Crimean–Nogai slave raids in Eastern Europe

For over three centuries, the military of the Crimean Khanate and the Nogai Horde conducted slave raids primarily in lands controlled by Russia[lower-alpha 1] and Lithuania-Poland[lower-alpha 2] as well as other territories. These raids began after Crimea became independent about 1441 and lasted until the peninsula came under Russian control in 1774.[1]

Crimean-Nogai raids in Eastern Europe
Part of the Russo-Crimean Wars

20th-century painting depicting Zaporozhian Cossacks fighting Crimeans
Eastern Europe, particularly the Wild Fields. Raids also target the Caucasus and portions of Central Europe
  • Tens 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.
Crimean Khanate
Nogai Horde
Supported by:
Ottoman Empire


Polish–Lithuanian union

Cossack Hetmanate
Zaporozhian Sich

Kingdom of Hungary

Their main purpose was the Muscovy pacification and the capture of slaves,[2] most of whom were exported to the Ottoman slave markets in Constantinople or elsewhere in the Middle East. The raids were an drain of the human and economic resources of eastern Europe. They largely inhabited the "Wild Fields" – the steppe and forest-steppe land which extends from a hundred or so miles south of Moscow to the Black Sea and which now contains most of the Russian and Ukrainian population. The campaigns also played an important role in the development of the Cossacks.[3][4][5][6]

Estimates of the number of people affected vary: Polish historian Bohdan Baranowski assumed that in the 17th century century 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.[7] Mikhail Khodarkhovsky estimates that 150,000 to 200,000 people were abducted from Russia in the first 50 years of the 17th century.[8]

The first major raid occurred in 1468 and was directed into the south-eastern border of Poland.[2] The last raid into Hungary took place in 1717.[9] In 1769 a last major Tatar raid, which took place during the Russo-Turkish War, saw the capture of 20,000 slaves.[10]

What made the "wild field" so forbidding were the Tatars. Year after year, their swift raiding parties swept down on the towns and villages to pillage, kill the old and frail, and drive away thousands of captives to be sold as slaves in the Crimean port of Kaffa, a city often referred to by Russians as "the vampire that drinks the blood of Rus'...For example, 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.[3]


Economic factors

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.[11]

The main economic goal of the raids was booty, some of it material, but most of it human.[12] 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.[11] 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."[11] 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.[13]

Political factors

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.[14][15]

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.[16] Ivan the Terrible, having learnt that Crimean Khanate army was approaching Moscow, fled from Moscow to Kolomna with his oprichniks.[15]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]


Theater of war

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.[20]

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.[lower-alpha 3]

In Crimea and Turkey

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 others. 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. Ruthenian slaves were slightly more valuable than those from Muscovy since the latter were considered treacherous and likely to run away.[21]

Michalon Litvin 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.[21]


  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. Davies, Brian (2016). The Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774: Catherine II and the Ottoman Empire. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 1472514157.
  2. Kizilov, Mikhail. "Slaves, Money Lenders, and Prisoner Guards: The Jews and the Trade in Slaves and Captives in the Crimean Khanate". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Subtelny, Orest (2000). Ukraine: A History. University of Toronto Press. pp. 105–106. ISBN 0802083900. OCLC 940596634.
  4. Davies 2014, p. 14.
  5. Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups. Greenwood Press. p. 216. ISBN 0313309841. OCLC 912527274.
  6. Breyfogle, Nicholas; Schrader, Abby; Sunderland, Willard (2007). Peopling the Russian Periphery: Borderland Colonization in Eurasian History. New York: Routledge. p. 43. ISBN 1134112882. OCLC 182756807.
  7. Yermolenko, Galina I (2010). Roxolana in European Literature, History and Culture. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 111. ISBN 1409403742.
  8. Khodarkovsky 2002, p. 22.
  9. Dávid, Géza; Fodor, Pál (2007). Ransom Slavery Along the Ottoman Borders: (Early Fifteenth – Early Eighteenth Centuries). BRILL. p. 203. ISBN 90-04-15704-2.
  10. Kizilov, Mikhail. "Slave Trade in the Early Modern Crimea From the Perspective of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources". Oxford University. pp. 2–7.
  11. Slavery. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  12. Paul Robert, Magocsi (2010). A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples, Second Edition. University of Toronto Press. pp. 184–185. ISBN 1442698799.
  13. 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.
  14. Davies 2014, p. 5.
  15. 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.
  16. Davies 2014, p. 17.
  17. Payne, Robert; Romanoff, Nikita (2002). Ivan the Terrible. Cooper Square Press. ISBN 9781461661085. OCLC 1054786811.
  18. Tucker, Spencer, ed. (2010). A global chronology of conflict / Vol. 2 1500-1774. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851096671. OCLC 643904577.
  19. 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.
  20. Davies 2014, p. 17-79.
  21. 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 requires |journal= (help)


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