Draco was an Athenian legislator to whom is generally ascribed the first codification of the laws of Athens, from 624 to 621 BC. However, according to Aristotle, from 683 BC onwards the six junior archons, the thesmothetai, were charged with the task of codifying Athenian law. Perhaps they were too slow, or incompetent, or perhaps it was in response to some crisis, but a prominent nobleman known to history only as Draco was charged with the task of codifying the laws of the oppressive oligarchy.
Draco produced a comprehensive set of laws for the city-state, perhaps the first such in European history, with an overwhelming focus on crime and punishment. His laws were considered harsh from the very first - when asked about them, he explained that he felt even trivial crimes should be punishable by death, and that he'd been unable to find anything harsher for more serious crimes. Anything from stealing a head of cabbage to murder merited the death penalty under the Draconian code. If even a suspicion of manslaughter or murder followed a traveller to the gates of the city they were denied entry until the charges were cleared, regardless of whether they were Athenian citizens or foreigners.
The Draconian laws did not last long, though. Twenty-seven years later, during his reign as archon, Solon repealed the code and replaced them with his own laws, though he kept at least the penalties for murder intact. In approximately 408 BC, a decree was... erm, decried, stating that the law on murder should be publicly inscribed, so that visitors and citizens alike should be unable to plead ignorance. This is now one of the fundamental premises of most modern legal systems.
These days, Draco is identified with anything harsh, out-dated, or oppressive, yet to consign Draco entirely to a negative adjective seems somewhat unfair. After all, he was also the first in Greece to outlaw the taking of personal revenge; he created a system of objective justice, albeit a grossly penal one; and he wrote into his laws the principle that the power of the state to institute the laws came only from the people.
Later Athenian authors refer to laws of Draco, indicating that some of his statutes may have survived more than a few decades. However, Aristotle's claim in The Constitution of Athens that Draco actually produced a complete constitution is almost certainly false.
Although Draco can also be spelt and pronounced Dracon, the man's name does not in any way refer to dragons. Dragon does indeed originate in Ancient Greek, but from the word δρακων (drakon), meaning serpent, through Latin (Dracon, serpent) and Old French (Dragon).
- The Oxford English Dictionary