Crimean–Nogai slave raids in Eastern Europe

Crimean–Nogai slave raids in Eastern Europe were the slave raids, for over three centuries, conducted by the military of the Crimean Khanate and the Nogai Horde primarily in lands controlled by Russia[b] and Poland-Lithuania[c] as well as other territories, often under the sponsorship of the Ottoman Empire, which provided slaves for the Crimean slave trade.

Crimean–Nogai raids in Eastern Europe
Part of the Russo–Crimean Wars
Picture of the Zaporozhian Cossacks fighting against the Crimean Tatars
Picture of the Zaporozhian Cossacks fighting against the Crimean Tatars
Eastern Europe, particularly the Wild Fields. Raids also target the Caucasus and portions of Central Europe
  • More than 3-5 million of Eastern European, Caucasian, and Central European people enslaved for sale in the Crimean slave market
  • Devastation in the areas targeted by raids
  • Development of the Cossacks
  • Cossacks raid and harass Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire
  • Conflict ended with the annexation of the Crimean Khanate by the Russian Empire
Crimean Khanate
Nogai Horde
Supported by:
Ottoman Empire

Russia[a] Russia

Polish–Lithuanian union

Cossack Hetmanate
Zaporozhian Sich

Kingdom of Hungary

Their main purpose was the capture of humans and consequent enslavement,[1] most of whom were exported to the Ottoman slave markets in Constantinople or elsewhere in the Middle East via the Black Sea slave trade. Genoese and Venetian merchants controlled the slave trade from Crimea to Western Europe. The raids were a drain on the human and economic resources of eastern Europe. They largely targeted the "Wild Fields" – the steppe and forest-steppe land which extends about five hundred or so miles north of the Black Sea and which now contains most of the population of modern-day south-eastern Ukraine and south-western Russia. The campaigns also played an important role in the development of the Cossacks.[2][3][4][5]

Estimates of the number of people affected vary: Polish historian Bohdan Baranowski assumed that the 17th-century Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (present-day Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus) lost an average of 20,000 yearly and as many as one million in total from 1474 to 1694.[6] Mikhail Khodarkhovsky estimates that 150,000 to 200,000 people were abducted from Russia in the first half of the 17th-century.[7]

The first major raid occurred in 1468 and was directed into the south-eastern border of Poland.[1] The last raid into Hungary took place in 1717.[8] In 1769, the last major Tatar raid, which took place during the Russo-Turkish War, saw the capture of 20,000 slaves.[9]



Geographic factors


The steppes of southern Eurasia are flat and most of its societies were either nomadic or semi-nomadic, even those based in urban centers, like Kazan, Crimea, and Astrakhan.

Given the mobility of nomadic nations, warfare and slave trade proved more lucrative than trade because of the wide-open terrain. Additionally, the decentralized and fractious powers that Russia encountered on its eastern and southern borders were organized for war, leaving East Slavic lands in a constant state of warfare with numerous potential invaders. Armed mainly with spears, bows, and sabres, raiders could travel for hundreds of miles across an open steppe landscape with no natural impediment like mountain ranges, attack villages with little warning, and then leave with captives. Traveling light and on horseback, the main concern of the Tatars was finding sufficient fodder for their horses. Sedentary farming societies, with or without a powerful army, were easy prey for the highly mobile raiders.[10]

Security on the steppe's wide-open terrain remained precarious and in ever-present danger. Even in the mid-18th century, with greater security at the southern frontier, Russian peasants there continued to farm their lands fully armed, often superficially indistinguishable from Cossacks. [11]

Economic factors


Most of the raids fell on territory of today's Russia and Ukraine – lands previously divided between Muscovy and Lithuania, although some fell on Moldavia and Circassia (North Caucasus).

The main economic goal of the raids was booty, some of it material, but most of it human.[12] These human trade goods were mostly sold on to the Ottoman Empire, although some remained in Crimea. Slaves and freedmen formed approximately 75% of the Crimean population.[13] According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "It is known that for every slave the Crimeans sold in the market, they killed outright several other people during their raids, and a couple more died on the way to the slave market."[13] The main slave market was Caffa which after 1475 was part of the coastal strip of Crimea that belonged to the Ottomans. In the 1570s close to 20,000 slaves a year went on sale in Caffa.[14]

Political factors

The Crimean Khanate in about 1600. Note that the areas marked Poland and especially Muscovy were claimed rather than administered and were thinly populated.

