Draco (lawgiver)

Draco (lawgiver)
Dracon redirects here. In fiction, it may refer also to the home world of the Dracs.
Born circa 650 BC
Died unknown
Residence Athens, Ancient Greece
Occupation Legislator
Known for Draconian constitution

Draco (play /ˈdrk/; Greek: Δράκων, Drakōn) (circa 7th century BC) was the first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. 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 621 or 620 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 Attica 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 theatre.[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 same theatre".[2] Aristotle specifies that Draco laid down his legal code in the archonship of Aristaechmus (Ἀρισταίχμος) in 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 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.[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 offences. 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]

All his laws were repealed by Solon apart from the one dealing with homicide.

See also


  1. ^ Cobham, Ebenezer. The Reader's Handbook of Allusions, References, Plots and Stories, p. 451 (via Google Books).
  2. ^ Suidas. "Δράκων". Suda On Line. Adler number delta, 1495.
  3. ^ Aristotle. The Athenian Constitution.
  4. ^ Plutarch (translation by Stewart; Long, George). Life of Solon. gutenberg.org.

Further reading

External links

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