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The Khazars (also Khazars, Khozars, Khazars; Greek Χάζαροι, Cházaroi ; Latin Gazari or Cosri ; Persian خزر Xazar ; Hebrew כוזרים, Kuzarim ; Turkish Hazarlar ; Tatar Xäzärlär ; Russian Хазары, Xazáry ) were originally a nomadic Turkic people who later became partially settled in western Central Asia , the northern Caucasus and parts of eastern Europe.

In the 7th century AD, the Khazars founded an independent khaganate in the northern Caucasus on the coast of the Caspian Sea . From the 8th to the early 9th centuries, the Jewish religion became the most important religion in the empire. Whether only a thin upper class or the rest of the population accepted and practiced the new religion is controversial. It is said that there were also Christians and Muslims among the Khazars. The Khazars were important allies of the Byzantine Empire against the Arab caliphate . Mainly through long-distance trade, they became an important regional power and, in the prime of their power development, they controlled large parts of today's southern Russia, the west of what later became Kazakhstan , today's eastern Ukraine, parts of the Caucasus and the Crimean peninsula . Their power was broken by the Kievan Rus at the end of the 10th century , and the Khazars largely faded from history. Views according to which a large part of the Khazars were absorbed in Eastern European Judaism are controversial.

The empire of the Khazars in the 9th century


In the 9th century, the Khazarian khaganate stretched across the entire southern Russian steppe between the Volga and Dnepr Mountains as far as the Caucasus . The sphere of influence extended to today's areas of Georgia , Armenia and Azerbaijan . The northern border was northeast of what would later become Moscow on the upper reaches of the Volga. Thus the Khazar empire at the height of its power was at least three times as large as the Franconian empire of Central Europe. However, his area was less strictly controlled and organized centrally. For centuries before the turn of the millennium, the Khazars controlled the trade in spices, textiles and slaves on parts of the Silk Road and on the trade routes between Constantinople and the Baltic States . Magyars lived on the eastern border and partly within the tributary area . They also maintained extensive trade relations to the west as far as the Caliphate of Córdoba .

Origins and prehistory

The name Khazars could be derived from a Turkish word for "to move around" ( gezer in modern Turkish ). Its origin is unclear. In the "Khazarian King's Letter" (see below), King Joseph lists a son of Togarma named "Kosar" as the progenitor of his people. Togarma is mentioned in the Torah as the grandson of Jafet . ( 1 Mos 10.3  EU ), but the name "Kosar" is not included in the biblical text. In any case, such a derivation should be legendary.

The same is true of the relationship between the Khazars and the ten lost tribes of Israel (see: Israelites ) considered by some historians , but modern science generally assumes that they were Turks who immigrated from Central Asia . Scientists in the USSR considered the Khazars to be an indigenous people of the North Caucasus . Some scholars, like DM Dunlop, saw a connection between the Khazars and a Uighur tribe called K'o-sa, which is mentioned in Chinese sources. However, the Khazarian language appears to have been an Oghur language similar to that of the early Bulgarians . Therefore, an origin of the Huns was claimed, in whose tribal confederation there were probably also Turkic peoples . Since the Turkic peoples have never been ethnically homogeneous, these ideas need not be mutually exclusive. It is likely that the Khazarian nation was made up of ethnically diverse tribes, as steppe peoples usually absorbed the communities they subjected.

Armenian chronicles of the 2nd century already contain passages that could be interpreted as references to the Khazars. These are mostly viewed as anachronisms , most scientists assume that they actually refer to the Sarmatians or Scythians . The late antique historian Priskos reports that a tribe of the Huns is called "Akatziroi" ( Akatziren ). Their king was called Karadach or Karadachus. With reference to the similarity between "Akatziroi" and Ak-Chasar (see below), it has been speculated that the Akatziren were possibly early Proto-Khazars, but this remains doubtful. Dmitri Wasiljew from the State University of Astrakhan hypothesized that the Khazars did not immigrate to the Pontic steppe region until the end of the 6th century and were originally located in Transoxania . According to Vasilyev, Khazarian population groups remained in Transoxania, where they would have been under the rule of the Pechenegs or Oghuzs , although they still kept in contact with the majority of the population who had emigrated.


The Khazarian tribal structure is unclear. Like many Turkic nations, they were apparently divided into Ak-Khazars ("White Khazars") and Kara-Khazars ("Black Khazars"). Scholars like Heinrich Graetz wrongly assumed that these were racial classifications. In fact, however, such distinctions had no relation to physical appearance. The white-black division is a common social division among Eurasian nomadic tribes, with the “white” group comprising the nobility, the warrior elite and the ruling class, while the “black” group consists of the common people, merchants, etc. .

Peter Golden speculated that the Khazarian ethnos represented a mixture of Oghuz and other Turkish ethnic groups including the Sabirs and the North Caucasian Huns as well as elements of the Gök Turks .


Creation of the Khazarian state

Map of the western (purple) and eastern (turquoise) khaganate at the height of their power around 600 AD.
Lighter regions indicate direct rule, darker regions represent spheres of influence.
The Pontic Steppe , around 650

Early Khazarian history is closely linked to the Gök-Turk empire , which was founded in 552 by the suppression of the Rouran . With the collapse of the Empire of the Gök Turks due to internal conflicts in the 7th century, the western half of the empire split into two confederations, the Bulgarians under the leadership of the Dulo dynasty and the Khazars under the leadership of the Ashina clan, the traditional rulers of the Empire of the Gök Turks . Shortly before 645 the Khazars reached Samandar (near today's Kisljar ) in the East Caucasus, which they later made their capital. Around 670 the Khazars had smashed the Bulgarian Confederation, with three remaining areas on the Volga , the Black Sea and the Danube .

