Slavery in Russia

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Despite the abolition of slavery in Russia in 1723, when Peter the Great converted household slaves to serfs, Russia remains the 6th largest holder of slaves, estimated at 516,000 in 2013. [1]

Above is based on a Global Slavery Index report that mentions unsatisfactory living conditions of migrant workers who for a number of reasons can not obtain work permits in Russia but continue to work in the country illegally and for minimum wage.


In Kievan Rus and Muscovy, legal systems usually referred to slaves as kholopy. A kholop's master had unlimited power over his life: he could kill him, sell him, or use him as payment upon a debt. The master, however, had responsibility before the law for his kholop's actions. 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 Russian lands continued in their historic function as a source of slaves for outsiders.[2] 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.[3] In 1521, the combined forces of Crimean Khan Mehmed I Giray and his Kazan allies attacked Moscow and captured thousands of slaves.[4][5] In 1571, the Crimean Tatars attacked and sacked Moscow, burning everything but the Kremlin and taking thousands of captives as slaves.[6] In Crimea, about 75% of the population consisted of slaves.[7] Crimean–Nogai raids into East Slavic lands continued into the 18th century.

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....[8]

By the sixteenth century, the slave population of the Grand Duchy of Moscow consisted mostly of those who had sold themselves into slavery owing to poverty.[9] They worked predominantly as household servants, among the richest families, and indeed generally produced less than they consumed.[10] Laws forbade slaveowners 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.[11] 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.[9][12]

Indigenous peoples of Siberia - notably the Yakuts and the Buryats of Eastern Siberia - practised slavery on a small scale.[13] With the conquest of Siberia in the 16th and 17th centuries, Russians enslaved natives in military operations and in Cossack raids.[13] Cases involving native women were frequent, hold as concubines, sometimes mortgaged to other men and traded for commercial profit.[13] The Russian government generally opposed the conversion of natives to Christianity because it would free them from paying the yasak, the fur tribute.[13] The government decreed that the non-Christian slaves were to be freed.[13] This in turn led local Russian owners of slaves to petition the government for conversion and even involved forced conversions of their slaves.[13] The rules stipulated that the native convert became a serf of the converter.[13] 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".[13]

Recent[when?] reports have identified human trafficking and slavery of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan nationals in contemporary Russian society.[14][15][16][17]

See also


  2. Note the traditional etymology of the word "slave" from the ethnonym Slav: Harper, Douglas. "slave". Online Etymology Dictionary.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The Full Collection of the Russian Annals, vol.13, SPb, 1904
  4. The Tatar Khanate of Crimea
  5. Supply of Slaves
  6. Moscow - Historical background
  7. Historical survey > Slave societies
  8. Michalon Lituanus, De Moribus Tartarorum, Lituanorum et Moschorum, Fragmina X, in Russia, seu Moscovia, itemque Tartaria (Leiden, 1630), 191 [1][page needed]
  9. 9.0 9.1 Richard Hellie, Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725 (1984)
  10. Carolyn Johnston Pouncey, The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, p15 ISBN 0-8014-9689-6
  11. Carolyn Johnston Pouncey, The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, p33 ISBN 0-8014-9689-6
  12. Compare: Hellie, Richard (2009). "Slavery and serfdom in Russia". In Gleason, Abbott. A Companion to Russian History. Wiley Blackwell Companions to World History. 10. John Wiley & Sons. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 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. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Victoria Lomasko's reports about 'shop slaves'
  15. BBC News "Trafficking: The ordeal of a Moscow 'shop slave'"
  16. U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009
  17. Institute for War and Peace Special Report: Uzbeks Prey to Modern Slave Trade

External links