why are harsh laws


Draco, for those of us who don’t know was the first recorded Greek lawgiver. As you maybe aware, the Greeks had a number of lawgivers such as Solon whose laws replaced some of those instituted by Draco. Another lawgiver was Lycurgus among others.

Now back to Draco.

He was concerned with curbing the excesses of the ruling aristocracy, and firmly establish the rule of law over the will of powerful families.

For all his harsh laws, it is agreed that his laws recognized the sanctity of the family and family life. His homicide law stipulated that

No matter how powerful or influential a person was, he still did not have the right to enter someone’s house and seduce or force the women under this man’s authority, for the law provided the most efficient deterrent: self-help. The wronged man would not need to seek justice elsewhere; he could avenge his injured honor there and then. So, it seems that from early times the Athenian state made a firm commitment to protect the family and all individuals in it.

I think laws under no-tress pass all derive from this law.

From wikipedia, Plutarch says of Drako

“It is said that Drakon himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones”


Here was a statesman whose stature measures to that of Solon, Themistocles, Lycurgus among others who was sentenced to death by his countrymen because he was too good for them! Plutarch writes

Phocion and he may be well compared together, not for any mere general resemblances, as though we should say both were good men and great statesmen. For, assuredly, there is difference enough among virtues of the same denomination, as between the bravery of Alcibiades and that of Epaminondas, the prudence of Themistocles and that of Aristides, the justice of Numa and that of Agesilaus. But these men’s virtue, even looking to the most minute points of difference, bear the same colour, stamp, and character impressed upon them, so as not to be distinguishable. The mixture is still made in the same exact proportions whether we look at the combination to be found in them, both of lenity on the one hand, with austerity on the other; their boldness upon some occasions, and caution on others; their extreme solicitude for the public, and perfect neglect of themselves; their fixed and immovable bent to all virtuous and honest actions, accompanied with an extreme tenderness and scrupulosity as to doing anything which might appear mean or unworthy; so that we should need a very nice and subtle logic of discrimination to detect and establish the distinctions between them.

A man moderate in his temperament, cool-headed and just. And a good teacher of discipline. Plutarch tells many examples of his justice and temper such as once when he had to take the Greeks to war and one young soldier feeling so brave left his rank and shortly after seeing the enemy developed cold feet, he reproached him thus

Young man, are you not ashamed twice in one day to desert your station; first than on which I placed you and second the one that on which you placed yourself.

On another occasion, one of his friends warns him that by running counter to the people they would kill him, he says

that will be unjust of them if I give them honest advice, if not, it will be just of them.

His wife says in response to a court jester

for my part, all my ornament is my husband Phocion, now for the twentieth year in office as general at Athens.

There are several more examples of instances of his justice, vision, temper and good sense in Plutarch’s lives. The world would be a better place if were ruled by such statesmen.


Camillus, Pericles, Fabius Maximus

Camillus was five times chosen dictator, triumphed four times, and was styled a second founder of Rome, yet never was so much as once consul.

During his censorship one very good act of his is recorded, that, whereas the wars had made many widows, he obliged such as had no wives, some by fair persuasion, others by threatening to set fines on their heads, to take them in marriage; another necessary one, in causing orphans to be rated, who before were exempted from taxes, the frequent wars requiring more than ordinary expenses to maintain them.

He got himself banished from Rome for being too powerful. These Romans and Greeks were interesting people. Anytime someone appeared to have so much power, they banished him from the state. I wish we could do this now.

Pericles is a man who was beyond corruption. He, for reasons unknown to us, led to the death of many Athenians in the Peloponnesian war by failing to ratify the peace treaty that the  Lacedaemonians had offered could satisfy him.

Most of his laws are not extant today, or rather, were not extant in the time of Plutarch.

He adorned Athens with grand buildings. And when the citizens complained that he had drawn a lot of money from the public treasury, he asked that the buildings to be charged to his account and have the inscriptions in his name. The citizens on hearing this pleaded with him to draw from the public account and do as he pleased either to bring down or to build whatever monument or building he thought good for the public good.

He was frugal. There is a report that his household was not amused at his exactness with regards to spending. He even had an “accountant” whose duty was to ensure there was no waste in the family.

Of his head, a poem is written thus

And here by way of summary, now we’ve done,

Behold, in brief, the heads of all in one.

I know you know that great speech by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pericles paying tribute to those who had lost their lives in war said

For, we do not see them themselves, but only by the honors we pay them, and by the benefits they do us, attribute to them immortality; and the like attributes belong also to those that die in the service of their country.

His greatest failure, if we can call it that, was to let personal difference between him and Cimon and Thucydides use his power to have them ostracized.

After the loss of his legitimate sons, he asked that a law that stated only lawfully begotten children could be considered citizens be repealed so

so the name and race of his family might not, for absolute want of a lawful name and race of his family might not, for absolute want of a lawful heir to succeed, be wholly lost and extinguished.

A request the people granted arguing his suffering deserved their pity and even indignation, and his request was such as became a man to ask, and men to grant.

Fabius we are told was the son of Hercules and nymph.