In older research it was often assumed that the Khazars provided support to the Byzantine emperor Herakleios against the Sassanids . However, this is based on a misinterpretation by an Armenian source who used the term Khazars anachronistically, while Theophanes' term was also anachronistically and ambiguously used; In truth, the Gök Turks provided military aid to the emperor by attacking Persia on its northern border, as other sources show.

During the 7th and 8th centuries the Khazars waged a series of wars against the Umayyad Caliphate , which sought to expand its influence to Transoxania and the Caucasus (see also Islamic Expansion ). The first war was fought in the first half of the 7th century and ended with the defeat of the Arab forces led by Adb ar-Rahman ibn Rabiah outside the Khazarian city of Balanjar, after a battle in which both sides used siege machines against the opposing troops had.

Several Russian sources cite the name of the Khazarian Kagan of this period as "Irbis" and refer to him as a descendant of the Göktürk ruling house, the Ashina. Whether Irbis ever existed is as open as the question of whether it is related to the many Gökturk rulers of that name.

Various other conflicts broke out in the decades that followed, including Arab attacks and Khazarian military campaigns to Kurdistan and Iran . From the reports of al-Tabari there are indications that the Khazars formed a united front with the remnants of the Gök Turks of Transoxania.

The Khazars and Byzantium

The Khazarian supremacy over the Crimea dates back to the late 7th century . From about the second half of the 7th century, the Khazars advanced slowly into the Crimea, but without risking an open collision with Eastern Stream. Bospor and Sugdeja in the Crimea and Phanagoreia on the opposite side of the Kerch Strait had a Khazarian governor by 704 at the latest. In the middle of the 8th century the rebellious Crimean Goths were subjugated and their capital Doros (today's Mangup-Kale ) was occupied. Only Kherson could be held by the Byzantines; Attacks by the Arabs in the Caucasus then ensured that there were no military clashes between the Khazars and Byzantium, on the contrary: Often the Khazars were, as perhaps already at the time of Herakleios (although it is considered more likely in recent research, that the emperor's allies at the time were the Gök Turks ), allies of the Byzantine Empire, even if later the Khazars' relations with the Abbasid caliphate were generally friendly.

In 704/5 the emperor Justinian II , who had exiled to Cherson, fled to Khazar territory and married a daughter of the Khagan Busir. With the help of his wife, he escaped from Busir who, together with the usurper Tiberios II, intrigued against him, killing two Khazarian officials. He fled to the Bulgarians , whose Khan Tervel helped him regain his throne. Later the Khazars supported the rebellious General Bardanes, who in 711 achieved the dignity of Emperor under the name Philippikos .

The Byzantine Emperor Leo III. was so impressed by the victory of the Khazars against the Arabs at Ardabil 730 (see below) that he married his son Constantine, later Constantine V , to the Khazarian princess Tzitzak (daughter of the Khagan Bihar) as part of an alliance between the two empires . Tzitzak, who was baptized Irene, became famous for her wedding dress. As a result, men's robes with the name tzitzakion became very popular in Constantinople . Her son Leo ( Leo IV ) was better known under the name "Leo the Chasare".

Second Khazarian-Arab war

Expansion of the caliphate to 750 ( Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd , 1923)

In the first decade of the 8th century there were hostilities with the caliphate with raids and raids in the Caucasus, but only a few decisive battles. In 730, the Khazars, led by a prince named Bardzhik, invaded northwestern Iran and defeated the Umayyad forces at Ardabil , killing the Arab warlord al-Jarrah al-Hakami and briefly occupying the city. The next year they were defeated at Mosul , where Barjik directed his army from a throne on which al-Jarrah's severed head was mounted. Bardzhik was killed in the battle. Arab armies, led by the Arab prince Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik and later by Marwan ibn Muhammad (later Caliph Marwan II. ) Moved across the Caucasus and defeated a Khazarian army under the command of Hazer Tarchan, briefly occupying Itil stopped and forced the khagan to convert to Islam. Some of the Caucasus peoples who had been ruled by the Khazars ( Lesgians , Dargins , etc.) then adopted Islam. The instability of Umayyad rule made a permanent occupation impossible, the Arab armies withdrew and Khazarian independence was restored. It has been speculated whether the adoption of Judaism, which should have taken place around 740, was related to this restoration of independence.

It is noticeable that Arabic sources around 739 contain the name of a ruler named Parsbit or Barsbek. This woman appears to have directed the military operations against the Arabs. This suggests that women in the Khazarian state could hold the highest offices, possibly up to the representation of the khagan. Although they delayed the Arab expansion into Eastern Europe for some time, the Khazars were forced to withdraw to the areas north of the Caucasus. In the following decades they extended their domain to an area from the Caspian Sea in the east to the steppe areas north of the Black Sea , at least as far as the Dnieper River . In some languages, the Caspian Sea is still called " Khazarian Sea ", for example Hazar Denizi in Turkish , Arabic بحر الخزر Bahr al-Chazar , Persian دریای خزر Daryā-ye Chazar .

