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The Laws of Draco

Aristocratic political alliances often proved temporary in Athenian politics, as elsewhere, and rivalries among aristocrats jealous of each other's status continued under early Athenian democracy. In the aftermath of Cylon's attempted tyranny, an Athenian named Draco was appointed in 621 B.C., perhaps after pressure by the hoplites, to establish a code of laws promoting stability and equity. Unfortunately, Draco's laws1 somehow further destabilized the political situation; the Athenians later remembered them as having been as harsh as the meaning of his name (drakon, “dragon, serpent”), and our word Draconian, meaning excessively severe, reflects this view. A deterioration in the well-being of Athens's free peasants, which had been slowly building for a long time, also further undermined social peace. Later Athenians did not know what had caused this economic crisis, only that it pitted the rich against the middle-class and the poor.2

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