In Russian (later)
Khazar Synopsis
Contents Huns
Ogur and Oguz
Kurgan Culture
Ethnic Affiliation Scythians
Scythians and their descendents
Scytho-Iranian Theory
Burgund Dateline
Ephthalite Dateline
P. Golden Khazar Conversion
G. Hosszu Khazar Rune Writings
O.Frolova The ethnic name Burdjan
G. Hosszu Rovash Runic Script
Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Karluk Dateline
Khazar Dateline
Kimak Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Kyrgyz Dateline
Sabir Dateline
Seyanto Dateline
Arthur Koestler (1905–1983)
The Thirteenth Tribe
(Türks, Khazars, Jews, Judaism, and Ashkenazim)
UK, Hutchinson, 1976, ISBN 0-394-40284-7; New York, Random House, 1976


  and few more others
W Huns
5th c. AD
6th c. AD
6th c. AD
W. Goktürk Kaganate
7th c. AD
Subar (Suvar)
Kurbat Bulgaria
AD 630-660
ca AD 650-850
Suvar domain within Khazaria
ca. AD 800
Kangar anabasis
AD 750
Kangar Union
ca. 750 AD
Kangar (Bajanak)
and Khazaria
ca. 850 AD
ca AD 800
per Gumilev
AD 850
AD 900
AD 900
Kagan Domain
10th c. AD
Itil Bulgaria
ca AD 800
AD 900
AD 950.gif (92K)
AD 1050.gif (92K)
Saklan and Saksin
ca 1200 AD
Itil area
1367 AD

Posting Foreword

Few books in the 20th c. raised as much excitement as the A. Koestler's “The Thirteenth Tribe”. The thesis of the A. Koestler book was that the majority of the Ashkenazi Jews, and thus the majority of all modern Jews originated from the Türkic Khazars. This posting cites pertinent chapters discussing the initial and final history of the Khazar Jewry, with comments illuminating the Türkic component. The quasi-academic work was besieged by criticism from all angles, scientific only to a degree needed to buttress a particular opinion. The angles were religious, ethnical, patriotic, xenophobic, racistic, political, and some more. None of the critics cared to learn a little about the subject beyond what can be found in the popular digests on Khazars. Thus the main player, the Khazars, became a symbolic caricature without a human element, a shapeless Khazarian blob. A most weighty negative response came from Kevin Alan Brook, “The Jews of Khazaria”, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002.  The thesis of the K. Brook book was that the modern Jews originated from the ancient Jews, irrespective of the Türkic Khazars. Whether in a Judaic-centered or Jewish-centered case, the Jewish people serve only as decorations for the main concern, and the poor Khazars are all but attributes adorning the decoration.

The estimate based on the “Türkic” R1b component among the world's Ashkenazim Jewry leads to a number of 105,000 conditional one-time Khazar migrants in the year 1000 AD that equates to the 2000 AD modern population of 1.5 mln out of the total 12 mln Ashkenazim (increase factor 14 times). This estimate is based on the data from the population and evolutionary genetics, and demographic factors. The bulk of the Ashkenazim Jewry estimated at 55-70% is marked by the Middle Eastern genetic inheritance of the haplogroups E, J, and G. Both the modern Ashkenazim and Sephardim carry about the same Middle Eastern inheritance adorned by slightly different admixtures. The Khazar contribution of the R1b and R1a components is significant, but far from dominant, that outcome is not unexpected, whether it is recognized or not by the opposing parties. The Nazi murderous orgy killed not only 4 mln Jews of the Middle Eastern origin, they also killed 2 mln Jews of the Türkic origin, by 2000 AD these numbers would have grown to 6 and 3 mln respectively. The Middle Eastern ancestry rightfully deserved a detailed study. The study of the Central Asian and Siberian ancestry is just coming of age, it has already brought to light theretofore unexplored elements of the Jewish history.

