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LOCRI EPIZEPHYRII



Salvatore La Rosa
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HISTORICAL FIGURES INDEX ZALEUKOS' LAWS

Zaleukos
ZALEUKOS  

The highest Law rules
Locri Epizephyrii...


(Pindar, Olympian Odes X, 17-18)

It is believed that the Locrians
have been the first to use written laws...


(Strabo, Geography VI, 259 8)

 
Despite the exceptional importance of his figure we have very few information about Zaleukos.

Born in the colony of Locri Epizephyrii, he is recognized as the first lawgiver of the western world and, chronologically, Eusebius puts him between the 663 and the 662 b.C.

His figure is shrouded in myth (it's handed down that he was instructed by Athena) and often the story of his life is lost in legend, so much so that during the course of the ages someone tried to assert (particularly Timaeus) that he never existed for real, despite the certainty of a Locrian origin for the first codex of written laws of the western world.
  
Particularly, some modern historians and critics, such as Bentley or Beloch, starting from a (questionable) etymological analysys of his name which would  mean, more or less, "the luminous" or "everything that shines", supposed that with the name Zaleukos the people meant to speak about (as it is supposed has happened for other lawgivers, such as Lycurgus "the source of light") a solar divinity who gifted them the laws and that only in a subsequent age would have been identified with a human being.
 
Now, this statement, not perfectly correct etymologically speaking and absolutely devoid of historical proofs (as a matter of fact there aren't references to the worship of such divinity amongst the Locrians) is an end to itself and is devoid of a true value from a practical point of view.
 
Ciaceri himself (an Italian historian), in his work about Magna Graecia's history, referring to the question defined devoid of foundation the objections about the real existence of the lawgiver, noticing that even nowadays amongst us live people with names which remember the sky (Celeste), the sun or something else (such as the light: Luciano), and that this thing happened also in the ancient ages. 
 
Having said that, maybe the final word about the question has already been said by Cicero in his work "De Legibus" where he says: "Quid, quod Zaleucum istum negat ullum fuisse Timaeus?" (Who cares about the fact that Timaeus have denied the existence of Zaleukos?); "[...] Sive fuit, sive non fuit, nihil ad rem; loquimur quod proditum est." ( - That Zaleukos - existed or not doesn't concern the question; we hand down what was handed down"). So Cicero attributes no importance to the question and invite, then, to concentrate on the facts which have been handed down: Zaleukos' legislation and the fact that many sources refer the name of the lawgiver as the name of an individual really existed.
 
Closed this dutiful parenthesis on the question of the existence or not of Zaleukos, let's speak about his laws.
 
The importance of Zaleukos' laws (which, as it's handed down, were admired by the whole Greek world) is exceptional because for the first time the laws were written and so they were took away from the arbitrary use which the judges of the ancient ages made of them; and this fact was underlined by Strabo who said that: "While once the task to determine the punishment was entrusted to the judges, Zaleukos determined that in the codex itself". So that the punishment had to be the same for everyone and noticed to all.
 
Unfortunately, the corpus of the laws hasn't reached our age and nowadays we know only few of those laws thanks to their quotation in some works of the ancient writers, such as Cicero, Polybius, Stobaeus, etc. The ones that reached our days are listed at the end of this section.
 
Don't be stunned by their harshness, in any case these laws are more than 25 centuries old, and for the age in which they were issued, they were "modern" laws and, in some cases (i.e. the prohibition to own slaves), they were ahead of their time of many centuries; besides the fact that they were written was a better warranty for the people, during an age in which the law was more an instrument in favour of the well-off classes than one of the basic and essential principle of a society which today we could call civil.
 
The strongly conservative nature of these laws allowed the city of Locri Epizephyrii to thrive for a long time and they were enforced even for the centuries following the death of their creator: Zaleukos, the first western lawgiver.

  

THE LAWS
(The 14 fragments of the corpus which reached our age)
 

 
 1. NO ONE CAN ALIENATE HIS PROPERTY, UNLESS HE HAD SOME PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGED MISFORTUNE
 

 
 2. TO THE LOCRIANS IS NOT ALLOWED TO OWN SLAVES
 

 
 3. THE ADULTERERS MUST BE DEPRIVED OF BOTH EYES
 

 
 4. IT IS PROHIBITED TO THE WOMEN TO WEAR GOLDEN AND SILK GARMENTS AND TO ADORN THEMSELVES WITH REFINEMENT IF IT'S NOT TO GET MARRIED
 

 
 5. MARRIED WOMEN MUST WEAR WHITE GARMENTS WHILE THEY WALK WITH SERVANTS IN FORUM AND THEY MUST BE FOLLOWED BY A MAID. UNMARRIED WOMEN CAN WEAR GARMENTS OF VARIOUS COLOURS
 

 
 6. IT'S PROHIBITED TO CARRY ARMS WHILE TAKING PART TO A SENATE MEETING
 

 
 7. MUST BE SENTENCED TO A FINE HIM WHO ASKED FOR NEWS RETURNING FROM DISTANT LANDS
 

 
 8. MUST BE SENTENCED TO DEATH THE INVALID WHO DRANK SOME WINE AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE
 

 
 9. IT IS PROHIBITED TO MOURN SOMEONE'S DEATH; ON THE CONTRARY, AFTER THE BURIAL,  IT IS MANDATORY TO HOLD A BANQUET
 

 
10. IT IS PROHIBITED TO BEGIN A LEGAL ACTION BETWEEN TWO PERSONS IF PREVIOUSLY IT WAS NOT ATTEMPTED A RECONCILIATION
 

 
11. IT IS NECESSARY TO PREVENT FOOD SELLING IF IT IS NOT MADE BY THE SAME PRODUCERS
 

 
12. THE THIEF MUST BE SENTENCED TO DEATH
 

 
13. MUST BE POKED OUT AN EYE TO WHOM POKED OUT SOMEONE ELSE'S EYE
 

 
14. HE WHO PROPOSES TO THE CITY ASSEMBLY THE REFORM OR THE SUBSTITUTION OF AN IN-FORCE LAW MUST KEEP A NOOSE AROUND THE NECK READY TO CHOKE HIM IF THE BILL WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED


 

 

 

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