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KHAZARS , a national group of general Turkic type, independent and sovereign in Eastern Europe between the seventh and tenth centuries c.e. During part of this time the leading Khazars professed Judaism. The name is frequently pronounced with an a-vowel, as in the Greek Χάξαροι and Arabic Khazar (Ḥazar), but there are traces of a different pronunciation in Hebrew (Kuzari, pl. Kuzarim), Greek (Χότξιροι), and Chinese (Kʿo-sa). The name has been explained as having derived from Turkish qazmak ("to wander," "nomadize (?)"), or from quz ("side of mountain exposed to the north"). The latter etymology would account for the o/u-vowel in some forms of the name, for which no satisfactory explanation has been given.

The Origin of the Khazars

The Khazars, of Turkic stock, originally nomadic, reached the Volga-Caucasus region from farther east at some time not easily determinable. They may have belonged to the empire of the Huns (fifth century c.e.) as the Akatzirs, mentioned by Priscus. This name is said to be equivalent to Aq-Khazar, i.e., White Khazars, as opposed to the Qara-Khazar or Black Khazars mentioned by al-Iṣṭakhrī (see below). The Khazars probably belonged to the West Turkish Empire (from 552 c.e.), and they may have marched with Sinjibū (Istämi), the first khāqān of the West Turks, against the Sassanid (Persian) fortress of Ṣul or Darband.

In the time of Procopius (sixth century) the region immediately north of the Caucasus was held by the Sabirs, who are referred to by Jordanes as one of the two great branches of the Huns (Getica, ed. Mommsen, 63). Masʿūdī (tenth century c.e.) says that the Khazars are called in Turkish, Sabīr (Tanbīh, ed. Cairo, 1938, 72).

In 627 (Theophanes, Chronographia, ed. De Boor, 1 (1883), 315) "the Turks from the East whom they call Khazars" under their chief, Ziebel, passed the Caspian Gates (Darband) and joined Heraclius at the siege of Tiflis. In view of what is known of a dual kingship among the Khazars (see below), it would be natural to assume that Ziebel, described by Theophanes as "second in rank to the khāqān," was the subordinate Khazar king or beg. However, there are grounds for thinking that Ziebel stands for yabgu, a Turkish title – in the parallel Armenian account (Moses of Kalankatuk, trans. Dowsett, 87) he is called Jebu Khāqān – and that he is T'ung-ye-hu, Ye-hu Khagan of the Chinese sources, i.e., T'ung Yabgu, Yabgu Khāqān, the paramount ruler of the West Turks, who is represented as second in rank to "the King of the North, the lord of the whole world," i.e., the supreme khāqān of the Turks. In the narratives of Theophanes and Moses of Kalankatuk respectively, the Khazars are also called Turks and Huns. From 681 c.e., we hear much in the latter author of the Huns of Varach ʿ an (Warathān), north of Darband, who evidently formed part of a Khazar confederation or empire. Their prince Alp Ilutver was often in attendance on the Khazar khāqān and was converted to Christianity by an Albanian bishop.

It will be seen that the question of the precise racial affinities of the Khazars is not readily solved (see also below). There appears to be insufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion of K. Czeglédy that the Khazars were of Sabīr origin and distinct from the Caucasian Huns and West Turks ("Bemerkungen zur Geschichte der Chazaren," Acta Orientalia… Hungariae, 13 (1961), 245), since it is not known how far these ethnic names mean the same thing.

Consolidation of the Khazar State

According to Theophanes (ibid., 358), the ruler of the Bulgars in the region of the Kuban River (West Caucasus) died c. 650 c.e., leaving five sons of whom only the eldest remained in his inheritance, while the others moved further west, as far as the Danube. On this, the Khazars, described as a "great nation … from the interior of Berzilia in the First Sarmatia," emerged and took possession of the territory as far as the Black Sea. The change of position was completed by 679, when one of the brothers crossed the Danube and conquered present-day Bulgaria. Earlier than this, in 576 c.e., a West Turkish force had been present at the siege of Bosporus (Kerch) in the Crimea (Menander Protector, ed. Bonn, 404), but hitherto there is no mention of the Khazars as such so far to the west. The advance of the Khazars to the Black Sea and Crimea area appears to be mentioned also in the Reply of Joseph (see below, Khazar Correspondence), where a great Khazar victory over the W-n-nt-r is referred to. A people north of the Khazars called W-n-nd-r is mentioned in the Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam (Regions of the World, trans. by V. Minorsky (1937), 162). Both names are best explained as corresponding to Onogundur, an old name in Greek sources for the Bulgars. The advent of the Khazars on the Black Sea was clearly of great consequence for the future, for they now came within the sphere of Greek political and cultural influence. By 700 c.e. or earlier there were Khazar officials in Bosporus and Phanagoria. Henceforth the Crimea, as well as the Volga and the Caucasus, came to be specially associated with the Khazars, and a further way westward was opened for them toward both Kiev and the Slav lands via the Dnieper (see below).

Arabs and Khazars had already been in conflict on the line of the Caucasus (first Arab-Khazar war, 642–52 c.e.). *Bāb al-Abwāb at the eastern end of the range was occupied by the Arabs in 22 a.h. (643). In the same year the caliph Omar sent instructions to advance northward. Though the Arabs attacked *Balanjar repeatedly, they were unable to take it. The defeat and death of the Arab general at Balanjar in 32 a.h. (653) practically marks the end of the war and the close of the first phase of Arab-Khazar relations. According to Mus ʿ ūdī, the Khazar capital was at this time moved from *Samandar to *Atil, but he says elsewhere that Balanjar was the former capital.

