People - Ancient Greece: Draco The first legislator of ancient Athens, Greece in 7th century BC.
Draco (lawgiver) in Wikipedia
Draco (pronounced /ˈdreɪkoʊ/; 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".
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, 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. 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". Aristotle specifies that Draco laid down his legal code in the archonship of Aristaechmus (Ἀρισταίχμος) in 620 or 621 BC. He may also have been a group of priests, suggested by the name, "Draco", meaning snake. The Greeks worshiped snakes.
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). 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 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 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.
Council of the Four Hundred
Draco introduced the lot-chosen Council of Four Hundred (in reality, 401)—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, 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."
Draco's code was later largely revised by Solon, in the early 6th century BC, with the exception of homicide laws.
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.
Draco in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
（Δράκων). A very celebrated Athenian legislator, who flourished about B.C. 621. Suidas tells us that he brought forward his code of laws (θεσμοί) in this year, and that he was then an old man. Aristotle (Pol. ii.fin.) says that Draco adapted his laws to the existing constitution, and that they contained nothing particular beyond the severity of their penalties. The slightest theft was punished capitally, as well as the most atrocious murder; and Demades remarked of his laws that they were written with blood, and not with ink (Solon, 17). Draco, however, deserves credit as the first who introduced written laws at Athens; and it is probable that he improved the criminal courts by his transfer of cases of bloodshed from the archon to the ephetae, since before his time the archons had a right of settling all cases arbitrarily and without appeal—a right which they enjoyed in other cases until Solon's time. It appears that there were some offences which he did not punish with death; for instance, loss of civil rights was the punishment of attempting to alter one of his laws (Demosth. c. Aristocr. p. 714, Bekker). Draco was an archon (Pausan. ix. 36, 8), and, consequently, an Eupatrid; it is not, therefore, to be supposed that his object was to favour the lower orders, though his code seems to have tended to abridge the power of the nobles. The Athenians, it is said, could not endure the rigour of his laws, and the legislator himself was obliged to withdraw to the island of Aegina. Here he is said by Suidas to have been suffocated in the theatre beneath the number of cloaks and garments which the people of the island, according to the usual mode of expressing approbation among the Greeks, showered upon him. He was buried in the theatre.