Draco (lawgiver) : biography
Draco ( , Drakōn) (circa 7th century BC) was the first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court. Known for its harshness, draconian has come to refer to similarly unforgiving rules or laws.
During the 39th Olympiad, in 622 or 621 BC, Draco established the legal code with which he is identified.
Little is known about his life. He may have belonged to the Greek nobility of the Attica nabo called the pelopo, with which the 10th-century Suda text records him as contemporaneous, prior to the period of the Seven Sages of Greece. It also relates a folkloric story of his death in the Aeginetan theatre.Cobham, Ebenezer. , p. 451. In a traditional ancient Greek show of approval, his supporters "threw so many hats and shirts and cloaks on his head that he suffocated, and was buried in that same theatre".Suidas. "". Suda On Line. Adler number delta, 1495.
Council of five Hundred
Draco introduced the lot-chosen Council of five Hundred Aristotle. .—distinct from the Areopagus—which evolved in later constitutions to play a large role in Athenian democracy. Aristotle notes that Draco, while having the laws written, merely legislated for an existing unwritten Athenian constitution,Aristotle. . such as setting exact qualifications for eligibility for office.
Draco extended the franchise to all free men who could furnish themselves with a set of military equipment. They elected the Council of Four Hundred from among their number; nine Archons and the Treasurers were drawn from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas, the generals (strategoi) and commanders of cavalry (hipparchoi) from those who could show an unencumbered property of not less than a hundred minas, and had children born in lawful wedlock over ten years of age. Thus, in the event of their death, their estate could pass to a competent heir. These officers were required to hold to account the prytanes (councillors), strategoi (generals) and hipparchoi (cavalry officers) of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited. "The Council of Areopagus was guardian of the laws, and kept watch over the magistrates to see that they executed their offices in accordance with the laws. Any person who felt himself wronged might lay an information before the Council of Areopagus, on declaring what law was broken by the wrong done to him. But, as has been said before, loans were secured upon the persons of the debtors, and the land was in the hands of a few."Aristotle, Constitution, §4.
- Roisman, Joseph, and translated by J.C Yardley, Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2011) ISBN 1-4051-2776-7
The laws ( - thesmoi) he laid down were the first written constitution of Athens. So that no one would be unaware of them, they were posted on wooden tablets ( - axones), where they were preserved for almost two centuries, on steles of the shape of three-sided pyramids ( - kyrbeis). The tablets were called axones, perhaps because they could be pivoted along the pyramid's axis, to read any side.
The constitution featured several major innovations:
- Instead of oral laws known to a special class, arbitrarily applied and interpreted, all laws were written, thus made known to all literate citizens (who could make appeal to the Areopagus for injustices): "... the constitution formed under Draco, when the first code of laws was drawn up." (Aristotle: , )
- The laws distinguish between murder and involuntary homicide.
The laws, however, were particularly harsh. For example, any debtor whose status was lower than that of his creditor was forced into slavery. The punishment was more lenient for those owing debt to a member of a lower class. The death penalty was the punishment for even minor offences. Concerning the liberal use of the death penalty in the Draconic code, Plutarch states: "It was a lot for himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones."Plutarch (translation by Stewart; Long, George). . gutenberg.org.
All his laws were repealed by Solon in the early 6th century BC, with the exception of the homicide law.Aristotle, .
Law of Homicide
After much debate from the Athenians, it was decided to revise the laws, including the homicide law, in 409. The homicide law is a highly fragmented inscription, but it does state that it is up to the victim’s relatives to prosecute a killer. According to the preserved part of the inscription, unintentional homicides receive a sentence of exile, while intentional murders are punishable by death. Apart from the inscriptions very little is known about Draco’s background or the nature of most of his laws. However, the significance of his work was prevalent when most of his laws were successfully abolished by Solon.
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