The Crimean Khanate broke off from the Golden Horde in 1441. When the Horde came to an end in 1502, the buffer between Crimea and its northern neighbors disappeared. The Khans took advantage of the conflicts between Lithuania and Moscow, allying now with one, then with the other, and using the alliance with one as a justification to attack the other. During the Russo-Lithuanian War of 1500–1506 the Crimeans were allied with Russia and penetrated deep into Lithuania. Relations soon deteriorated. Near continuous raids on Muscovy began in 1507.[15][16]

Crimean Khan Devlet I Giray burnt down Moscow during the 1571 campaign. Contemporaries counted up to 80,000 victims of the Tatar invasion in 1571, with 150,000 Russians taken as captives.[17] Ivan the Terrible, having learnt that Crimean Khanate army was approaching Moscow, fled from Moscow to Kolomna with his oprichniks.[16]

After the burning of Moscow, Devlet Giray Khan, supported by the Ottoman Empire, invaded Russia again in 1572. The combined force of Tatars and Turks, however, this time was repelled in the Battle of Molodi. In July–August, the 120,000-strong Tatar horde was also defeated by the Russian army, led by Prince Mikhail Vorotynsky and Prince Dmitriy Khvorostinin.[18]

In 1620, Tatars took part in the Battle of Cecora, where they vastly contributed to the crushing victory of the Turks over the Poles-Lithuanians.[19] In 1672, Khan Selim I Giray was assigned to join Ottoman army during the Polish–Ottoman War (1672–76) in which he was successful in the conquest of Bar.[20]


Great Abatis Border by Max Presnyakov (2010). The border has been created by Russia to protect it from the Crimean-Nogai raiders who, rapidly moving along the Muravsky Trail, ravaged the southern provinces of the country.

Theater of war


At the beginning of this period, almost 700 miles of sparsely populated grassland -- the so-called Wild Fields -- separated the Crimean Khanate from the Duchy of Moscow. The Oka River, 40 miles south of Moscow, was the city's the principal and northernmost line of defense, guarded by the Beregovaya Sluzhba ("river-bank service"). These guards remained in place there after the construction of the Belgorod Line far to the south. They rarely crossed the Oka in that direction, even when the southward fortresses suffered massive attacks.[21]

Three main routes, called trails, traversed the terrain between Muscovy and Crimea. To minimize the necessity of fording rivers, the trails generally followed the high ground between them.[d]

In Crimea and Turkey


Caffa, which after 1475 belonged to the Ottoman Empire, was Crimea's main slave market. Artillery and a strong garrison of Janissaries protected the city. The Crimean towns of Karasubazar, Tuzleri, Bakhchysarai and Khazleve also sold slaves. The slave dealers were Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Jews, and both the Crimean khan and the Turkish pasha taxed them in exchange for that right . Caffa sometimes had as many as 30,000 slaves, most of whom came from Muscovy and the southeastern lands of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Sigismund von Herberstein, who was a Habsburg diplomat and the Holy Roman Empire's ambassador to Muscovy, wrote that "old and infirmed men, who will not fetch much at a sale, are given up to the Tatar youths, either to be stoned, or to be thrown into the sea, or to be killed by any sort of death they might please.""[22] A Lithuanian in 1630 wrote:[23]

Among these unfortunates [Slavic slaves] there are many strong ones; if they [Tatars] have not castrated them yet, they cut off their ears and nostrils, burned cheeks and foreheads with the burning iron and forced them to work with their chains and shackles during the daylight, and sit in the prisons during the night; they are sustained by the meager food consisting of the dead animals’ meat, rotten, full of worms, which even a dog would not eat. The youngest women are kept for wanton pleasures.

Alan W. Fisher describes the fate of the slaves:[24]

"The first ordeal [of the captive] was the long march to the Crimea. Often in chains and always on foot, many of the captives died en route. Since on many occasions the Tatar raiding party feared reprisals or, in the seventeenth century, attempts by Cossack bands to free the captives, the marches were hurried. Ill or wounded captives were usually killed rather than be allowed to slow the procession. An Ottoman traveler in the mid-sixteenth century who witnessed one such march of captives from Galicia marveled that any would reach their destination—the slave markets of Kefe. He complained that their treatment was so bad that the mortality rate would unnecessarily drive their price up beyond the reach of potential buyers such as himself. A Polish proverb stated: “Oh how much better to lie on one's bier, than to be a captive on the way to Tartary.”

According to Ukrainian-Canadian historian Orest Subtelny, "from 1450 to 1586, eighty-six raids were recorded, and from 1600 to 1647, seventy. Although estimates of the number of captives taken in a single raid reached as high as 30,000, the average figure was closer to 3000...In Podilia alone, about one-third of all the villages were devastated or abandoned between 1578 and 1583."[2]

Michalo Lituanus described Caffa as "an insatiable and lawless abyss, drinking our blood." Besides the bad food, water, clothing and shelter, they were subjected to exhausting labor and abuse. According to Litvin "the stronger slaves were castrated, others had their noses and ears slit and were branded on the forehead or cheek. By day they were tormented with forced labor and at night kept in dungeons." Muslim, Armenians, Jews, and Greek traders all purchased Slavic slaves in Caffa.[22]

Human losses


The human losses during the raids in Eastern Europe were significant. According to partial statistics and fragmentary estimates, nearly 2 million Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles were taken into slavery by the Crimean Tatars from 1468 to 1694.[25] In the first half of the 17th century alone, an estimated 150 to 200 thousand people were taken into slavery from the territory of the Moscow State. These figures do not take into account those who were killed during the attacks.[26]

The largest captures of slaves occurred in the Dnieper, Podolia, Volhynia, and Galicia regions, with more than a million people taken from these lands between 1500 and 1644.[27][page needed] During the second half of the 17th century, these regions saw numerous wars with Tatar participation, suggesting an extremely high number of captured yasyr during this period. In 1676, for example, 40 thousand people were taken away in Volhynia, Podolia, and Galicia.[27][page needed]

