2,200 Year Old Lease Literally Written In Stone
2,000 years ago on the western coast of Turkey, the ancient Greek city of Teos stood. A Mediterranean port and center for regional commerce, Teos’s two harbors brought people and goods throughout the Anatolian region of modern Turkey. The commerce brought with it law and paperwork, although a great deal of the “paper” twenty centuries ago was actually stone. Teos is today an archaeological goldmine thanks to so many written — or chiseled — words. Discovered this year: a 1.5 meter-long inscribed stone tablet containing a detailed 58-line commercial lease complete with a few disturbing clauses. From the Ars Technica piece on the discovery:
Carved into a 1.5 meter-long marble stele, the document goes into great detail about the property and its amenities. We learn that it’s a tract of land that was given to the Neos, a group of men aged 20-30 associated with the city’s gymnasium. In ancient Greece, a gymnasium wasn’t just a place for exercise and public games—it was a combination of university and professional training school for well-off citizens. Neos were newbie citizens who often had internship-like jobs in city administration or politics. The land described in the lease was given to the Neos by a wealthy citizen of Teos, in a gift that was likely half-generosity, half-tax writeoff. Because the land contained a shrine, it was classified as a “holy” place that couldn’t be taxed. Along with the land, the donor gave the Neos all the property on it, including several slaves.
Use Of Premises Clauses
Beyond enshrining the brutal custom of slavery, the lease agreement also describes a tax-deductible donation of property and numerous clauses concerning punishments if the property was misused. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
In order to meet the expenses of this land and to get income, the Neos 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 Neos express in the agreement that they want to use this holy place three days a year. In this period, the state collected tax from lands. But since the land was defined ‘holy,’ it was exempted from tax. It is understood that the land was rented at an auction and the name of the renter is written on the inscription,” [Archeology professor Mustafa] Adak said.
Almost half of the inscription is filled with punishment forms. If the renter gives damage to the land, does not pay the annual rent or does not repair the buildings, he will be punished. The [property-owning] Neos 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 large dictionaries have not up to now included. Ancient writers and legal documents should be examined in order to understand these words mean,” Adak said.
As I’ve written here before, the ancient world’s commercial property business was a fascinating and sometimes depressing thing. So the next time you’re convinced the commercial lease on your desk is difficult to understand as well as being hard to break, think of the landlords of Teos, their human property and their stone lease. Today’s tenant has it relatively easy under that comparison.
Photo credit: Ars Technica