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Slaves, Money Lenders, and Prisoner Guards: The Jews and the Trade in Slaves and Captives in the Crimean Khanate

Jewish Slave Trader being presented to Boleslav of Bohemia
Jewish Slave Trader being presented to Boleslav of Bohemia
Jewish Slave Trader being presented to Boleslav of Bohemia

Slaves, Money Lenders, and Prisoner Guards: The Jews and the Trade in Slaves and Captives in the Crimean Khanate

Mikhail Kizilov (Merton College, Oxford)

Journal of Jewish Studies: Vol. LVIII, No. 2, Autumn (2007)

Abstract

The Crimea, a peninsula lying in the Northern part of the Black Sea, has been inhabited since ancient times by representatives of various ethnic groups and confessions. Trade in slaves and captives was one of the most important (if not the most important) sources of income of the Crimean Khanate in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The role which was played by the Jewish population in this process has still not been properly investigated. Nevertheless, written documents contain frequent references to the involvement of the Jewish population (both Karaite and Rabbanite) in the trade in slaves and prisoners of war carried out by the Crimean Khanate in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. Despite their fragmentary character, the sources allow us to attempt to restore a general view of the problem and to come to essential conclusions regarding the role and importance of the Jewish population in the Crimean slave trade.

The Crimea, a peninsula lying in the Northern part of the Black Sea at the juncture of trade routes from Europe to the East, has been inhabited by representatives of various ethnic groups and confessions since ancient times. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Alans, Khazars, Cumans, Ottoman Turks, Crimean Tatars, and Russians succeeded one another in the struggle According to some estimates, in the first half of the sev- enteenth century the number of the captives taken to the Crimea was around 150,000–200,000 persons. According to the most recent study by Darjusz Kołodziejczyk, based on the author’s comprehensive examination of varied source material, a number of captives transported by the Crimean Tatars from Poland-Lithuania and Russia (not including the Caucasus) approached 10,000 per annum, that is two million for the period between 1500 and 1700. Thus, the Black Sea slave trade was fully comparable in size with the Atlantic slave trade of the same period (ca. two million between 1451 and 1600), and declined only in the eighteenth century.

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