Further Relations with Byzantium and the Arabs

After the exile of Justinian ii to the Crimea in 695, the Khazars on several occasions played an important, even determining, part in Byzantine politics. Toward 704 the khāqān helped the emperor at a crucial moment and gave him his sister Theodora in marriage. Justinian returned to Constantinople to reign a second time. His successor Bardanes (711–13) was likewise indebted to the khāqān. In 732 the emperor Leo the Isaurian married his son, the future Constantine V, to a Khazar princess called in the sources Irene. The child of this marriage was Leo iv, the Khazar (775–80). It is to be understood that Irene and Theodora above are baptismal, i.e., not Khazar, names.

The second Arab-Khazar war began in 722 or earlier, and ended in 737 with the defeat of the Khazars by Marwān b. Muhammad (later Marwān ii). The Khazar khāqān is said at this time to have professed Islam. If so, we hear no more about it. Later the khāqān was a Jew, as we know from the Arabic geographers Ibn Rustah (c. 290/903), Iṣṭakhrī (c. 320/932), Ibn Ḥauqal (367/977), etc., and it is implied in the Reply of Joseph that the beginnings of Khazar Judaism dated as far back as 112/730, when the Khazars defeated the Arabs south of the Caucasus, and from the spoils consecrated a tabernacle on the Mosaic model. The conversion of the leading Khazars to Judaism perhaps took place toward 740 c.e. (see below). It seems at all events certain that the Khazars successfully resisted the Arabs for several decades, and that they were reduced only with difficulty and at a time when the internal situation of the caliphate prevented the Arabs from exploiting their victory: Marwān was called away to become the last *Umayyad Caliph (744) and to struggle against ever-growing opposition, until

his death in 750 at the hands of *Abbasid soldiers in Egypt. The dynastic crisis probably saved Khazaria. At the same time the situation had wider implications, for if Marwān had been able to hold the Khazar territory permanently, the history of Eastern Europe might have been very different.

The Khazar Double Kingship

This was a phenomenon found among other Turkic peoples, e.g., the Qara-Khanids, and not unknown elsewhere; compare the double kingship at Sparta in antiquity, and the shogun and mikado of medieval Japan. How far back the institution goes among the Khazars cannot be exactly determined. Ya ʿ qūbī (ninth century) speaks of the Khazar khāqān and his representative (khalīfa) apparently in the sixth century (Historiae, ed. by M.T. Houtsma, 1 (1883), 203; cf. above for Ziebel Jebu Khāqān in 627). Arab accounts, in Ṭabarī, Ibn al-Athīr, etc., of the Arab-Khazar wars (see above) afford no precise evidence of the dual kingship, yet the Arab geographers regularly mention it. The account of al-Iṣṭakhrī, written c. 320/932, is as follows (Viae regnorum, ed. by M.J. De Goeje (1927), 223ff.): "As to their politics and system of government, their chief is called khāqān of the Khazars. He is greater than the king of the Khazars [elsewhere called by al-Iṣṭakhrī the bak or bāk, i.e., beg], except that the king of the Khazars appoints him. When they wish to appoint this khāqān, they bring him and throttle him with a piece of silk, till, when his breath is nearly cut off, they say to him, 'How long do you wish to reign?' and he says, 'So and-so many years.' If he dies short of them, well and good. If not, he is killed when he reaches that year. The khaqanate is valid among them only in a house of notables. He possesses no right of command nor of veto but he is honored, and people prostrate themselves when they enter his presence.…. The khaqanate is in a group of notables who possess neither sovereignty nor riches. When the chief place comes to one of them, they appoint him, and do not consider his condition. I have been informed by a reliable person that he had seen a young man selling bread in one of the sūqs. People said that when their khāqān died, there was none more deserving of the khaqanate than he, except that he was a Muslim, and the khaqanate is not conferred on any but a Jew."

A remarkable parallel to the inauguration ceremony described by Iṣṭakhrī is found in a Chinese source on the Turks in the sixth century c.e., the Chou Shu (trans. by Liu Mau-Tsai, Die chinesischen Nachrichten zur Geschichte der Ost-Tuerken, 1 (1958), 8). Recently the theory of A. Alföldi that the double kingship among nomadic peoples corresponds to leadership of the two wings of the horde ("Türklerde çift krallik," Ikinci Türk Tarih Kongresi, Istanbul, 1943, 507–19) has won wide acceptance, but does not apply particularly well to the Khazars. Masʿūdī had already suspected that the Khazar khāqān represented a dynasty which had been superseded (Murūj al-Dhahab, ed. by B. de Maynard and P. de Courteille, 2 (1878), 13). K. Czeglédy (op. cit.) has suggested that the khāqān was the representative at the Khazar capital, Atil, of the West Turks, whom he thinks of as in control of Khazaria. This is not likely to have been the situation except for a very short time, since the Khazar capital was not transferred to Atil before the time of the first Arab-Khazar war (642–52) and the destruction of the West Turkish power took place in 652–57. Yet the Khazar khāqān may in fact have represented the West Turk ruling dynasty. This seems to be the view of the tenth-century Persian work, Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam (trans. Minor-sky, 162), according to which the khāqān of the Khazars was "of the descendants of Ansāʾ," apparently corresponding to Asnā, or Achena, well-known as the ruling family among the Turks. Ko-sa (different from K ʿ o-sa above), the name in Chinese of a subtribe of the Uigurs, is often taken as the equivalent of Khazars. We know that the destruction of the West Turks was brought about by a coalition of which the Uigurs formed part. It may therefore be that the convulsions which attended the breakup of the West Turkish Empire brought forward this section of the Uigurs, so that, while the khāqān represented the old ruling family, the Khazar beg, i.e., the effective king, was their representative.