A light on the topic can't be shed without turning the tables around, making Khazars a main object, fitting Jews as accidentals, and fitting religions as an attribute. The Jewish experience of living in diaspora helped Judaic Khazars to survive, but any other religion would help about the same, if not more. To begin with, Khazaria was a fraction of the Western Türkic Kaganate, at least initially led by a scion of the Ashina dynastic tribe. Khazaria was a tiny remote offshoot, in the N. Pontic Sarmatian lands, of the parental First Türkic Kaganate formed only a century earlier, in 552 AD. A Kaganate's regent had to proclaim his own state when his parental state momentarily collapsed. A small tribe of Khazars came under the banner of the princely revolt, and gave its name to the new polity. Ethnically, Khazars were identical with Bulgars, but the body of the Bulgars was led by the Dulo dynasty of the Attila the Hun. The newly baked Ashina Kaganate decimated the forces of the Dulo dynasty, and consolidated as a Khazar state that unified conquered Bulgars and Suvars (Subars, Savirs), and Khazars under a single Ashina administration. The bulk of the state population were Bulgars, then Suvars. The Khazar was a small tribe, probably numbering 10-20,000, with a military force of a puny 2,500-5,000 cavalry. Compare that with a 300,000 army they were heading. That approximates the composition of the Mongol forces, with 6,000 Mongols leading an army of hundreds of thousands.

The small size of the tribe predicated its fate. Khazars had to ally with all their subjects, primarily through dynastic marital ties, and live with the ruling State Council representing powerful allied members that appointed and dismissed Kagans. The only glue that kept the Kaganate together was the esteem paid to the Ashina dynastic line, and that was supported by a bestowed on the Ashina Heavenly Blessing that protected the entire nation, that was a core of the Tengrian secular affairs. A major failure to deliver blessing and protection would lead to a replacement with another Blessed candidate. The Khazar state was structured on a typical Türkic model, including the traditional Türkic consent of the ruled, personal freedom, wide autonomy of the member tribes, freedom of religion, and an absence of even a notion of a state religion. Within the surrounding sedentary, slave-holding ruling elites, cloistered minds could not perceive such liberties, and persistently attempted to impose mandatory etiology with a view of either gaining a dominant position or subjugating the local population. The story starts with the Arab assault, which roughly coincided with the formation of the Khazar Kaganate (ca. 660s). The Arab assaults continued for nearly 150 years, in 727 the Hunnic capital Samandar was evacuated at the approach of the Maslama's army, and in 737, after being cornered by Marwan, Khazar Kagan Bardjil agreed to convert to Islam as a condition of staying in power. Three years later, an unnamed Kagan reportedly converted to Judaism. An allusion to Judaism in respect to Khazars may come in connection with enthronement of Constantine V (741-775), a half-Khazar, and partially Türk on the father's side, Byzantine emperor. The next news on Khazar Judaism is connected with the Khazar attack on the Arab-held S. Caucasia in 799, reforms of Khazar Kagan Obadia in 799-809, and adoption of Judaism by the Khazar elite headed by the Kagan, which started the spread of Jewish religion in the Kaganate. The advance of the Arab conquest apparently drove waves of, first, the Persian, then the Azeri, then the Tabasaran, Derbent, and the Masgut (Massagetan) Balanjar Jewry up north to the N. Caucasus, toward the Khazar domain. The relatively massive exodus continued from 660s till 944.

