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ASYLUM (from Gr. ἀ-, privative, and σύλη, right of seizure), a place of refuge. In ancient Greece, an asylum was an “inviolable” refuge for persons fleeing from pursuit and in search of protection. In a general sense, all Greek temples and altars were inviolable, that is, it was a religious crime to remove by force any person or thing once under the protection of a deity. But it was only in the case of a small number of temples that this protecting right of a deity was recognized with common consent. Such were the sanctuaries of Zeus Lycaeus in Arcadia, of Poseidon in the island of Calauria, and of Apollo at Delos, they were, however, numerous in Asia Minor. They guaranteed absolute security to the suppliant within their limits. The right of sanctuary, originally possessed by all temples, appears to have become limited to a few in consequence of abuses of it. Asylums in this sense were peculiar to the Greeks. The asylum of Romulus (Livy i. 8), which was probably the altar of Veiovis, cannot be considered as such. Under Roman dominion, the rights of existing Greek sanctuaries were at first confirmed, but their number was considerably reduced by Tiberius. Under the Empire, the statues of the emperors and the eagles of the legions were made refuges against acts of violence. generally speaking, the classes of persons who claimed the rights of asylum were slaves who had been maltreated by their masters, soldiers defeated and pursued by the enemy, and criminals who feared a trial or who had escaped before sentence was passed. (See treatises De Asylis Graecis, by Förster, 1847; Jaenisch, 1868; Barth, 1888.)

With the establishment of Christianity, the custom of asylum or sanctuary (q.v.) became attached to the church or churchyard. In modern times the word asylum has come to mean an institution providing shelter or refuge for any class of afflicted or destitute persons, such as the blind, deaf and dumb, &c., but more particularly the insane. (See Insanity.)

Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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