If you were a blonde girl or boy captured in a raid a few hundred years ago, you were an exotic luxury item so valuable it was worthwhile to transport you to far-away markets in Asia.

Slave-trading was so common the routes stretched from Finland, the Russian Karelia and the Baltic Countries all the way to the Caspian Sea and central Asia.

Finland to Asia? Rarely, of course. Only the largest merchants, with a buyer already in place, would hire gangs from the Volga to capture people and then hazard that journey. Writing
in Russian History, University of Eastern Finland
Professor Jukka Korpela
notes that out of the thousands of persons captured in the north, probably only a few hundred ended up in the Caspian Sea region and Central Asia via the Volgan and Crimean slave markets. Otherwise, slave trade in the Crimea and Volga regions was extensive, and tens of thousands of people were sold into slavery every year. However, the existence of the trade route shows that it was possible, even under primitive conditions, to distribute information about the demand for blonde girls in the far-away markets.

The network of those involved in slave trade included men who participated in raids, slave traders and customers representing the leading class of society.

Raids into the north were common from Novgorod, which was well connected to the Crimea and thus the Caspian Sea and the slave markets of Central Asia. Raids were done by private warlords and princely troops, and they extended all the way to the coasts of the Gulf of Bothnia and Lapland. 

The research material used in the paper consisted of chronicles, travelogues and various administrative documents such as tax and land registers, as well as diplomatic reports.

Slave trade in Eastern Europe gradually faded, as the control exercised by the emerging structure of European states became stronger. The spreading of Christianity also caused a decline in slave trade during the medieval period. Slave trade in Europe declined in the early medieval period, but in regions bordering on Islamic countries and in Islamic countries themselves, slave trade continued up until the pre-modern period.

Citation: Jukka Korpela, 'The Baltic Finnic People in the Medieval and Pre-Modern Eastern European Slave Trade', Russian History, Issue 1, pages 85 – 117 2014 DOI: 10.1163/18763316-04101006. Source: University of Eastern Finland