Slavs and the Slave Trade, The: The History of Enslaved Slavs across Eastern Europe and the Islamic World

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some historians have aligned the term Slav as deriving from descriptions of slaves: “The word “slave” and its cognates in most modern European languages is itself derived from “sclavus,” meaning “slav,” the ethnic name for the inhabitants of this region.” Some historians have outlined how they believe that Slavic slaves were used intensively in the ninth and tenth centuries and acted as a driver of Western European economic growth and allowed them to “emerge from the Dark Ages.” It is only fair to note that this assertion has been disputed. Separately, other scholars have asserted that Constantinople’s rapid rise to become one of Europe’s largest cities was fueled by a large supply of Slavic slaves.

These trans-European routes diminished somewhat from the thirteenth century but demonstrated how common slave trading was in the region during these centuries. The majority of the people would have been kidnapped from Southeast Europe, as well as the Eurasian and Caucasus regions. Today, that encompasses Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the states of the former Yugoslavia. Crucially, an important component of Slavic identity was the Christian faith, in particular Orthodox Christianity.

In the medieval period, a slave trading network became more entrenched, transporting people from Slavic lands in Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean and beyond. The growing schism between the Catholic and Orthodox versions of Christianity made Orthodox Christians targets of the former’s slave traders. As a result, Slavic slaves were captured and taken to parts of Christian Spain, including Aragon and Valencia, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.