Date of the Khazar Conversion to Judaism

This has already been referred to above (see *Būlān and below Khazar Correspondence). The date c. 740 c.e. is suggested by converging considerations, namely, the circumstances of the reported conversion to Islam in 737 and the dating given by *Judah Halevi in the Kūzari (Cosri). The absence of distinct references to the Judaism of the Khazars in the biographies of St. Abo of Tiflis, who was in Khazaria c. 780 c.e. and of Constantine (Cyril), who was there c. 860, should not be pressed as proof that the conversion to Judaism took place only later (cf. also M.I. Artamonov, Istoriya Khazar, 332–3). Mas ʿ ūdī states positively that the king of the Khazars became a Jew in the caliphate of Hārūn al-Rashīd (786–809 c.e.). This may well refer to the reformation c. 800 under *Obadiah of which the Reply of Joseph speaks. S.P. Tolstov has sought to explain the Khazar conversion to Judaism as a result of the conquest of Khwārizm (*Khorezm) by the Arab general Muslim ibn Qutayba in 712.

The Khazar Empire

The extent of the territory ruled by the Khazars has been variously estimated. Thus B.A. Ribakov ("K voprosu o roli khazarskogo kaganata v istorii Rusi," Sovetskaya Arkheologiya, 18 (1953), 128–50) makes Khazaria a small territory on the lower courses of the Volga and Don, to include Sarkil (see below) and the Khazar capital (assigning separate localities to Atil, Khamlīj, and al-Bayḍā', usually taken to be the same place). This is based principally on the data in the world map of Idrīsī, which offers a somewhat misleading picture of Khazaria (see K. Miller, Mappae Arabicae, 1 (1926), Heft 2). On the other hand, S.P. Tolstov envisages a Khazaria united with Khwārizm under one ruler to form a single state, a view for which the evidence is slight.

It must be allowed, however, that at one time Khazar rule extended westward a long way beyond the Crimea-Caucasus-Volga region which for the Greek and Arabic sources is Khazaria. The Russian Primary Chronicle ((1953), 58–59; Chronicle of Nestor, Povest vremennykh let) reports that at an unspecified date the Polians south of the Middle Dnieper paid tribute to the Khazars of a sword per hearth, and that in 859 c.e. the Polians, Severians, and Viatichians paid them a white squirrel skin per hearth (trans. Cross and Sherbowitz-Wetzor, 58, 59). Later these payments in kind ceased to be made, being evidently replaced by money payments; e.g., the Radimichians paid the Khazars a shilling or dirham apiece until 885 c.e., according to the Chronicle (61), and the Viatichians until 964, the same per plowshare (ibid., 84). All these peoples were exposed to attack by any strong forces coming up the valleys of the Don and Donets from the Khazar territory. Kiev itself was occupied by the Khazars for some period before 862, but presumably was not built by or for them (ibid., 60, cf. 54), unlike Sarkel or *Sarkil on the Don, which on the application of the khāqān and beg to Emperor Theophilus was constructed by Byzantine workmen in 833 c.e. All of these territories were to be taken from the Khazars, some already in the ninth century, by the advancing Russians.

East of the Volga, in the direction of Khwārizm, the situation is obscure. Al-Iṣṭakhrī tells of caravans passing between Khwārizm and Khazaria, mentioning specifically Slav, Khazar, and Turkish slaves and all kinds of furs among the principal merchandise of Khwārizm. On the other hand, he says that Khwārizm has the nomad Turks (Ghuzz) on its northern and western frontier, not the Khazars. According to Tolstov, a "royal road" led from Khorezm to the Volga, traces of which may be seen from the air, and he finds in it an indication of the emergence of a great Khorezmian-Khazar state in the tenth and beginning of the 11th century (cf. above).

The Extent of Khazar Judaism

While the Khazars were generally known to their neighbors as Jews (cf. notably the narrative of Ibn Faḍlān), they seem to have had little or no contact with the central Jewish organization in Iraq, and they tend to be mentioned less by Rabbanite than by Karaite authors. This is not to say that the Khazars were Karaites, a view which has not lacked defenders, at least since the time of A. *Firkovich. Yet such contemporary or nearly contemporary documents as we possess offer no evidence of the Karaism of the Khazars. On the other hand, it would seem that the lack of interest in the Khazars on the part of the Jewish authorities, as reflected in the literary works at our disposal, was due at least partly to their imperfect adherence to Judaism. This is illustrated notably in their retention of a number of pagan (shamanist) customs, dating back to their Turkic past, which are duly noted by the Arab geographers.

We may here consider the position of H. Baratz that in the oldest Russian writings of a legal character there are Hebrew, mostly biblical-talmudic, elements, and that these go back to Khazar times. Thus the fact that early Russian codes, including the Zakon sudni liudem ("Law for the Judging of the People"), contain traces of Mosaic and talmudic legislation, is due not to contact with the Catholic West, as has also been maintained, but to the influence of the Jewish Khazars. This view has been characterized by a Russian academician (I.V. Yagich) as "a scarlet thread for everyone to walk by." Yet the chance of Khazar influence on Russian codes, in the form of the introduction of Mosaic and talmudic elements, clearly becomes less if it is demonstrable, as seems to be the case, that Khazar Judaism was never very strong. (For Baratz's view see his Collection of Works on the Question of Hebrew Elements in Ancient Russian Literature – in Russian – Vol. i, Paris, 1926–27, Vol. ii, Berlin, 1924; also Léon Baratz, Sur les origines étrangères de la plupart des lois civiles russes, Publications de l'Institut de Droit Comparé de l'Université de Paris (lère Série), 52, Appendice.)

