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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2 comments


  1. Regina O'Rourke

    Okay Draco was not killed because he was smothered in coats, he got driven out of the city lol where did you get this information

    • Draco was driven out of Athens to the island of Aegina where he spent the rest of his life. The story of his death in the Aegean theater comes from Suidas’ lexicon. The entry for “Draco” reads:

      An Athenian lawgiver. This man [crossed] to Aegina for lawgiving purposes and was being honoured by the Aeginetans in the theatre, but they threw so many hats and shirts and cloaks on his head that he suffocated, and was buried in that selfsame theatre. He lived in the time of the Seven Sages, or rather was even older than them; at any rate he laid down the laws for the Athenians in the 39th Olympiad, as an old man. He wrote Instructions in three thousand verses.

      So this really is the story told of Draco’s death. Whether it is truth or legend is a different question. Suidas lived long after Draco and if he had a source for this information, it has not survived.

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