Draconian constitution

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Draconian constitution
Carving of Draco Lawgiver in US Supreme Court library.jpg
Draco, the creator of the conceptualization and formulation of the Draconian constitution
Created c. 620 BC [1]
Author(s) Draco
Signatories Athenian aristocracy [2]
Purpose To resolve unequal accessibility to the acquirement of legal knowledge of oral law by replacing such with a written constitution[3]

The Draconian constitution, or Draco's code, was a written law code created by Draco near the end of the 7th century BC in response to the unjust interpretation and modification of oral law by Athenian aristocrats.[4] With most societies in Greece codifying basic law during the mid-seventh century BC,[5] Athenian oral law was manipulated by the aristocracy[6] until the emergence of Draco's code. Around 620 BC the people of Athens commissioned Draco to devise a written law code and constitution, giving him the title of the first legislator of Athens. The literate could read the code at a central location accessible to anyone. This enactment of a rule of law was an early manifestation of Athenian democracy.

Background[edit]

The need for written laws began with the unequal access to legal knowledge by the aristocracy and the people; the established laws of Athens were inefficiently formulated in the spoken language and often modified and re-evaluated. The aristocratic exploitation of this system began during the mid-seventh century BC, and laws were often amended to benefit the aristocracy.[7] This triggered feuds by families ignorant of the law in an attempt to obtain justice.[8]

To minimize the incidence of these feuds, the governing aristocratic families of Athens decided to abandon their concealed system of legal proposals and amendments and promulgate them to Athenian society in writing. They authorized Draco, an aristocratic legislator,[9] to construct the written constitution, and he began to write the text around 621 BC. To promulgate the new constitution, its text was inscribed on displaying device.[10] As a result, the Draconian constitution was accessible to the literate.

Under the constitution a person's freedom could be used as collateral for debt, with the possibility of slavery, but this law only applied to the poor.[11] Draco introduced the concepts of intentional and unintentional homicide,[12] with both crimes adjudicated at the Areopagus.[13] Since murder cases were tried by the state, feuds as a form of justice became illegal. The homicide laws were the only laws retained by the early-6th-century BC Solonian Constitution.[14]

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

Although the full Draconian constitution no longer exists, severe punishments were reportedly meted out to those convicted of offenses as minor as stealing an apple.[15] There may have been only one penalty, execution, for all convicted violators of the Draconian constitution[16] and the laws were said to be written in blood instead of ink.[17] These legends have become part of the English language, with the adjective "draconian" referring to harsh rules or laws.[18]

Suffrage[edit]

Hoplites were able to participate in political life;[19][20] they could vote and hold minor state official positions.[21] To hold higher positions, property was required. Hoplites with debt-free property valued at ten minas or more could serve as an eponymous archon or a Treasurer.[22] The Athenian strategoi (generals) and hipparkoi (cavalry commanders) were chosen from those holding unencumbered property worth at least 100 minas with offspring over 10 years of age who were born in wedlock.[23] Four hundred one Council members were chosen from hoplites at least 30 years of age.[24] No one could be elected by lot more than once to serve on the Council until the Council "cast the lot afresh": again included every eligible individual for the next Council when everyone had served a turn.[25] Election to political positions in Athens was based on sortition[26] except for the Areopagus, which consisted of retired archons.[27]

Council and Assembly[edit]

The Council was another concept Draco introduced to Athenian government in his constitution.[28] In Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians, the Council was vaguely characterized as a magistracy.[29] The Assembly was another Athenian magistracy which was described in detail by Aristotle.[30]

Council or Assembly members who were absent from a meeting were fined,[31] with the fines proportionate to social class. If the absent member was from the pentacosiomedimnus class, they were fined three drachmas.[32] Knights were fined two drachmas,[33] and zeugites one drachma.[34]

In Constitution of the Athenians[edit]

Setting[edit]

Aristotle's timeline of the Draconian constitution is characterized by the vague phrase "not very long after":

Such, then, is the relative chronological precedence of these offices. At that time the nine Archons did not all live together. The King occupied the building now known as the Boculium, near the Prytaneum, as may be seen from the fact that even to the present day the marriage of the King's wife to Dionysus takes place there. The Archon lived in the Prytaneum, the Polemarch in the Epilyceum. The latter building was formerly called the Polemarcheum, but after Epilycus, during his term of office as Polemarch, had rebuilt it and fitted it up, it was called the Epilyceum. The Thesmothetae occupied the Thesmotheteum. In the time of Solon, however, they all came together into the Thesmotheteum. They had power to decide cases finally on their own authority, not, as now, merely to hold a preliminary hearing. Such then was the arrangement of the magistracies. The Council of Areopagus had as its constitutionally assigned duty the protection of the laws; but in point of fact it administered the greater and most important part of the government of the state, and inflicted personal punishments and fines summarily upon all who misbehaved themselves. This was the natural consequence of the facts that the Archons were elected under qualifications of birth and wealth, and that the Areopagus was composed of those who had served as Archons; for which latter reason the membership of the Areopagus is the only office which has continued to be a life-magistracy to the present day.