In 758, the Abbasid caliph Abdullah al-Mansur ordered his military governor of Armenia to take a Khazarian woman from the royal family and make peace. Yazid then married the daughter of the Khazarian ruler, Khagan Baghatur. She soon died unexplained, possibly in childbirth. Her companions returned home, convinced her father that she had been poisoned by Arabs and her father was angry. A Khazar general named Ras Tarchan then marched into the northwest of what is now Iran, where his army looted and raided for several months. Later on, relations between the Abbasid caliphate, whose foreign policy was far less expansionist than that of the Umayyads, became extremely cordial, although presumably a stark contrast between the Jewish scribes (the existence of the scribe Elijah has been handed down) and the Arab-Islamic theologians such as B. Sheikh Abu-bin Said Jaheera, who taught at the court of the Abbasids, existed.


Old Turkish shamanism

Originally the Khazars practiced a traditional Tengristic shamanism , the focus of which was the sky god Tengri , but which was also influenced by Confucian ideas from China . The Ashina clan was considered to be chosen by Tengri and the Khagan was the embodiment of the favor that the sky god showed the Khazars. A khagan who failed had lost the god's favor and was ritually executed. Historians have often speculated, half jokingly, whether the Khazars' propensity to sometimes execute their rulers has led them to look for other religions. The Khazars worshiped a number of deities subordinate to Tengri, such as the fertility goddess Umay , the thunder god Kuara and Erlik, the god of death (cf. a creation myth of the northern Turks ).

Turning to Judaism

Jewish communities have existed in the Greek cities on the Black Sea coast since classical times. Kherson, Sudak, Kerch and other cities in the Crimea had Jewish communities as well as Gorgippa; Tmutarakan even had a Jewish majority in the 670s. In addition to the original Jewish settlers, waves of immigration came from refugees who fled persecution in the Byzantine Empire, Sassanid Persia, and later the Islamic world. Many Jewish traders, such as the Radhanites , traded regularly with the Khazar area and may have had significant economic and political influence in the process. Although their origins and their history are unclear, the mountain Jews also lived in the vicinity of the Khazar region and could either have been their allies or were subject to their suzerainty. It is possible that they played a role in the conversion of the Khazars.

Either at the end of the 8th century or in the early 9th century the Khazarian rulers, the nobility and parts of the common population converted to the Jewish religion. What proportion of the population was covered by this is the subject of historical debate. In the past, most scholars believed that only the upper class had converted to the Jewish religion; this thesis is supported by contemporary Islamic texts. However, recent archaeological digs have shown widespread changes in burial practices. Around the middle of the 9th century, Khazar burials began to take on a decidedly Jewish character. Grave goods almost completely disappeared. The burial culture suggests that the Jewish religion was widespread in all layers of Khazarian society around 950.

The book Kusari by the Spanish-Jewish philosopher Jehuda ha-Levi , which was written about 400 years after the presumed conversion, explains moral and liturgical reasons for the conversion. In today's Jewish historiography, however, this representation is questioned. Rather, the work is viewed as a moral narrative in which Ha-Levi probably uses the subject of the conversion of the Khazars merely as a framework narrative to deal with current issues of his time. Some researchers have suggested that a political motivation for conversion lay in the desire to ensure a high degree of neutrality. The Khazar Empire was in the midst of growing populations, Muslims in the east and Christians in the west. Both religions recognized Judaism as their predecessor, worthy of a certain respect. The exact date of the conversion is disputed. It could have taken place as early as 740 or as late as the middle of the 9th century. Recently discovered coin finds suggest that the Jewish faith was established as the dominant religion around 830, but when the Slav apostle Cyril toured the Khazar Empire in 861, he did not recognize any Jews in the Khazars. Cyril was supposed to win the Khazarenkhagan for Christianity, but this did not succeed despite the baptism of around 200 Khazars. The khagan of this period, Zacharias, had a biblical, Hebrew name. Some medieval sources give the name of a rabbi who oversaw the conversion of the Khazars to Isaak Sangari or Yitzchak ha-Sangari.

The first Jewish king was called Bulan , which means “elk”, but some sources give him the Jewish name Sabriel. A later king, Obadiah, promoted the Jewish religion by inviting rabbis to the kingdom and building synagogues. Jewish personalities like Saadia Gaon reported positively about the Khazars, whereas they condemned the contemporary Karaites as "bastards". Therefore, it is unlikely that the Khazars adopted the Karaite faith, as some historians have believed.

The Khazars maintained close relations with the Jews of the Levant and Persia . For example, the Persian Jews hoped that the Khazars would defeat the caliphate. The high esteem in which the Khazars were held by the Jews of the Orient is shown by their mention in an Arabic commentary on Isaiah 48:14, which is partly attributed to Saadia Gaon and partly to Benjamin Nahawandi . At Isa 48,14  EU it says:

“Gather together, all of you, and listen! Which of them proclaimed: He whom the LORD loves will do his will to Babylon and make the Chaldeans feel his arm? "

The commentary says: "This refers to the Khazars who will go and destroy Babylon."

