Sunday, September 22, 2013

From Slavs to slaves. Part II

St. Adalbert freeing Slavic slaves (source). With the Christianization of Eastern Europe, the trade in fair-skinned women and boys came to an end.

The white slave trade played a key role in ending the Dark Ages—this seemingly unending downward spiral that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. By the 8th century, the elites of Western Europe had run out of gold and possessed very little else that could be traded for luxury Oriental goods. It was at that point in time that the possibility arose of selling fellow Europeans into slavery, particularly Slavs from the lands between the Elbe and the Volga.

Yet this historical episode is relatively unknown. One reason was its semi-illegality. Involuntary servitude wasn’t unlawful in itself. In fact, most Europeans were bound by long-term ties of submission, like the serfs who farmed the land. This was an accepted part of life. Enslavement was even seen as a humane way of dealing with criminals, prisoners of war, and other people who would otherwise be killed. But this particular form of enslavement meant more than just inferior status. Some of its aspects contravened both secular law and Christian morality, notably castration, the breaking up of families, and the abandonment of individuals who were too old or too young. There was also the exporting of fellow Europeans to the Muslim world and the prohibition against letting them learn about the Christian faith. It was for this reason that the existing term for involuntary servitude—servus—was felt to be inappropriate. The ethnonym ‘Slav’ thus came to mean a particularly degraded kind of servant—a slave.

This leads to another reason why this trade is little talked about. It sheds an unflattering light on our early history. The end of the Dark Ages was bought at a high moral price, even by medieval standards. After selling off the family heirlooms, our ancestors began to sell eunuchs, concubines, and toy boys—all this to get gold and precious fabrics to adorn their palaces … and churches.

This same price would also make possible the rise of states in Eastern Europe. When we read that early Polish and Russian kings had hundreds of wives or concubines, we smile and assume that this sort of thing was normal in those days. Yet it wasn’t. The slave trade initiated a cultural revolution that radically transformed social relations throughout pre-Christian Slavic Europe. Chieftains were previously elected and ruled over small territories through consensus; now, with Arab gold and silver, some of them had the means to assert their power unilaterally over much larger territories. A primitive form of democracy gave way to despotic rule.

Finally, this historical episode sheds an unflattering light on a group of Jews based in Spain and France who came to be called Radhanites. Being neither Christian nor Muslim, they were ideal middlemen for the overland trade route to Muslim Spain. At the other end of this route, there arose between the 8th and 12th centuries a network of trading posts across the Slavic lands that stretched from the Elbe in the West to the Volga in the East.

These trading posts may have eventually given rise to the Ashkenazi community of Eastern Europe. Admittedly, the usual explanation is that Jews emigrated to Poland in the wake of 12th-century persecutions in Western Europe. Yet there are earlier references to the presence of Jewish traders in what is now eastern and central Europe:

The appearance of Jews in central and eastern Europe occurred, it seems, only in the eighth century. It was linked to two important facts, the first of which was the establishment of a Jewish cultural and political center in Khazaria, a great Turkish empire whose center was on the lower Volga. […] The second fact that favored the formation of Jewish colonies in central and eastern Europe (located east of the Elbe) was the role played by Jewish merchants in the trade between Western Europe and the Muslim East.

[…] The Jews of Bohemia are cited for the first time in the 10th century; the Jews of Prague, in particular, are mentioned in the biographies of St. Adalbert. The existence of Jewish colonies in Poland go back only to the early 11th century.

[…] Jewish trade with central and eastern Europe was from the beginning closely linked to the fact that the Western Jews, especially the Spanish, French, and Rhineland Jews, played a major role in the international trade of Western Europe with the Muslim East. This trade began in the late 8th century at the initiative of Arab and Muslim traders. Many colonies of Jewish merchants formed along the trading routes that linked Western Europe to the countries of the Abbasid Caliphate. 

