Draco was so draconian

It's not everyone who gets their name turned into a word which survives for more than 2,600 years. It takes a special sort of person.

The first person to codify the laws of Athens was Draco, who in the generation before Solon, some time around 620BC, was asked to bring together all the traditional laws of Athens to a consistent standard.

Judgements up to that time had been relatively arbitrary (which is why Draco was asked to standardise), so Draco had a wide range of precedents from which to prescribe penalties. He consistently chose the most...draconian.

Someone asked Draco why the penalty for even the slightest crime, even stealing a cabbage, was death. "Small crimes deserve death," he replied, "And I have no greater punishment for the larger crimes."

"Those laws were written not with ink, but in blood," the orator Demades said 300 years later. Demades would probably be forgotten today if he hadn't uttered those immortal words. What is less known about Demades is he was speaking in approval.

One of the first things Solon did when he was asked to write his constitution in 590 was to remove all of Draco's laws except for the homicide law. Which did not stop Athenians from quoting Draco in court when it suited them. There was one case in the 4th century BC in which a defendant for murder used Draco's view on adultery as part of his defense.

Draco was however revolutionary in one way: he introduced the concept of intent to commit a crime, in this instance murder. Draco said homicide could be by intent, or by accident or in self-defense, which today we would call manslaughter. The concept of intent lives today in the legal requirement to prove mens rea, the intent to commit the crime with which you are charged.

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