The Downfall of Khazaria

The Reply of Joseph mentions that the Khazars guarded the mouth of the Volga before 961 c.e. and prevented the Russians from reaching the Caspian. On several occasions, notably c. 913 and again in 943, the Russians made raids down the Volga, passing through Atil. Later, apparently in 965, Khazaria was the object of a great Russian attack, which was aimed at the Khazar capital and reached as far as Samandar, as we know from Ibn Ḥawqal. From this disaster the Khazars appear to have recovered only partially. Again at this time (cf. above) we hear of a Khazar khāqān adopting Islam. His motive is said to have been to secure the help of the people of Khwārizm (Miskawayh, ed. Amedroz, ii, 209; Ibn al-Athīr, viii, 196).

After 965 the Khazars are still mentioned occasionally, but scarcely for long as an independent people. We cannot use the Cairo Genizah document published by J. Mann, concerning a messianic movement supposedly in Khazaria in the time of al-Afḍal, the great Fatimid vizier who ruled 1094–1121 (rej, 71 (1920), 89–93; 89 (1930), 257–8), as proof of continued Khazar existence until this time, since it has been shown that the movement in question took place in Kurdistan (see S.D. Goitein, "Obadyah, a Norman Proselyte," in jjs, 4 (1953), 74ff.). Furthermore, Oleg, the same who, according to the Russian Chronicle, established himself in Tmutorokan in 1083, is called in a seal of the 11th–12th century "archon of all Khazaria" (N. Bǎnescu in Bulletin of the Romanian Academy, Hist. Sect. 22 (1941), cited by A.V. Soloviev, For Roman Jakobson (1956), 478). Whatever is precisely indicated here by "Khazaria" – e.g., the Khazar country in the Crimea – such a claim could not have been made prior to 965. We must therefore see the Khazar state as having subsisted until the second half of the tenth century, or the 11th century at the latest. By the 12th century the Qipchaqs or Cumans (identified also with the Polovtsi) appeared in the steppes once ruled by the Khazars. At the time of the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, it was they, not the Khazars, who were in possession.

The Khazar Correspondence

This name is usually given to what appears as an interchange of letters in Hebrew between *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, a well-known personality of Muslim Spain in the tenth century, and *Joseph, king of the Khazars. M.I. Artamonov (Istoriya Khazar, 12) includes the Cambridge Document as well as the Letter of Ḥisdai and the Reply of Joseph in the Khazar Correspondence, but this would seem to be contrary to general usage. The Reply is available in a Long Version and a Short Version (lv and sv). The Correspondence involves serious critical difficulties, and its authenticity has been much debated.

The Letter of Ḥisdai begins with a piyyut containing an acrostic which gives his own name and that of Menaḥem b. Saruq, the latter presumably acting as Ḥisdai's secretary and being the author of the piyyut. The prose part, after compliments, refers to the geographical situation of al-Andalus and Khazaria and describes the natural wealth of al-Andalus and Ḥisdai's own position there. It seems that his interest has been aroused by his having heard repeatedly that the Khazars are Jews. The Letter mentions attempts made by Ḥisdai to get in touch with the Khazar king. He was finally successful through the instrumentality of two Jews, Mar Saul and Mar Joseph, who accompanied an embassy which arrived at Cordoba from the "king of the G-b-līm, who are the Ṣaqlab" (see below). The Letter of Ḥisdai was conveyed to the East by their means, i.e., overland, and eventually was put into the hands of the Khazar king, according to the Reply, by a certain Jacob or (lv) Isaac b. Eliezer, a Central European Jew. The tone of the Letter of Ḥisdai is mostly one of enquiry, and it invites an answer to questions which range over a variety of topics: Is there a Jewish kingdom anywhere on earth? How did the Jews come to Khazaria? In what way did the conversion of the Khazars take place? Where does the king live? To what tribe does he belong? What is his method of procession to his place of worship? Does war abrogate the Sabbath? Has the Khazar king any information about the possible end of the world? Ḥisdai mentions that ʿ Abd al-Raḥmān iii al-Nāṣir is the reigning king of al-Andalus. This gives 961 as the terminus ad quem for the Letter, with 953–55 as a possible terminus a quo, for in those years Cordoba was visited by John of Gorz, as envoy of the German emperor Otto i, who may be the "king of the G-b-līm, who are the Ṣaqlab" already referred to.

The Reply of Joseph begins by referring to the principal contents of the Letter and recapitulates a number of its questions. It then relates the early history of the Khazars, and proceeds to deal at length with the conversion to Judaism under Būlān. The conversion is initiated by a dream of Būlān, which he communicates to a certain general among them (lv), apparently the beg. From the spoils of a Khazar attack on Ardabil, south of the Caucasus, for which we have the synchronism 730 in the Arabic sources, a tabernacle on the biblical model is set up. A religious debate between representatives of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is held, after which Būlān and the principal Khazars accept the religion of Israel. Under a later king, Obadiah, there was a reform of religion. Synagogues and schools were built, and the Khazars became familiar with Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, and the liturgy, i.e., rabbinic Judaism was introduced. Joseph then traces his descent from Obadiah and gives a description of his country and capital. He refers to Ḥisdai's question concerning the end of the age in a somewhat noncommittal fashion, and finally expresses his desire that Ḥisdai may come to Khazaria, which, if a notice in a map of Ibn Ḥawqal can be trusted, he actually did.

The correspondence has been available since the appearance of the work Kol Mevasser of Isaac Akrish in or after 1577, and more generally since the two letters were published by the younger *Buxtorf in his edition of the book Cosri (Kūzārī) of Judah Halevi in 1660. It is not known what manuscript source was used by Isaac Akrish; Buxtorf depended on Kol Mevasser. The only known manuscript of the Correspondence as a whole, containing the Letter of Ḥisdai and the Reply of Joseph (sv), is in the library of Christ Church, Oxford. This manuscript is very similar to the printed text, which, it has been suggested, is a transcript. There appear to be no special grounds for this opinion, though the manuscript, which is undated, has no claims to great antiquity. Nothing is sure about its provenance, but it is thought to have belonged originally to the celebrated Dr. Fell (1625–1686).