[…] We have already mentioned the existence of Jewish traders in Prague in the late 10th century. The biographies of St. Adalbert tell us that they trafficked in slaves. There was also in the early 11th century, we will discuss further, a Jewish establishment at Przemysl, a town at the crossroads of two trading routes: Prague-Krakow-Kiev and Hungary-Kiev. The importance of this center is confirmed by the discovery, made in the mid 19th century of a great treasure of dirhams (Arab silver money) from the Iranian dynasty of the Samanids, dating from the first half of the 10th century (Lewicki, 1960)

This settlement model is also consistent with the genetic evidence that Ashkenazi Jews descend from a small founder group of only 300 to 400 individuals who lived about 800 years ago (Carmi et al., 2013).

We should keep in mind that that these merchants were only a small group within a much larger Jewish community. Moreover, this trade was shared with at least two other groups: the Vikings, who dominated the trading routes via the Baltic and the Dnieper, the Don, and the Volga, and the Khazars, who controlled the Volga trading route. Indeed, the sudden eruption of Viking raids into Western and Eastern Europe at this time was, to a large degree, motivated by a desire to cash in on the white slave trade. Captives from both western and eastern Europe were taken to the trading center at Hedeby (in present-day Denmark) for sale to Muslim traders (Skirda, 2010, pp. 143-146). 

The world was a very different place in the 8th century and should not be seen through the lens of more recent times. Back then, Western Europe was a ruined civilization with memories of former grandeur. The white slave trade offered the ruling classes a way out, either indirectly through taxation or through direct sale of prisoners of war from the Elbe frontier. Had Jewish merchants not been available as go-betweens, there would have been other middlemen. The Vikings and the Khazars, for instance, who dominated this trade at the eastern and northern ends, would have eventually developed the overland route through Germany and France to Muslim Spain.


Carmi, S., E. Kochav, K. Hui, X. Liu, J. Xue, F. Grady, S. Guha, K. Upadhyay, S. Mukherjee, B.M. Bowen, V. Joseph, A. Darvasi, K. Offit, L. Ozelius, I. Peter, J. Cho, H. Ostrer, G. Atzmon, L. Clark, T. Lencz, and I. Pe'er. (2013). The Ashkenazi Jewish genome, American Society of Human Genetics, Annual Meeting 

Lewicki, T. (1961). Les sources hébraïques consacrées a l'histoire de l'Europe centrale et Orientale et particulièrement a celle des pays slaves de la fin du IXe au milieu du XIIIe siècle, Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, 2, 228-241.

Skirda, A. (2010). La traite des Slaves. L’esclavage des Blancs du VIIIe au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Les Éditions de Paris Max Chaleil.


Sean said...

The Khazar ruling class converted to Judaism, all the better to get rich from white slavery. Europe kings and nobles getting rich from white slavery encountered their only opposition from the Church.

This will never do! Don't you know the Christian religion is the root of all evil?

Insightful said...

This topic has been run into the ground..

J said...

If we are descended from 300-400 international traders, smart and multilingual, then Greg Cochran's thesis of the evolution of Ashkenazi intelligence is unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

hilarious that you apologize for pre-emptive anti-Semitism, meanwhile you've been calling Muslims women stealing, rapist, child molesting thugs for months with no such apology.

pointing out Muslims purchase white sex slaves= ok
pointing out Jews were selling them = NOT OK

Peter Fros_ said...

Some bishops denounced this trade, like Adalbert and Agobard, but it was simply too profitable to be stopped. Even the Church was a beneficiary. The influx of gold, silver, and precious textiles from the Middle East helped to adorn many cathedrals of this period.


I run all of my topics into the ground.


Greg was trying to explain why mean IQ is higher among the Ashkenazim than among the Sephardim. Since these traders were Sephardi (being ultimately from Spain), I'm not sure we have an explanation here, unless you're proposing a founder effect. This period also probably saw much of the Slavic admixture that shows up in the gene pool, so the overall result would have been convergence toward the mean European IQ of that time (which was probably lower than it is now, cf. Gregory Clark's work).


Uh, I'm not apologizing for anyone here. I was just stating that Jewish merchants were one of three groups that were involved in this trade. Nor was I trying to slander Muslims. Many of those Slavic women ended up being wives and even sultanesses (like Roxelana).