At the same time, the Khazarian rulers saw themselves as protectors of the Jewish diaspora and corresponded with Jewish leaders abroad. The correspondence between the Khazarian ruler Josef and the Sephardic scholar Chasdai ibn Schaprut has been preserved. Ibn Fadlan reports that around 920 the ruler received news of the destruction of a synagogue in Babung, Iran. Thereupon he gave the order to demolish the minaret of the mosque in his capital and to execute its muezzin. He also stated that he would have destroyed all mosques in his country had he not feared that the Muslims would destroy all synagogues in their countries in revenge.

Other religions

In addition to the Jewish religion, Khazars may have practiced Greek Orthodox , Nestorian and Monophysite Christianity, as well as Zoroastrianism, as well as Germanic, Slavic and Finnish pagan cults. Religious tolerance persisted during the more than three hundred years that the kingdom existed. The Slav apostle Cyril was sent on a mission to convert the Khazars to Christianity around 860. Although he baptized many, he did not make a breakthrough. Many Khazars later converted to both Christianity and Islam. Ibn Fadlan noted around 30 mosques and around 10,000 Muslims in the Khazar capital of Itil in the 10th century.

Al-Mas'udi reports a religious pluralism that is particularly clearly expressed in the distribution of the seven judges among the various religions. (See the Judiciary section below)

The State

The Khazarian kingdom

The Khazarian royal dignity was divided between the Khagan and the Bek or Khagan Bek.According to contemporary Arab historians, the Khagan was merely a religious-spiritual leader or held a representative office with limited powers, while the Bek was responsible for administrative and military matters.

Both the Khagan and the Khagan Bek resided in Itil . According to Arab sources, the Khagan's palace was on an island in the Volga . It was reported that he had 25 wives, each the daughter of an inferior ruler. However, this may have been an exaggeration.

In the "Khazarian King's Letter", King Joseph describes himself as the ruler of the Khazars without mentioning a colleague. It is debatable whether Josef was Khagan or Bek. The description of his campaigns makes the latter seem likely. A third possibility is that at the time of the exchange of letters (around 955) the Khazars had merged the two offices into a single one, that the Beks had replaced the Khagans or vice versa.


The Khazarian armies were led by the Khagan Bek and commanded by subordinate officers (Tarchan). A famous Tarchan, who appears in Arabic sources as Ras or As Tarchan, led the invasion of Armenia in 758. The army also included regiments of Muslim mercenaries ( Arsiyah ). These were of Alan or Choresm origin and had a strong influence. These regiments were exempt from participating in military campaigns against other Muslims. Early sources from the Kievan Rus refer to the city of Charasan (from Itil on the opposite bank of the Volga) as Chwalisy and the Khazar (Caspian) Sea as Chwalinskoye (morje) . Some historians, including Omeljan Prizak, were of the opinion that these are East Slavic variants of "Khorezmia" referring to these mercenaries. In addition to the standing army of the Beks , the Khazars drafted members of the tribes in times of war and obliged subjugated nations to follow the army .

Other officials

Settlements were ruled by administrative officials ( Tudun ). In some cases (such as the Byzantine settlements in southern Crimea), Tuduns were themselves appointed to cities nominally under the influence of another power. Ibn Fadlan also names other offices, which he calls Jawyschyghr and Kundur , but their responsibilities are not known.


Islamic historiographers such as al-Masʿūdī report that the highest Khazarian court consisted of two Jews, two Christians, two Muslims and a “pagan”, although it remains unclear whether the latter was a Turkish shaman or a priest of a Slavic or Germanic religion. The citizens had the right to a process according to the law of their religion. Some believe that such a composition is unlikely, since a Beit Din (rabbinical court) must have three members, while a Muslim or Christian court can have one or two judges. It is therefore possible that there were three supreme court judges instead of two for followers of Judaism and that Muslim sources tried to downplay their influence. There are no Jewish or Christian statements that contradict this or are more detailed. It is therefore also possible that the Jewish influence was not as dominant as the doctrine assumed. Only a clearly weaker position of the earlier Tengrian religion towards Judaism, Christianity and Islam is recognizable.



Map of Eurasia with the trading network of the Radhanites, around 870, according to reports by Ibn Chordadbeh in the Book of Streets and Kingdoms.

The Khazars were at a central interface of world trade. Goods from Western Europe were sold to Central Asia and China and vice versa. The Islamic world could only exchange ideas with Northern Europe through Khazarian mediation. The Radhanites , a medieval Jewish traders' guild, maintained trade routes through the Khazar empire, possibly promoting the conversion of the Khazars to the Jewish religion.

The Khazars did not pay any taxes to the central government. Government revenues were generated through a ten percent tariff on goods transported through the region, as well as through tribute payments from subject nations. The Khazars exported honey, furs, wool, millet and other grains, fish and slaves. DM Dunlop and Artamanow assumed that the Khazars themselves did not produce any material goods, but lived exclusively from trade. This theory has been refuted by discoveries over the past half century that include pottery and glass factories.

Khazarian coinage

The Khazars minted silver coins, so-called Yarmaqs . Many of them were copies of Arabic dirhams . Caliphate coins were widely used due to their reliable silver content. Traders from such distant countries as China, Britain and Scandinavia accepted them, although they could not decipher the Arabic coins. Minting imitations of the dirhams was therefore a method of ensuring the acceptance of the Khazarian coins abroad.