A radical change of the course after a major debacle is more than logical. It was obvious that Bardjil lost the favor of the Heaven (kiv, English give), he escaped from the enemy by submitting, but could not escape the sound judgment of the State Council expressing the will of the people. Bardjil had to be properly buried under a royal kurgan, sent off to Tengri for reincarnation, and at Tengri's will return to the earth with the Tengri's blessing. Meanwhile, a new Kagan had to be raised, the yoke of Islam shaken off, and a defense wall erected. Judaism offered a wall of protection, it was a religion approved and sanctified within Islam, and could not be badmouthed as a paganism, the argument the Arabs used against Tengriism to attack its faithful. But to adopt a new policy, some formalities had to be observed, the state structure realigned. A new Jewish Kagan had to be ordained with a new, Jewish wife, and that would cause a dissolution of the previous marital alignment, promotion of the new Hatun's (Queen's) tribe to the status of the dynastic tribe, and a promotion of the Jewish tribal leader to the position of the Bek, a Prime Minister of the state. Thus, the explicitly non-tribal Jewish populace of the Kaganate received a newly baked tribal leader. The new order found reflection in the sources, they report that visually, Kagan disappeared from the scene, and the Bek came to the fore. The dispersal of the federal positions was adjusted accordingly, personalities with Hebrew names pop up in authoritative positions. Instead of Tamia Tarhan, the ruler of the Tamiatarhan (Sl. Tmutorokan) is called Pesakh, and like a Tarhan, he leads the Khazar army into action.

Attempts to Judaize population are attested by the revolt in 817 of the Samandar's inhabitants against the Khazar Kagan Karak's attempts to introduce Judaism. By 860s-870s, appeared another earliest testimony on the Khazars' Judaic conversion, a commentary of Druthmar of Aquitaine on Matthew Expositio in Matthaeum Evangelistam mentions “Hunnic people who call themselves Gazari,... a tribe more brave than the others,... (they) already were circumcised, and they profess all dogmata of Judaism... Bulgars are also from those seven tribes”. In 930, Khazars allied with Alans who adopted Judaism, and arranged a dynastic marriage. In 939, a Khazar Baliqchi (city major) named Pesakh defeated Ruses. According to an anonymous letter written by a Khazarian Jew in the 940s, one night a Rus prince Oleg captured the Khazar-held city Tmutorokan. Pesakh badly defeated and captured Oleg, and seized several Byzantine cities in the Crimea. By 944, the two centuries of the massive Jewish emigration to Khazaria came to an end, and the outflow of the Jewry to the west had increased.

The story on the Khazarian Jewry and its impact on the European Jewry can't be relayed without events that affected Khazaria and its Jewry much more than the overpublicized raid of Svyatoslav in 965. Still under unending attacks of the Arab conquistadors, in 750 Khazaria was flooded by the Kangar (Bajanak) refugees fleeing Oguzes. That invasion swallowed a third of the Khazar territory, impeding but not terminating her bonds with the northern subjects, and on the way badly ruining plenty of the Khazar population. The N. Pontic state of the Kangars (Bajanaks) in the former Khazar territory lasted for 150 years, till an Oguz wave pushed them further westward. The Magyar initial odyssey fits into the Kangar period as one of the minor episodes. Oguzes largely displaced from the Khazar territory between the Caspian and Aral to the west the western tribes of the Western Türkic Kaganate. Their advent to the N. Pontic brought about a further ruin to the Khazar population. The next invasion, ca. 1000 AD, was that of the Kipchaks, who pushed westward the Oguzes, who  pushed westward the Kangars (Bajanaks). After initial turmoil, Khazaria adopted to and found ways to co-exist and at times benefit from the presence of the Kangar, Kipchak, and Oguz domains in her former possessions. Those subsequent nomadic waves from beyond the eastern borders, so damaging to the Khazar population, to its Jewish population of real Jews and converted Türkic populace, and to her ties with the northern tributary populations, happened before the rise of the Rus, they escaped an attention of the RPC, and still remain in a gloomy historical shade. Their impact on the fates of the Türkic and Jewish Judaic populations should have been a major element of the A. Koestler's thesis. Their impact also was not picked up by the numerous opponents of his thesis, who depict an alternate history without consideration paid to the fates of the Khazar Jewry during a key protracted period of its history.

Page numbers are shown at the beginning of the page in blue. Posting notes and explanations, added to the text of the author, are shown in (blue italics) in parentheses and in blue boxes, or highlighted by blue headers. The the unusual spelling forms are translated to pronounceable English and shown in parentheses in (blue italics): Khwarazm (Horezm) etc.


