History of Law in Ancient Greece

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History of Law in Ancient Greece

8th century BC was the beginning of Greece’s emergence from the Dark Ages into the Archaic period. For a majority of history, humanity has been ruled by either a monarchy, led by a single person, or an oligarchy, leadership through a select group of persons. And this was very much the case in Greece just slightly different.

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Following the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, which was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, city-states across Greece overthrew their kings and set up constitutional governments. However, if some city-states kept a king, the power of the king was drastically reduced and was seen more in a context of religion or as a symbolic figurehead. Majority of nobility disagreed in the idea of taking a subservient role under a single person and thus coups were made to overthrow their monarchy and it’s hardly surprising that Greek city-states adopted an oligarchy instead. The aristocratic families that made up the Greek oligarchy however could end up facing issues due to the competition between the families and possibly lead to civil war. In an effort to counter such possibilities, their constitutions allowed a temporary, absolute ruler also known as a tyrant and in times of crisis the tyrant would be called upon to lead the state until his end term or when whatever crisis passes. As is only natural in positions of power, many of the tyrants refused to give up their post.

Prior to the 6th and 7th century BC, Ancient Greece didn’t have any official laws or punishments. Many conflicts were settled between families, if a murder were to happen members of the victim’s family would go and kill said murderer thus resulting in many blood feuds. Around the middle of the 7th century BC came the emergence of established laws in Greece. Draco was an archon in Athens and was the first recorded legislator and made several reforms to the law. One of his most important established laws was making murder punishable by exile. Draco’s laws, termed the Draconian constitution was thought to be very brutal and so the term draconian tends to be used in a context that means excessively harsh or severe. Prior to Draco’s reformation of the code of law, law was oral and only known to the aristocratic class, with his introduction laws became written and thus any literate citizen would know the law and was in a sense equal. Aristotle was the main source of information about Draco and one of the rumors about the severity of Draco’s laws was that his laws were written in blood rather than ink.

While Draco’s laws were in general pretty fair due to the fact it could be applied to anyone regardless of status,

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