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Atil or Itil


ATIL or ITIL (Turkish "river"), the *Khazar capital on the Volga (itself also called Atil or Itil). According to the Murūj al-Dhahab of the Arab historian al-Masʿūdī, the Khazar capital was transferred from *Samandar to the site on the Volga during the first Arab invasions of the Caucasus (seventh century). Accounts of the Arab-Khazar wars in the seventh and eighth centuries refer to al-Bayḍāʿ, apparently the early Arabic name for the capital of the Volga. Surviving descriptions of Atil date from the ninth and tenth centuries. It was then a double town, the western part of which, on the right bank of the Volga, was walled, and consisted chiefly of felt tents with a few clay houses. Some accounts mention that the citadel stood on an island. The minaret of the Friday Mosque of the Muslims of Atil is said to have been higher than the castle. Numerous Christians lived in Atil, under the jurisdiction of their bishop. The eastern commercial part of the town, on the left bank of the Volga, is not described in detail. The double town is referred to by several Turkish names: Sarighshin (from which the later Saqsin is probably derived), the first part of which (cf. sari, "yellow") presumably refers to the same feature as indicated by the Arabic name al-Bayḍāʿ, "the white"; and, for the other half, Khanbaligh or Khamlikh (Khamlij). It appears a mistake to interpret the latter as "town of the Khan"; Sarighshin evidently refers to the western half and Khanbaligh to the eastern half of the town. The exact site of Atil cannot at present be determined, but it is placed by M. Artamonov at approximately 87 mi. (144 km.) above *Astrakhan in the region of Yenotayevka-Selitryanoye. L.N. Gumilev, who with others made an archaeological survey of this locality in 1959, found no traces of Atil.


V. Minorsky, Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam (1937), 451–4 (E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, 11); Dunlop, Khazars, index; A.N. Poliak, Kazariyyah (19513), 278–94 (includes bibliography); M.I. Artamonov, Istoriya Khazar (Rus., 1962), 385–99; G. Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica, 2 (Ger., 1958), 78–79; Roth, Dark Ages, index.

[Douglas Morton Dunlop]

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