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Picture of Early Greek Lawgivers

Early Greek Lawgivers

By John David Lewis

 


This book examines the men who brought laws to the early Greek city-states, as an introduction both to the development of law and to the basic issues in early legal practice. The lawgiver was a man of special status, who could resolve disputes without violence, and bring a sense of order to his community by proposing comprehensive norms of ethical conduct. He established those norms in the form of oral or written laws.

Arbitration, justice, procedural versus substantive law, ethical versus legal norms, and the special character of written laws form the background to the examination of the lawgivers themselves. Crete, under king Minos, became an example of the ideal community for later Greeks, such as Plato. The unwritten laws of Lycurgus established the foundations of the Spartan state, in contrast with the written laws of Solon in Athens. Other lawgivers illustrate particular issues in early law; for instance, Zaleucus on the divine source of laws; Philolaus on family law; Phaleas on communism of property; and Hippodamus on civic planning.