ca. 600s B.C.

Athenian lawgiver

Draco was an Athenian lawgiver who drew up the city-state’s* first written code of law in about 620 B.C. Before this time, judges— who belonged to the highest social class—were the only people who knew the laws of Athens. Punishment for the same crime might vary greatly. When the common people objected to these various applications of the laws, Draco established one single written list of laws.

The punishment for breaking Draco’s laws was very severe. Death was the penalty for most crimes. One ancient Greek writer claimed that Draco must have written them in blood instead of ink. When asked why he demanded death as the penalty for most offenses (including idleness), Draco answered that small offenses deserved death and he knew of no worse punishment for larger ones. The Athenian statesmen Solon later repealed till of Draco’s laws except those dealing with murder. Draco’s name is best remembered today as the origin of the adjective draconian, which means severe.

Since details of his laws other than for murder are unknown, some scholars doubt that Draco ever existed. The laws concerning murder, however, did serve to strengthen Athens as a political unit. For the first time, murder cases had to be submitted for public trial, ending much feuding and bloodshed. (See also Law, Greek.)

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

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