Draco (lawgiver)

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Draco (pronounced /ˈdreɪkoʊ/; Greek: Δράκων, Drakōn) 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 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] He may also have been in 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).[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):

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