Axones and Kurbeis

A new answer to an old problem

Gil Davis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

8 Citations (Scopus)


What were axones and kurbeis, and why are they important to understanding law-making in late archaic and classical Athens? This paper presents a new solution to the long standing riddle. It is based on a comprehensive collection of the literary and inscriptional sources which are summarised in chronological order, and analysed by shape, material, content and period. It demonstrates that kurbeis were 3-sided, free-standing, wooden objects used throughout the Greek world in the archaic period. As such, they were precursors of stelae bearing authoritative texts, including laws. Axones were 4-sided, wooden objects, probably rotating, upon which only the legislation collectively known as the 'laws of Solon' was inscribed. It is argued that these laws were gradually enacted from the time of Drakon and were kept in a variety of places according to subject matter. At the end of the fifth-century, the anagrapheis responsible for the laws' republication reinscribed them on the axones to sort out the legal confusion entailed in the previous haphazard system, and they were kept in the Metroon. The first law they reinscribed was Drakon's homicide law with a copy on stone for public display.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
JournalHistoria - Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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