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The Consequences of the Black Sea Slave Trade: Long-Run Development in Eastern Europe

Volha Charnysh, Associate Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Encina Hall West, Room 400

We study the consequences of slave-raiding in Eastern Europe, the largest source of commercial slaves in the early modern world after West Africa. Constructing the first comprehensive dataset on nomadic slave raids in the Black Sea region, we estimate that approximately five million people were captured from more than 730 locations between the 15th and 18th centuries. Using difference-in-differences and instrumental variables strategies, we find that --- unlike in Africa --- local raid intensity is associated with a variety of positive long-run development outcomes. We interpret this finding as reflecting an economically advantageous process of defensive state-building linked to the hostile relationship between slave raiders and local elites and the relatively large and unified nature of raided states. Our findings caution against generalizing conclusions about the consequences of slavery from the African context, suggesting that the structure of slave production plays a key role in conditioning its effects.


Volha Charnysh is the Ford Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She studies the role of identity in state-building and economic development and the long-term effects of violence. Volha's regional focus is Europe and Eurasia.

Her book, “Uprooted:  How post-WWII Population Transfers Remade Europe” (under contract, Cambridge University Press) examines the enduring consequences of mass displacement and resulting cultural heterogeneity on social cohesion, state-building, and economic development in Poland and West Germany. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the American Political Science Review, Comparative Political Studies, British Journal of Political Science, World Politics, and European Journal of International Relations. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Historical Political Economy (JHPE) and Broadstreet Blog

Volha received her PhD in Government from Harvard University in 2017. She has held fellowships at Princeton Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, Amsterdam Centre for European Studies, and Stanford University (W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellowship at the Hoover Institution).