Crimean–Nogai slave raids in Eastern Europe

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Crimean-Nogai raids in Eastern Europe
Part of the Russo-Crimean Wars
Picture of the Zaporozhian Cossacks fighting Tatars
20th-century painting depicting Zaporozhian Cossacks fighting Crimeans
Eastern Europe, particularly the Wild Fields. Raids also target the Caucasus and portions of Central Europe
  • Hundreds of thousands 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
  • Conflict ended with the annexation of the Crimean Khanate by the Russian Empire.
COA Crimean Khanate.svg Crimean Khanate
Nogai flag.svg Nogai Horde
Supported by:
Ottoman Empire


Polish–Lithuanian union

Flag of the Cossack Hetmanat.svg Cossack Hetmanate
Zaporozhian Sich
Circassian flag.svg Circassia

Flag of the Habsburg Monarchy.svg Kingdom of Hungary

For over three centuries, the military of the Crimean Khanate and the Nogai Horde conducted slave raids primarily in lands controlled by Russia[a] and Poland-Lithuania[b] as well as other territories, often under the sponsorship of the Ottoman Empire.

Their main purpose was the capture of slaves,[1] most of whom were exported to the Ottoman slave markets in Constantinople or elsewhere in the Middle East. Genoese and Venetian merchants controlled the slave trade from Crimea to Western Europe. 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 which extends about five hundred or so miles north of the Black Sea and which now contains most of population of today's 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[edit]

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, and 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 arrows, and sabres, the raiders could travel for hundreds of miles across the steppe without mountain ranges or other natural barriers to impede them, attack villages with little warning, and then leave with captives. Traveling light and on horseback, the main concern that the Tatars had 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 remained precarious in its wide-open terrain and ever-present danger. Even in the mid-18th century, with greater security at the southern frontier, Russian peasants on the frontier continued to farm their lands fully armed and were often indistinguishable from Cossacks. [11]

Economic factors[edit]

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). A considerable part of the male population of Crimea took part in these campaigns.[12]

The main economic goal of the raids was booty, some of it material, but most of it human.[13] 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.[12] 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."[12] 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[edit]

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. A combined force of Tatars and Turks, however, this time they were 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 is claimed to have 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[edit]

At the beginning of this period, between the Crimean Khanate and the Duchy of Moscow lay almost 700 miles of thinly populated grassland, the so-called Wild Fields. The Oka River, 40 miles south of Moscow, was both the principal and last line of defense. It was guarded by the Beregovaya Sluzhba ("river-bank service"). This continued to exist even after the construction of the Belgorod Line far to the south. Its troops rarely crossed the Oka, even when there were massive attacks on the fortresses to the south.[21]

Between Muscovy and Crimea there were three main routes also known as trails. To avoid fords they generally followed the high ground between one river basin and another.[c]

In Crimea and Turkey[edit]

The main slave market was at Caffa which after 1475 belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The town had artillery and a strong garrison of Janissaries. Besides Caffa, slaves were sold in Karasubazar, Tuzleri, Bakhchysarai and Khazleve. Slave dealers came from various backgrounds: Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Jews. For the right to trade they paid tax to the Crimean Khan and Turkish Pasha. In Caffa there were sometimes as many as 30,000 slaves, mostly from Muscovy and the southeastern lands of the Commonwealth. 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."[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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Poland and Lithuania were in personal union after 1385. In 1569, Poland and Lithuania formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
  3. ^ 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. ^ a b c Slavery. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  13. ^ 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.
  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): 178. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-05. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^
  24. ^