Augustus famously punished Vedius Pollio for being cruel to a slave. Do we know such stories showing concern for the slave in ancient Greece?

(I read, and listen to, several books/conference about Ancient Greece. I did not find anything about it. It might be because there is nothing to find).

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    There was certainly concern about the treatment of slaves in ancient Greece, but this was probably more to do with self-preservation (e.g. not provoking slave rebellions) than just concern at the mistreatment of another human being. Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 12:34
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    Thanks for the edit! I don't recall enough of the Greek legal concept of slavery, but do we have any documents showing concern for the fate of other personal property? (I'm not defending slavery, but I am concerned about imposing modern concepts of human rights on a premodern culture).
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 16:01
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    @MarkC.Wallace I don't believe they had invented the concept of human right, but how to prove it (about this specific point)?
    – JinSnow
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 16:10
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    Murder of slaves carried consequences everywhere. In Athens (and perhaps others), it was a crime at law. In all places, it was religiously significant and carried serious consequences in terms of pollution. Sparta annually declared war on the helots in order to allow Spartiates to kill helots without such consequence -- a fact that other Greeks commented upon. Though part of that might have been that the helots were Greek. Athens sent help once when Sparta was putting down a helot revolt, and the help was sent back because they were shocked to fight to enslave Greeks.
    – Mary
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 12:44
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    Bit thin, and I can't reference this, as I can't remember where I read it, but do recall the story of a young female captive who was abused by men at an (Athenian?) drinking party. Perhaps because of her age, perhaps because she was Greek, her treatment was regarded as scandalous, although whether there were any consequences I don't recall.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


I do not know of any specific stories like that of Vedius Pollio and Augustus, but Euripedes seems to have shown concern for slaves. This is perhaps his most famous line on the subject:

'Alas! how cursed is slavery always in its nature, forced by the might of the stronger to endure unseemly treatment.' (Hercuba, 332–334)

Edit: Here are some references regarding the legal protections afforded to slaves, which seem to have been put in place to protect the status quo and not out of any compassion for fellow human beings:

  • In Plato's Euthyphro, one of Euthyphro's hired labourers had killed a slave and so Euthyphro's father 'bound him hand and foot, threw him into a ditch, and sent a man here to Athens to ask the religious adviser what he ought to do.' Euthyphro, 4c

  • This Wikipedia article about slavery in ancient Athens

  • The entry on slavery in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th edition), in particular the last paragraph

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