The highest Law rules
(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.
during the last centuries, some historians and classical
philologist, such as
Richard Bentley or Karl Julius Beloch, starting from an
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.
Such a statement, according to some,
is rather forced from an
etymological point of view and seems devoid of historical proofs,
since there aren't historical references to the worship
of such divinity amongst the Locrians.
Emanuele Ciaceri (an Italian historian), addressing
such issue in his work about Magna Graecia's history and
clearly stating his opinion, defined the objections about the real
existence of the lawgiver without any foundation, noticing that even nowadays amongst us
live people with names which, in their origin, remember
the sky (Celeste) or the sunlight (Luciano) and that this
also happened in the ancient times.
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 take a look at 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.