Asyl i antikken

Nicolas Johansen

Studenteropgave: Speciale


This paper is basically concerned with asylum in European antiquity. In present day Europe the right to asylum first and foremost constitutes a complex field of political and legal discourses that are, however, rarely viewed in a larger historical perspective. Consequently, there is little academic reflection on the assumptions, components or values founding the basis for the general idea of asylum. The intention of this paper is to carry out precisely such a reflection, focusing on how asylum was originally thought out, practised and substantiated at the very outset in European culture. In this way, the motivation behind this paper stems from present circumstances, while at the same time pointing at the necessity of a historical analysis. The field of research is thus in general terms asylum i European antiquity. In recognising the broadness and complexity of the antiquity, the field of research is, however, delimited by focusing on four focal points, namely (1) the Old Testament or the Israelitic tradition, (2) Greek antiquity, (3) the New Testament and (4) Roman antiquity. Each of these focal points is being treated in separate chapters, were they are subjected to a thorough, interdisciplinary study concerned with whether and how asylum appears terminologically, philosophically, religiously as well as on a legal or in other ways practical level. In this way, the analytical scope is narrowed by delimiting the field of research to certain focal points, yet broadened by insisting on a interdisciplinary approach to the subject matter. In chapter one, dealing with the Israelitic tradition of the Old Testament, the study concludes that asylum first of all appears as a right, and is thereby linked to the legal thinking of the Pentateuch in general and to the apodictic laws in particular. More specifically, the right to asylum specified in the Pentateuch is granted to people guilty of involuntary manslaughter, protecting them against vendetta in the so-called cities of refuge. As the right to asylum is restricted to these biblical cities, the right of asylum becomes territorial. The territorial right of asylum is, however, not the only phenomenon of the Old Testament that can be linked to asylum protection; throughout the Pentateuch, the general right of the stranger is constituted through a number of commands protecting the stranger against encroachment and, in short, the stranger is thereby in many ways given the same legal status as the Israelites, as well as being included in the social teaching Yahweh demand of his people. The paper argues that the right of the stranger is closely linked to the friendship of the guest, widely acknowledged in the Mediterranean area in antiquity, and is substantiated by the vast Israelitic experience of diaspora. As such, the right of the stranger builds on a principle of reciprocity also known in the law of retaliation, lex talionis, and following the logic of reciprocity the people of Israel should thus welcome, include and treat the guest properly, because they remember (and it is their duty to remember) life in exile. In the right of the stranger, as chapter one concludes, we find an ethical obligation towards the stranger, that points towards a modern conception of asylum. Inclusion is however not the sole approach to the stranger in the Pentateuch; other passages command banishing of other peoples, intolerance and genocide. The voices of the Pentateuch concerning the stranger are thus polyphonic, but a clear voice of tolerance and inclusion are non the less identifiable. As the paper concludes in chapter two, the link between territorial asylum and the containment of vendetta against involuntary manslaughter is rediscovered in a Greek legal context, and hence the linking is not exclusively an Israelitic phenomenon. In a Greek context, territorial asylum is however first and foremost in post-Homeric time understood as inviolability in some Greek city states and at sacred places, denoted by the term ásylon. Inviolability is here guarantied by reference to divine jurisdiction. Beside the actual claims on territorial inviolability identified and discussed in chapter 2, asylum also appears as a distinct, literary theme in the classical Greek tragedies by respectively Aeschylos, Sophocles and Euripides. Here, the act of giving and respecting territorial asylum in precisely city states and at sacred places constitutes a norm that reaches beyond the literary sphere, due to the mythologicalreligious character of the tragedies. It is furthermore concluded that beside denoting territorial asylum, ásylon also refers to a secular practise that is best described as personal asylum, providing inviolability to appointed citizens, typically to the so-called proxenoi representing the polis in interstate diplomacy. Finally, a few aspects from the golden age of Greek philosophy are shortly treated at the end of chapter two, first and foremost the philosophy of friendship dealt with by Aristotle and the stoics. It is concluded that the philosophical concept of friendship implicate an underlying idea about the natural fellowship of mankind, echoing the very kernel of the right of asylum, namely being committed on the well-being of - in abstract terms - the other. Having given a thorough analysis of the Greek tradition, the paper once again focuses on a Biblical context, specifically on those ethical aspects of the New Testament that most clearly implicate, or bluntly commands, other-concern. The ethics of the New Testament is initially approached by analysing the paramount reinterpretation of the Israelitic-Jewish