1. Education

Draco Gave Laws to Athens

Draco Is Remembered as an Excessively Harsh Law-Giver



Dates: 7th Century
Citizenship: Attic/Athenian
Occupation:Law Codifier

The People Get Fed Up

The privileged eupatrid (aristocratic) few in Athens had been making all the decisions for long enough. By 621 B.C. the rest of the people of Athens were no longer willing to accept arbitrary, oral rules of the eupatrid thesmothetai 'those who lay down the law' and judges. Draco was appointed to write down the laws. Athens may have been a late-comer to the written law code since it may already have been done elsewhere in the Hellenic world.

Problems Introduced by the Law Code of Draco

Whether or not it was intentional, when Draco codified the laws, it brought to public attention Athens' outrageous and archaic penalties. Part of the excess was Draco himself.

The story goes that when asked about the harshness of his punishments, Draco said the death penalty was appropriate for stealing even so much as a cabbage. If there had been a worse penalty than death, Draco would gladly have applied it to greater crimes.

As a result of Draco's strict, unforgiving code, the adjective based on the name Draco -- draconian -- refers to penalties considered excessively severe.

"And Draco himself, they say, being asked why he made death the penalty for most offences, replied that in his opinion the lesser ones deserved it, and for the greater ones no heavier penalty could be found."
Plutarch Life of Solon

Slavery For Debt

Through the laws of Draco, those in debt could be made slaves -- but only if they were members of the lower class. This means members of a genos (the gennetai) could not be sold as slaves, yet their hangers-on (orgeones) could.


Another result of the codification of laws by Draco -- and the only part that remained part of the legal code -- was the introduction of the concept of "intention to murder." Murder could be manslaughter (either justifiable or accidental) or intentional homicide. With the new law code, Athens, as a city-state, would intervene in what were formerly family matters of blood-feuds.

Previous Page: Cylon

1, 2, 3, Greek Terms

Features on Democracy in Ancient Greece and the Rise of Democracy


Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, by Donald Kagan

The Greek City States: A Sourcebook, by P.J. Rhodes

The Rise of the Greeks, by Michael Grant

History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, by J. B. Bury




Thomas Martin Overview of the History of Ancient Greece

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.