When we talk about Slavs in slavery, we immediately imagine blond half-naked girls in luxurious oriental serales, next to imposing sultans in turbaned shirts and black eunuchs in fez. But it turns out that our compatriots languished not only in the harems of Istanbul, Bakhchisaray and Marrakesh, but also in the castles and houses of Florence, Venice, Madrid and Barcelona.
States inhabited by Slavic tribes for many centuries suffered from attacks by nomads from the east and south. Riders in dressing gowns were operating not only in the border lands — they reached Moscow and Kiev, robbing and taking the population captive by entire cities.
The number of people taken into slavery was measured in tens of thousands, and all of them soon found themselves in Café on the main slave market in Crimea. Of the possessions of the Crimean rulers, part of the slaves went further, to the south and east, and part — to the west, to Christian Europe. There, mainly Russian and Ukrainian girls, stately and fair-haired, were valued.
For some time, the main supplier of girls captured in Russia were the Genoese, who owned the largest cities of Crimea. Nomads gave girls traffickers for nothing, and they resold them profitably. Later, when the Muslims conquered the peninsula, this business passed into their competence, but nothing changed for slaves.
Despite the fact that in the Middle Ages slaves were equated with livestock in value, the attitude to beautiful slave girls was completely different. Traces of beatings, excessive thinness or, God forbid, illness, significantly reduced the value of slaves in the market, so they tried to protect them.
City of Perpignan
The southern French province of Roussillon and its capital, Perpignan, became for Europeans an analogue of the Crimean Kafa. Slaves from different parts of the Old World were brought here and offered to customers in several slave markets. Roussillon’s main “goods” were workers for agriculture, resource extraction, or construction, but there were also beautiful Slavs who were acquired in order to make them concubines, maidservants in the house, or nurse.
The 19th-century Kiev historian Ivan Luchitsky, in his study “Russian Slaves and Slavery in Roussillon in the 14th and 15th Centuries,” described in some detail how the bargaining took place, what the prices of our women were and what their fate was after the sale.
The scientist wrote that the girls brought from Ukraine, Muscovy, Poland and Lithuania were called Rusyns, regardless of nationality, and they were valued more than others. If for a black woman they were ready to give 40 livres, and for a beautiful Ethiopian 50, then the price of the Slavs began at 60 livres. It was impossible to name the upper threshold, since there is a known case when a girl from Russia was sold in Roussillon for 2093 French livres.
This is a huge sum for medieval Europe, because at that time in just one livery it was possible to rent a house for a year in the city center with a stable and a servant. A new house in the XV century cost 20-30 livres, and the construction of the castle cost 40-45 thousand of these gold coins.
What is the secret of such a high price? First of all, Europeans were ready to pay for the beauty of Rusyns, which was unrivaled in the world. And besides this, many girls quickly paid for themselves when used as nurses. Here is what Luchitsky wrote about this:
A Russian slave, always young, was bought unconditionally, and then after a certain time, her child or children were sold or sent to an orphanage, and she herself was given for temporary use to another person as, for the most part, a nurse … This was an extremely profitable business for the slave owner. Buying a Russian slave for a very high fee, the slave owner easily helped out his expenses by hiring her for a while. His chances were especially improved in this respect, when in Perpignan (the capital of the province of Roussillon) it became a universal fashion from the second half of the 15th century to keep the Russian nurse.
The historian Vasily Klyuchevsky mentioned in one of his scholarly works the fact that lullabies in Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Lithuanian were heard on the shores of both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
Slave Ruska, serving in the house, could become a peculiar indicator of the high status of the owner and his excellent taste. A letter from a noble lady to her son was preserved in the city archives of Florence, in which she urged him to acquire a Russian girl:
It occurred to me that since you are getting married, you need to take a slave … If you have this intention, write what … Tatarka, who are all hardy at work, or a Circassian, different, like all her fellow tribesmen in health and strength, or a Ruska, outstanding its beauty and constitution …
In the documents of that time, there is often a mention from the «White Tatars», while the names of these girls were Slavic. It seems that the slave traders called the girls brought from Tartaria — distant cold land located in the northeast.
