Draco was asked by the leading citizens of Athens to write a set of laws to quell the rebellion constantly disrupting the city of Athens. He and his laws appear on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History in 620 BC, which is when his laws were written.
The ancient city of Athens was ruled by the land holding members of its society. They were known as the Alcmaeonides, and they created the legal system that would dictate how their society would operate. The laws that have been established by this class were passed down through oral tradition. Since the lower class citizens were not privileged to sit in on the Alcmaenides council meetings they often did not know they were breaking the laws. Since many of the lower class citizens were being punished for laws that they did not know existed or that they didn’t understand many of them began to rebel. Athenian society experienced a lot of civil unrest around 600 BC. This situation lasted for many years. The privileged Alcmaeonides were also about to be taken from their positions. So they designated one of their council members named Draco to establish a set of written laws that could be used to inform the lower classes of people about the law.
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Draco’s personal life is a mystery and no one is certain about the details of his existence before he wrote the new set of laws. What history does reveal to us about Draco is that he had written the first constitution of the Athenian people. He had the laws etched on wooden tablets and 3 sided pyramids. These posts were hung and positioned at various places within Athenian society so that the common man could read them and not remain ignorant of the law.
Before this point, the ruling citizens of Athens created laws that were designed to give them power. They would sometimes come up with laws that severely punished the lower class people and they made laws that allowed them to escape punishment when they performed some illegal activity. Draco didn’t do away with favoring the rich over the poor when it came to the law but he did make the punishments for criminal offenses extremely severe for all members of society.
Draco wrote laws where lower class citizens had to go into slavery when they owed upper class citizens a debt. He made upper class citizens pay a fine if they owed a debt to the lower class citizen. Athenian citizens could also lose their lives for minor offenses such as stealing regardless of what was stolen. His laws pertaining to murder were considered extreme and harsh. This law stated that murder victim’s family had the right to avenge their death or to prosecute the murderer. People who committed accidental homicide had to be exiled from Athens. As a matter of fact Draco usually assigned death to almost any type of crime that a person could commit. Many people in ancient Athens were terrified by Draco’s laws because death was usually the punishment for most offenses. People still broke the law but the amount of crime did decline while Draco was in charge.
Draco also helped to form the institution of democracy. He set up rules and laws for electing council members and citizens to public posts. Many of the ruling class citizens of Athens were required to possess a certain amount of land. His laws also helped to keep land in the control of just a few of Athens citizens. Draco’s laws were Athens first written constitution and they are still considered some of the harshest laws ever created by man. The term “Draconian” is used in modern times to denote an extremely harsh set of punishments for minor offenses.
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