Mirambello is housed in a building under the Ministry of Culture. The last edition of the early constitutional law of Dreros was made by Henri van Effenterre et François Ruzé, Nomima. Recueil d’inscriptions politiques et juridiques de l’archaïsme grec, Tome I, Rome, École Française de Rome, 1994, Inscription nº 81.
    I hope Prof. Keane can find this inscription.

    All best wishes,
    Gustavo Veneciano
    Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

  2. Elena Martín González says:

    In Duhoux´s work about the eteocretan language (L´étéocrétois, Amsterdam, 1982)you can find the whole list of the Drerian inscriptions and their current location. Most of them were moved to the Neapolis Museum before the second World War and several are now missing. The constitutional law, however, is said to be still kept in this museum (inv.239).
    The archeological collection of Neapolis is temporarily closed to the public, but it is possible to ask for a permission to the museum curator to visit it, as far as you can get any official support of your research (university, researching center, etc.).
    A very clear picture of the inscription is published in James Whitley´s article “Cretan Laws and Cretan Literacy” (American Journal of Archeology 101,vol.4, 1997, pp. 635-661).
    If you wish further information, I will be pleased to help you.
    Best luck

  3. Olga Tsangaraki says:

    I do not know if you are still looking for the law of Dreros but it is common knowelege here in Crete, that the block is in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople.

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