The world history of enslavement involves people of all races, though the post-truth world focuses attention almost entirely on black-African slave trade from Africa to the New World.
Other types of massive slave trade involved white Europeans who were traded by Muslim Arabs, Turks, dark-skin Berbers (Africans), Armenians, Jews and Greeks. These European white slaves were captured from coastal regions of Ireland, Spain and Italy, extending into the steppes of Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.
This went on for more than 300 years.
Historian Robert Davis, a professor from Ohio State University, described the western Mediterranean white Christian slave trade in his book “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800” (2003).
Davis explains that most modern historians minimize the white slave trade. Davis estimates that traders from Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli alone enslaved well over one million white Europeans in North Africa from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th century.
Prof. Davis explains, white slaves with non-white masters simply do not fit “the master narrative of European imperialism.” The victimization schemes so dear to academics require white wickedness, not white suffering.
Prof. Davis also points out that the widespread European experience of slavery gives the lie to another favorite leftist hobby horse: that the enslavement of blacks was a crucial step in establishing European notions of race and racial hierarchy.
The European slaves were captured by Barbary pirates in slave raids on ships and by raids of coastal towns from Italy to Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, and as far afield as Ireland and Iceland. Men, women and children were captured to such a devastating extent that vast numbers of sea coast towns were completely abandoned.
in Tunis and Tripoli, slaves usually wore an iron ring around an ankle, and were hobbled with a chain that weighed 25 or 30 pounds.
The Barbary Coast increased in influence in the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire took over as rulers of the area. Coupled with this was an influx of Sephardi Jews and Moorish refugees, newly expelled from Spain after the Reconquista. These markets prospered while the states were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were mostly autonomous.
Many Muslim ship captains who raided Spanish coastal cities were Jewish. The most important of these was Sinan, called “The Great Jew,” who would later be called the Muslim name of Kaptan Pasha. He was the leader of Barbarossa’s Muslim fleet. He captured Tunis from Spain in 1534. Much of the Spanish fleet was destroyed by Sinan in 1538. Meanwhile, Portuguese Jews (Morranos) were rearming Turkish Muslims. One of Sinan’s biggest operations was ravaging coastal Catholic districts of South Italy and Sicily in 1553 and hauling off tens of thousands of slaves.
The second major Jewish pirate was Samuel Palache and his brother (aka the “Pirate Merchants”), who left Spain and settled in Fez Morroco. He operated out of Tetuan, a pirate port infestation astride the Strait of Gibraltar.
With Ottoman protection and a host of destitute immigrants, the coastline soon became reputed for piracy. Crews from the seized ships were either enslaved or ransomed. Between 1580 and 1680, Barbary had around 15,000 active renegados or slave raiders.
The power and influence of these pirates during this time was such that nations, including the United States, paid tribute in order to stave off their attacks.
The white slave trade actually pre-dates the Reconquista. The Black Moors were Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Malta during the Middle Ages. The Moors were initially of Berber and Arab descent.
In 711, the Muslim Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa and called the territory Al-Andalus, which at its peak included most of modern-day Spain, Portugal and Septimania. The Moors occupied Mazara on Sicily in 827, developing it as a port, and they eventually consolidated the rest of the island and some of southern Italy.
Differences in religion and culture led to a centuries-long conflict with the Christian kingdoms of Europe, which tried to reclaim control of Muslim areas. This conflict was referred to as the Reconquista. Spain was reunited under Christian rule in 1492.
The original indigenous Barbary Berbers were dark-brown peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel, mainly those called Fulani, Tugareg, Zenagha of Southern Morocco, Kunta and Tebbu of the Sahel countries, as well as other dark-brown Arabs now living in Mauretania and throughout the Sahel, including the Trarza of Mauretania and Senegal, the Mogharba as well as dozens of other Sudanese tribes, the Chaamba of Chad and Algeria.
These dark skinned peoples were also integral as slavers in the black slave trade to the Americas. They captured and brought the slaves to coastal trading outposts.
Anthropologist Dana Reynolds traced the African roots of the original North African peoples through a dozen Greek and Byzantine (neo-Roman writers) from the first to the sixth century A.D.
“They describe the Berber population of Northern Africa as dark-skinned and woolly-haired,” she said.
