One of the saddest of historical topics is the Atlantic Slave trade, which ran from about 1450 through the 1880s. Historians estimate that about eleven million Africans were taken as slaves to the Americans, with another one or two million dying during the crossing.
The Atlantic slave trade was perhaps the largest and may have created the most misery, but it was not the only trade. The slave trade across the Sahara north to the Mediterranean lasted from about 800 to 1900, with an estimated 7.2 million slaves over that long span. A slave trade across the Red Sea lasted a thousand years, and involved perhaps four million slaves. The slave trade across the Indian Ocean from East Africa involved as many as 2.9 million. Most of these were small numbers over a long span.
Two other slave trades involved Europeans. In one, the Barbary Pirates of North Africa were pirate corsairs based on Tunis, Algiers, Tripoli and intermittently other places, nominally ruled by the Ottomans, but really locally-run city states whose main economic basis was piracy. They raided European shipping and the coasts of Italy, France, Spain for slaves and booty for several centuries. Victims were often ransomed, and countries could prevent raiding by paying tribute money—as did the young United States before it fought a war with the pirates in 1803. Perhaps a million or more Europeans became slaves in this long running piracy. Corsairs raided as far as Ireland and Iceland.
A second trade was larger in scale, and may have involved several millions taken as slaves. In the late 1400s, one of the last fragments of the Mongol empires settled in the Crimea, where they converted to Islam and became allies of the Ottoman Turks. This group was called the Krim Tatars, for which the Black Sea’s Crimean Peninsula is named. For nearly two centuries they made frequent slave raiding expeditions into Ukraine, Poland and Russia. They also provided mobile light cavalry for Ottoman armies on campaign in Europe. Russian armies eventually conquered Crimea. The famed Cossacks fought the Tatars for generations, as did the equally famed Polish cavalry.
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