A longer version of the Reply of Joseph was published by A. *Harkavy in 1874, from a manuscript of the Second Firkovich Collection in the Leningrad Public Library. The Long Version bears no indication of any alterations or additions, and is supposed to date from the 13th century. Harkavy, in spite of his very critical attitude to Firkovich, regarded it as the undoubted original of the Short Version.

It appears impossible to suppose that the Khazar Correspondence is a fabrication of the 16th century in view of a reference to it, with the citation of part of the Reply of Joseph, agreeing in general with the Long Version, in the Sefer ha-Ittim of Judah b. Barzillai al-Bargeloni, dated between 1090 and 1105, and a similar reference in the Sefer ha-Kabbalah of Abraham *Ibn Daud in the 12th century. It cannot be admitted that these works were interpolated in the 16th century or later, to support the authenticity. Nor does it appear at all plausible that the letters forming the Khazar Correspondence were forgeries of the tenth century, composed with a view to informing the Jews about the Khazars. It is demonstrable that the literary style of the Letter of Ḥisdai differs from that of the Reply of Joseph in a marked manner. The classical Hebrew construction of vav conversive with the imperfect to express the past tense is freely used in the Letter of Ḥisdai, actually 48 times as against 14 times when the past tense is rendered by simple vav with the perfect. In the Reply (lv), on the other hand, vav conversive with the imperfect occurs not more than once or twice, while the past is expressed by the perfect and simple vav nearly 100 times. Further, in the Short Version of the Reply the vav conversive with the imperfect to express the past, instead of simple vav with the perfect, occurs in a number of passages where the wording is different from the Long Version. There is a new proportion of vav conversive with the imperfect to simple vav with the perfect: 37 to 50. It may therefore be affirmed that there is a separate authorship for the Letter and the Reply, and assumed that the Long Version of the Reply, or something very like it, has been worked over by a third hand to produce the Short Version. There are grounds for thinking that the Reply originally was written in a non-Arabic-speaking environment. Most people would agree with Kokovtsov's cautious statement that as basis for both versions there is the same original text, in general better preserved in the Long Version. B.A. Ribakov supposed that an authentic letter of King Joseph was worked over in Tmutorokan toward the end of the 11th century ("about 1083"), which resulted in the Long Version, and that some time afterward the text of the Long Version was modified by Jews of Barcelona to produce the Short Version of the Reply.

[Douglas Morton Dunlop]

Khazar Jews After the Fall of the Kingdom

The artifacts of the Khazars appear to be scant. A number of sites have been excavated, and though details of the archaeological activity in Russia are difficult to obtain (the Russians hold a monopoly on digs in ancient Khazaria), it appears that there have not been any sensational discoveries to date. No royal burial sites have been unearthed – hardly surprising since, according to Ibn Faḍlān, the khāqāns were buried under a stream – and no inscriptions, public or private.

Prior to 1914 archaeological excavations were conducted in successive years, especially at Verkhniĭ Saltov on the Donets. Since then, scholars have been divided on whether or not Saltov is a Khazar site. Additional work has been done at Bulghār and at the neighboring town of Suwār, which was mentioned in al-Iṣṭakhrī. A tenth-century two-storied palace, in which many coins were found, was discovered at the latter site, but this, the only building of a public character which has come to light, might possibly be Bulgar rather than Khazar.

Belaya (Bela) Vezha, the ancient Sarkil, near the village of Tsimlyanskaya on the left bank of the lower Don, has been the site which has attracted the most interest in recent years. Though not the Khazar capital, as had been erroneously attested, it was an important settlement. Nothing specifically Jewish has been found there. Nevertheless, discoveries analogous to the culture of Saltov and Mayatskoe Gorodishche, both at least presumed Khazar sites, were unearthed, as well as ceramics engraved with markings of the type found in the Don inscriptions. No traces of the fortress constructed by the Greeks for the Khazars have been found.

In spite of the negligible information of an archaeological nature, the presence of Jewish groups and the impact of Jewish ideas in Eastern Europe are considerable during the Middle Ages. Groups have been mentioned as migrating to Central Europe from the East or have been referred to as Khazars, thus making it impossible to overlook the possibility that they originated from within the former Khazar Empire. Even though the 12th-century traveler Benjamin of Tudela did not mention Khazaria as such he did refer to Khazars in Constantinople and Alexandria. Aside from the Kabars (Khazars) who migrated earlier to Hungary, the Hungarian duke Taksony (tenth century) is said to have invited the Khazars to settle in his lands. In about 1117 Khazars appear to have come to Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Kiev, after fleeing from the Cumans, building a town they named Bela Vezha (near Chernigov). If this assumption is correct, these Khazars previously lived in Bela Vezha (Sarkil) and then settled near Chernigov. Prior to this time Jews who were possibly Khazars were introduced by Svyatopolk into Kiev. The Khalisioi in the 12th century, who were mentioned as fighting against Manuel i Comnenus, retained, according to John Cinnamus, "the Mosaic laws but not in their pure form" (see bibl.). As late as 1309 a council of the Hungarian clergy (at Pressburg) forbade Catholics to marry those people who were at that time described as Khazars; papal confirmation of this decision was given in 1346.