Some surviving specimens bear the inscription Ard al-Chasar (Arabic for "Land of the Khazars"). In 1999 a number of silver coins were found on the property of a farm in Gotland , Sweden . Among the coins several were minted to the years 837 and 838 and bore the Arabic inscription " Moses is the Prophet of God" (a modification of the Islamic coin inscription "Mohammed is the Prophet of God"). In his work Creating Khazar Identity through Coins , Roman Kovavlev postulated that these dirhams were part of a special series of commemorations that celebrated the adoption of the Jewish religion by the Khazar ruler Bulan.

Khazarian influence

The Khazarian khaganate was a powerful state at the height of its power development. Its heartland was located roughly on the lower Volga and the Caspian coast and extended south to the Caucasus and to Derbent , which was lost to the Arab Caliphate. In addition, the Khazars controlled most of the Crimea and the north-eastern Black Sea coast from the late 7th century. Around 800, Khazarian rule comprised most of the Pontic steppe and extended to the Dnieper in the west , while the Aral Sea was reached in the east . (Some Turkish atlases mark the Khazarian sphere of influence in the east beyond the Aral Sea). During the Khazarian-Arab wars of the early 8th century, some Khazars fled to the foot of the Ural Mountains . Some of the settlements they set up may have been permanent.

Khazarian cities

  • Along the Caspian coast and in the Volga Delta:
Itil , Chasaran ; Samandar
  • In the Caucasus:
Balanjar, Kasarki, Sambalut; Samiran
Kerch (also called Bospor); Feodosia; Gusliew (today's Evpatoria ); Samarsch (also called Tmutarakan ) and Sudak (also called Sugdaia)
  • In the Don Valley:
  • Numerous Khazarian settlements have been discovered in the Majaki-Saltowo region. Along the Dnieper, the Khazars established a settlement called Sambat, which was part of what would later become the city of Kiev . Also, Chernihiv may have started as a Khazar settlement.

Tributary and Subjugated Nations

Structure of Europe around 814: Emirate of Córdoba and Franconian Empire in the west, Byzantine Empire and the Empire of the Khazars in the east
Approximate extent of the Khazarian khaganate (light blue) and its area of ​​influence (dark blue) at the height of its power development, about 820. Place names in white letters denote dependent areas or Khazarian tribes.

Numerous tribes paid tribute to the Khazars. A ruler subordinate to Khazarian supremacy was called Elteber . At different times, the Khazars' vassals included:

In the Pontic steppe, the Crimea and Turkestan

The Pechenegs , the Oghuzs , the Crimean Goths , the Crimean Huns and the early Magyars
In the Caucasus
Georgia , Abkhazia , various Armenian principalities; Arrān ; the North Caucasian Huns; today's Adjara ; the Caucasian Avars ; the Circassians and Lesgier .
On the upper Don and Dnieper
Various East Slavic tribes such as the Derewlyans and the Vyatiches; different rulers of the Rus
Along the Volga
Volga Bulgaria ; the Burtassen ; various Finno-Ugric forest peoples like the Mordwinen and the Mansen and Chanten ; the Bashkirs and the Barsilen

Decline and decay

The rise of the Rus

Originally, the Khazars were probably allied with the Nordic tribal associations, who controlled the region around Novgorod and regularly undertook military campaigns through Khazar-held areas to the areas on the Black and Caspian Seas. By 913, however, there was open hostility with the Scandinavian marauders. The Khazarian fortress Sarkel, built around 830 with Byzantine support, was possibly motivated to repel attacks by the Rus as well as against attacks by nomadic peoples such as the Pechenegs .

The decline of the empire began in the 10th century with the attacks of the Varangians from the Kievan Rus as well as various Turkish tribes. It experienced a short renaissance under the strong rulers Aaron and Josef, who put down rebellious tribes like the Alans and victoriously waged war against the invaders from the Rus.

The Kabarian rebellion and the emigration of the Magyars

At one point in the 9th century, as Constantine VII (Porphyrogennetus) reports, a group of three Khazarian clans, the Kabars , revolted against the Khazarian leadership. Omeljan Pritsak and others have speculated that the rebels may have rejected rabbinic Judaism. This is unlikely, however, since among the Kabars, as with the other Khazars, there were Jews (rabbinical and Karaic branches), Christians, Muslims and animists . Pritsak said that the Khagan Khan-Tuvan Dyggvi led the Kabars to war against the Bek. However, he did not back up these claims with primary sources. The Kabars were suppressed and joined an alliance led by the Magyars . Hence the speculation that the word “Hungarian” was derived from the Turkish Onogur (“ten arrows”), which referred to seven Finno-Ugric tribes and three Kabarians.

In the last years of the 9th century, the Khazars and Oghuz formed an alliance against the Pechenegs, who had previously attacked both peoples. The Pechenegs were driven to the west, where they in turn displaced the Magyars, who had previously inhabited the Don Dnieper basin as vassals of the Khazar empire. Under the leadership of Lebedias and later Árpád , the Magyars migrated westwards to what is now Hungary. The emigration of Hungarians left a power vacuum and the loss of Khazarian control over the steppes of the northern Black Sea coast.

