Which was the first civilization to ban existing slavery with a law?

For example, if Civilization X never had slavery and it makes a law banning it, it won't count for this purposes. I've looked online but found nothing.

(I'm aware of the other question about slavery. This is different because this is asking which civilization actually banned slavery after having it, not who was the first person to realize slavery was wrong.)

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    Wikipedia has a couple of claims, but I'm not sure of their reliability: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 22:01
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    This is marked as a duplicate, but it is different, because the other question is essentially about anyone wanting to get rid of slavery, regardless of whether they can affect it or not. This one is about actually outlawing slavery. The currently accepted answer of the other questions is not a suitable answer to this one.
    – andejons
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:02
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    Also "slavery was wrong". That is the current mindset heavily influenced by the "all men are created equal" line of thought. In earlier times there was "us" and "them", and the latter it was perfectly fine to beat in war and enslave. Try read the original version of Tintin in Congo to get an idea of how e.g. black people was looked upon by the white people. Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 22:47
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    @Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen: The white view of black people is hardly the only relevant factor. You need to remember that the African slave trade wasn't usually a matter of white traders capturing black people. Instead, the traders bought the slaves from black people who were happy to profit from enslaving their neighbors.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 4:18
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    Do you count converting slaves into serfs?
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


On the 27th of January 1416, the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) banned the slave trade. At a meeting of the Grand Chamber of the Republic of Dubrovnik on the 27th of January 1416 a total of 75 councillors of 78 in the council voted to ban slavery in the Republic. The very next day the vote and the decision came into effect and slavery was banned. Dubrovnik the city state had never participated in the slave trade, but this decision went further.

The decision stated that "none of our nationals or foreigners, and everyone who considers himself or herself from Dubrovnik, can in any way or under any pretext to buy or sell slaves or female servant or be a mediator in such trade.” With this decision the Republic of Dubrovnik was among the first countries in Europe and in the world to ban the buying and selling of slaves.

For example Great Britain banned the trading of slaves 391 years later, and the USA banned the slave trade 450 years after Dubrovnik on the 18th of December 1865.


Freedom From Slavery Came Early in an Unexpected Country. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/regina-fraser-and-pat-johnson/freedom-from-slavery-croatia_b_4905880.html

More about Dubrovnik.. By the Republic of Raguso (Dubrovnik), it was the first country to recognize the young United States. The Republic of Dubrovnik ended in 1806 when Dubrovnik was surrendered to Napoleon. Today Dubrovnik is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the setting for multiple cities in the HBO series "Game of Thrones", including Kings Landing, Quarth, Battle of the Blackwater, and Dorn.

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    Was slavery banned, or just the trade in slaves? If just the trade was banned, that's quite a far thing. Many cultures practice slavery without allowing slaves to be bought and sold.
    – pokep
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 3:24
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    Dubrovnik was a small city state which had never allowed slavery. They had a large merchant fleet and traded globally. In 1416 they went beyond outlawing slavery within their boarders, they made it illegal for any citizen to participate in the slave trade, including their merchant fleet, outside their boarders.
    – user27618
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 16:18

Seems like the other answers are late by at least a thousand years - China did it around the beginning of the common era. From Wikipedia:

In the year AD 9, the Emperor Wang Mang usurped the Chinese throne and instituted a series of sweeping reforms, including the abolition of slavery and radical land reform. Slavery was reinstated in AD 12 before his assassination in AD 23.

In that same wikipedia article, another prominent example is that during the Ming Dynasty:

The Hongwu Emperor sought to abolish all forms of slavery but in practice, slavery continued through the Ming dynasty.

So it seems that there were at least some enlightened rulers, but they were not 100% effective (much like modern times, [1]).

Another place to look is this WIkiepedia article where they speak about it happening in Greece in about 600 BC. But it seems slavery was only banned for Greeks, and they still had Barbarian slaves.

[1] I'd ask readers to note that slavery is illegal in the United States and much of the world today, yet it still exists in different forms.

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    It seems that the leader (attempted to) banned slavery, while the population did not agree (since it was restored just a few years later), so I wonder how it could be postulated as the civilization banning slavery?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 14:26
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    @CGCampbell You have a good point. Please make the same point above, as Dubrovnik is certainly not a civilization. Likewise, France is not a civilization either. So we can then say that the civilization "Western Christianity" didn't band slavery until Brazil finished it off in 1888? My point: you're nit picking about poorly defined criteria. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 20:03
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    Why I "picked on" your answer. The leader made a ruling that was not supported by the general population. So slavery was reinstated. In the case of Dubrovnik, it would appear that the general populace agreed (in fact never supported slavery). I do agree that a city != civilization.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 13:50
  • @CGCambell, just a nit, but a civilization is not a quantifiable term but a qualitative term. Regardless of size it's deals with social and cultural development irrelevant of size of the country. On that basis, the Republic of Ragusa certainly applies. The oldest republic in Europe, one of the most stable governments in Europe over centuries of turbulence, the first to ban slavery, and one of the largest trading fleets in Europe. They were clearly distinct with regards to forward thinking from their neighbors for 400 years prior to vanishing from history.
    – user27618
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 15:11
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    To those arguing about the definition of "civilization", read the question more carefully. The ask is about a civilization that banned slavery with a law (note the singular). The asker is clearly referring to a united polity, so stop trying to pretend otherwise or that it's not clear.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 16:36

It seems that the bannishment of slavery in France predates the ruling in Ragusa in the other answer by a century.

Quoting @T.E.D.'s answer in a different question :

King Louis X in 1315 declared that "France signifies freedom", and ordered all slaves and serfs setting foot on French soil to be freed. It seems to be assumed that this was in a large part a financial move (the serfs were supposed to pay the crown for their freedom), but the principle was applied to foreign slaves imported into France thereafter, to no financial benefit to the crown.

Another incentive might have been to legitimize the (then finishing and victorious) fight of the crown against the Order of Solomon's Temple, whose knights had often brought back slaves from the last crusades.

Sure, that ruling will not stop France from actively enforcing slavery oversees when it built its colonial empire(s) centuries later. However, I am not aware of the existence of any slaves on mainland France after the 14th century. Though Wikipedia points that

some limited cases of slavery continued until the 17th century in some of France's Mediterranean harbours in Provence.

  • Were there significant numbers of slaves there before?
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 15:36
  • @MarkOlson : It depends how far back exactly is "before". Slavery was still an thing in Francie in Caroligian times since Verdun was famous at the time of its treaty (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Verdun) in 843 for its slave market. Slavery must have decreased sharply under the Capetians, but I struggle to identify sources. (Of course, if you count serfs as slaves, then there were plenty of them until the 14th century.)
    – Evargalo
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 15:47
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    Well, the interesting thing for me is who was the first to ban slavery where it really made a difference, either by freeing a significant number of slaves or by preventing a significant slave trade. It appears that Louis X's decree neither freed many slaves (there none or only a few) nor prevented subsequent slavery. I'm most interested in seeing what country first made a real difference. (Basically, what country felt real pain by banning slavery.)
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 16:19
  • @MarkOlson It seems that there were some slaves in France in the late 13th century, mainly brought back by the Templars from Cursades: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_Templar
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 7:41

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