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It is a commonly cited fact that Plato was held prisoner and sold as a slave. Later in the tale, a friend recognised him and paid for his freedom.

My question is, did Plato ever work as a slave for anybody or was he rescued by a friend before any other master acquired him?

I would appreciate if you can cite the source of the information.

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    – MCW
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 18:29
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    The question should address why the information on Wikipedia "Plato almost faced death, but he was sold into slavery.[g] Anniceris, a Cyrenaic philosopher, subsequently bought Plato's freedom for twenty minas,[60] and sent him home. " is inadequate.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 11:09

3 Answers 3

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One source of the story of Plato being sold into slavery is Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius. An English translation is available online on Project Perseus. You can find the full story in Book 3 that discusses the life of Plato.

According to Laërtius, Plato angered Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily, when he suggested that "the interest of the ruler alone was not the best end". Dionysius was going to execute the philosopher but was convinced to spare his life and sell him into slavery instead by Dion, his brother in law and a student of Plato.

The philosopher was then taken to the island of Aegina to be sold. There, he was recognised by someone called Anniceris and was ransomed for twenty minas. We don't know for sure who this Anniceris was, one possibility is the Cyrenaic philosopher. Laërtius also mentions that Dion may have provided the money for the ransom to Anniceris.

Plutarch (Life of Dion, 5) and Diodorus Siculus (Library, 15) also mention the story.

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    Would it be too much to ask how a free citizen got put in that position in the first place? I don't think the answer needs it, but I'm curious (and perhaps I'm not the only one).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 12:52
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    @T.E.D. Oh, the usual story, he angered someone in power. Updated the answer.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:07
  • Coming late to the party, but 20 minas (+/- 20 pounds of silver) are normally worth between 70 and 100 ancient drachmas. According to some sources (not in English), a slave was worth between 115 and 300 drachmas, so roughly, no more than 4 minas. Isn't paying 5 times the price for someone not able to do hard work for a long time weird? Or am I messing with my maths or sources?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Apr 24 at 6:56
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    @OldPadawan We have to remember that Diogenes Laertius (our source for the sale price) was writing in the 3rd century CE, some six centuries after the alleged events. Diogenes says his source was the 2nd-century commentary of Favorinus, which has been lost, so we don't know where the story comes from or how reliable it is. At a distance of multiple centuries, and multiple intervening authors, we have to expect some admixture of exaggeration and fiction. Commented Apr 24 at 8:08
  • @GarethRees: exaggeration (and oral history) was one of my thoughts, as many ancient sources are just not really reliable, but maybe it was something else, just to clarify. I guess we'll have to stick to this version though :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Apr 24 at 10:04
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Ancient world slavery was pretty well equal opportunity. People of any age/gender could get sold as war captives, as victims of piracy, for punitive reasons and in many cases for debt. Various societies legislated against the sale of their own citizens within their society, but that didn't protect citizens when they strayed abroad. Plato was an Athenian. In Syracuse, his Athenians citizenship wouldn't protect him from the anger of the tyrant, whose word was law.

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A document recently deciphered from Herculaneum states Plato was sold into slavery following the conquest of the island of Aegina by the Spartans between 404 and 399 BC.

Source: Carbonised Herculaneum papyrus reveals burial place of Plato

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