Draconian Justice

   Draco, an Athenian, was an archon, or chief magistrate, who, in the seventh century B.C., drew up a code of laws—the first in writing— noted for its severity. Previously justice was determined by the elders or by blood feuds. But Draco's code was so extreme, so severe, that it punished with death almost every offense known to Athenians, even such slight offenses as laziness, petty thefts, and urinating in public. Demads, an orator who lived three centuries later, said the code was "written, not in ink, but in blood."
   According to tradition, Draco was once asked why he punished such petty crimes with death. He replied, "The smallest of them deserve death, and there is no greater punishment I can find for the greater crimes."
   In 594 B.C., Solon, then archon, repealed the Draconian code, but the laws pertaining to homicides were retained. Although Draco's statutes have long since been discountenanced, even those concerned with homicide crimes, his code was a step toward codified justice. Draco moved to Aegina, where he introduced a similar code. It is said that he was smothered to death accidentally by the warm gestures of the people who threw garments on him to express their admiration. That was one homicide Draco had never considered for severe punishment.
   Draconian laws refer to any code that is severe and sanguinary; draconian remains a synonym for "rigorous and harsh" and is used to describe repressive legal measures.

Dictionary of eponyms. . 2013.

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