ThemisAncient Greece

Early Laws

After the Dark Ages - About 1200-900 BC - and beginning at about 900 BC, the Ancient Greeks had no official laws or punishments.

Murders were settled by members of the victim's family, who would then go and kill the murderer.

This often began endless blood feuds.

It was not until the middle of the seventh century BC that the Greeks first began to establish official laws.

Around 620 BC Draco, the lawgiver, set down the first known written law of Ancient Greece. These laws were so harsh that his name gave rise to our English word "Daconian" meaning an unreasonably harsh law.

Solon,an Athenian statesman and lawmaker, refined Draco's laws and is credited with "democratizing" justice by making the courts more accessible to citizens. Solon created many new laws that fit into the four basic categories of Ancient Greek law. The only one of Draco's laws that Solon kept when he was appointed law giver in about 594 BC was the law that established exile as the penalty for homicide.


Tort Laws

A tort occurs when someone does harm to you or to your property

Murder was a tort law, and the punishment was exile as set by Draco.

Under Solon's laws, fine for rape was 100 drachmas, and the penalty for theft depended on the amount stolen. Other offenses and penalties were things like the offense of a dog bite, the penalty for which was to surrender the dog wearing a three-cubit-long wooden collar. Solon even made laws to serve as guidelines for the spacing and placement of houses, walls, ditches, wells, beehives, and certain types of trees.


Family Laws

Solon also created many family laws, which were laws that regulated the behavior of men and women. He wrote laws on allowances in marriage and adoption, as well as laws concerning inheritances and supporting roles of parents.

Penalties for these laws were not set, but were enforced by the head of the particular family.

Public Laws

Public laws dictated how public services were to be provided and how public functions should be conducted. Solon contributed some of these laws. He wrote laws that required that people who lived a certain distance from public wells needed to dig their own, laws that forbade the export of agricultural goods except olive oil, laws that restricted the amount of land a man could own, laws that allowed venders to charge any kind of interest rate they wanted to, and even laws that prohibited dealing in perfume.


Procedural Laws

Procedural laws were guidelines that told judges how to use other laws. These laws told in step-by-step detail how law should be enforced. Procedural laws even included such minute details as how many witnesses must be called forward for someone to be found guilty of homicide.


Law Givers

Law givers were not rulers or kings, but appointed officials whose only job was to write laws. Most of the lawgivers were middle class members of the aristocracy. The officials in the government wanted to make sure that law givers would not take sides or be a part of just one group, otherwise laws might be unfair. Because of this, law givers were not a part of normal government, and they were considered political outsiders.

Courts and the Judicial System

In order to have punishments carried out, the Ancient Greeks needed some sort of system to "try," "convict," and "sentence" guilty persons. To do this, they created a court system. Court officials were paid little, if anything, and most trials were completed in the same day, private cases even more quickly.

There were no "professional" court officials, no lawyers, and no official judges. A normal case consisted of two "litigants," one who argued that an unlawful act was committed, and the other argued his defense. The audience, or "jurors," would vote for one side or the other. The result was either a guilty or not guilty, after which another vote by the jury would decide the punishment.



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