After the Azov campaigns of Peter I in the 18th century, the raids became smaller and were mostly carried out in the Dnieper region, the Azov region, and the Don, by both the Tatars and the Cossacks in both directions.[28]

See also



  1. ^ Flag adopted in 1696
  2. ^ Russia underwent a series of political changes in the period of the raids. The Grand Duchy of Moscow overthrew Turco-Mongol lordship, and expanded into the Tsardom of Russia in 1547. From 1721, following the reforms of Peter the Great, it was the Russian Empire.
  3. ^ Poland and Lithuania were in personal union after 1385. In 1569, Poland and Lithuania formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
  4. ^ A slightly different account of the three trails is given in the Muravsky Trail article


  1. ^ a b Kizilov, Mikhail (2007). "Slaves, Money Lenders, and Prisoner Guards: The Jews and the Trade in Slaves and Captives in the Crimean Khanate". Journal of Jewish Studies. 58 (2): 189–210. doi:10.18647/2730/JJS-2007.
  2. ^ a b Subtelny, Orest (2000). Ukraine: A History. University of Toronto Press. pp. 105–106. ISBN 0802083900. OCLC 940596634.
  3. ^ Davies 2014, p. 14.
  4. ^ Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups. Greenwood Press. p. 216. ISBN 0313309841. OCLC 912527274.
  5. ^ Breyfogle, Nicholas; Schrader, Abby; Sunderland, Willard (2007). Peopling the Russian Periphery: Borderland Colonization in Eurasian History. New York: Routledge. p. 43. ISBN 978-1134112883. OCLC 182756807.
  6. ^ Yermolenko, Galina I (2010). Roxolana in European Literature, History and Culture. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 111. ISBN 978-1409403746.
  7. ^ Khodarkovsky 2002, p. 22.
  8. ^ Dávid, Géza; Fodor, Pál (2007). Ransom Slavery Along the Ottoman Borders: (Early Fifteenth – Early Eighteenth Centuries). BRILL. p. 203. ISBN 978-90-04-15704-0.
  9. ^ Kizilov, Mikhail (2007). "Slave Trade in the Early Modern Crimea From the Perspective of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources". Oxford University. 11 (1): 2–7.
  10. ^ Khodarkovsky 2002, p. 16-17, 21-23.
  11. ^ Khodarkovsky 2002, p. 28.
  12. ^ Paul Robert, Magocsi (2010). A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples, Second Edition. University of Toronto Press. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-1442698796.
  13. ^ a b Slavery. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  14. ^ Halil Inalcik. "Servile Labor in the Ottoman Empire" in A. Ascher, B. K. Kiraly, and T. Halasi-Kun (eds), The Mutual Effects of the Islamic and Judeo-Christian Worlds: The East European Pattern, Brooklyn College, 1979, pp. 25–43.
  15. ^ Davies 2014, p. 5.
  16. ^ a b Williams, Brian Glyn (2013). "The Sultan's Raiders: The Military Role of the Crimean Tatars in the Ottoman Empire" (PDF). The Jamestown Foundation. p. 27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-21.
  17. ^ Davies 2014, p. 17.
  18. ^ Payne, Robert; Romanoff, Nikita (2002). Ivan the Terrible. Cooper Square Press. ISBN 9781461661085. OCLC 1054786811.
  19. ^ Tucker, Spencer, ed. (2010). A global chronology of conflict / Vol. 2 1500-1774. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851096671. OCLC 643904577.
  20. ^ Sevim, Ali; Yücel, Yaşar; Turkish History Association (1991). Türkiye tarihi Cilt III: Osmanlı dönemi, 1566-1730 [Turkish History Volume 3: The Ottoman period, 1566-1730] (in Turkish). Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi. pp. 168–169. ISBN 9751604303. OCLC 645656679.
  21. ^ Davies 2014, p. 17-79.
  22. ^ a b Matsuki, Eizo. "The Crimean Tatars and their Russian-Captive Slaves An Aspect of Muscovite-Crimean Relations in the 16th and 17th Centuries" (PDF). p. 178. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-05.
  23. ^ Kizilov, Mikhail (January 1, 2007). "Slave Trade in the Early Modern Crimea From the Perspective of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources". Journal of Early Modern History. 11 (1–2): 1–31. doi:10.1163/157006507780385125 – via
  24. ^ A Precarious Balance: Conflict, Trade, and Diplomacy on the Russian-Ottoman Frontier. Isis Press. 1999. ISBN 9789754281453.
  25. ^ "Борьба Московского государства с татарами в первой половине XVII века » Информационно-аналитическая служба Белгорода на Беелгород.ру". Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  26. ^ Eltis, David; Engerman, Stanley L.; Bradley, Keith R.; Cartledge, Paul; Perry, Craig; Drescher, Seymour; Richardson, David (2011-07-25). The Cambridge World History of Slavery: Volume 3, AD 1420-AD 1804. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84068-2.
  27. ^ a b Davies 2014.