My "agenda" is simply to show that preference for European women is something that predated European colonialism and domination. To that end, I must put all of the relevant facts on the table. If you're Muslim, I'm sorry if you feel offended, but what do you want me to do? Lie about the historical record? Pretend that none of this happened? The cost of not offending you seems pretty high.

ben10 said...

[quote]My "agenda" is simply to show that preference for European women is something that predated European colonialism and domination[/quote]

Peter, yes but then, what does the origin of the traders have anything to do with physical preferences and sexual selection, since they are here in the story only to make money? You cannot deny you want to put some politic in your book spice the story, OK, I like that, so if you have to present your book at a conference, don't forget to videotape the audience and youtube it.

J said...


Before the 12th Century the division between Sepharadim (Spanish speaking Jews) and Ashkenazim (German speaking Jews) was inexistent. Ultimately, Polish-Ucrainian Jews spoke a German based dialect, so they were definitely Ashkenazim. Before, European Jews spoke Latin (French).

Sean said...

I suppose Muslim polygyny will be cited as an explanation for white slavery.

ben10 said...

Ashkenazi vs Ashkenazim... the former sounds better to me, given the context.

I thought the Church was more active against enslavement of Christians, even since the council of Nicea in 325, that explicitly forbid self-castration, which means that forced-castration of young Christian slaves could only be forbidden also. The trade of Christians by jews was also severely condemned by the church. And despite that, the trade continued? hmmm, Staline's word must have been true 'The Pope! how many divisions?'.
Many people, before or beside Adalbert or Agobard, must have found the practice repugnant, but they just could do nothing about it. So to answer Anonymous 02:26:
"Pointing out Muslims purchase white sex slaves" = OBVIOUSLY NOT OK. But perhaps the Church considered these muslims acting under the urge of the bodily need to please themselves as a lesser sin than those who made a profit of it, fully aware of the sin.

Also, regarding the 'fair skin' issue, it is interesting that it is specifically mentioned in the Preambule de La Loi Salique, which is basically the Constitution of the Frankish nation.
This Preambule is a very emotionally powerful text, needless to say banished from any French textbook in History because it precisely defines the frankish 'type', in particular with an emphasis on their 'remarkable', or 'singular', white or fair skin.
I've seen different adjective used here, but the qualificative conveys a tone of something 'unique and surprisingly white'.
So, I wonder, surprising for who?
It can't be for the franks themselves and the celts were supposed to be fair skin already, so the romans/latins occupants of Gaul must have been sufficiently darker to notice the difference in whiteness of the franks.
Maybe small differences in hue were considered very important in these days.

A french translation from latin is here, page 287:

Anonymous said...

"This topic has been run into the ground"

This topic is almost completly unknown.

"Peter, yes but then, what does the origin of the traders have anything to do with physical preferences and sexual selection"

A German merchant wouldn't have known about the preference.

"why mean IQ is higher among the Ashkenazim than among the Sephardim. Since these traders were Sephardi (being ultimately from Spain),"

I thought the Ashkenazim derived from a branch of the Sephardim?

Peter Fros_ said...


It would be difficult to discuss the white slave trade without mentioning the ethnic origins of everyone involved. The slaves were mainly Slavic, the traders were mainly Jewish, Khazar, or Viking, and the clients were mainly Muslim. Ethnic origin is relevant because it informs us about the dynamics of this trade. The elites of the Muslim world were darker-skinned and more polygynous, thus forming an ideal market. The traders were middlemen who couldn't be either Christian or Muslim. Finally, the pagan fair-skinned Slavs were ideal targets for this kind of trade.


Yes, initially there were only Sephardim in Europe. The Ashkenazim appear to have originated as a small founder group of Sephardic origin.


Western Europe was simply too poor and too weak to stop the trade. Since the Slavs were pagan, and since the Church itself wanted to adorn its cathedrals with gold leaf and tapestries, many Christians chose to look the other way.

The Franks saw themselves as being fairer-skinned than the people they ruled over. Even today, there is still some consciousness of differences in skin tone among indigenous French people. I remember reading a study which found that the students in French private schools were much lighter in skin color than students in French public schools (even after controlling for ethnic origin).


