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Draco was the legendary first lawgiver of Athens. His law code was noted for his severity; the English
word "draconian" derives from his name. The Athenian statesman Solon replaced many of his laws in the
following generation, but laterAthenians credited him with writing their laws on homicide.
We know almost nothing about Draco (sometimes given as Dracon) except that he lived during the
seventh centuryBCE. Most historians believe him to be at least partially legendary. Many of the cities of
ancient Greece attributed their legal systems to the genius of legendary individuals: the Spartans, for
example, believed a man named Lycurgus created their laws; and the Athenians believe that all of their
laws were written by Draco and Solon. Available sources of information on seventh-century Athens are so
scant that scholars must rely on surviving inscriptions of later law codes and the work of later historians
from the ancient world, such as Herodotus and Aristotle, who had access to sources that are now lost.
The one date known from Draco's life is 621 or 620 BCE, the year of Aristachmus' archonship. That is the
year in which Athenian laws were supposedly first put into writing. That first legal system appears to have
dealt primarily with specifying punishments for particular crimes. The punishments were notoriously
severe; Plutarch quotes the fourth-century-BCE Athenian orator Demades as saying that Draco's laws
weren't written in ink, but in blood. Another story states that when Draco was asked why his punishments
were so harsh, he replied that death was the appropriate punishment for the lesser offenses, and he
couldn't think of anything better for worse crimes. Aristotle reports that Draco also established
a constitution for Athens that was based on the citizenship of hoplites—foot soldiers—but knowledge of
that is limited. Some modern scholars think that this so-called "hoplite constitution" was invented by fifthcenturyoligarchists as propaganda.
Tradition has it that in ca. 594 or 593 BCE, Solon replaced many of Draco's laws except for those dealing
with homicide. Later Athenians believed that their law codes were drawn up by those two men.
Inscriptions and surviving excerpts from court cases of the fifth and fourth centuries often mention Solon
and Draco. While it is possible that these two men did have an important role in shaping the legal system,
it is likely that other individuals and governing bodies, such as the Athenian Assembly, had some impact
on the laws over the years.
Putting aside the question of whether or not Draco existed, historians and legal scholars have been able
to make some guesses about the changes "Draco's laws" made on the legal system. After studying a
surviving inscription that presents some of the Athenian law code for involuntary homicide, some scholars
think that Draco and possibly Solon introduced the concept of intent into homicide law. In addition,
previous cases of murder would most likely have been dealt with by families, who either exacted revenge
or demanded reparations. Under Draco's laws, the council of the Areopagus, a very old Athenian
institution, had jurisdiction over homicide.
Further Reading
Martin, Thomas R., Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times, 2000; Plutarch, The Rise and
Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, trans. by Ian Scott-Kilvert, 1960; Sealey, Raphael, A History of the
Greek City States, ca. 700-338 B.C., 1976.
MLA Citation
"Draco." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.
View all citation styles.