NationalityAthens, Ancient Greece
Known forDraconian constitution

Draco (/ˈdrk/; Greek: Δράκων, Drakōn; fl. c. 625-600 BC), also called Drako or Drakon, was the first recorded legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by the Draconian constitution, a written code to be enforced only by a court of law.

His name may be a metaphor (δράκων literally means "sharp-sighted"),[1] not the name of an actual person, since there are reasons to believe that he is also a fiction, entirely or in part. This is supported by the lack of a patronymic and any biographical information.[2]

Since the 19th century, the adjective draconian (Greek: δρακόντειος drakónteios) refers to similarly unforgiving rules or laws, in Greek, English, and other European languages.


During the 39th Olympiad, in 622 or 621 BC, Draco established the legal code with which he is identified.[3]

Little is known about Draco’s life. He may have belonged to the Greek nobility of Attica prior to the period of the Seven Sages of Greece, as per the 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia, the Suda. The Suda chronicles a folkloric story of his death in the Aeginetan theatre:[4] 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".[5] The truth about his death is still unclear, but it is known that Draco was driven out of Athens by the Athenians to the neighbouring island of Aegina, where he spent the remainder of his life.[6]

Draconian constitution

Main article: Draconian constitution

The laws (θεσμοίthesmoi) that he laid were the first written constitution of Athens. So that no one would be unaware of them, they were posted on wooden tablets (ἄξονεςaxones), where they were preserved for almost two centuries on steles of the shape of four-sided pyramids (κύρβειςkyrbeis).[7] The tablets were called axones, perhaps because they could be pivoted along the pyramid's axis to read any side.[8][9]

The constitution featured several major innovations:

The laws were particularly harsh. For example, any debtor whose status was lower than that of his creditor was forced into slavery.[11] The punishment was more lenient for those owing a debt to a member of a lower class. The death penalty was the punishment for even minor offences, such as stealing a cabbage.[12] 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.[13]

All Draco's laws were repealed by Solon in the early 6th century BC, with the exception of the homicide law.[14]

Homicide law

After much debate, the Athenians decided to revise the laws, including the homicide law, in 409 BC. The homicide law is a highly fragmented inscription, but states that it is up to the victim's relatives to prosecute a killer.[15]

According to the preserved part of the inscription, unintentional homicides received a sentence of exile. It is not clear whether Draco's law specified the punishment for intentional homicide. In 409 BC, intentional homicide was punished by death, but Draco's law begins: "καὶ ἐὰμ μὲ ‘κ [π]ρονοί[α]ς [κ]τ[ένει τίς τινα, φεύγ]ε[ν]." Although ambiguous and difficult to translate, one suggested translation is: "Even if a man not intentionally kills another, he is exiled."[16]

Council of Four Hundred

Draco introduced the lot-chosen Council of Four Hundred,[17] distinct from the Areopagus, which evolved in later constitutions to play a large role in Athenian democracy. Aristotle notes that Draco, while having the laws written, merely legislated for an existing unwritten Athenian constitution[18] such as setting exact qualifications for eligibility for office.

According to Aristotle, Draco extended the franchise to all free men who could furnish themselves with a set of military equipment. However, this claim is not based on the authentic tradition, thus untrue as claimed by Welwei in 1998.[19] They elected the Council of Four Hundred from among their number; nine archons and the treasurers were drawn from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas, the generals (strategoi) and commanders of cavalry (hipparchoi) from those who could show an unencumbered property of not less than a hundred minas and had children born in lawful wedlock over ten years of age. Thus, in the event of their death, their estate could pass to a competent heir. These officers were required to hold to account the prytanes (councillors), strategoi (generals) and hipparchoi (cavalry officers) of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited. "The Council of Areopagus was guardian of the laws, and kept watch over the magistrates to see that they executed their offices in accordance with the laws. Any person who felt himself wronged might lay an information before the Council of Areopagus, on declaring what law was broken by the wrong done to him. But, as has been said before, loans were secured upon the persons of the debtors, and the land was in the hands of a few."[20]

See also


  1. ^ "Guns, herbs, and sores: Inside the dragon's etymological lair". 25 April 2015.
  2. ^ In Search of Drakon by Chris Carey: ...the single authoritative lawgiver is a stereotype which owed more to Greek ways of constructing the past, including seminal legislators, than to any actual evidence available.
  3. ^ Wright, John Henry (1893). "The Date of Cylon: A Study in Early Athenian History". Ancient Greece: Pamphlet vol. p. 4.
  4. ^ Cobham, Ebenezer. The Reader's Handbook of Allusions, References, Plots and Stories, p. 451.
  5. ^ Suidas. "Δράκων Archived 2015-11-03 at the Wayback Machine". Suda On Line. Adler number delta, 1495.
  6. ^ Guerber, H. A; Larkins, Joe (2011). The Story of the Greeks. Andrews UK Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84989-348-0. OCLC 714568684.[page needed]
  7. ^ Holland, Leicester B. (1941). "Axones". American Journal of Archaeology. 45 (3): 346–362. doi:10.2307/499024. JSTOR 499024. S2CID 245265199.
  8. ^ Harris, Edward M. (2012). "Axones". In Bagnall, Roger S.; Brodersen, Kai; Champion, Craige B.; Erskine, Andrew; Huebner, Sabine R. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. John Wiley & Sons.
  9. ^ Davis, Gil (2011). "Axones and Kurbeis: A New Answer to an Old Problem". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 60 (1): 1–35. doi:10.25162/historia-2011-0001. ISSN 0018-2311. JSTOR 29777246. S2CID 166210547.
  10. ^ Andrewes, A. (1970). "The Growth of the Athenian State". In Boardman, John; Hammond, N. G. L (eds.). The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III, Part 3: The Expansion of the Greek World, Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C. p. 371. ISBN 0-521-23447-6.
  11. ^ Morris Silver. Economic Structures of Antiquity. Ed. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 9780313293801. P. 117
  12. ^ J. David Hirschel, William O. Wakefield. Criminal Justice in England and the United States. Ed. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 9780275941338. p.160.
  13. ^ Plutarch (translation by Stewart; Long, George). He also wrote: "Draco's code was written not in ink but in blood."Life of Solon, XVII. gutenberg.org.
  14. ^ Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 7.1.
  15. ^ Volonaki, Eleni (2000). ""Apagoge" in Homicide Cases" (PDF). Dike. 3: 147. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2006-05-07.
  16. ^ Gagarin, Michael (1981). Drakon and early Athenian homicide law. New York: Yale U.P. ISBN 0300026277.
  17. ^ Aristotle. The Athenian Constitution, 4.3.
  18. ^ Aristotle. Politics, 1274a.
  19. ^ Welwei, Die Griechische Polis, S. 157
  20. ^ Aristotle, Constitution, §4.

Further reading