CLIO 7 (1) - page 53

stringent retribution to petty crimes, Draco said
that ‘he considered these lesser crimes to deserve
it, and he had no greater punishment for more
important ones’. As well as establishing his zero-tol-
erance attitude to crime, his laws set a precedent
crucial in the legal codes of today – the distinction
between murder and manslaughter has been widely
attributed to him.
The ruthless nature of his legislation has been
foregrounded in the way we see Draco; in the
twenty-first century, his name is synonymous with
a boiled-down version of the ideas behind his pun-
ishments. However, he also played a vital role in the
history of the legal system, leaving behind a tradi-
tion somewhat more unseen, yet no less prevalent.
While history may have committed Draco
to characterisation as a harsh tyrant, who imposed
ruthless and unfair laws, ostensibly for the benefit
of the upper classes, on a suffering populace, his
legacy also boasts laying the foundations for the
democracy enjoyed by so many western societies
today. He introduced a council comprised of four
hundred lot-chosen free men that wielded power
within the city-state; this formed a crucial blueprint
for future iterations of democracy in Athens. On
top of this, he allowed them to progress socially by
replacing the chaotic unreliability and inconsistency
of the oral law prevalent in Athens with a system of
ordered, standard punishments for all crimes. This
provided people with confidence in the fact that
justice, however harsh, was being meted out with
an even hand by their government – the laws, with
all the punishments for crimes outlined in detail,
were written out in full for all (albeit all those liter-
ate) to see.
Historical debate draws on the question of
Draco’s popularity in Ancient Athens, with some
historians adamant that the populace that had
petitioned him to frame their legislation had been
blindsided by the severity of the punishments
they received. Thus, they subsequently chafed
under the oppression of the new laws until Solon
replaced them in around 600 BC. Others argue he
was a well-respected and even well liked leader
and legislator, who earned the respect of those he
governed. The legends surrounding his death would
support this idea – it is said that while attending a
theatre, in a traditional show of approval his sup-
porters threw their hats and cloaks onto him, but
unlucky Draco had ‘so many hats and shirts and
cloaks [thrown] on his head that he suffocated, and
was buried in that selfsame theatre’. If there is truth
to this tale it is certainly fitting – the idea of a man,
whose main achievement had been imposing arbi-
trary punishments that often ended in death, falling
victim to an attempt to show him love and appre-
ciation that resulted in his death, has a profound
irony about it.
Thus, in spite of his enduring contribution
to modern culture, giving name to an epithet for
oppressive legal codes and systems, Draco is also
honoured for paving the way for the progressive
and beneficial systems of justice and government
in the modern world. This strange double-legacy
is comprised of two opposing concepts – the well-
known epitome of unfair penalty and mismatched
crimes and punishments, traces its inheritance to
the same person who laid foundation for democra-
cy and law in the form they take today. Therefore, it
can be argued that despite his laws on crime unfair-
ly punishing lower classes in Athenian society, due
to the headway he helped to make in the creation
of order out of chaos in the judiciary, the alignment
of Draco wholly with the severity which the epithet
‘Draconian’ entails would be a gross oversimplifica-
tion of his role in the progression of society in both
Athens and, in the long term, the contemporary
world. Taking this into account, it seems equitable
to honour Draco, particularly in the Supreme Court
of America, in order to establish and uphold links
between his achievements in the past and the aims
of our modern systems of justice.
Luca Ferraro 11D
“In the first place, then, he repealed
the laws of Draco, all except those
concerning homicide because they
were too severe and their penalties
too heavy...Therefore Demades,
in later times, made a hit when he
said that Draco's laws were written
not with ink, but blood.”
- Plutarch, Solon
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