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Alan W Fisher (1972)

Muscovy and the Black Sea Slave Trade

Canadian-American Slavic Studies, VI, 4:575-594.

The history of slave trade from the Black Sea area seems to begin in Roman antiquity and finished only in the 18th century. The number of slaves sold on the Crimean markets reached a peak after Italian traders established trading colonies in the Black Sea region and became even better established with the integration of the area in the Mongol Empire. Most of those slaves were of Tatar or Slavic origin and after being captured in wars or raids or sold by their families sold to mostly foreign buyers, then shipped to Europe or the Muslim Middle East.

After the expulsion of the Italian traders in the late 15th century, the Tatars of the Crimea, relatively independent from the Ottoman suzerainty, continued the trade in Slav slaves; high profits were assured by the high demand within the Ottoman Empire, where the possession of slaves increased the status of the growing number of the Empire’s officials.

The justification of slavery was rather simple, since enslavement either represented an alternative to execution in case they had resisted to the Muslim armies, or simply profited the “infidels” with regard to their souls’ salvation.

The conditions of transport for the slaves often captured far away from Caffa must have been bad. Ottoman sources complain about the bad treatment and the high mortality on the march towards the Black Sea shore, where the slaves were sorted according to age, sex and skill and then shipped to Istanbul or Iran.

The quantities of slaves reached a level where several shiploads per week reached Istanbul (early 17th century). At the same time, the slave merchants were even organized into a guild in Istanbul – of the about 2000 members, all were Jews.

The slaves sold to Tatar buyers were employed in domestic work as well as on the estates, in harems and exceptionally in the administration. Occasionally, they were even hired out to Christian employers. Those shipped to Istanbul were mainly used in the navy to staff galleys. Even if those slaves had a greater chance to escape, they lived in hard conditions and mortality was high.

Muscovy and Poland both were too weak to stop the Tatar raids in their territories. Paying a tribute to prevent the raids became a partial solution since the 16th century, ransoming the captives was another, but this practice made slaves an even more lucrative source of income for the Tatars of the Crimean Khanate. It was not until the end of the 17th century that Muscovy was able to put an end to the enslavement of Russian population, the final strike being the annexation of the Crimea by Catherine II in 1783, nearly a century later.

Crimea Russia 15th century 16th century 17th century 18th century
by Annika Stello last modified 2008-05-06 08:21

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