He was five times consul, and in his first consulship had the honor of a triumph for the victory he gained over the Ligurians, whom he defeated in a set battle, and drove them to take shelter in the Alps, from whence they never after made any inroad nor depredation upon their neighbors.

During his reign, Hannibal attacked Italy and for a long time he tried to avoid direct combat with him arguing that with time Hannibal would be forced to retire and return to Carthage. Many of the Romans thought this strategy was because of a lack of courage on his part.

As testament to his honour and wisdom, we have Minucius, a young general who had been given as much power as Fabius address his troops in this manner

To conduct great matters and never commit a fault is above the force of human nature; but to learn and improve by the faults we have committed, is that which becomes a good and sensible man.  Some reasons I may have to accuse fortune, but I have many more to thank her;for in a few hours she hath cured a long mistake, and taught me that I am not the man who should command others, but have need of another to command me; and that we are not to contend for victory over those to whom it is our advantage to yield.  Therefore in everything else henceforth the dictator must be your commander; only in showing gratitude towards him I will still be your leader, and always be the first to obey his orders.

We find ambition and rivalry made him oppose the campaign of Scipio to Carthage, a campaign that in the end saw the defeat of Hannibal and Carthage come under Rome, a victory Fabius did not live to see for he died shortly after Hannibal left Italy for Carthage after being recalled to attend to matters at home.

Lives of the noble Grecian and Romans

In this post and a few subsequent posts, I will write about the lives of some nobles of Greece and Rome as recorded by Plutarch in his book by the same title and list a few of the laws these fellows made or their systems of government. I will not write of their failures, call it bias, but that is not my interest for the moment. Anyone interested can write about that.

In the next posts, I will have for the title of the blog post, just the name of the particular leader and followed by his laws.

For this post we will cover Solon and Lycurgus

One of the laws of Solon I agree with is where he forbade dowries to be given; the wife was to have three suites of clothes, a little inconsiderable household stuff and that was all for he would not have marriages contracted for gain or an estate but for pure love, kind affection and birth of children.

He at the same enacted a law that no man for the future should engage the body of his debtor for security.

Now about Lycurgus,

here is a man who resigned a kingdom.

He caused his citizens to cast away their gold or silver and abandon costly furniture and rich tables.

He instituted communal eating places.

He instituted strict education for the youth.

I will mention one other regulation he instituted touching on burials. To cut off all superstition, he allowed the citizens to bury their dead within the city and even round their temples, to the end that their youth might be accustomed to such spectacles and not be afraid to see a dead body or imagine that to touch a corpse or tread upon a grave would defile a man.


The Athenian Constitution: A review

by Aristotle

I know of few men when they had power, they used it for the benefit of mankind. I guess Abe Lincoln is known to most if not all of you as being one of the great American presidents. Robert Ingersoll, in his speeches, pays tribute to him in ways that yours truly cannot match. He says

Abraham Lincoln, in his judgement, the grandest man ever president of the US of A and upon whose monument these words could truthfully be written: Here lies the only man in the history of the world who, having been clothed with almost absolute power, never abused it except in the side of mercy.

I think Abraham Lincoln should come second for before him lived Solon in ancient Greece, who when he had almost absolute power, did not abuse it, but used it for the benefit of his fellow men. For, among other things, he enacted laws that freed men, who hitherto, on taking a loan gave for security their person, he saw to the cancellation of all debts, public and private, made weights corresponding to coinage and drafted the constitution.

Aristotle tells of a poem by Solon after enacting some of his laws. Thus

I gave to the mass of the people such rank as befitted  their need.

I took not away their honour,

and I granted naught to their greed:

While those who were rich in power, who in wealth were glorious and great,

I bethought me that naught should befall them unworthy their splendour and state:

So I stood with my shield outstretched, and both were safe in its sight,

And I would not that either should triumph, when the triumph was not with right.

In this book, Aristotle narrates about Athens at different times, times when the government was led by tyrants- Pisistratus and then his sons, times when the government was led by despots, the 30 and the 10, when it was a government of the people by the people and so on.

Bribery, theft, corruption and other evils against the state, once proved were punishable by death. They had jurors- several of them- sometimes up to 1500 for cases where a person is accused against the state. The magistrates take lots, so you cannot know in advance what court you will sit in or what cases you would handle.

They also established a welfare state where those who were disabled or old were entitled to some allowance per day to take care of their daily wants- and this was when the state was stable and not in the hands of despots.

Taxes were a serious matter and failing to honour your obligations would land one in jail with a fines double or even ten-fold the money owed to the commonwealth.

Wealth declaration for officers of the state was a matter of course and there were auditors who checked your accounts if there were cases of embezzlement or abuse of office, such was the strictness with which those who were elected to rule were treated.

There were Commissioners for games, roads, horses, for sacrifices, of public worship, of corn, of weights and measures, market commissioners each group with duties and responsibilities for the common good.

I must say here in conclusion that the Athenian people, when they had a government for the people by the people, had a really great government and to this end, they enacted laws that ensured that no one person ever became so powerful as to be a tyrant. I don’t know why we don’t learn from these great men.