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Slavery in Russia

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]

In June 2013, US Department of State released a report on slavery, placing Russia in the worst offenders category.[2][3] This slavery mostly affects the Uzbekistan and Tajikistan nationals who migrate to Russia but have problems with the Federal Migration Service.[4][5][6][7]


In Kievan Rus and Muscovy, the slaves were usually classified as kholops. 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, was responsible before the law for his kholop's actions. A person could become a kholop as a result of capture, selling himself or herself, being sold for debts or committed crimes, or marriage to a kholop. Until the late 10th century, the kholops represented a majority among the servants who worked lordly lands.

In 1382 the Golden Horde under Khan Tokhtamysh sacked Moscow, burning the city and carrying off thousands of inhabitants as slaves; such raids were made routinely until well into the 16th century.[8] In 1521, the combined forces of Crimean Khan Mehmed I Giray and his Kazan allies attacked Moscow and captured thousands of slaves.[9][10] In 1571, the Crimean Tatars attacked and sacked Moscow, burning everything but the Kremlin and taking thousands of captives as slaves.[11] In Crimea, about 75% of the population consisted of slaves.[12]

Michał Tyszkiewicz, the Lithuanian envoy to the Crimean Tatars in 1537–39, wrote:

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....[13]

By the sixteenth century, slavery in Muscovy consisted mostly of those who sold themselves into slavery owing to poverty.[14] They worked predominantly as household servants, among the richest families, and indeed generally produced less than they consumed.[15] Laws forbade the freeing of slaves in times of famine, to avoid feeding them, and slaves generally remained with the family a long time; the Domostroy, an advice book, speaks of the need to choose slaves of good character and to provide for them properly.[16] Slavery remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter the Great converted the household slaves into house serfs. Russian agricultural slaves were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679.[14]

Slavery was also practised in Siberia on a small scale among some native peoples, notably Yakuts and Buryats.[17] After the Russian conquest natives were enslaved in military operations and Cossack raids.[17] Cases involving native women were frequent, hold as concubines, sometimes mortgaged to other men and traded for commercial profit.[17] The Russian government generally opposed the conversion of natives to Christianity because it would free them of paying the Yasak, the fur tribute.[17] The government decreed that the non Christian slaves were to be freed.[17] This in turn led local Russian owners of slaves petitioning the government for conversion and even involving forced conversions of their slaves.[17] It was the rule that the native convert became a serf of the converter.[17] As an indication of the extent of the slave trade a voyevoda's reported in 1712 that: "there is hardly a Cossack in Yakutsk who does not have natives as slaves."[17]

Recent reports have identified human trafficking and slavery of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan nationals in contemporary Russian society.[18][19][20][21]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Victoria Lomasko's reports about 'shop slaves'
  5. ^ BBC News "Trafficking: The ordeal of a Moscow 'shop slave'"
  6. ^ U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009
  7. ^ Institute for War and Peace Special Report: Uzbeks Prey to Modern Slave Trade
  8. ^ The Full Collection of the Russian Annals, vol.13, SPb, 1904
  9. ^ The Tatar Khanate of Crimea
  10. ^ Supply of Slaves
  11. ^ Moscow - Historical background
  12. ^ Historical survey > Slave societies
  13. ^ Michalon Lituanus, “De Moribus Tartarorum, Lituanorum et Moschorum, FragminaX,” in Russia, seu Moscovia, itemque Tartaria (Leiden, 1630), 191[1]
  14. ^ a b Richard Hellie, Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725 (1984)
  15. ^ Carolyn Johnston Pouncey, The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, p15 ISBN 0-8014-9689-6
  16. ^ Carolyn Johnston Pouncey, The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, p33 ISBN 0-8014-9689-6
  17. ^ 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. 67–68–69. ISBN 9780521477710. 
  18. ^ Victoria Lomasko's reports about 'shop slaves'
  19. ^ BBC News "Trafficking: The ordeal of a Moscow 'shop slave'"
  20. ^ U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009
  21. ^ Institute for War and Peace Special Report: Uzbeks Prey to Modern Slave Trade

External links