Three Famous Dracos: The Lawgiver

This guy definitely lived up to his name. He was a hard man. Granted, he had to be. At a time when Athens needed order, he brought it. It came with a lot of death, though, which Plutarch laid out in his writings about Solon. Execution was the punishment for most crimes, even minor ones such as petty theft or idleness (my only guess is that, by idleness, Plutarch referred to loitering). In a lot of ways, he was the Greek Hammurabi, except for the fact that he was eventually exiled.

According to Plutarch, the severity of the laws stemmed from the fact that Draco felt the petty crimes were deserving of death and, as for the major offenses, he couldn’t think of anything worse than death.

For all that his laws were harsh, they did take great strides toward ending the oppression of the lower classes by aristocrats. Of course, it was far from perfect: if you owed money to somebody of a higher social class, you could wind up in slavery. Still, Draco’s laws provided a strong foundation for the Greek democracy and a beginning for greater equality.

A bit like Hammurabi’s code, Draco’s code of law was engraved on steles (now mostly lost). This would have allowed all literate residents to access the law in a way that many cultures didn’t have. Furthermore, he did distinguish between types of crime—most notably murder versus manslaughter. These laws were some of the few (if not the only) to be kept in place by his successors. His successors’ law codes were rife with other problems, but no one was as harsh as Draco. It put me half in mind of dystopian literature. It’s difficult in many ways for me to imagine life in ancient Athens under Draco, but, then, I’m sure they knew what was meant by “idleness,” so hopefully the law was a little less ambiguous to them.

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