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Draco
Born c. 650 BC
Residence Athens, Greece
Known for draconian constitution

Draco (pronounced /ˈdreɪ.koʊ/; from Greek Δράκων, pronounced [ˈdra.kɔːn]) was the first legislator of ancient Athens, Greece, 7th century BC. He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court. Because of its harshness, this code also gave rise to the term "draconian".

Contents

Life

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 probably belonged to the Greek nobility of the Attick deme called the Eupatridae[citation needed], 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 theater[1]. 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 selfsame theatre"[2]. Aristotle specifies that Draco laid down his legal code in the archonship of Aristaechmus (Ἀρισταίχμος), 620 or 621 BC[3].

The Draconian constitution

The laws (θεσμοί - thesmi) 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 (άξονες - axones), where they were preserved for almost two centuries, on steles of the shape of three-sided pyramids (κύρβεις - kirvis).[citation needed] 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: Athenian Constitution, Part 5, Section 41)

The laws, however, were particularly harsh. For example, any debtor whose status was lower than that of his creditor was forced into slavery.[citation needed] 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 offenses. Concerning the liberal use of the death penalty in the Draconic code, Plutarch states:

It is said that Drakon 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.[4]
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Council of the Four Hundred

Draco introduced the lot-chosen Council of Four Hundred (in reality, 401)[5]—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,[6] 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."[7]


Draco's code was later largely revised by Solon, in the early 6th century BC, with the exception of homicide laws.[8]

"Draconian"

The stringency of his legal code gave rise to the modern English word "draconian", meaning marked by extreme severity or cruelty, especially about laws or governments.

References

  1. ^ Cobham, Ebenezer. The reader's handbook of allusions, references, plots and stories, p.451.
  2. ^ Suidas. "Δράκων", Suda On Line, Adler number delta, 1495.
  3. ^ Aristotle. The Athenian Constitution.
  4. ^ Plutarch, Life of Solon, translated by Aubrey Stewart and George Long.
  5. ^ Aristotle. The Athenian Constitution, 4.3.
  6. ^ Aristotle. Politics, 1274a.
  7. ^ Aristotle, Constitution, §4.
  8. ^ Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 7.1.

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