Templars and the ‘white slave trade’


English: Seal of the Templars
Seal of the Templars 

There is a recurring story out there that the Templars engaged in what is termed the ‘white slave trade’.   The gist of the tale is that the Templars were engaged in all sorts of trading in the town of Ajazzo, known in Armenian as Ayas, located today in modern Turkey.

In the thirteenth century it was part of the Armenian kingdom of Cicilia, a Christian territory linking the Byzantine empire to the increasingly beleaguered crusader states of the Levant.  It’s a neglected kingdom historically speaking – and more should be written about it.

By the time the Templars were active in the kingdom, it was taking a hammering from Mongol armies that had come from the east, Mamluk armies from the south and Turks from the north.  Inevitably, the kingdom just kept shrinking till it was completely absorbed in to the Turkic Ottoman empire.

Before that happened though, it benefited from the criss-cross of trade in the region and it’s said that both Mongol and Turk slave drivers brought their human cargo to Ayas to trade the live bodies to the highest bidders.  Some of those bidders, it’s said, were Templars.  They basically bought up the slaves and took them back to work on the estates attached to their preceptories.

These slaves were not black Africans but peoples who lived on the Russian steppes.  Both the Turks and the Mongols had invaded and raided these lands and part of the treasure was a section of the population.  Many of these slaves were sold in to the various Islamic emirates to the south and forced to convert.  In Egypt, these converted slaves rose up and killed their masters becoming the Mamluk rulers of that country.

Proof that slaves could and did in exceptional situations take control.

The facts that are not in doubt are that slaves whose skins were white were routinely bought and sold in ancient and medieval times.  The distinction was between peoples deemed to be on side and civilised and those seen as enemies or barbarians.  Colour was not the deciding factor in who became a slave.

It’s also true that slavery continued in to the Middle Ages, far beyond the collapse of the slave based Roman Empire.  People in the Domesday Book are classified as slaves and the practice was condemned in England as late as the sixteenth century.  Christians and Muslims were slave traders and there’s one tale of an audacious Arab raid on a Cornish village in western England where an entire congregation were shipped off from a church service in to slavery in north Africa.

So did the Templars trade in slaves?  Seems like they did.  Did those slaves work their lands?  I don’t know – it’s claimed by some that they did, particularly in southern Europe.  Were the Templars particularly disposed to slave trading?  Can’t see why they would be any more than anybody else.

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