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THE BLOODY LAWS OF DRACO
YOU have already learned that Athens was one of the
greatest cities of ancient Greece, and that after the
heroic self-sacrifice of Codrus the inhabitants would
not allow any one to bear the name of king.
The sons of Codrus were named archons, or rulers for
life,—an office which was at first handed down from
father to son, but which soon became elective; that is
 to say, all the people voted for and elected their own
rulers. Then nine archons were chosen at once, but they
kept their office for only one year.
As these men received no pay for serving the state,
only the richest citizens could accept the office; and
thus Athens, from a monarchy, or country ruled by a
king, became an oligarchy, or state ruled by the rich
and noble citizens.
As the rich thus held the reins of the government, they
often used their power to oppress the poor, and this
gave rise to many quarrels. Little by little the two
parties, the rich and the poor, grew to hate each other
so much that it was decided that a new code or set of
laws should be made, and that they should be obeyed by
A severe archon called Draco was chosen to draw up
these new laws (602 B.C.); and he made them so strict
and cruel that the least sin was punished as if it had
been a crime, and a man was sentenced to be hanged for
stealing even a cabbage.
When the Athenians heard these new laws, they were
frightened. Such severity had never been known before;
and one and all said that the laws had been written in
blood instead of ink. Some of the citizens, hoping to
make Draco change them, asked why he had named such a
terrible punishment for so small a crime as the theft
of a cabbage. Draco sternly replied that a person who
stole even the smallest thing was dishonest, and
deserved death; and that, as he knew of no severer
punishment, he could not inflict one for the greater
 The Athenians had all promised to obey Draco's laws, so
they were obliged to submit for a short time. Then,
driven wild by their strictness, rich and poor rose up,
drove the unhappy lawmaker out of the city, and forced
him to go to the neighboring Island of Ægina. Here
Draco spent all the rest of his life.
The people were now in a state of great uncertainty.
The laws of Draco were too severe, but they had no
others to govern the city. While they were hesitating,
not knowing what to do, Cylon, an Athenian citizen,
tried to make himself king.
His first move was to gather together a few of his
friends, and go secretly to the Acropolis, or fortress
of Athens, which he took by surprise. Now that he was
master of the fortress, he tried to force the Athenians
to recognize him as their king, but this they stoutly
refused to do.
Instead of yielding, the Athenians armed themselves,
met the rebels in a bloody battle, and killed Cylon
himself in the midst of the fight.
As their leader was now dead, and they feared the anger
of their fellow-citizens, Cylon's friends fled in haste
to the temple of the goddess Athene. Once inside the
sacred building, they felt quite safe; for no person
could be killed in a temple, or be taken out of it by
Although they had neither food nor drink, the rebels
refused to leave the temple, until the archon
Megacles, fearing that they would die there, and thus
defile the temple, promised to do them no harm if they
would only come out.
The rebels did not quite trust to this promise, so they
 came out of the temple holding a small cord, one end of
which was fastened to the statue of the goddess. They
were thus still under her protection, and any one
touching them would be guilty of a great crime.
When the men reached the street at the bottom of the
hill where the temple stood, the cord to which they
were all clinging suddenly broke. Megacles, the first
to notice this, said that the goddess refused to
protect the rebels any longer, and gave orders to kill
the unhappy men.