Salvatore La Rosa



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, 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to some, is rather forced from an etymological point of view and seems devoid of historical proofs, since there aren't historical references to the worship of such divinity amongst the Locrians.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.


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

- No one can alienate his property, unless he had some publicly acknowledged misfortune.

- The Locrians are not allowed to own slaves.

- The adulterers must be deprived of both eyes.

- The women are not allowed to wear golden and silk garments and to adorn themselves with refinement if it's not to get married.

- Married women must wear white garments while they walk with servants in public and they must be followed by a maid. Unmarried women can wear garments of any colour.

- It is prohibited to carry arms while taking part in a Senate meeting.

- Must be sentenced to a fine him who asked for news returning from distant lands.

- Must be sentenced to death the sick who drank some wine against medical advice.

- It is prohibited to mourn someone's death; on the contrary, after the burial, it is mandatory to hold a banquet.

- It is prohibited to start a legal action between two persons if previously it was not attempted a reconciliation.

- It is necessary to prevent food selling if it is not made by the same producers.

- The thief must be sentenced to death.

- Must be poked out an eye to whom poked out someone else's eye.

- 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 would not pass.



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