Among these writers who wrote about the Berbers were Martial, Silius Italicus, Corippus and Procopius.
In 1544, the island of Ischia off Naples was ransacked by Africans, taking 4,000 inhabitants prisoners, while some 9,000 inhabitants of Lipari Island off the north coast of Sicily were enslaved.
Turgut Reis, a Turkish pirate chief, ransacked the coastal settlements of Granada (Spain) in 1663 and carried away 4,000 people as slaves.
Paul Baepler’s “White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives” lists a collection of essays by nine American captives held in North Africa.
According to Baepler, there were more than 20,000 white Christian slaves by 1620 in Algiers alone. Their number swelled to more than 30,000 men and 2,000 women by the 1630s.
There were a minimum of 25,000 white slaves at any time in Sultan Moulay Ismail’s palace, records Ahmed ez-Zayyani.
Algiers maintained a population of 25,000 white slaves between 1550 and 1730, and their numbers could double at certain times.
During the same period, Tunis and Tripoli each maintained a white slave population of about 7,500.
The Barbary pirates enslaved some 5,000 Europeans annually over a period of nearly three centuries.
In the first years of the 19th century, the United States, allied with European nations, fought and won the first and the second Barbary Wars against the Barbary pirates. The wars were a direct response of the American, British, French and the Dutch states to the raids and the slave trade by the Barbary pirates against them.
The Barbary pirates refused to cease their slaving operations, resulting in another bombardment by a Royal Navy fleet against Algiers in 1824. France invaded Algiers in 1830, placing it under colonial rule and finally ending the trade.
Slavic Slave Trade
The white slavery in the East was even larger and even more hidden or unknown than the Barbary slavery.
For more than three centuries, the military of the Crimean Khanate and the Nogai Horde conducted slave raids into eastern Europe.
Sixteenth- and 17th-century customs statistics suggest that Istanbul’s additional slave imports from the Black Sea may have totaled around 2.5 million from 1450 to 1700.
These raids began after Crimea became independent in 1441 and lasted until the peninsula came under Russian control in 1774. The isthmus topography of the Crimea peninsula allowed for natural fortification and it’s far southern location stretched out the Russian/Ukrainian/Polish supply lines required to take it. In contrast the open prairies of the Ukraine allowed for the rapid deployment of mounted slave raiders.
The figures of white Slavic enslavement must be considered in context. The population of Tatar Khanate was only about 400,000 at the time. A considerable part of the male population of Crimea took part in these campaigns. In later years, slaves and freedmen formed approximately 75 percent of the Crimean population.
The main slave market was in Caffa. After 1475, it was part of the coastal strip of Crimea that belonged to the Ottomans. In the 1570s, at its peak, close to 20,000 enslaved Slavs were auctioned each year in Caffa. The town had artillery and a strong garrison of Janissaries (originally Slavic slaves).
Besides Caffa, slaves were sold in Karasubazar, Tuzleri, Bakhchysarai and Khazleve. For the right to trade, they paid tax to the Crimean Khan and Turkish Pasha.
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, Armenian, Jewish and Greek traders all purchased Slavic slaves in Caffa often transporting them to the slave market in Istanbul.
The main economic goal of the raids was booty, some of it material, but most of it human. These human-trade goods were mostly sold to the Ottoman Empire, although some remained in Crimea.
A compilation of partial statistics and estimates indicates that almost two million Russians, Ukrainians and Poles were seized between 1468 and 1694. Additionally, there were slaves from the Caucasus obtained by a mixture of raiding and trading.
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 Russian population of the borderland suffered annual Tatar invasions and tens of thousands of soldiers were required to protect the southern boundaries. This was a heavy burden for the state, and slowed its social and economic development. Since Crimean Tatars did not permit settlement of Russians to southern regions where the soil is better and the season is long enough, Muscovy had to depend on poorer regions and labour-intensive agriculture.
In 1683 alone, the Ottoman army, although defeated, returned from the Gates of Vienna with 80,000 white European captives from the Balkans.