Good point. You can go into any public library and find many books about the Atlantic slave trade. But you won't find anything about the white slave trade, even though the number of slaves involved was about the same, and even though the white slave trade didn't end the 18th century. We're not talking about ancient history here.

ben10 said...

All these slave traders must have kept some written record for their business.
Now, using the psychology of a today's saoud prince as a baseline (look at their women, cars and planes), it's a safe bet to say that the grand sultan didn't want the same slave girls than his generals. He wanted better. So if the Muslim upper class had a relatively easy access to fair skin meat, then the upper upper class wanted fairer fair skin, to make a point. Some places in Slavic Europe must have been better than others in that respect and these merchants must have known and written this information somewhere. The fairest of the fairest girls must have been kept for the highest bidder, and the benefits on each sale must have been recorded in accounting books.
I wonder if for extraordinary and very expensive specimen (redhead or almost white-haired girls of perfect proportions), the merchants proposed some financial accommodations, like loans with interests, to increase the profit.
I bet they did.
It would be great to find one of these accounting book written in jewish language, with the description of the 'product', the sale price, the buyer's name, and the trader's name.
A khazar slave trader of the time, bragging about his latest sale and the growing interest rate bubble of the slave market, would almost certainly worry that the church could burst his bubble, and that could be related almost word for word to modern writings from Greenspan or Bernanke. The traders must have kept some money to bribe the church Inquisitors.

Anonymous said...

There is also genetic evidence for the Khazarian hypothesis...

Dr Elhaik writes, "The most parsimonious explanation for our findings is that Eastern European Jews are of Judeo-Khazarian ancestry forged over many centuries in the Caucasus. Jewish presence in the Caucasus and later Khazaria was recorded as early as the late centuries BCE and reinforced due to the increase in trade along the Silk Road, the decline of Judah (1st-7th centuries), and the rise of Christianity and Islam. Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian Jews gravitating toward Khazaria were also common in the early centuries and their migrations were intensified following the Khazars' conversion to Judaism… The religious conversion of the Khazars encompassed most of the Empire's citizens and subordinate tribes and lasted for the next 400 years until the invasion of the Mongols. At the final collapse of their empire in the 13th century, many of the Judeo-Khazars fled to Eastern Europe and later migrated to Central Europe and admixed with the neighbouring populations."

Anonymous said...

I think it would make far more sense for Khazar traders to head south to the Ottomans.

Sean said...

It would seem that European women slaves being sold to the near and middle East has been the foundation of European trade. The Maritime republics of Italy were based on the Black sea white slave business as can be seen from where their trading posts were: here. The book title Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance is self explanatory. Moreover the slaves Venice was trading were Christians (though of the Orthodox variety), so the idea that the Papal Decrees such as Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex were permitting enslavement of non white non Christians as any kind of exception or licence to do what was previously forbidden, or that Venice ect had not been dealing in white slaves prior to the Portuguese initiating the period of male black African slavery in the Americas, is not true.

Peter Fros_ said...


Time destroys most records. Keep in mind that this trade took place during the Dark Ages and the early Middle Ages. Notaries did preserve acts of sale and purchase of slaves, but only a few such archives go back earlier than the 14th century and I'm not aware of any that go back before the 11th.

With regard to the white slave trade of the 8th to 12th centuries, we have only fragmentary Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources. The most valuable ones are travel accounts, but there are also religious texts that are written in Hebrew with explanatory glosses in Slavic languages (such as Old Czech). This is interesting because it shows that many Jewish merchants were using some kind of Slavic as their everyday language.

For more information, you might want to read Lewicki's article:


The latest genetic study failed to find any evidence for the Khazarian hypothesis:

"Employing a variety of standard techniques for the analysis of population structure, we find that Ashkenazi Jewish samples share the greatest genetic ancestry with other Jewish populations, and among non-Jewish populations, with groups from Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East, and that they have no particular signal of genetic sharing with populations from the Caucasus. Thus, analysis of the most comprehensive set of Jewish and other Middle Eastern and European populations together with a large sample from the region of the Khazar kingdom does not support the hypothesis of a significant contribution of the elusive Khazars into the gene pool of the Ashkenazi Jews."

