Strangled By Connection: The Northwest Caucasus and the Making of Global Slavery, 1261-1475

01 October 2021 → 30 September 2025
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Business and labour history
    • Early modern history
    • Medieval history
    • Political history
    • World history
Caucasus slavery extraversion History
Project description

Slave trades in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean played critical roles in constructing contemporary social and economic inequalities. However, these trades could not have functioned without the co-operation of indigenous elites, who furnished slave traders with the people necessary for slave systems to function. This project will examine this process in the Northwest Caucasus, which became the most important source of slaves in the Mediterranean in the late medieval period, with mamluks (slave-soldiers) from this region even becoming the rulers of Egypt. However, we know next to nothing about Northwest Caucasian elites in this period and why they enslaved their dependents and neighbours. Through the utilisation of new material culture evidence and a new methodology which treats slaving as a historically contingent strategy rather than an institution, this project will examine the acquisition of spiritually-charged prestige goods as a motivator for slaving, as well as the relationship between population density and the elite’s adoption of slaving strategies. This project will thereby not only resolve longstanding questions about economic changes in the medieval Mediterranean slave trade, but also provide new insights into the question of why elites, whether in West Africa, Southeast Asia or the Mediterranean, co-operated with slavers against their near neighbours, regardless of the horrific cost.