Records indicate Tatar slave-raiding Khans returned with
- 18,000 slaves from Poland (1463)
- 100,000 from Lvov, present day western Ukraine- (1498)
- 60,000 from South Russia (1515)
- 50,000–100,000 from Galicia (1516, during the “harvesting of the steppe”)
- 800,000 from Moscovy (1521)
- 200,000 from South Russia (1555)
- 100,000 from Moscovy (1571)
- 50,000 from Poland (1612)
- 60,000 from South Russia (1646)
- 100,000 from Poland (1648)
- 300,000 from Ukraine (1654)
- 20,000 from Putivl (1662)
- 400,000 from Valynia (1676)
- Thousands from Poland (1694)
Sources suggest that in the few years between 1436 and 1442, before the Crimea operation embarked, some 500,000 people were seized in the Balkans. Many of the captives died in forced marches towards Anatolia, Turkey.
Contemporary chronicles note that the Ottomans reduced masses of inhabitants of Greece, Romania and the Balkans to slavery by 1460.
- 70,000 in Transylvania (1438)
- 300,000-600,000 from Hungary
- 10,000 from Mytilene/Mitilini on Lesbos island (1462)
An immense number of slaves flowed from the Crimea, the Balkans and the steppes of West Asia to Islamic markets.
Brian Davies in “Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe” (2007) laments that the “Tartars and other Black Sea peoples had sold millions of Ukrainians, Georgians, Circassians, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, Slavs and Turks.”
Polish historian Bohdan Baranowski assumed that in the 17th century, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (present-day Poland, Ukraine and Belarus) lost an average of 20,000 yearly and as many as one million in all years combined from 1474 to 1694.
According to Ukrainian-Canadian historian Orest Subtelny, from 1450 to 1586, 86 raids were recorded, and from 1600 to 1647 there were 70.
“Although estimates of the number of captives taken in a single raid reached as high as 30,000, the average figure was closer to 3,000,” Subtelny wrote. “In Podilia alone, about one-third of all the villages were devastated or abandoned between 1578 and 1583.”
While sources are incomplete, conservative tabulation of the slave raids against the eastern European population indicate that at least seven million European people — men, women and children — were enslaved or exterminated by Muslims.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “It is known that for every slave the Crimean Tatars 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.”
Habsburg diplomat and the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Muscovy, Sigismund von Herberstein, 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.”
The raids were a drain of the human and economic resources of eastern Europe. They largely inhabited the “Wild Fields” – the steppe and forest-steppe land that extends from 100 or so miles south of Moscow to the Black Sea, and which now contains most of the Russian and Ukrainian populations. The campaigns also played an important role in the development of the Cossacks as a counter-force.
As described in the “Book to the Great Chart of Muscovy” (1627), the raid routes took place along the Muravsky Trail or Murava Route. The route went north from the Tatar fortress of Or Qapı (Perekop), the gateway of the Crimean peninsula, and proceeded east of the Dnieper to the Russian fortress of Tula, 193 km south of Moscow.
The Tatars sent out two wings of up to 10,000 men each from the main body to sweep the country, taking women, children, horses, sheep and cattle, and those men who chose not to resist. When the wings returned to the main corps, other wings were sent out in the same manner.
Having “harvested” an area, they withdrew by a different route. They did not waste time by attacking fortified towns, and they avoided fighting organized opposition unless they were forced to defend themselves.
To avoid major river crossings, the route followed the high ground between the basins of the Dnieper and Don, making an almost straight line from the Dnieper bend to Tula. It ran mostly through thinly populated tall grass steppe country (“Muravá” is an old Slavic word for prairie or grassland), avoiding forests, marshes and river crossings. Apart from the main route, there were number of branches and bypaths.
Between 1500 and 1550, there were 43 Tatar raids using this trail. In the wake of the Russo-Crimean War (1571), it became increasingly clear that only a defense line south of the main zasechnaya cherta (Great Abatis Border) would put an end to annual incursions.
A chain of 11 forts and obstruction — the “Belgorod Defense Line” — was constructed, including (among other fortified settlements) the towns of Livny (1586), Voronezh (1586), Kursk (1587, rebuilt), Yelets (1592, rebuilt), Stary Oskol (1593), Valuyki (1593) and Belgorod (1596, rebuilt). These cities were founded in response to the white-slave raids.
Slavic tribute video