Draco’s Policies were Draconian

Have you every wondered why we call a harsh policy “draconian”? This is one of those words which comes from the name of a famous person.

Draco or Dracon was a Athenian politician. He was one of those who worked to codify pre-existing Athenian traditional law. His work appeared around 621 B.C.E.
Though most of the text of his law code is lost, the small remaining section, on involuntary homicide, together with that which Aristotle and Plutarch wrote about it suggest that the death penalty was prescribed for even minor offenses. When Dracon was asked why he thought it necessary to punish minor offenses with death, he said: “We need the death penalty to prevent small crimes, and for bigger ones I can’t think of any greater punishment.” The Draconian Code was considerably moderated by Solon who was an archon in 594 B.C.E., preserving the death penalty only for murder and manslaughter. The Draconian Code is historically notworthy because it established the principle that murder is to be avenged by the state instead of by the relatives of the victim.

Draco was widely admired by his fellow citizens. He is said to have died at a reception in his honor. When he appeared, he admires showered him with their hats and coats, as was the custom. So many did they throw that he was smothered and died.

From Draco’s name is derived the adjective draconian. This word has a strongly negative connotation, being used to describe any unusually harsh legislation or other stern measures lacking in mercy.

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