Ancient Greek Punishments for Crimes

After the Dark Ages, between 1200 to 900BC and even till the beginning of 900BC, the ancient Greeks neither have any formally drafted laws nor did they have any prescribed Ancient Greek punishments.

Discretion was given to the victims family to punish the murderer by killing him. Thus the general rule which prevailed in such an ancient Greek society was an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. However, this resulted in endless blood warfare ultimately leading to anarchy.

Ancient Greek Punishments: Facts

It was finally in the mid 17th century BC that the Greeks began to draft or lay down formal laws. It was around 620BC that Draco who is regarded as the first lawgiver gave the first set of laws to the ancient Greek society. This law prescribes a punishment of exile for the offense of homicide. This law was the only law which was subsequently retained by Solon.

Ancient Greek Punishments

Draco’s Laws

Solon was an Athenian statesman and lawmaker who developed Draco’s laws further and was credited with “democratizing” justice by making the courts more accessible to citizens.

Basic Categories of Ancient Greek Law

Solon created many new laws that fit into the four basic categories of Ancient Greek law.The first and foremost set of laws dealt with Tort Laws. A tort was defined as any wrong done to any person or his property. Both Draco, as well as Solon, drafted laws on this subject. Specific Ancient Greek Punishments were prescribed for specific offenses most of them involved levying of fines. Draco included murder under this category of laws.

Ancient Greek Punishments

Additionally, solon prescribed a fine of 100 drachmas in case of the offense of rape. The fine for theft varied depending upon the values of the goods so stolen. Other offenses included the offense of a dog bite for which the punishment laid down was the surrender of such a dog by making it wear a three cubit long wooden collar.

Apart from this, Solon also laid down laws specifying the space and placement of houses, walls, ditches, wells, beehives and also certain types of trees. The second category of laws dealt with Family Laws. Solon laid down extensive laws regulating the conduct of both men as well as women.

He laid down laws validating marriages, adoptions, inheritance and also on the supporting roles of parents. No specific Greek Punishments were laid down for wrongs committed in case of family matters as complete discretion was given to the head of such a family to prescribe any punishment as he would deem fit.

Ancient Greek Punishments

Family laws also included laws for women. Since women under the constant supervision of their official guardian who was either the father or husband if the lady was married, she could be produced in court only on two occasions firstly if she is a witness in a case of homicide in order to give evidence and secondly, to produce a woman along with her family to stir up a feeling of pity and sympathy in the minds of the jury.

The third category of laws was called as Public Laws. These laws dealt extensively with the conduct of public functions. These laws were the sole contribution of Solon. Some of the topics on which laws were drafted required people whose dwellings were from a certain specified distance of a public well to dig up their own well, prohibition on the export of agricultural goods except for olive oil, prohibition on dealing with perfumes, discretion on the levy of the rate of interest by the lenders etc.

Ancient Greek Punishments

Lastly came the procedural laws, which laid down detailed procedures mainly for the judges reference when he wanted to enforce any particular law. These laws were very minutely detailed laying down step by step procedure to be carried by a judge while enforcing any law. These minutest details also included the number of witnesses who could be produced in courts for someone who is accused guilty of homicide.

In order to have punishments carried out, the Ancient Greeks needed some sort of system which could “try,” “convict,” and “sentence” guilty persons. As a result of this, a court system was established. Court officials were lowly paid and most trials were concluded on the very same day and private cases were even more quickly settled.

Ancient Greek Punishments

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 guilt or an acquittal of the accused, after which another vote by the jury would decide the punishment.