Slave markets flourished on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, in what is modern-day Morocco , Algeria , Tunisia , and western Libya , between the 15th and middle of the 18th century. These markets prospered while the states were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty , though, in reality, they were mostly autonomous.
The North African slave markets traded in European slaves which were acquired by Barbary pirates in slave raids on ships and by raids on coastal towns from Italy to Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, and as far afield as Iceland. Men, women, and children were captured to such a devastating extent that vast numbers of sea coast towns were abandoned. According to Robert Davis, between 1 million and 1.
On this basis it is thought that around 8, new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers - about , captives over the century from to By extension, for the years between and , the figure could easily have been as high as 1,, Hence, there were wide fluctuations year-to-year, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, given slave imports, and also given the fact that, prior to the s, there are no consistent records.
Middle East expert, John Wright, cautions that modern estimates are based on back-calculations from human observation. The majority were sailors particularly those who were English , taken with their ships, but others were fishermen and coastal villagers. However, most of these captives were people from lands close to Africa, particularly Spain and Italy. From at least , the pirates also conducted raids along seaside towns of Italy, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands and as far away as Iceland, capturing men, women and children.
On some occasions, settlements such as Baltimore , Ireland were abandoned following the raid, only being resettled many years later. Between and , England alone had merchant ships lost to Barbary pirates. Those who had family or friends who might ransom them were held captive, but not obliged to work; the most famous of these was the author Miguel de Cervantes , who was held for almost five years.
Others were sold into various types of servitude. Attractive women or boys could be used as sex slaves. Captives who converted to Islam were generally freed, since enslavement of Muslims was prohibited; but this meant that they could never return to their native countries.
The Rus used this route to trade with Muslim countries on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, sometimes penetrating as far as Baghdad.
The route functioned concurrently with the Dnieper trade route, better known as the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks , and lost its importance in the 11th century. Saqaliba refers to Slavic slaves, kidnapped from the coasts of Europe or in wars, as well as white mercenaries in the medieval Muslim world , in the Middle East , North Africa , Sicily and Al-Andalus. Saqaliba served, or were forced to serve, in a multitude of ways: In Iberia , Morocco , Damascus and Sicily , their military role may be compared with that of mamluks in the Ottoman Empire.
They imported white Christian slaves from the 8th century until the Reconquista in the late 15th century. The slaves were exported from the Christian section of Spain, as well as Eastern Europe, sparking significant reaction from many in Christian Spain and many Christians still living in Muslim Spain. Soon after, Muslims were successful, taking Christian captives of 30, from Spain. Many of the raids designed by Muslims were created for a fast captive of prisoners.
Therefore, Muslims restricted the control in order to keep captives from fleeing. The Iberian peninsula served as a base for further exports of slaves into other Muslim regions in Northern Africa. Ottoman slave trade illustration of a British Captain horrified by seeing Christians worked as slaves in Algiers. Slavery was a legal and a significant part of the Ottoman Empire's economy and society. It has been reported that the selling price of slaves fell after large military operations.
As late as , female slaves were still sold in the Ottoman Empire.