The Lumbarda Psephisma, a unique document on the establishment of a Greek settlement, undamaged in earthquake

The decree of establishing a Greek, more precisely, Issian, settlement on the central Dalmatian island of Korčula (Korkyra Melaina), the, so called, Lumbarda Psephisma, is a unique document on the establishment of a Greek agrarian settlement, and is, as such, a rare epigraphic monument with such contents i8n the entire Hellenistic world. Usually on display on the second floor of the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, as part of the permanent exhibition of the Collection of Classical Antiquity, it was not damaged in the earthquake of March 22, 2020.

During the last decades of the 19th century, starting from 1877, a terrace near the very top of the Koludrt hill in Lumbarda, in the northeastern part of the island of Korčula (Korkyra Melaina), has been yielding fragments of a unique Greek inscription, a kind of decree about the foundation of a Greek (Issian-Doric) agrarian settlement. The precious inscription, known as the Lumbarda Psephisma, was first interpreted and published in detail by Brunšmid, who himself had visited Lumbarda, hoping to find the rest of the inscription. He was unsuccessful, but several fragments have since been found. The last, fifteenth one, was obviously a part of the upper portion of the inscription, was only recently discovered in archaeological excavations, and is to be scientifically evaluated. However, it can preliminary be said that the new fragment, discovered in may 2018, brings a set of exciting new insights. The new fragment is the right upper corner of the stele, and can be pieced with a smaller segment that was published in 2005. Thanks to this fragment, the existing renditions of the text can be added to and interpreted more correctly. Namely, it was assumed that the text referred to Issian oikists or logists, but the new fragment clearly shows the word arheget, which translates to founder. It was previously known that, in the rest of the text, an assembly proscribed the division of land, but today we know that the first settlers did not only receive three plethra (pelethron – an acre of land), as was thought, but rather a plethra and three neighboring ones, i.e. four plethra. The biggest news is that the newly-discovered part of the text refers to a ground plan, a kind of a cadastre, which contained information about the land given to each inhabitant.

Contrary to Brunšmid’s assumptions about fragments of the Psephisma originating from the area of the medieval sacral structure, i.e. the ruins of St. John’s monastery church that is, traditionally, thought to have been at Koludrt, recent excavations have shown that all of the recently discovered fragments – and, most likely also the ones discovered previously, originate from the eastern part of  an ancient cistern that was, as an important element of life in the Roman times, stopped being used in its original function and was filled with a pile of rocks from one of the near-by queries. This is probably when the inscription itself was destroyed, and which must have originally been placed on an, undoubtedly, pronounced position.

The inscription, that is, in essence, a decree, proscribed the duties and rights of the first colonizers, the founders of the settlement, those who were given land to bui8ld houses and gardens, as well as arable land outside the area of the city. Other than the size of the estate given to every colonizer, and the size of land of those who were to join them, the document also lists sanctions for potential offenders.

The names of the first colonizers, in line with the Greek onomastic system, are listed by name and patronym. The long list of colonizers, who are listed after the introduction, is distributed in three columns, according to their respective Doric phylai, i.e. tribes – the Dymanes, the Hylleis, and the Pamphyoi. About 180 names are preserved (according to some experts, perhaps somewhat more), and the inscription, probably, originally contained about 300 names.

The Lumbarda Psephisma codifies the procedures and rules that had to be abided by during the establishment of the Issian settlement on the island of Korčula that, today, remains nameless. The inscription was probably made in the 3rd century BC, and, according to available data, fits into the then tendencies of Issa to spread its influence into neighboring regions, both on land (Tragurion and Epetion), and the central Dalmatian islands.

 

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