6. The Ancient Greeks Sometimes Got Carried Away With the Applause
Draco’s legal reforms were a huge step towards equality under the law. The downside is that his laws were insanely severe, and highly favorable to creditors and the propertied classes. Debtors who defaulted could be sold into slavery, and those who committed petty offenses, as trivial as the theft of a cabbage, were liable to the death penalty. When asked why he legislated death for most offenses, Draco replied that he considered the petty crimes worthy of death, and he could not think of a higher penalty for the greater offenses. Whatever the poor and indebted might have thought, wealthy contemporaries liked Draco’s laws.
So much, in fact, that they reportedly killed him with applause. Literally. Ancient Greeks showed their approval by throwing hats and items of clothing at an object of adoration, and during a visit to Aegina, its citizens showered him with so many hats and shirts and cloaks that he suffocated to death under the barrage. Whatever praise he might have earned in his lifetime, Draco’s laws were eventually viewed as intolerably harsh by the Athenians. In 594 BC, they turned to another lawgiver, Solon, who repealed Draco’s laws and replaced them with new and somewhat more humane ones.