Athenian slaves were the property of their master (or of the state), who could dispose of them as he saw fit. He could give, sell, rent, or bequeath them. A slave could have a spouse and children, but the slave family was not recognized by the state, and the master could scatter the family members at any time.
Slaves had fewer judicial rights than citizens and were represented by their master in all judicial proceedings.
A misdemeanour that would result in a fine for the free man would result in a flogging for the slave; the ratio seems to have been one lash for one drachma.
With several minor exceptions, the testimony of a slave was not admissible except under torture.
Slaves were tortured in trials because they often remained loyal to their master. A famous example of trusty slave was Themistocles
's Persian slave Sicinnus
(the counterpart of Ephialtes of Trachis
), who, despite his Persian origin, betrayed Xerxes
and helped Athenians in the Battle of Salamis
. Despite torture in trials, the Athenian slave was protected in an indirect way: if he was mistreated, the master could initiate litigation for damages and interest (δίκη βλάβης / dikē blabēs
Conversely, a master who excessively mistreated a slave could be prosecuted by any citizen (γραφὴ ὕβρεως / graphē hybreōs
); this was not enacted for the sake of the slave, but to avoid violent excess (ὕβρις / hubris
claimed that "not even the most worthless slave can be put to death without trial";
the master's power over his slave was not absolute. Draco
's law apparently punished with death the murder of a slave; the underlying principle was: "was the crime such that, if it became more widespread, it would do serious harm to society?"
The suit that could be brought against a slave's killer was not a suit for damages, as would be the case for the killing of cattle, but a δίκη φονική (dikē phonikē
), demanding punishment for the religious pollution brought by the shedding of blood.
In the 4th century BC, the suspect was judged by the Palladion
, a court which had jurisdiction over unintentional homicide
the imposed penalty seems to have been more than a fine but less than death—maybe exile, as was the case in the murder of a Metic.
Slaves working in a mine of Laurium
However, slaves did belong to their master's household. A newly-bought slave was welcomed with nuts and fruits, just like a newly-wed wife.
Slaves took part in most of the civic and family cults; they were expressly invited to join the banquet of the Choes
, second day of the Anthesteria
and were allowed initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries
A slave could claim asylum in a temple or at an altar, just like a free man. The slaves shared the gods of their masters and could keep their own religious customs if any.
Slaves could not own property, but their masters often let them save up to purchase their freedom,
and records survive of slaves operating businesses by themselves, making only a fixed tax-payment to their masters. Athens also had a law forbidding the striking of slaves: if a person struck what appeared to be a slave in Athens, that person might find himself hitting a fellow-citizen, because many citizens dressed no better. It astonished other Greeks that Athenians tolerated back-chat from slaves.
Athenian slaves fought together with Athenian freemen at the battle of Marathon
, and the monuments memorialize them.
It was formally decreed before the battle of Salamis
that the citizens should "save themselves, their women, children, and slaves".
Slaves had special sexual restrictions and obligations. For example, a slave could not engage free boys in pederastic
relationships ("A slave shall not be the lover of a free boy nor follow after him, or else he shall receive fifty blows of the public lash.
"), and they were forbidden from the palaestrae
("A slave shall not take exercise or anoint himself in the wrestling-schools.
"). Both laws are attributed to Solon.
Fathers wanting to protect their sons from unwanted advances provided them with a slave guard, called a paidagogos
, to escort the boy in his travels.
The sons of vanquished foes would be enslaved and often forced to work in male brothels, as in the case of Phaedo of Elis
, who at the request of Socrates
was bought and freed from such an enterprise by the philosopher's rich friends.
On the other hand it is attested in sources that the rape of slaves was percecuted, at least occasionally.