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Slavery in Russia

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While slavery has not been widespread on the territory of what is now Russia since the introduction of Christianity in the tenth century, serfdom in Russia, which was in many ways similar to contemporary slavery around the world, only ended in February 19th, 1861 when Russian Emperor Alexander II issued The Emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Emancipation of state-owned serfs occurred in 1866.[1]

The Russian term krepostnoi krestyanin (крепостной крестьянин) is usually translated as "serf": an unfree person who, unlike a slave, can only be sold with the land they are "attached" to.

The 2023 Global Slavery Index estimates 1,899,000 people currently living in slavery-like conditions in Russia. This includes forced labor, forced prostitution, debt bondage, forced servile marriage, exploitation of children, and forced prison labor.[2]


In Kievan Rus' and Grand Duchy of Moscow, legal systems usually referred to a special type of serfs as kholopy. Individuals could become kholop as a result of capture, selling themselves, being sold for debts, committing crimes, or marriage to a kholop. Until the late 10th century, the kholopy represented a majority among the servants who worked lords' lands. The power a kholop's master had over his life varied over the centuries. Generally, this power increased, culminating in the late 16th century with the abolition of the Yuriev Den' [ru; uk], a specially designed day of the year when serfs could freely switch the land they were living on and therefore switch their masters. This power then slowly began to degrade during the next centuries with reforms of Alexei Mikhailovich and Peter the Great.

The Russian lands continued in their historic function as a source of slaves for outsiders.[3] For example, in 1382 the Golden Horde under Khan Tokhtamysh sacked Moscow, burning the city and carrying off thousands of inhabitants as slaves; similar raids occurred routinely until well into the 16th century.[4] In 1521, the combined forces of Crimean Khan Mehmed I Giray and his Kazan allies attacked Moscow and captured thousands of slaves.[5][6] In 1571, the Crimean Tatars attacked and sacked Moscow, burning everything but the Kremlin and taking thousands of captives as slaves[7] for the Crimean slave trade. In Crimea, about 75% of the population consisted of slaves.[8] The Crimean–Nogai raids into East Slavic lands continued into the 18th century.

An anonymous Lithuanian author wrote in De moribus tartarorum, lituanorum et moscorum:

Among these unfortunates there are many strong ones; if they [the 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 ...[9]

By the sixteenth century, the slave population of the Grand Duchy of Moscow consisted mostly of those who had had become serfs owing to poverty.[10] They worked predominantly as household servants, among the richest families, and indeed generally produced less than they consumed.[11] Laws forbade slave owners to free slaves in times of famine in order to avoid feeding them, and slaves generally remained with their owning family for a long time; the Domostroy, an advice book, speaks of the need to choose slaves of good character and to provide for them properly.[12] Slavery remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter the Great converted the household slaves into house serfs. The government of Tsar Feodor III had formally converted Russian agricultural slaves into serfs earlier, in 1679.[10][13]

Indigenous peoples of Siberia – notably the Yakuts and the Buryats of Eastern Siberia – practised slavery on a small scale.[14] With the conquest of Siberia in the 16th and 17th centuries, Russians enslaved natives in military operations and in Cossack raids.[14] Cases involving native women were frequent, held as concubines, sometimes mortgaged to other men and traded for commercial profit.[14] The Russian government generally opposed the conversion of natives to Christianity because it would free them from paying the yasak, the fur tribute.[14] The government decreed that the non-Christian slaves were to be freed.[14] This in turn led local Russian owners of slaves to petition the government for conversion and even involved forced conversions of their slaves.[14] The rules stipulated that the native convert became a serf of the converter.[14] As an indication of the extent of the slavery system, one voyevoda reported in 1712 that "there is hardly a Cossack in Yakutsk who does not have natives as slaves".[14]

Russian conquest of the Caucasus led to the abolition of slavery by the 1860s[15][16] and the conquest of the Central Asian Islamic khanates of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva by the 1870s.[17] A notorious slave market for captured Russian and Persian slaves was centred in the Khanate of Khiva from the 17th to the 19th century.[18][19] At the beginning of the 21st century Chechens and Ingush kept Russian captives as slaves or in slave-like conditions in the mountains of the northern Caucasus.[20]

Current situation[edit]

Internal migrants from Russia's poorer regions and foreign migrants are reportedly trafficked (sometimes involving drugging and kidnapping) and then forced to work against their will in brick factories and small farms in Dagestan. Many of Russia's migrant workers are irregular migrants, a status that makes them particularly vulnerable to modern slavery.[21]

Recent (2009–2012) reports have identified human trafficking and slavery of Uzbek nationals in contemporary Russian society.[22][23][24][25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mee, Arthur; Hammerton, J.A.; Innes, Arthur D.; Harmsworth History of the World: Volume 7, 1907, Carmelite House, London; p. 5193.
  2. ^ Walk Free Foundation. "The Global Slavery Index 2023" (PDF).
  3. ^ Note the traditional etymology of the word "slave" from the ethnonym Slav: Harper, Douglas. "slave". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  4. ^ The Full Collection of the Russian Annals, vol.13, SPb, 1904
  5. ^ "The Tatar Khanate of Crimea". www.allempires.com. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  6. ^ Supply of Slaves
  7. ^ "Gulliver". The Economist. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  8. ^ Historical survey > Slave societies
  9. ^ Michalon Lituanus, De Moribus Tartarorum, Lituanorum et Moschorum, Fragmina X, in Russia, seu Moscovia, itemque Tartaria (Leiden, 1630), 191 [1][page needed]
  10. ^ a b Richard Hellie, Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725 (1984)
  11. ^ Carolyn Johnston Pouncey, The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, p15 ISBN 0-8014-9689-6
  12. ^ Carolyn Johnston Pouncey, The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, p33 ISBN 0-8014-9689-6
  13. ^ Compare: Hellie, Richard (6 April 2009). "Slavery and serfdom in Russia". In Gleason, Abbott (ed.). A Companion to Russian History. Wiley Blackwell Companions to World History. Vol. 10. John Wiley & Sons (published 2009). p. 110. ISBN 9781444308426. Retrieved 2015-09-14. ... slaves typically paid no taxes, whereas serfs always did. A census was taken in 1678, and the count revealed that there were significantly fewer serfs and more slaves than anticipated. It was obvious to the government that many peasants had colluded with their owners to cheat the tax collectors by pretending to be slaves. As a result, in 1679 the government decreed that all slaves engaged in agriculture were to be listed as taxpayers. This effectively abolished the institution of agricultural slavery.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Forsyth, James (1994). A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony 1581–1990. Cambridge University Press. pp. 67–69. ISBN 9780521477710.
  15. ^ ""Horrible Traffic in Circassian Women—Infanticide in Turkey," New York Daily Times, 6 August 1856". Chnm.gmu.edu. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Georgia in the Beginning of Feudal Decomposition. (XVIII cen.)". Parliament.ge. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  17. ^ "Khiva, Bukhara, Khokand". Ferghana.ru. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  18. ^ Report of Josef Wolff 1843–1845
  19. ^ "Adventure in the East". Time. 6 April 1959. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  20. ^ "Slave of the Caucasus". BBC News. 15 March 2002. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  21. ^ Global Slavery Index
  22. ^ halfaman (2012-11-26). "The second report about slavery in Russia". Бомбила. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  23. ^ Sandford, Daniel (2012-11-16). "The ordeal of a Moscow 'shop slave'". Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  24. ^ "Country Narrative - Russia". gvnet.com. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  25. ^ "Uzbeks Prey to Modern Slave Trade". Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Retrieved 2019-06-28.