The Crimean Tatars and their Russian-Captive Slaves: An Aspect of Muscovite-Crimean Relations in the 16th and 17th Centuries
By Eizo Matsuki
The Mediterranean World (2006)
Introduction: The Law Code of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (Ulozhenie), being formed of 25 chapters and divided into 976 articles, is the last and the most systematic codification of Muscovite Law in early modern Russia. It was compiled in 1649, that is more than one and a half centuries after Russia’s political “Independence” from Mongol-Tatar Rule. Chapter VIII of this Law Code, comprised of 7 articles and titled “The Redemption of Military Captives”, however, reveals that Muscovite Russia at the mid-17th century was yet suffering from frequent Tatar raids into its populated territory. The raids were to capture Russian people and sell them as slaves. Because of this situation, the Muscovite government was forced to create a special annual tax (poronianichnyi zbor) to prepare a financial fund needed for ransoming Russian captive-slaves from the Tatars.
Chapter VIII, article 1 imposes an annual levy on the common people of all Russia: 8 dengi per household for town people as well as church peasants; 4 dengi for other peasants; and 2 dengi for lower service men. On the other hand, articles 2-7 of this chapter established norms for ransom-payment to the Tatars according to the rank of the Russian captives: for gentry (dvoriane) and lesser gentry (deti boiarskie) twenty rubles per 100 chetvert’ of their service land-estate (pomest’e); for lesser ranks such as Musketeers (strel’tsy), Cossacks, townspeople, and peasants a fixed payment from ten to forty rubles each. The monies of this special tax were annually collected by the Foreign Affairs Chancellery (Posol’skii Prikaz), and were partly handed over to the Russian envoys to the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire and other countries. Payments were made to find Russian captive-slaves and to ransom them from the hands of Crimean, Turk or other slave-traders, and were partly paid to the Crimean and Ottoman envoys or Greek merchants who brought along a number of captive-slaves to Moscow so as to get their ransom monies.
What do these facts mean? They indicate, first of all, that in spite of political independence from the Kipchak Khanate’s rule in the second half of the 15th century, Muscovite Russia for a long time after that, and even till the mid-17th century, was not yet freed from the constant attacks by the people of a successor-state of the Kipchak Khanate: the Crimean Khanate, which was created in the mid-fifteen century in the Crimean Peninsula and on the northern shore of the Black Sea. The Russian population on the southern border with the Crimean Tatars was continuously exposed to the dangers of Crimean raider bands, which were usually formed to attack Russian permanent settlements, capture people and sell them to slave-traders, or to give them back to Russia for ransom monies.