concept of law by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and it is made clear that the various commandments binding Israel to include, respect and love the other are fundamentally replaced (encompassed, absorbed) by the Great Commandment to love God and to love one's neighbour as oneself. By reaffirming the Great Commandment of benevolence, as well as remodelling it into the crucial point from which all morality flows, Jesus both reaffirms the teaching of the Torah and definitively breaks with the ethical position of classical, Jerusalemitic Judaism. Other-concern is hereby placed at the very centre of the ethical thinking, and as the scope of ‘the other’ is furthermore broadened by perceiving not only the neighbour, but also one’s enemy (cf. Matthew 5:44) as the object of Christian benevolence or unselfish love, complying with the ethical standards of the New Testament becomes first and foremost a matter of being committed to the well-being of others. In this aspect, the ethics of the New Testament can be seen as a theological completion of the philosophical thinking about a fellowship of mankind suggested in a Greek context. This thinking constitutes a radical new view on man as such, and thus becomes relevant in the analysis of asylum in especially Roman antiquity, which becomes the subject matter of the last part of the analysis in chapter four. In many ways Roman antiquity integrates the various expressions of the general idea about asylum protection identified throughout the preceding chapters of the paper. First of all it becomes clear that asylum - appears in Roman, mythological literature too - partly as Roman receptions of Biblical and Greek mythological material, partly in the dominant mythological narrative concerned with how Rome was founded. On at literary-mythological level, the paper argues, asylum constitutes a norm, and a continuation of the Greek tradition is with regard to this aspect identified. Furthermore, in the dominant mythological narrative on how Rome was founded, the Roman population is outlined from outsiders through Roman citizenship, not through ethnicity or language, and as citizenship was initially given to everyone, the borderline between Romans and ‘others’ or ‘strangers’ were from the mythological starting point blurred. The paper argues that when redirecting the perspective from mythological to historical time, the boundary between ‘Romans’ and ‘strangers’ continues to be hazy at a deeper level, as all people subjected to Rome in time were given the possibility to obtain Roman citizenship. Community is so thought of in a broader way, which is also reflected in the Roman philosophical thinking on friendship. This is clearly the case with Cicero, who builds on Aristotle and the stoics when expressing the view that man is by nature enrolled in a binding community with all other fellow human beings, a communis humani generis societas. Cicero sharpens the Aristotelian-stoic analysis of friendship and community on the basis of natural law, though still being far from the radical thinking of the New Testament where other-concern is placed before anything else. Beside reflecting on mythology, norms and community, the paper stresses that the territorial right of asylum appears in Roman antiquity too, typically denoted by the Latin term asylum. It is however made clear that one must distinguish between republican and imperial time; the paper concludes that a broadly continuation of the Greek tradition for territorial asylum is seen in republican time, whereas the inviolability in city states and at sacred places is abandoned early in imperial time. Yet a novel variety of territorial asylum is identified in imperial time, namely asylum in the vicinity of images of the emperor. As it was not utterly clear as to what extent this sort of ‘imperial asylum’ were provided for Roman citizens exclusively or, alternatively, thought of as a more universal means of protection, guarantying inviolability to all human beings, a discussion about the asylum right of slaves is presented at the end of chapter four. In short, the paper concludes that though criticism were definitively voiced in imperial time, slaves were - at least in theory - as non-citizens protected by the imperial asylum on equal terms with Roman citizens. Thereby the imperial asylum must be seen as an indication of the fact, that the right of asylum was in late Roman antiquity linked to human beings as such - not to citizenship - substantiated on the basis of natural law. Based on the overall analysis of asylum i European antiquity, the paper concludes that the general idea about asylum was indeed present in the antiquity, partly in different traditions (Israelitic, Greek, Roman), partly manifested within different fields (religion, mythology, literature, law). On a practical level, asylum is often put into practise by territorial rights, and though the specific minting of the rights differ in accordance with the context in which they appear - especially with regards to substantiation and scope - a structural similarity between the antique traditions studied is indeed traceable. On a more abstract level, the paper furthermore argues that the appearance of asylum in antiquity must partly be seen in relation to the development of a line of thought - be it theological or philosophical - according to which man is connected to his fellow human beings in a binding community.

UddannelserFilosofi og Videnskabsteori, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato29 aug. 2008


  • Greek asylum
  • asylon
  • ukrænkelighed
  • asylret
  • inviolability
  • asylum
  • right of asylum
  • Roman asylum