Both the Mountain Jews and the Karachais seem to be connected with the Khazars of the Caucasus region. It is also possible that there were Khazar Jews in the Crimea, which was known to the Italians in the late Middle Ages and perhaps still later as Gazaria. The Turkish-speaking Karaites of the Crimea, Poland, and elsewhere have affirmed a connection with the Khazars, which is perhaps confirmed by evidence from folklore and anthropology as well as language. There seems to be a considerable amount of evidence attesting to the continued presence in Europe of descendants of the Khazars.

The story of the conversion of the Khazar king to Judaism formed the basis for Judah Halevi's famous philosophical dialogue, Kūzārī (see *Judah Halevi).


D.M. Dunlop, History of the Jewish Khazars (1954, p. b. 1967), includes extensive bibliography; idem, in: Roth, Dark Ages, ch. 8, and index; M.I. Artamonov, Istoriya Khazar (1962), especially valuable for the archaeology; V. Minorsky, in: Oriens, 11 (1958), 122–45 (review of Dunlop's History…); G. Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, 2 (1958), 334–6 (refers to Greek sources); A. Zajączkowski, in: Acta Orientalia Hungaricae, 12 (1961), 299–307 (regards the Karaites as successors of the Khazars); Szyszman, in: Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, 152 (1957), 174–221 (an original short treatment from the Karaite standpoint); A.N. Poliak, Kazariyyah (Heb., 19513); A. Yarmolinsky, in: Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 42 (1938), 695–710; 63 (1959), 237–41 (bibliographies); B.D. Weinryb, in: Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, 6 (1963), 111–29 (updates Yarmolinsky's bibliographies); B.A. Ribakov, in: Sovetskaya Arkheologiya, 18 (1953), 128–50.


views updated May 14 2018


Type of Government

The Khazars, a nomadic Turkic people from the Eurasian steppes, mixed with tribes of the northern Caucasus Mountains, on the border of Europe and Asia, and established a powerful monarchy in the sixth to tenth centuries. The Khazar kings controlled many neighboring territories and peoples, making vassals or clients of some of them.


Originally horsemen and nomads, the Khazars succeeded in bringing neighboring agricultural tribes in their territory under their control. Given that they were talented tradesmen, the Khazars saw opportunity as Arab armies captured the southern Mediterranean and Spain and temporarily interrupted existing trade routes between western Europe and East Asia. Finding themselves established at a crucial crossroads between Europe and Asia, the Khazars took full advantage of their geographical location by forming a kind of buffer state from which they protected their allies in the Byzantine Empire from invading nomads coming off the northern steppes and stymied attempts by Arab armies from the south to cross the Caucasus Mountains into eastern Europe. Their strategic location also enabled the Khazar rulers to create commercial bridges among their powerful neighbors, linking and controlling trade between the Byzantine Empire to the west, the Arab Islamic empires to the south, the Slavic peoples in the north, and farthest Asia to the east. The protection of commercially crucial highways and waterways was the primary object of Khazar kagans (kings), who prospered by the collection of customs duties from the caravans and ships moving in all directions through their territories.

Trade had long been important in the northern Caucasus and around the Black Sea. Khazar grandees, or members of the ruling class, enjoyed their own established vineyards, gardens, and fields, in which their serfs labored. Chief among Khazar cities were the following four: Itil (the most important capital, near present-day Astrakhan) and Khamlij, both on the lower Volga River; Samandar, on the north Caucasian shore of the Caspian Sea; and Balanjar, halfway between Samandar and the Daryal Pass. Some of these cities achieved commercial prosperity, including Samandar, which was described as having many orchards and being surrounded by more than forty thousand vineyards. The historian Mohammad ibn Hauqal (tenth century) wrote, “Its population consisted of Muslims and others; the Muslims had their mosques, the Christians their churches, and the Jews their synagogues.” Another historian of the era, Ahmad ibn Fadhlan (tenth century), described the capital city of Itil as composed of two sections, one inhabited by the Muslims, the other by the Khazar king and his courtiers who were adherents to Judaism. Such religious diversity in the Khazar kingdom resulted from the international scope of its trade, which brought many foreign merchants to important Khazar cities.

Government Structure

The structure of the Khazar monarchy followed a pattern established by the nomadic tribes of Eurasia from whom they were descended. The Khazar kagan had from time to time accepted the assistance of a second ruler. In the Khazar monarchy of the sixth to tenth centuries, supreme power belonged to two rulers: the kagan, who represented the Khazar people, and the beg (prince), who represented the interests of other prominent ethnic groups within the kingdom. Another royal office, kender-kagan (deputy beg), specifically represented the interests of the sizable Magyar minority within the kingdom. Such political and administrative organization along ethnic lines parallels the structure of the Khazar judiciary in the capital of Itil, which reflected religious differences. There were seven judges in Itil: two for the Muslims, two for the Jews, two for the Christians, and one for the Slavs, who were considered pagans. Below the Magyar kender-kagan in the hierarchy were the tarkhans (military commanders of single Khazar regiments). The border fortresses of Khazar territory were overseen by tudun (governors).

Customs duties and taxes provided the Khazar state with its two main sources of revenue. Customs duties were paid by traders and other merchants who crossed Khazar territory with their goods, and taxes were collected from natives of outlying regions conquered by the Khazars. Conquered peoples were taxed per hearth or plowshare owned.

Political Parties and Factions

The Magyars, an Ugrian people who were the ancestors of present-day Hungarians, were among the neighboring populations controlled by the Khazar kagans. Divided into seven clans led by chieftains, the Magyars were important enough that they enjoyed their own representation in the Khazar government. Driven by invaders from the area north of the Sea of Azov in the ninth century, they migrated west across the Ukraine, eventually reaching present-day Romania and Hungary.

