Everyone has heard about our slaves in the Sultan's harems, but few people know about the huge number of Russian girls bought not by Turks, but by Christian Europeans.
Slaves from Western Russia were sold in Florence, Venice, where today there is the Schiavoni (Slavic) embankment, and the largest markets operated in the South of France in the province of Roussillon. It was there that buyers from all over Catholic Europe gathered for slaves.
How Russian slaves got to Europe
For centuries, the population of the first Western Russian principalities suffered from the raids of nomads. The steppe inhabitants did not confine themselves to the annual plunder of the border territories, but also smashed the Moscow suburbs. During the raids, tens of thousands of people fell into slavery and were sold in the slave markets of the Crimea. Some of the Polonyans ended up in Western Europe, where Russian girls were especially appreciated.
The center of the European slave trade was Crimea, and the largest market was in the Genoese colony Cafe, modern Feodosia. In this city today there is an area called "quarantine". During the Middle Ages, for fear of epidemics, slaves were kept in it before they were resold. It was the Italians who monopolized the sale of Russian slaves to Europe. Demand generated supply. Crimean and Nogai Tatars staged raids on Russian lands, from where they brought prisoners, including young girls.
The nomads gave their captives to the Genoese at bargain prices, and they sold them to Europe. The slave in the eyes of the sellers ceased to be a man. The Genoese Maritime Statute of 1588 stated:
The attitude towards slaves, especially beautiful young girls, was different. Russian slaves were highly valued and brought huge profits to their masters. A scar on the body, a fresh wound, or an emaciated appearance could significantly reduce the price and lead to losses. Therefore, the beauties were taken care of.
How much were Russian slaves
During the Middle Ages, the Roussillon region in the South of France became an important center of the slave trade. Most often, slaves were sold here, who were used for agricultural needs, but young slaves also became an important part of the exchange of goods. In the 19th century, this question in his work "Russian slaves and slavery in Roussillon in the 14th and 15th centuries." studied in detail by the Kiev historian Ivan Luchitsky.
Rusyn slaves, namely, this is how the Western Europeans called the girls brought from Poland, Galicia and Lithuania (White Russia) were worth more than the rest of the unfortunate. According to the notarial acts of that time, the average price for a black woman reached 40 livres, for an Ethiopian woman - 50, but for a Russian woman at least 60 livres. If in Turkey Russian girls became concubines, then in Europe they were used as temporary wives and wet nurses for children from noble families. In his work, Ivan Luchitsky wrote:
The Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky wrote that along the shores of the Black and Mediterranean there were many slaves, rocking the master's children to Polish and Russian lullabies.
The absolute record for the purchase of a slave woman was recorded in a notary deed from 1429. In the slave market in Roussillon, 2,093 French lire was paid for the Russian girl Catherine. In the 15th century, 2 thousand livres was a colossal amount.
For comparison, for 1 livre in the center of a large city it was possible to rent a house for six months with meals, a laundress and a stable
A used house cost 7-10 livres, and a new one from 25 to 30 livres. The construction of the middle castle with all the infrastructure cost 45 thousand livres.The entire state budget of France in 1307 amounted to 750 thousand livres.
The main reason for the huge price is the beauty of Russian girls, which bribed Italian, Spanish and French nobles. A letter from a mother to her son has been preserved in the Florentine archives, in which she writes:
In the documents of that time, the term "white Tatar women" is found. There were girls named Evdokia, Martha, Efrosinya. Most likely, the merchants understood this name as women brought from the east - Tartaria. And they are white because they were Europeans.
The fate of Russian slaves in the 17th century
After the Turks conquered Crimea, the slave trade did not disappear. It was monopolized by local Tatar merchants. For the Crimean Khan and his Murza, the trade in Russian slaves became the main source of income. The Lithuanian traveler Michalon, visiting the medieval Crimea, wrote that near the only thieves in Perekop he saw endless lines of slaves. One of the visiting merchants-Aids, amazed by the spectacle, asked the Lithuanian if there were people left in the countries from which the slaves were being led …
The Russian rulers understood the scale of the disaster, but they still lacked the strength for a military struggle against the steppe inhabitants. Tatars also raided Eastern Russia. For the ransom of at least a part of the unfortunate compatriots from the 15th century, "polyanny money" was collected.
Since 1551, by decision of the Stoglava Cathedral, the collection has become a regular tax, levied until 1679. The amount of the tax was determined based on the expense for the annual ransom of slaves. Later it was recorded - 2 rubles per plow per year.
With the growing Turkish threat in Europe, Russians were no longer perceived as pagans and apostates from the faith. They became brothers in Christ, albeit schismatics, and since it is a sin to sell co-religionists, the trade in Russian slaves in Europe gradually subsided, but did not completely stop.
Since the beginning of the 17th century, historians record the stories of meadow women who miraculously returned to their homeland. They were recorded in monasteries, where former slaves were sent for confession and the passage of church sacraments. Orthodox priests and monks asked women about their past in a foreign land, found out whether they had sinned all this time or not, and whether they had betrayed the Orthodox faith.
The fate of the girl Catherine is indicative.
In 1606 she was stolen by the Nogai Tatars and sold to the Crimea. After 15 years of slavery, the polonyanka was freed by the Zaporozhye Cossacks, and she walked to Putivl. After staying in the monastery, the woman returned to her native village of Rechka near Kolomna. It turned out that at home she was considered dead, and Catherine's husband married a second time. The monastery documents record:
The story of the girl Fedora is interesting.
Already in Russia, she said that at the age of 17, the Nogais took her to the Crimea and sold her to Constantinople (Istanbul), where she lived with a Jew. I didn’t keep the “Jewish” faith, but drank and ate with them. The owner sold her to an Armenian, and that to a Turk who persuaded her to convert to Islam. According to the monastery records, the girl from slavery was ransomed by a Russian boyfriend Nikita Yushkov, with whom she got married in the Christian quarter of Istanbul. They had two sons, Athanasius and Frol, both baptized into the Orthodox faith by a Russian priest from the tsarist embassy.
The end of the slave trade
In 1783, the army of the Russian Empire conquered the Crimea. With the arrival of the Russians, the slave trade also ended. However, trade in "human goods" flourished for several decades in the North Caucasus. Among the tens of thousands of slaves were Russian people. At the beginning of the 19th century, up to 4 thousand prisoners and especially captives were taken to Turkey annually.
It was possible to suppress the phenomenon thanks to the Russian fleet, which did not allow the export of slaves by sea. As a result, trade became unprofitable. This was also mentioned by the English traveler Edmond Spencer, who was traveling through the Caucasus in the 1830s. The European wrote:
Having studied the notarial acts of Roussillon and Italian cities, historians came to the conclusion that the share of Russian slaves in this market was 22%… According to historians, 10 thousand Slavic slaves were sold annually in the Crimea. In the entire history of the slave trade on the peninsula, 3 million people from Galicia, Poland, Belarus were sold in captivity. More than half of them were girls.