2,200-year Old Rental Contract Found in Turkey Shows Little Has Changed

Ancient contract carved on stone, for land complete with slaves and an altar, stipulates penalties for damage and demands guarantors.

The ancient theater of Teos, a city whose origins are lost in mist but that apparently goes back at least 3,000 years - and where the locals had a predilection for carving details into stone.
Philipp Pilhofer, Wikimedia Commons

A 2,200-year old rental contract carved in stone, found this week in a shrine to Dionysus in the ancient city of Teos, shows that little has changed over the millennia. Latter-day contracts do not typically include instructions for altars at the site, but the inscription shows that like today, the tenants would be penalized for damage and had to provide a guarantor, Hurriyet reports. They also had to come up with six witnesses that included three city notables, according to what Hurriyet dubs the most comprehensive rental contract in Anatolian history.

Teos was a peninsular Hellenistic seaport on the Anatolian coast, near the modern city of Sigacik. Who founded Teos, and when, remain enigmatic, though the Greek influence is clear. Some Turkish experts believe Teos dates back over 3000 years. In any case, it was one of the city-states involved in the so-called Ionian League, a turbulent union formed some 2700 years as the entire region restructured following the so-called ancient Greek Dark Ages.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (circa 484–circa 425 B.C.E.) wrote about Teos, information augmented by a remarkably rich history of writing found in the city, Professor Mustafa Adak, the head of Akdeniz University’s Prehistoric Languages and Cultures Department, told Hurriyet: Around 400 inscriptions have been found there, with detailed information from both the Greek and Roman eras of control.

Again like today, the rental agreement itself, carved onto a large 1.5-meter long stela, stipulates penalties for improper use of built-up land – in fact, the punishments for various infractions such as causing damage are described at some length, the professor told Hurriyet.

The property covered by the ancient contract came complete with slaves, and covers the land with its constructs, including an altar. Its owner had donated the property to Gymnasium students, who in turn rented it out to cover their maintenance and living costs. That also sounds very familiar. The students were careful to stipulate their use of the altar in the contract, which might sound a little less contemporary.

The ancient Odeon in Teos, a city going back some 3,000 years that has provided a wealth of inscriptions carved into stone - including a roughly 2,200-year-old rental contract.
Sevil Ege, Wikimedia Commons