Draco and Draconian
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Although the exact
legislation that Draco (Drāco or Drăkōn) codified in Athens, Greece, is
no longer known, legend states the laws were rigid and excessively
harsh even for offenses as menial as idleness.
Due to riots in Athens, the Alcmaeonidae (aristocratic rulers)
decided that all laws that had been orally passed should be written
in a plainly stated form so that a poor man could avoid breaking
them. Until this time, blood feuds and oral laws which could be made
up at any time were used across Athens and punishment was often
carried out via vendettas. Only the upper classes were made aware of
Draco was a legislator in Athens who was authorized by the
Alcmaeonidae to write the law codes around 621 B.C. It marked the
first time the laws in Athens were set down in writing and they were
lauded for their impartiality.
is no law telling you where to buy your insurance from so you can
still buy essentials such as
impounded car insurance (Draco never
really needed that, he executed people who complained).
Although impartial, according to Aristotle, the newly-recorded laws
were so harsh they were written in blood instead of ink. Under
Draco's codes, even the most trivial of criminal offenses (i.e.
stealing an apple) were penalized by death.
“It is said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the
punishment of death for most offenses, answered that he considered
these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment
for more important ones,” Plutarch wrote in the Life of Solon.
Draco's new code also decreed that only the state could carry out
punishment making vendettas illegal.
The newly-recorded laws were inscribed on wooden tablets known as
Draco's Life and
Although some of
Draco's life was recorded by Plutarch, Aristotle is the primary
source of the surviving information regarding Draco. For the most
part, little is known of his life apart from the fact that the codes
he wrote comprised Athens' first constitution.
So legendary were these codes that the phrase “Draconian laws” is
still used today to describe rigid, severe, harsh, cruel and/or
Many modern scholars dispute much of what Aristotle wrote regarding
Draco and his new legal code attributing some of it to later
Following a war with
the city of Megara, the aristocratic rulers were banished from
Athens. Another legislator named Solon was authorized to re-write
the laws of Athens to relieve the misery of the lower classes.
Between approximately 594 to 614 B.C., the archon or magistrate
began repealing the unnecessarily harsh penalties Draco had decreed
for trivial crimes. Although he drastically reformed the legal
system, Solon retained the death penalty as the punishment for
Solon also freed Athenians who had been enslaved due to debt and
returned their land. Although the changes were unpopular, Solon also
reformed the monetary system, weights and measures.
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