Enmity with the Rus and Byzantium

The alliance with Byzantium began to break up in the early 10th century, possibly as a result of conversion to Judaism. Byzantium and the Khazars fought in the Crimea and in 940 Constantine VII in De Administrando Imperio thought about how he could isolate and crush the Khazars. At the same time, the Byzantines sought alliances with the Pechenegs and the Rus, with varying degrees of success. The Kiev rulers Oleg and Svyatoslav I waged several wars against the Khazar Empire, often with Byzantine support. In the 960s, Svyatoslav with the help of the Pechenegs finally succeeded in breaking the power of the Khazar Empire. The Khazarian fortresses of Sarkel and Tamatarcha fell to the Rus in 965, followed by the capital Itil in 967 or 969.

Khazars outside the Khazar Empire

Khazarian communities also existed outside the areas under Khazarian suzerainty. Many Khazarian mercenaries served in the armies of the Caliphate and other Islamic rulers. Documents from medieval Constantinople mention a community in the suburb of Pera that consisted of Jews and Khazars. Christian Khazars also lived in Constantinople and some served in his armies. The patriarch Photios I was disparagingly dubbed the "face of the Khazars" by the emperor on one occasion, although it is unclear whether this related to his facial features or was simply a widespread insult. Abraham ibn Daud reported about Khazarian rabbinical students in Spain in the 12th century. Jews from Kiev and elsewhere in Russia have been reported in France, Germany and England, but it is unknown whether they were Khazars. Jews may also have been among the cabars who settled in Hungary in the late 9th and early 10th centuries. Many Khazarian Jews may have fled the conquerors to Hungary or other countries in Eastern Europe. There they could have mixed with the local Jews who had immigrated from Germany and Western Europe. Most likely, contrary to Arthur Koestler's theories , they represented only a minority among the Jews of Eastern Europe. Polish legends say that there were Jews in Poland before the monarchy was founded. Polish coins from the 12th and 13th centuries bore some Slavic inscriptions in Hebrew script, but there is no evidence that this could have anything to do with the Khazars.

Late reports on the Khazars

The extent to which Khazarian political units continued to exist after Svyatoslav's conquest of Itils (968/969) is unclear. The Khazars could have controlled individual areas in the Caucasus for two more centuries, but this is difficult to prove due to the scarce sources. This is supported by the fact that Svyatoslav did not occupy the Volga basin after the destruction of Itil, but quickly went over to military campaigns in Bulgaria. Later the Volga basin was settled by other steppe peoples like the Kipchak .

Jewish sources

A Hebrew letter from the year 4746 of the Hebrew calendar (985–986) speaks of "Our Lord David, the Khazar prince", who lives on the Taman Peninsula (on the Black Sea coast). The letter says that he received visits from envoys from the Kievan Rus seeking advice on religious matters. This could be related to the baptism of Grand Duke Vladimir I , which took place during the same period. By 988 Taman was already part of the Kievan Rus, so that this Khazarian principality might have been subjugated. However, scientists like DM Dunlop have questioned the authenticity of this letter, known as the Mandgelis Certificate.

Abraham ibn Daud, a Spanish-Jewish scholar of the 12th century, reports that he met Khazarian rabbinical students in Toledo who had told him that “the rest of us belong to the rabbinical faith”. This remark suggests that some Khazars may still have retained their ethnic, if not political, independence at least two centuries after Itil's destruction.

Petachja from Regensburg , a Jewish traveler of the late 12th century, reports on a trip through “Chazarias”, giving little details about the residents, except that they live in a state of constant mourning. His report on the conversion of the "seven kings of Meschech" is very similar to Jehuda Ha-Levy's report on the "Cuzary". It is possible that “Meschech” means the Khazars or a group Judaized under their influence. In contrast, the talk speaks of the "seven kings", although this could also mean successors in office or partial rulers.

Islamic sources

Ibn Hauqal and al-Muqaddasi mention Itil after 969, which could indicate a possible reconstruction. Al-Biruni (middle of the 11th century) reports that Itil is in ruins, without mentioning the nearby built city of Saqsin, so it could also be that Itil was not destroyed until the middle of the 11th century. Even if al-Biruni's report is not an anachronism, there is no evidence that this “new” Itil was populated by Khazars and not by Pechenegs or members of another people.

Ibn al-Athir , who wrote around the year 1200, reports on the "campaign by Fadhlun the Kurd against the Khazars". Fadhlun the Kurd has been identified as al-Fadhl ibn Muhammad al-Shaddahi, who ruled Arran and other parts of Azerbaijan in the 1030s . According to the source, he attacked the Khazars, but had to flee when they ambushed his army and killed 10,000 of his men. Two of the great scholars of the early 20th century, Joseph Marquart (1864–1930) and W. Barthold , disagreed on this report: Marquart believed that this incident involved a Khazarian group who had returned to paganism and nomadic life. Barhold, like Kevin Brook, were more skeptical of him and assumed that Georgians or Abkhazians were being discussed. A clear decision in favor of one of the two assumptions is not possible due to the sources.

Reports from the Kievan Rus

In 969 Khazarian representatives took part in the disputation of Grand Duke Vladimir, at which, according to the narrative of the past years ( Nestor Chronicle ), it was decided which religion should become the Rus. It remains unclear whether these Khazars were residents of Kiev or were envoys from a remaining Khazarian ruler. Some scholars have taken the entire narrative as a legend, but even then the reference to Khazars remains relevant after the khaganate was destroyed. Heinrich Graetz said that they could have been Jewish envoys from the Crimea, but without naming sources for this. The Nestor Chronicle also reports that Mstislav, one of the sons of Vladimir, went to the field against his brother Yaroslav with an army in which Khazars and Circassians also served.