Sean said...

What was (until this post) elusive about Khazars, was that although Judaism was theoretically open to converts, Jews did not actively proselytise, so it seemed strange that the Khazar ruling class converted to Judaism.

"Yes, initially there were only Sephardim in Europe. The Ashkenazim appear to have originated as a small founder group of Sephardic origin".

By my way of thinking it is more likely that the opposite is the case, though I don't pretend to know how. Notwithstanding the rather Semitic physog of Albert Einstein (the physicist not the comedian) Ashkenazi Jews are obviously Armenoid in appearance; so where did that come from if Ashkenazim are a blend of Sephardim and Slav women? Moreover, ancient depictions of the original Jews in the Middle East show people who looked like Ashkenazim.

Sean said...

"The most valuable ones are travel accounts, but there are also religious texts that are written in Hebrew with explanatory glosses in Slavic languages (such as Old Czech)."

Wouldn't Sephardim have continued to use Judaeo-Spanish among themselves for a very long time?

When I look at a Brazilian Mastiff my lying eyes tell me it has bloodhound ancestry; confirmed by its good scent tracking ability.

The Armenians have a full share of physicists, mathematicians, chess champions and billionaires. Ashkenazic Jews share physical characteristics with Armenians and the Ashkenazim excel in abstract thought. To me, that the Ashkenazim are an offshoot of and hence have got no more Armeniod ancestry than the Sephardim is not credible.

Ashkenazic Jews would have a nice little sinecure when they were in the slave business with the King. Then the Jewish relationship with the king and nobles developed into that of a arendators who provided the nobles with the cash they needed to fund an extravagant aristocratic lifestyle. Money lending was much the same, these were monopolies, not businesses where there was competition, and extra brainpower was at a premium.

The spread of the Quebec Tay Sachs mutation (and the possibly similar Finnish mutation) did not happen over a millennium in a caste/ guild of bankers. So I think the Ashkenazim got their brain power mutations (Tay Sachs ect) when Jews were artisans, and the cottage industry theory is correct.

Sean said...

Peter Turchin says providing resource surpluses was not important for the establishment of a centralised state, but I bet he was not thinking about a country's weak chief getting the wherewithal to rule absolutely by selling off his female subjects.

Turchin mentions in 'War and Peace and War' that the peasants drove the eastward expansion of Muscovy because they kept moving outside the defence line to settle new land, and they were raided by the Tatars and taken to be sold as slaves; then the government built a new defensive line to protect them, and the process started all over again.

He also says that apart from being vulnerable to Tartar attacks the peasants who were settling the steppe outside the defensive line were a problem, because they did not pay any taxes. Maybe getting away from rapacious tax farmers was a big reason those peasants took the risk of moving outside the defence line. Peasants trying to get from the arendators may have been an important factor in the expansion of Muscovy.

Anonymous said...


"A major difficulty with the Rhineland hypothesis, in addition
to the lack of historical and anthropological evidence to
the multimigration waves from Palestine to Europe (Straten
20 03 ; S and 20 09), is to explain the vast population expansion of Eastern European Jews from fifty thousand (15th century)
to eight million (20th century). The annual growth rate that
accounts for this population expansion was estimated at
1.7–2%, one order of magnitude larger than that of Eastern European non-Jews in the 15th–17th centuries, prior to the industrial revolution (Straten 2007). This growth could not possibly be the product of natural population expansion, particularly one subjected to severe economic restrictions, slavery, assimilation, the Black Death and other plagues, forced and voluntary conversions, persecutions, kidnappings, rapes, exiles, wars, massacres, and pogroms (Koestler 1976; Straten 2003; Sa nd 20 09 ). Because such an unnatural growth rate, over half a millennium and affecting only Jews residing in Eastern Europe, is implausible—it is explained by a miracle (A t zm on e t al . 2 01 0 ; Ostrer 2012).
Unfortunately, this divine intervention explanation poses a
new kind of problem—it is not science."

