Two Hellenic cities which in their time were leading states in the Mediterranean world, Selinus in Sicily and Cyrene in Libya, set up inscriptions of the kind called sacred laws, but regulating worship on a larger scale than elsewhere - Selinus in the mid fifth century B.C., Cyrene in the late fourth. In different ways, the content and the format of both inscriptions are so unusual that they have baffled understanding. Today, I want to talk to you a bit about both, with the help of Noel Robertson.

The sacred laws of Selinus
Selinus (or Selinous), located on the south-west coast of Sicily, was founded in the mid-7th century BCE by Hellenic colonists from Megara Hyblaea on the eastern side of the island. Selinus was the most western Hellenic colony on Sicily, and it became an important polis or city-state in the Classical period. The site covered an unusually large and well-planned urban and sacred area, the latter once having at least ten separate temples from the 6th to 5th century BCE.

According to Thucydides, in 628 BCE Greek colonists from Megara Hyblaea on the eastern side of Sicily chose the site around the Manuzza hill, as it benefitted from a natural port and was surrounded by fertile plains ideal for agriculture, especially wheat and olive production. The town was named after the river Selinos on whose mouth it is situated. The name comes from the Hellenic word for wild celery (sélinon) which grew (and still grows) abundantly in the area.
The sacred laws of Selinus were written on a large lead tablet about two feet wide and eight inches high. It sets out rules for sacrifice and other ritual in two columns of writin that are upside down to each other. No one knows why. A bronze bar is laid vertically between the comumns so as to clamp the tablet with just three nails to some wooden fixture. At any given time, the column that is right side up is on the right.

The two columns are of unequal length and substance. column A fills up half the tablet, from top to bottom. After a preliminary offering and a heading, sacrifices are prescribed to Zeus Eumenes and the eumenides, to Zeus Milichios at a place strangely named, to Tritopatores both foul and pure, and again to Zeus Melichios at another place strangely named. For all but Zeus Eumenes and the Eumenides, the mode of sacrifice and other ritual actions are described in great detail. The heading gives the deadline for performing the whole series of sacrifices.

The preliminary offering is only partially legible; there are traces of an earlier and lengthier version that was eased.

Column B is only half as long as column A and was even shorter at first. It appears to have been lengthened as an afterthought. All the ritual of column B is addressed to a power called 'elasteros'. the person performing the rite is described as 'autorektas'. The ritual, including sacrifice, is meant to purify the person from the power.

Column A is dedicated to bloodshed, as all Theoi and powers named are avenging ones. Column B is linkd to the ritual purification of bloodshed and the lifting of guilt--of lifting the curse of the Eumenides of someone who has committed homicide.

The sacred laws of Cyrene
Cyrene was an ancient Hellenic city on the North African coast near present-day Shahhat, a town located in north-eastern Libya. As a result of the rise in population that took place in the Hellenic world during the 8th and 7th century BC, expeditions to the North African region took place from Thera (which is now known as Santorini). The traditional date for this event is 630 BCE. During the expedition, the native Lybians welcomed the newcomers and showed them an inland site marked by the presence of an abundant spring to found a new city. The name of the city is rooted in the myths about Apollon’s love affair with Kyrene, daughter of a Thesalian King named Hypseus and a water nymph.

The sacred laws of Cyrene were written down on a tall marble block. It originally stood in the great sanctuary of apollon in the northwest sector of the city. The content is divided by short horizontal lines into roughly twenty sections (depending on restoration).

Column A has a heading in larger letters: Apollon ordered the people of Cyrene to perform ritual a certain way. The first rule calls for a red haired sacrifice to Apollon outside of the city gates. The next few rules are on obtaining wood for any purpose and what washing or other care is needed after impure occasions like sexual intercourse and childbirth.Then there is a rather unclear section that mentiones Tritopateres and Battus, founder of Cyrene. the next rule is on how to scrape and scrub an altar when a wrong victim has been sacrificed.

The next item is a lingle line that describes a tithing obligatgion to Apollon for particular people. The obligation is to purify Apollon's sanctuary and oneself and one's property and also, as a much greater burden, to sacrifice animals valued at a literal tithe.

The second face, column B, begins with three rules for young women, requiring them to attend at stated times the shrine of Artemis. There follows a rule about impurity caused by miscarriage then three sections of text we do not know the proper meaning of. They might be on purifying supplicnt or, like at Selinius, about ifting the burden of guilt.

A .pdf of the sacred laws of Cyrene can be found here.

These writings give us insight into rites connected with the carker side of life, the polluted side of life. The side of life that needed supplication and divine intervention. By studying these texts, we recieve insight into the ancient Hellenic way of thinking and this helps us shape our own thought patterns,