The sources report from the year 1078 of the kidnapping of a prince Oleg by "Khazars" who was brought to Constantinople. However, most experts assume that these were Kipchak Turks .

Byzantine, Georgian and Armenian sources

The Byzantine chronicler Kedrenos reports a joint attack by Byzantines and Rus in 1016 against the Khazarian rule in Kerch , which Georgios Tzules directed. After 1016 there are other ambiguous Eastern Christian sources where it is possible that “Khazars” was used as a collective term, just as the Byzantines and Arabs referred to all steppe peoples as “Turks”. Before they were called "Scythians" by the Romans. Jewish Khazars are also mentioned in a Georgian chronicle as residents of Derbent in the late 12th century. At least one 12th century Byzantine source mentions tribes who apply Mosaic law and live in the Balkans. However, a relationship between them and the Khazars is rejected by most experts.

Western sources

Giovanni di Plano Carpini, a papal legate at the court of the Mongolian khan Gujuk in the 13th century, also left a list of the tribes subjugated by the Mongols in his report. One of the listed tribes of the Caucasus, the Pontic steppe and the Kaspi region are the "Brutachi who are Jews". The identity of this “brutachi” is unclear. Giovanni later writes that they shaved their heads. Although he calls them the Kipchak Turks, they could have been a remnant of the Khazars. Otherwise they could also have been Kipchak converts to Judaism, similar to the Crimean Chaks and Crimean Karaites .

Speculation about possible historical successors of the Khazars

The orientalist Hugo von Kutschera , the writer Arthur Koestler ( The Thirteenth Tribe ) and the Israeli historians Abraham N. Poliak and Shlomo Sand represented or represent the theory that the Jewish Khazars were the ancestors of most or all of the Ashkenazim . According to the Eastern European historian Frank Golczewski, this thesis is now extremely questionable.

Some historians, including at Israeli universities, such as Shlomo Sand and Israel Bartal , consider it possible that a large part of the Khazars was absorbed in Eastern European Judaism . Genetic studies contradict this, according to which the Ashkenazi population is predominantly of Middle Eastern origin, so that the Khazars can either have only a small or no share in the ancestry of the Ashkenazim.

Recent genetic research shows that Middle Eastern elements dominate the Ashkenazim male lineage, while the female lineage has a different history. This has led some researchers to believe that men of Middle Eastern origin married into European societies. Another study (as part of a doctoral thesis by Doron Bahar of the Technion Medical School in Haifa ) concluded that 40% of Ashkenazi Jews were descendants of four great mothers, who likely came from the Middle East. Both studies show a high degree of genetic homogeneity in view of almost two millennia of dispersion in the diaspora and clearly point to the predominantly Middle Eastern origin of the Jewish population. This also means that the Ashkenazim either have no relationship to the Khazars or that the Khazarian element only makes up a small proportion.

Furthermore, critics point out that the second part of Koestler's work is largely speculative. His interpretation of place names and sources has been criticized as a mixture of etymological errors and misinterpreted sources. Therefore Koestler's thesis can be considered largely refuted.

Other critics of the Khazar theory emphasize that the primary motivation of its proponents lies in anti-Zionism . The Khazar theory is represented by many anti-Zionists, especially in the Arab world. They argued that if the Jews were primarily of Khazar origin, God's biblical promise of the land of Canaan to the Israelites did not apply to them. From a Jewish point of view, this promise also applies to converts, and more than half of today's Israelis are not Ashkenazim. Against this, it is countered that political implications say nothing about the truth of the core of the theory. So Koestler himself, based on secular considerations, was a staunch Zionist . In the Soviet Union , too , the Khazar theory was used to justify anti-Semitism and to legitimize Russian conquests. Today the Khazar theory is mainly spread by anti-Semites such as the Christian Identity Movement or the right-wing esoteric conspiracy theorist David Icke , because it allows between supposedly “good” and “bad” Jews, namely the Sephardi, who are supposedly descended from the Israelites , and the Khazarian, So actually to differentiate between “ Asian ” Ashkenazim.

Other theories derive the origin of groups like the Karaites, the Crimchaks or the mountain Jews from the Khazars. While it is possible that some Khazars were inducted into these ethnic groups, there is insufficient evidence to support these theories. The Kumyks and the Crimean Tatars are non-Jewish ethnic groups who refer to a partially Khazarian origin . As with the Jewish ethnic groups mentioned above, these claims are the subject of controversy and debate.

