BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Draco's Law: 621 BC

The Greek’s had established a flourishing civilization by 621 BC, but crime was rampant and something had to be done about it.  Considering the fact that at the time, there were no laws on the books and a non-delineated form of common law[9] was all there was to fall back in criminal and civil procedures. The country had recently become an Aristocratic Republic, whatever that is, when the then existing line of monarchs was eradicated. A well-formulated written system of laws had to be created and Draco, a prominent citizen, and a man well versed in the law and highly regarded by his fellow citizens was nominated for the task.

The Greece (Athens) of that day had become more or less of an oligarchy and when things started to go ever more poorly, the people got increasingly irritated with the city-state’s lack of progress in bringing things back under control In real terms, the economy at that time just plain sucked, and the people were hanging out on street corners talking about doing insurrection and other bad things. The government felt that the people had to realize that they were going to be punished severely for even the most minimal of infractions in spite of how badly the bureaucrats were screwing up the works. . However, the situation was even a tad more complicated. Not only were the people annoyed, but in the mean time, the higher ups in the establishment thought that the only way out of this tight situation was by establishing a dictatorship, from which no one would be spared, Draco was thought to be a compromise between the left and the right.

Draco created what the people considered to be a masterpiece. He fashioned a legal system where punishments were so severe that there was little question that criminal elements would certainly have to give their evil pursuits more than a second’s thought before carrying them out. However, in spite of the harshness of Draco’s laws, when push came to shove, they were far better than had been in practice at the time. The only laws that were in common practice at the time were nefarious family vendettas and cases of extreme public vengeance. Greece during this period had become somewhat like a small western town that did not yet have a sheriff and was more or else run by the local large cattle ranchers.  

No one denied that this system of literally, vigilante law had to be replaced by something more formula driven, no one in these parts was particularly optimistic that it could be created. However, when the laws were first read at the auditorium, the people were so overjoyed with Draco’s work product that they started showering him with whatever they had available, hats and cloaks by the hundreds were thrown onto his persona[10] until he was buried under this overzealous bombardment of respects. When the pile was examined, Draco was found, expired underneath it and apparently he had died from suffocation. However, in respect for his work in taming the illegality of his day, the term Draconian was coined and its meaning today is, highly structured laws which are extremely harsh in their penalties.

While severe law had been the order of the day in early civilizations, what Draco must be remembered for was the establishment of legal procedure:

“Procedure was a concern of many early lawgivers. Draconian law included four major procedural features including: the necessity of a trial, the possibility of a pardon, which … intended to protect both parties in a homicide case from a possible fatal misunderstanding while they were negotiating a settlement of their dispute…’ (Gagarin 88), the protection of the killer, and the promise that’…due notice is to be given of a trial and…certain relatives and other will share in the prosecution’ (Gagarin 88).

Draco also set up a specific procedure that was to be followed in circumstances of pardon (Gagarin). [11]

However, Draco did have some strange ideas. In cases of adultery, a man caught “in the act” would be sodomized with a radish[12]. I am not sure way that was the object of choice but knowing Draco, I am sure that I wouldn’t want it to happen to me.



©2005 Chapman, Spira & Carson, LLC
111 Broadway. New York, NY. 10006 Tel: 212.425.6100 - Fax: 212.425.6229

Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Email