Such was, in outline, the first constitution, but not very long after the events above recorded, in the archonship of Aristaichmus, Draco enacted his ordinances.

— Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians chapters 3 and 4, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon

Given the founding of Athens by Cecrops I and its first constitution in 1556 BC, its legal framework would have functioned for over 900 years before Draco codified the laws and drafted his constitution around 620 BC. Therefore, subsequently, commentators assume that the phrase "not very long after" refers instead to the more-recent Cylonian affair.

Prytanes[edit]

Aristotle's undefined use of "Prytanes" refers to a number of Athenian state positions during and after the development of the Draconian constitution:

Such was, in outline, the first constitution, but not very long after the events above recorded, in the archonship of Aristaichmus, Draco enacted his ordinances. Now his constitution had the following form. The franchise was given to all who could furnish themselves with a military equipment. The nine Archons and the Treasurers were elected by this body from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas, the less important officials from those who could furnish themselves with a military equipment, and the generals [Strategi] and commanders of the cavalry [Hipparchi] 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. These officers were required to hold to bail the Prytanes, the Strategi, and the Hipparchi of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited, taking four securities of the same class as that to which the Strategi and the Hipparchi belonged.

— Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians chapter 4, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon

"Prytanes" later referred to the fifty members of the Council, although their only other appearance in the context of the Draconian constitution was in Herodotus' account of the Cylonian affair (where the "Prytanes of Naucrari" are mentioned). This may have occurred due to Herodotus' (a Dorian) habit of referring to the first magistrates of Dorian cities as "Prytanes of Naucrari" and confalting them with the first magistrates of Athens (the Archons). Thucydides' more-detailed version also refers to Herodotus' "Prytanes of Naucrari." "Those," he wrote, "to whom the people had confided the keeping of the citadel, seeing the partisans of Cylon perish at the feet of the statue of Minerva, caused them to go out of the citadel, promising them that no harm would be done to them." As Thucydides had mentioned in his account of the Cylonian affair, the nine Archons were the people entrusted with the citadel.[35]

Relationships among Athenian officials[edit]

A relationship between current officials and the Prytanes, strategoi and hipparkoi of the preceding year concerning financial securities is a controversial texts in the Oxford Classical Text edition of Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon:

These officers were required to hold to bail the Prytanes, the Strategi, and the Hipparchi of the preceding year until their accounts had been audited, taking four securities of the same class as that to which the Strategi and the Hipparchi belonged.

— Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, chapter 4 (Kenyon translation)

Gender of Council members[edit]

A grammatical contradiction exists in the Oxford Classical Texts edition of Frederic G. Kenyon's translation of Constitution of the Athenians concerning the gender of the Council members. This quote is not gender-specific:

There was also to be a Council, consisting of four hundred and one members, elected by lot from among those who possessed the franchise.

— Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, chapter 4 (Kenyon translation)

However, the following quote refers to the Council members as male:

Both for this and for the other magistracies the lot was cast among those who were over thirty years of age; and no one might hold office twice until every one else had had his turn, after which they were to cast the lot afresh.

— Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, chapter 4 (Kenyon translation)

Due to the contradiction in gender, it is uncertain if Draco's Council was segregated by sex.

Draco's position[edit]

Until the discovery of Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians, Draco was not considered a political reformer. Although the Draconian constitution is not mentioned by contemporary historians, his position as a political and constitutional reformer and a lawgiver was emphasized by Aristotle (despite the repeal of most of his laws, except those governing homicide).

Reference list[edit]

