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Let whose people go? Subjecthood, sovereignty, liberation, and legalism in eighteenth-century Russo-Ottoman relations

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This article considers the relationship between law, diplomacy, and identity in delineating slavery and freedom in the Black Sea imperial milieu. Examining the release processes for captives which followed each of the many wars between the Ottoman and Russian empires in the eighteenth century, I argue that these matters were increasingly handled according to written and unwritten legal understandings, rather than through ransoms or threats. The two empires agreed that the Ottoman state would set free enslaved Russian subjects, even those in private hands, but also that the Russians would not demand the release of others. This discussion, therefore, offers a window on the legalization of international relations, and on the growing importance of individuals’ relationship with central states. Moreover, these understandings endured, consciously or unconsciously, into the nineteenth century, arguably shaping Russo-Ottoman and Ottoman-European relations on issues of intervention and the slave trade.


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