The Alans, a nomadic Indo-Iranian people who had crossed Central Asia onto the southern Russian steppes, were other important vassals or clients of the Khazars. A population of Alans guarded the central Caucasus Mountains and helped rebuff the intrusions of Arab armies into Khazar territories.

Originally practitioners of shamanism (belief in the spirit world), the Khazar ruling class was influenced by the increasingly international character of its cities and converted to either Islam or Judaism. By the eighth century the ruling classes, including the king, had largely embraced Judaism, and it became the official state religion. This conversion to a faith that carried with it no potential political advantages is thought by some commentators to demonstrate the considerable independent spirit of the Khazar people and their rulers.

Major Events

Throughout their history, the Khazars periodically aligned themselves with the Byzantine Empire to the west. One of the earliest mentions of the Khazars is in 626, when they contributed forty thousand men to the army of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (c. 575–641), who eventually defeated the Persian army in nearby Azerbaijan. In the early eighth century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian II (c. 669–711) married into the Khazar royal family and was granted refuge in Crimea from revolts in his empire.

The Khazar monarchy fell in 965 to invading armies led by Sviatoslav I (c. 942–972) of Kievan Rus’. In the eleventh century Slavonic and other Turkic peoples also invaded the Khazar homeland, stripping away many of the Khazars’ remaining lands. The thirteenth century saw the once powerful Khazar nation completely absorbed by its various neighbors.


The conversion of the Khazars to Judaism continues to intrigue historians. While sources are scarce, some historians speculate that descendants of the Khazars who had converted to Judaism later migrated to eastern Europe, the Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania and contributed to Jewish populations already settled in those places. Other historians dismiss this speculation.

Dunlop, D. M. The History of the Jewish Khazars. New York: Schocken Books, 1967.

Grousset, René. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. Translated by Naomi Walford. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

Vernadsky, George. History of Russia. 5th ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961.


views updated May 23 2018


A nomadic Turkic-speaking tribal confederation and an offshoot of the Turk kaghanate, the Khazars established one of the earliest and most successful states in medieval eastern Europe. Khazar history is divided into two periods: the CrimeanNorth Caucasus (c. 650750) and the Lower Volga (c. 750965) phases. Politically focused on the northern Black Sea region, during the first phase the Khazars were locked in endless wars against the Arabs over the control of the Caucasus. After a major defeat in 737, the Khazars relocated their political focus to the north and established their capital of Atil/Itil in the Volga delta around 800. The next one hundred years of Khazar history (known as Pax Chazarica) brought security to the Russian steppe and the surrounding regions, permitting cross-continental trade to flourish via Khazaria and providing it with the necessary stability for the formation of a unique material culture, known to archaeologists as Saltovo.

Khazaria was an empire or kaghanate, the highest form of Turkic political organization. The kaghan or its leader was apparently of Turkic origin and had supreme secular and sacred functions. During the ninth century, his political-religious role was split: He retained his religious-sacred function, while the governor or beg ruled the state.

At its height in the first half of the ninth century, Khazar territories stretched from the middle Dnieper in the west to the Volga-Ural steppe in the east, and from the middle Volga in the north to the Crimea in the south. It was populated by Turkic and Iranian nomads, Finno-Ugrian foragers, Slavic agriculturalists, and urban Crimean Greeks, making the kaghanate a multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious state. Khazar economy was diverse and included animal husbandry, agriculture, hunting and gathering, fishing, craft production, agriculture, viniculture, and domestic and international trade. Khazars traded locally manufactured goods as well as the furs, slaves, honey, and wax they obtained as tribute from the Slavic and Finno-Ugrian tribes of the north. Khazaria also acted as an intermediary for Rus-Arab trade and received a tithe from the bypassing merchants. Millions of Islamic silver coins (dirhams) were exported via the "Khazar Way" (lower Volga-Don-Donets-Okaupper Volga) trade route to northwestern Russia in exchange for Rus commodities.

Most Khazars practiced shamanist-Täri religion. In the late eighth to early ninth century (but perhaps as late as 861), the Khazar ruling elite converted to Judaism. While many questions remain concerning this conversion and its pervasiveness, it is clear that by accepting Judaism, the ruling class made Khazaria a religious neutral zone for its warring Christian and Islamic neighbors. Religious tolerance and Khazaria's international commercial interests brought Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, and others to trade and live within the kaghanate.

Pax Chazarica came to an end by the early tenth century. Already in the 890s, Pechenegs and Magyars infiltrated Khazaria from the east, while the Rus annexed Khazarian territories in the northwest. Concurrently, the Khazar Way declined and the Rus-Islamic trade shifted to the lands of the Volga Bulghars, thereby bypassing Khazar toll collectors. Greatly weakened, Khazaria was destroyed in 965 by the Rus and their Torky allies.

See also: islam; jews; religion; torky


Dunlop, D. M. (1967). The History of the Jewish Khazars. New York: Schocken Books.

Golden, Peter B. (1980). Khazar Studies: An Historico-Philological Inquiry into the Origins of the Khazars, Vol. 1. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

Golden, Peter B. (1990). "The Peoples of the South Russian Steppe." In The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, ed. Denis Sinor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Golden, Peter B. (1992). An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Noonan, Thomas S. (1997). "The Khazar Economy." Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 9:253318.

Zuckerman, C. (1995). "On the Date of the Khazars' Conversion to Judaism and the Chronology of the Kings of the Rus Oleg and Igor: A Study of the Anonymous Khazar Letter from the Genizah of Cairo." Revue des Études Byzantines 53:237270.