In the era of the late Middle Ages, in the 17th century, despite the Europeans craving for enlightenment, the slave trade did not disappear. Crimea at that time was already Tatar, and the khan himself and his murzes had huge incomes from slave markets. The Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Crimean Khanate Michalon Litvin, saw at Perekop a huge number of people, a continuous stream following the peninsula. There were so many of them that the diplomat doubted whether anyone had survived in those parts of the country from where they had been driven.
In the XVI-XVII centuries, neither the Polish kings nor the kings of Muscovy had the strength to fight the Crimean Khan. In Russia, the problem of prisoners, at least partially, was solved by means of a ransom, which was collected from everyone on the basis of a tax. It was called «polonyanichny money» and was officially levied from 1551 to 1679. The amount of tax initially varied depending on the annual cost of redeeming slaves, and then became fixed — 2 rubles from plow.
In the XVII century, when the Ottoman threat hung over the whole of Europe, Christians became more united. Orthodox ceased to be considered heretics and pagans, and recognized as people who know Christ, but lost in their faith. Trade in Slavic slaves has declined, since Christianity condemns the sale of co-religionists. Despite this, the slave trade did not completely disappear, and Rusyns could sometimes be found in slave markets.
But in the XVII century, the first happy stories of the return of women from slavery began to be recorded. Records of this kind were made in monasteries, where former slaves were sent to confess and perform other church sacraments. The priests found out from women what sins they committed in a foreign land and how they kept their faith.
One of these monastic records describes the fate of a girl named Catherine, who was driven into captivity by the Nogai Tatars in 1606. The slave was sold to the Crimea, from where she was rescued after 15 years by the Cossacks. Catherine went a long walk to Putivl, where she was waiting for a real interrogation in the monastery. After all the formalities, she continued her journey and returned home to the village of Rechki, not far from Kolomna.
Nobody expected Ekaterina at home, so everyone considered her dead. The woman’s husband married a second time, but the clergy sentenced him to reunite with his miraculously saved wife. In the monastery book this story is written as follows:
Katerina said she didn’t hold the Tatar faith, she consumed meat on Midsummer and Fridays and in great fasts …, went to Putivl in Lent this year, and the husband of Bogdashko Yelizaryev sought that widow Katerina, and that Bogdashka was ordered to live with her first wife Katerina, and with another wife, whom she married after her, with Tatyana, a lascivious man was ordered to him.
The story of the Russian girl Theodora, who was also taken to captivity by the Nogais at the age of 17, is also well known. She said that the enemies took her to Kafa, where they sold her to Istanbul. There, its owner was a wealthy Jew. The young slave refused to accept someone else’s faith, but drank and ate with the owner’s family. Over time, a Jew sold it to an Armenian, and from that a slave got to a noble Turk. He persuaded her to accept Islam, but could not break her faith.
In the monastery, Theodora said that her deliverance came in the person of the Russian guy Nikita Yushkov, who bought her from slavery. They got married in one of the Christian churches of Istanbul and their sons Frol and Athanasius were born, who were also baptized into Orthodoxy.
Such an unexpected happy ending. Unfortunately, such cases were rare. Most of the girls went missing in a foreign land and their family never heard of them again.
In 1783, the Russian army took the Crimea from the Tatars and the slave market in Cafe, one of the last in Europe, ceased to exist. The center of the slave trade moved to the North Caucasus, where trade in Slavic girls was noted even in the 19th century. From the Caucasus, up to 4,000 slaves, including women, were delivered to Turkey annually.
The slave trade was mainly by sea, which was intensely hindered by the fleet of the Russian Empire. This business has become extremely risky and unprofitable, and the demand for slaves has fallen dramatically. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the British traveler Edmond Spencer wrote:
Currently, due to the limited trade between the inhabitants of the Caucasus and their old friends, Turks and Persians, the price of women has fallen significantly … you can get a wife on very light conditions — the value of a wonderful product falls from the huge price of hundreds of cows to twenty or thirty.
Despite the fact that the slave market in Roussillon ceased to exist centuries ago, historians have a lot of information about its turnover, thanks to notarial acts of sale. It is known that the share of Slavs sold into slavery there accounted for 22% of the total number of slaves. But in the south of France they could not surpass the market in the Cafe, through which a total of 3 million inhabitants of Ukraine, Muscovy and Poland passed. About half of these miserable were girls.