Draco Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Athenian statesman and lawgiver{$I[g]Greece;Draco} Draco produced the first written codification of law for the ancient city-state of Athens. His effort is remembered primarily for the harshness of its penalties and for its differentiation among various homicidal acts. Draco was the first to assert that the state should be responsible for the punishment of homicide.

Early Life

Little is known about Draco (DRAY-koh) the individual. He is clearly an example of a man who was made a leader by the context of the historical moment in which he found himself. It is important to understand, therefore, what was happening in ancient Greece just prior to Draco’s arrival on the historical scene.

Justice has not always been dispensed by judges operating under a written or common law equally applicable to all. In early Athens, justice was not a matter of applying a written standard to any situation or dispute. There were no explicitly written sentencing guides or judicial precedents on which to call. Rather, the victims themselves were responsible for exacting retribution or compensation for any crime. If the victim was dead, the family was left to take revenge or seek compensation. These blood feuds could last for generations as families sought to avenge a loss, rarely admitting fault and always seeking absolution.

As time wore on, groups of citizens came together to consider en masse how to prevent transgressions or punish criminals from other areas and thus avoid protracted wars based on blood feuds. Popular assemblies were called for this purpose in instances where the action affected the community as a whole. Over the years, leaders within the aristocracy of Athens began issuing the rulings. This system was not without its problems, as these “chiefs” were often the recipients of bribes.

Ten years before Draco would be called on to serve his fellow Athenians, Cylon, a member of a noble Athenian family, married the daughter of Theagenes. Theagenes was the tyrant of Megara, and his power soon infected his son-in-law. With his help, Cylon attempted to make himself the ruler of Athens. He plotted to seize the Acropolis on the greatest festival day of Zeus, as he had been instructed by the oracle at Delphi. His first effort failed. A second attempt, aided by select young nobles and members of the Megarian military, was successful. However, Cylon quickly lost any sympathy he might have mustered when the Athenian people witnessed the taking of the Acropolis by these foreigners.

After being blockaded in the citadel, Cylon escaped with his brother, and the remaining conspirators were forced to seek shelter in the temple of Athena Polias. In exchange for their surrender, these conspirators were promised that their lives would be spared. For whatever reason, Megacles, who was in charge at the time, betrayed the promises and ordered the conspirators killed. In line with beliefs surrounding the act of murder and in the tradition of blood feuds, Athenians deemed this act a great pollution to their city. Those who killed the surrendering conspirators were ordered into exile, and their property was confiscated.

As a result of these actions and the ensuing war with Megara, conditions for the lower economic classes deteriorated over the next ten years. In the context of an increasingly complex society, the people began to call...

(The entire section is 1399 words.)