Roman K. Kovalev


views updated Jun 08 2018


The Khazars were an ethnic group, belonging to the Turkish peoples, who, toward the end of the second century of the Christian Era, had settled in the region between the Caucasus and the lower Volga and Don Rivers, and in the following centuries, after a series of victories over the Byzantines, the Persians, and the Arabs, established a powerful kingdom in southeastern Asia. At the beginning of the eighth century, dynastic ties bound the Khazars more closely to Constantinople, which led to a limited spread of Christianity among them. They also became acquainted with Judaism from the numerous Jews who lived in the Crimea and along the Bosphorus. When the Byzantine emperor, Leo the Isaurian, persecuted the Jews in a.d. 723, many Jews found refuge in the Khazar kingdom, and their influence was so great that, around the middle of the eighth century, the king of the Khazars and many of the Khazar nobility accepted the Jewish faith. According to a widespread legend, the conversion of the Khazars to judaism followed a religious discussion in which their king was particularly impressed by the arguments of Jewish theologians.

After the conversion of the leading Khazars to Judaism, many Jews, including several Jewish scholars, migrated to the Khazar kingdom, where they kept in touch with the intellectual centers of the Jewish world, especially those in Mesopotamia and Palestine. The literary sources indicate explicitly that the Khazars acknowledged the authority of the Talmud; hence, they must not have been affected in religious matters by the Karaites.

The Khazars' acceptance of Judaism coincided with a period of peaceful development in their history, when they focused their attention on the strengthening of their power at home and on the extending of their political influence abroad. They thus established new commercial centers of importance at various places throughout their sphere of influence, and in these places, as well as in their older cities, such as Itil in the delta of the Volga, and Samkarsh and Tamatarcha on the Bosphorus, the Jewish element formed an important part of the population. At Semender on the Caspian Sea, a viceroy of the Khazars, who was likewise a convert to Judaism, had his headquarters. Although the most important posts among the Khazars were held by families which had been converted to Judaism, there reigned in Khazaria a spirit of religious toleration such as was rarely to be found at the time in Christian or Moslem countries.

In the last third of the ninth century, the Khazar kingdom suffered considerably from the incursions of another Turkish people, the Petchonegs. Meanwhile, since the Russians occupied the region at the delta of the Dnieper and even attacked Constantinople, the Byzantines were forced, for the sake of mutual defense, to strengthen their friendly relations with the Khazars. The task of doing this was entrusted to Cyril, the later apostle of the Slavs, who used the opportunity to further an effort to win the Khazars to Christianity. At the beginning of the tenth century, however, the Byzantines allied themselves with peoples who were hostile to the Khazars, and among these people, too, they sent their Christian missionaries. The Khazar king was once more able to avert the threatened invasion of his land, but he put an end to the vaunted religious toleration in his realm. After this failure of the Byzantines in their efforts to weaken the Khazars, they induced the Russians to undertake a military campaign against them. The Russian grand duke, Igor, captured the city of Samkarsh and the Khazar cities in the Crimea, but he was then defeated, together with his Byzantine allies, by the Khazars. Yet the Russians' advance could not be checked forever. Between a.d. 964 and 969 they overran most of the region where the Khazars had been settled. Many of the Khazars withdrew into the remote steppes and especially into the inaccessible mountain country of the Caucasus. From here their king appealed to various Muslim countries for help, offering them in return his willingness to become a Muslim himself.

For some centuries several sections of the former kingdom of the Khazars preserved a certain amount of political independence, and in these regions the Khazar people remained loyal to their Jewish faith. However, when the Crimea was later conquered by the Tartars, most of the remaining Khazars embraced Islam, while the others were absorbed, partly by the Rabbanite and partly by the Karaite communities of Jews. Yet the so-called Mountain Jews of modern times are in part descendants of the ancient Khazars. Some Khazar elements seem to have entered Hungary, too, at an early date in the train of the Magyars, who were akin to the Khazars and once belonged to their kingdom.

Although the European Jews in the first Christian millennium had some knowledge of the existence of a Jewish kingdom in Khazaria, they did not have much precise information about it. The Spanish-Jewish scholar and statesman, asdai Ibn Shaprut, who lived around the middle of the tenth century, sent a letter to King Joseph of the Khazars in which he asked several definite questions about this people. The king's answer, written in Hebrew, was cited by various medieval authors and was also used by Judah Ben Samuel ha-levi in his Kuzari (about a.d. 1100). Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a copy of this letter was discovered among the documents that were found in the geniza of the synagogue of Old Cairo, together with other documents concerning the Khazars. Their contents largely corroborate the data already known about this people from the Armenian, Byzantine, and Arabic historians.

Bibliography: j. brutzkus, Encyclopaedia Judaica: Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 10 v. (Berlin 192834) 5:337350. r. w. rogers, The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. j. singer, 13 v. (New York 190106) 4:17. j. starr, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 10 v. (New York 193944) 6:375378. a. yarmolinsky, "The Khazars: A Bibliography," Bulletin of the New York Public Library (Sept. 1938), rev. ed. printed separately (New York 1939).

[k. hruby]


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Khazars Turkic people who first appeared in the lower Volga region in c.2nd century ad. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, their empire prospered and extended from n of the Black Sea to the River Volga and from w of the Caspian Sea to the River Dnieper. They conquered the Volga Bulgars, and fought the Arabs, Russians, and Pechenegs. In the 8th century, the ruling class adopted Judaism. Their empire was destroyed in 965.


views updated May 14 2018

Khazars. National group, originally of S. Russia, who professed Judaism. The Khazars were an independent nation of E. Europe between the 7th and 10th cents. CE. They converted to Judaism c.740 CE. The nation disappeared by the 11th cent., but as late as 1309, Hungarian Roman Catholics were forbidden to marry people described as Khazars. See also JUDAH HALEVI, who took the story of the conversion as the framework for his exposition of Judaism in Sefer ha-Kuzari.