Draco was the first law scribe of ancient Athens, Greece. The laws, transcribed in 621 BC when he was archon eponymous, were particularly harsh: the death penalty was the punishment for even minor offenses. Any debtor whose status was lower than that of his creditor was forced into slavery. The punishment was more lenient for those who owed their debt to a member of a lower class. The stringency of these laws gave rise to expressions such as "draconian punishment", "draconian laws", and more generally, the far-reaching "draconian measures".
Draco was the first to codify Athenian law; contrary to popular belief, however, he was not the creator of those laws.
In 621 B.C., a man named Draco was appointed to transcribe the oral laws of the city of Athens. Possessing no official copy of the law was threatening to cause the downfall of the city. Draco’s attempt to improve the situation of the Greek polis horrified its citizens. The most popular punishment for any crime, no matter the severity, was death; and the laws did not treat all classes equally. Because of the cruelty during his time as archon, there are many terms associated with Draco’s name, such as draconian, which means excessively harsh or severe.
In Athens at the time, there was pandemonium. The trouble was coming from the law not being recorded. Finally, when it became enough of a threat, the leaders were forced to do something about it. The noblemen acted as much for their own benefit as for the poor and slaves. The lower classes were weary of being taken advantage of, and were no longer willing to accept what they were told orally by the thesmothetai (lawmakers) and judges. So the enforcers chose an archon, or scribe of the law.
Predictably, the man who was appointed to transcribe these laws was a eupatrid, or nobleman. Draco was the first to write the Athenian laws down, but he did not create all of the laws. However, it is made obvious in ancient texts that he did help suggest the punishments. Draco was a man who believed there was no greater punishment than death. The offense could be the robbing of a cabbage, and still the penalty remained the same: death.
It seemed like a relief when the death sentence was used only for criminal offenses such as theft. Yet the more civil penalty of enslavement for debt favored the higher class. The only law of Draco’s that was somewhat humane was that concerning homicide. All homicide cases could be justified or categorized, and always required a trial. This was the only concept that wasn’t changed by his successor, Solon, who had a much more compassionate persona.