Peter Fros_ said...


In my opinion most Sephardim can pass for Ashkenazim, but most Ashkenazim cannot pass for Sephardim. There is more physical heterogeneity among Ashkenazi Jews, probably because the original founder group was heterogeneous, i.e., it included many Slavs.


Yes, there was a very high rate of natural increase, from about 100,000 Ashkenazim in 1650 to 5 million in 1900. But other peoples have experienced similar rates of increase. Only 10,000 French colonists came to what is now Canada. Today, their descendants number over 10 million in Canada alone (there are also many in the U.S.). Humans can reproduce very fast under the right conditions.

See my previous post at:

Sean said...

There is nothing surprising in the Ashkenazim looking more Slav than the Sephardim. That Slav ancestry adds to the heterogeneity of the Ashkenazim is something I understand. My point is the Ashkenazim don't just look more Slavic than the Sephardim, they also look more Armeniod than the Sephardim.

I suppose the Ashkenazim's Armenoid appearance could have been a side effect of them being selected for brainpower. Like short sightedness.

Anonymous said...


At Confederation, the population of Canada was roughly three million of which Quebec was roughly a third of which maybe 75% were descended from the founding French. By 1930 ~900,000 resided in the US, mostly in N.England. No wonder the Ashkenazim population growth is considered miraculous. 8 million (your post says 10) by the end of the 19th century. Neither the Slavs nor Sephardi experienced that growth rate. Occam's razor favors a mass migration as stated by the Khazar hypothesis. Lex parsimoniae also suggests that Jews (Judeo-Khazars and Rhadonites) dominated the European slave trade. Inconvenient undoubtedly but what can we do? Lie about the historical record?

Sean said...

If we took some of a Labradoodle population and crossed it with Dingos you would not expect to see the new Labradoodle/Dingo population look far more like Labrador Retrievers than the Labradoodle population from which their only Labrador ancestry came.

To claim that the Mongol-Tatar Khazars somehow turned into the rather Armenoid Ashkenazim is just absurd. Look at a map, to get from Palestine to East Europe you can go around the Black sea. (Which is where the biggest slave market was based by the way.

Anonymous said...

To claim that the Mongol-Tatar Khazars somehow turned into the rather Armenoid Ashkenazim is just absurd.

The Khazar claim has historically been based on the idea that the Khazars were an Armenian like population under Turkic dominion, with no significant Siberian / Central Asian ancestry. I don't believe it, but there you go.

Sean said...

The claim only had one thing going for it: uniquely, Khazars converted to Judaism. A very odd choice for what was a steppe cavalry people. But anyone who reads this post now understands why: Khazars were selling slave to Jewish middle men.

Johnycomelately said...

Interesting post.

I think an often overlooked part of the slave trade is actually who the Slavs were.

Haplogroup studies show that what is today considered a Slav involves 2 groups I (I2 + I2a) and R1a.

It seems that the I group is older in Europe and R1a corresponds to the arrival of central Asian Turkic tribes which includes the Russians, Avars, Serbs, Croats, Bulgars, Hungarians etc.

It's interesting only the ethnonyms of the Turkic tribes have survived while the names of the I groups are lost and are only preserved by territorial desriptives (ie. Poland, meaning Polja or field).

So the slave trade is the selling of the conquered European I haplogroups by the R1a conquering central Asian Turkic tribes.

I think the confusion lies in the fact that the Western chroniclers incorrectly attributed the name Slav to all Eastern Europeans when in fact there were initially two distinct groups.

LivoniaG said...

Helmold OF Bosau notes that at one point the Wendish slave markets (now in Eastern Germany) were swollen with Danish captives after the Slavic Wends were set loose. A lot of pagan Slavs were apparently also slavers. While there is very little evidence of Slavic slaves being imported into western Europe, there is plenty of evidence of Wends making captives of non-Slavs. In the west of Europe, etymology is unclear and it's possible that the word Slav may have come to mean people who took "slaves", not were slaves.