  1. ^ "Around 620 BC Draco, the lawgiver, wrote the first known written law of Ancient Greece." - [1], "Early Laws"
  2. ^ "Such was, in outline, the first constitution, but not very long after the events above recorded, in the archonship of Aristaichmus, Draco enacted his ordinances." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, "Part 4"
  3. ^ The result of the institution of the Draconian constitution resulted as such, becoming its essential, consequential purpose of existence and incorporation: "The rulers decided that all the cruel laws they had passed whenever the impulse seized them should be arranged in a single plainly stated system; thus, at least, the nobles could no longer twist the laws as they willed; and a poor man might know what the law really was, and so avoid breaking it unconsciously." - http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/The_Story_of_the_Greatest_Nations_and_the_Worlds_Famous_Events_Vol_1/whatisd_bei.html, an excerpt of The Story of the Greatest Nations and the World's Famous Events by Edward S. Ellis and Charles F. Home, PhD
  4. ^ "...the nobles could no longer twist the laws as they willed..." - http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/The_Story_of_the_Greatest_Nations_and_the_Worlds_Famous_Events_Vol_1/whatisd_bei.html, an excerpt of The Story of the Greatest Nations and the World's Famous Events by Edward S. Ellis and Charles F. Home, PhD
  5. ^ "It was not until the middle of the seventh century BC that the Greeks first began to establish official laws." - http://chars.lin.oakland.edu/lin109/Handouts/Greek/greeklaw.html, "Early Laws"
  6. ^ "Not only do the aristocratic families of Attica hold nearly all political power..." - http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=ac45 (The text is set in context during the time of aristocracy of the state of Athens before the establishment of the Draconian constitution, so before circa 620 BC)
  7. ^ "The distinctive privilege which the nobles had always enjoyed was the exclusive knowledge and administration of the laws. They were, then, open to the charge of exercising this privilege in their own favor." - Athenian Political Commissions by Frederick Danesbury Smith
  8. ^ "Murders were settled by members of the victim's family, who would then go and kill the murderer. This often began endless blood feuds." - http://chars.lin.oakland.edu/lin109/Handouts/Greek/greeklaw.html
  9. ^ "He was elected as one of the nine archons, but was not the archon eponymous." - Athenian Political Commissions, page 12, by Frederick Danesbury Smith
  10. ^ "'Axones' and 'kyrbeis' are names given to structures that contained the law codes of Draco and Solon in ancient Athens during the Archaic Age." - http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/greekterms/g/Axones.htm; These two terms are debated in specificity to their materialistic structure and functionality. The following quote describes both terms: "Robertson says [describes such information in Solon's Axones and Kyrbeis, and the Sixth-Century Background (Figs. 1-2), Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, (2nd Qtr., 1986), pp. 147-176] axones and kyrbeis were not names for the same thing: the axones were revolving wooden beams, while kyrbeis were standing pillars in the Royal Stoa." - http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/greekterms/g/Axones.htm; The following describes the term "axone" particularly: "These beams were called axones, a word meaning 'axles,' because the ends of each beam were pivoted and placed within a frame in such a way that they could be rotated." - James Sickinger, Literacy, Documents, and Archives in the Ancient Athenian Democracy, The American Archivist, (Fall, 1999), pp. 229-246
  11. ^ "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." - http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/greecehellas1/a/cylonanddraco_3.htm
  12. ^ "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.'" - http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/greecehellas1/a/cylonanddraco_3.htm
  13. ^ "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." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  14. ^ "We know nothing about what Drakon's [Draco's] nomoi were. Solon repealed all of the nomoi of Drakon except for one about Homicide, and the Athenians quickly forgot them." - Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens, Page 25 by Bernard Randall
  15. ^ "The Draconian laws were most noteworthy for their harshness..." - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/170684/Draconian-laws
  16. ^ "Athenians later said that Drakon [Draco] gave the death penalty for most crimes, even for stealing fruit." - Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens, Page 25 by Bernard Randall
  17. ^ "...they were said to be written in blood, rather than ink." - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/170684/Draconian-laws
  18. ^ "The English word 'draconian,' meaning very harsh, comes from his [Draco's] name." - Solon: The Lawmaker of Athens, Page 25 by Bernard Randall
  19. ^ "The franchise was given to all who could furnish themselves with a military equipment." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  20. ^ "According to Aristotle’s description of these laws, the new Constitution gave political rights to those Athenians 'who bore arms,' in other words, those Athenians wealthy enough to afford the bronze armor and weapons of a hoplite." - http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_democracy_development?page=3&greekEncoding=UnicodeC
  21. ^ "...the less important officials from those who could furnish themselves with a military equipment..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  22. ^ "The nine Archons and the Treasurers were elected by this body from persons possessing an unencumbered property of not less than ten minas..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  23. ^ "...and the generals [Strategi] and commanders of the cavalry [Hipparchi] 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." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  24. ^ "Both for this [the Council] and for the other magistracies the lot was cast among those who were over thirty years of age..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  25. ^ "...and no one might hold office twice until every one else had had his turn, after which they were to cast the lot afresh." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  26. ^ "Both for this and for the other magistracies the lot was cast..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 3 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  27. ^ "...and that the Areopagus was composed of those who had served as Archons; for which latter reason the membership of the Areopagus is the only office which has continued to be a life-magistracy to the present day. " - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 3 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  28. ^ "There was also to be a Council, consisting of four hundred and one members, elected by lot from among those who possessed the franchise." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 3 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  29. ^ "Both for this [the Council] and for the other magistracies the lot was cast among those who were over thirty years of age;" - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  30. ^ The mere mention of description of the Assembly is contributed towards a statement outlining the penalization of dismissing a sitting of the Council or the Assembly: "If any member of the Council failed to attend when there was a sitting of the Council or of the Assembly, he paid a fine..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  31. ^ "If any member of the Council failed to attend when there was a sitting of the Council or of the Assembly, he paid a fine..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  32. ^ "...he [absent Council or Assembly member] paid a fine, to the amount of three drachmas if he was a Pentacosiomedimnus" - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  33. ^ "...two [two drachmas] if he [absent Council or Assembly member] was a Knight..." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  34. ^ "...and One [one drachma] if he [absent Council or Assembly member] was a Zeugites" - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Part 4 by Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)
  35. ^ "Each tribe was divided into three Trittyes [=Thirds], with twelve Naucraries in each; and the Naucraries had officers of their own, called Naucrari, whose duty it was to superintend the current receipts and expenditure." - http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html, Constitution of the Athenians, Aristotle, Frederic G. Kenyon (translator)