See also


  • Kevin Alan Brook: The Jews of Khazaria. Aronson, Northvale (NJ) 1999, ISBN 0-7657-6032-0 .
  • Douglas M. Dunlop: The History of the Jewish Khazars. Princeton University Press, Princeton (NJ) 1954.
  • Peter Benjamin Golden: Khazar studies: An historico-philological inquiry into the origins of the Khazars. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 1980.
  • Peter Benjamin Golden (Ed.): The World of the Khazars. New Perspectives. Brill, Leiden and Boston 2007.
  • Arthur Koestler : The thirteenth trunk . The Khazar Empire and its legacy. Translated from English by J. Eidlitz. Molden, Vienna 1977, ISBN 3-217-00790-5 .
  • Josef Marquart: Eastern European and East Asian forays. Ethnological and historical-topographical studies on the history of the 9th and 10th centuries (approx. 840-940). Dieterich'sche Verlagbuchhandlung, T. Weicher, Leipzig 1903.
  • Andreas Roth: Khazars. The forgotten great empire of the Jews. Melzer, Frankfurt 2006, ISBN 3-937389-71-7 .
  • Svetlana A. Pletnjowa: The Khazars. Medieval empire on the Don and Volga. Schroll, Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-7031-0478-3 .
  • Abraham N. Poliak : Khazaria - The story of a Jewish kingdom in Europe (Hebrew). Tel Aviv 1951.
  • Alfred Posselt : History of the Khazarian Jewish state. Publishing house of the Association for the Promotion and Care of Reform Judaism, Vienna 1982.
  • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller : The "Jewish" Khanate. History and religion of the empire of the Khazars . In: carbuncle. Zeitschrift für Erlebbare Geschichte , No. 79 (2008/2009), pp. 17-22 ( overview of the latest research that goes beyond Roth's book, with detailed references ).
  • Jacques Sapir , Jacques Piatigorsky: L'Empire khazar. VIIe-XIe siècle, l'énigme d'un peuple cavalier. Autrement, coll. Mémoires, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-7467-0633-4 .
  • Shaul Stampfer: Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism? In: Jewish Social Studies 19, No. 3 (2013), pp. 1-72
  • Paul Wexler: The Ashkenazic Jews. A Slavo-Turkic people in search of a Jewish identity. Slavica Publishers, Columbus (OH) 1993, ISBN 0-89357-241-1 .
  • Paul Wexler: Two-tiered Relexification in Yiddish. Jews, Sorbs, Khazars, and the Kiev-Polessian Dialect. Mouton de Gruyter, New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-017258-5 .
  • Boris Zhivkov: Khazaria in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries. Brill, Leiden and Boston 2015, ISBN 978-90-04-29307-6 ( table of contents ).

Web links

Commons : Khazars  - collection of images, videos and audio files
  • , website of Kevin Alan Brook, author of The Jews of Khazaria
  • Chazarias. (Russian) from: Small Jewish Encyclopedia Jerusalem 1976-2005 (Russian edition, article from 1999).

Individual evidence

  1. René Grousset: The Khazars . In: The steppe peoples. Munich 1970, p. 255; Harald Haarmann : Article Khazars . In: Lexicon of the fallen peoples. Munich 2005, p. 79; Article Khazars . In: Bertelsmann Lexicon. Volume 2, Bertelsmann Lexikon-Verlag, Gütersloh 1984, p. 208.
  2. ^ Eran Elhaik: The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses . In: Genome Biology and Evolution 5, 2013, pp. 75f. ( doi : 10.1093 / gbe / evs129 ; English).
  3. See Walter E. Kaegi: Heraclius - Emperor of Byzantium. Cambridge 2003, pp. 142f .; Peter Benjamin Golden (Ed.): The World of the Khazars. New Perspectives. Leiden and Boston 2007, p. 403ff.
  4. The book Kusari by Jehuda Halevi , Spanish text at Wikisource.
  5. Ulrich Sahm : The Khazar fairy tale. Historian Shaul Stampfer refutes a popular legend . In Jüdische Allgemeine , July 3, 2014.
  6. Josef Schmidlin: Catholic mission history . Missionsdruckerei Steyl, Steyl 1924, p. 162 .
  7. Gernot Rotter (Ed.): Up to the limits of the earth. Excerpts from the “Book of Goldwashes” ( Library of Arabic Classics , Vol. 3). Erdmann, Tübingen and Basel 1978, ISBN 3-7711-0291-X , p. 85.
  8. ^ Matthias Alexander Castrén: Ethnological lectures on the Altaic peoples, together with Samoyed fairy tales and Tatar heroic sagas (= Nordic journeys and research , volume 4). Edited by Anton Schiefner. Book printing of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg 1857, p. 75 .
  9. ^ Frank Golczewski: Ukraine. In: Wolfgang Benz (Hrsg.): Handbuch des Antisemitismus . Vol. 1: Countries and regions. De Gruyter Saur, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-023137-3 , p. 379.
  10. a b Doron M. Behar, Ene Metspalu, Toomas Kivisild u. a .: The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry. Portrait of a Recent Founder Event , in: The American Journal of Human Genetics 78, March 2006 ( PDF; 2 MB ).
  11. a b In DNA, New Clues to Jewish Roots . May 14, 2002. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved on August 3, 2015.
  12. 40% of Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of four primal mothers (newsletter of the Embassy of the State of Israel) January 31, 2006. Archived from the original on February 6, 2012. Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved August 1, 2012. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. ^ Victor A. Shnirelman: The Myth of the Khazars: Intellectual Antisemitism in Russia in the 1970s – 90s . Johnson's Russia List. September 4, 2001. Archived from the original on January 15, 2009. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  14. ^ Michael Barkun : Religion and the Racist Right. The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1997, pp. 136-142; the same: A Culture of Conspiracy. Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America . University of California Press, Berkeley 2013, p. 145.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on March 7, 2006 .