Map of the Khazar Empire  
The Lord's Prayer in the Khazar language  
Arthur Koestler
The Thirteenth Tribe




‘It was’, wrote D. Sinor,1 ‘in the second half of the eighth century (750s on) that the Khazar empire reached the acme of its glory’ - that is, between the conversion of Bulan and the religious reform under Obadiah. This is not meant to imply that the Khazars owed their good fortune to their Jewish religion. It is rather the other way round: they could afford to be Jews because they were economically and militarily strong.

A living symbol of their power was the Emperor Leo the Khazar, who ruled Byzantium in 775-80 - so named after his mother, the Khazar Princess ‘Flower’ (Chichak) - the one who created a new fashion at the court. We remember that her marriage took place shortly after the great Khazar victory over the Muslims in the battle of Ardabil (9 Dec. 730), which is mentioned in the letter of Joseph and other sources. The two events, Dunlop remarks, ‘are hardly unrelated’.2

However, amidst the cloak-and-dagger intrigues of the period, dynastic marriages and betrothals could be dangerous. They repeatedly gave cause - or at least provided a pretext - for starting a war. The pattern was apparently set by Attila, the erstwhile overlord of the Khazars. In 450 Attila is said to have received a message, accompanied by an engagement ring, from Honoria, sister to the West Roman Emperor Valentinian III. This romantic and ambitious lady begged the Hun chieftain to rescue her from a fate worse than death - a forced marriage to an old Senator - and sent him her ring. Attila promptly claimed her \84\ as his bride, together with half the Empire as her dowry; and when Valentinian refused, Attila invaded Gaul.

Several variations on this quasi-archetypal theme crop up throughout Khazar history. We remember the fury of the Bulgar King about the abduction of his daughter, and how he gave this incident as the main reason for his demand that the Caliph should build him a fortress against the Khazars. If we are to believe the Arab sources, similar incidents (though with a different twist) led to the last flare-up of the Khazar-Muslim wars at the end of the eighth century, after a protracted period of peace.

According to al-Tabari, in AD 798, the Caliph ordered the Governor of Armenia to make the Khazar frontier even more secure by marrying a daughter of the Kagan. This governor was a member of the powerful family of the Barmecides (which, incidentally, reminds one of the prince of that eponymous family in the Arabian Nights who invited the beggar to a feast consisting of rich dish-covers with nothing beneath). The Barmecide agreed, and the Khazar Princess with her suite and dowry was duly dispatched to him in a luxurious cavalcade (see I, 10). But she died in childbed; the newborn died too; and her courtiers, on their return to Khazaria, insinuated to the Kagan that she had been poisoned. The Kagan promptly invaded Armenia and took (according to two Arab sources3) 50,000 prisoners. The Caliph was forced to release thousands of criminals from his gaols and arm them to stem the Khazar advance.

The Arab sources relate at least one more eighth-century incident of a misfired dynastic marriage followed by a Khazar invasion; and for good measure the Georgian Chronicle has a particularly gruesome one to add to the list (in which the royal Princess, instead of being poisoned, kills herself to escape the Kagan’s bed). The details and exact dates are, as usual, doubtful,4 and so is the real motivation behind these campaigns. But the recurrent mention in the chronicles of \85\ bartered brides and poisoned queens leaves little doubt that this theme had a powerful impact on people’s imagination, and possibly also on political events.


No more is heard about Khazar-Arab fighting after the end of the eighth century. As we enter the ninth, the Khazars seemed to enjoy several decades of peace - at least, there is little mention of them in the chronicles, and no news is good news in history. The southern frontiers of their country had been pacified; relations with the Caliphate had settled down to a tacit nonaggression pact; relations with Byzantium continued to be definitely friendly.

Yet in the middle of this comparatively idyllic period there is an ominous episode which foreshadowed new dangers. In 833, or thereabouts, the Khazar Kagan and Bek sent an embassy to the East Roman Emperor Theophilus, asking for skilled architects and craftsmen to build them a fortress on the lower reaches of the Don. The Emperor responded with alacrity. He sent a fleet across the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov up the mouth of the Don to the strategic spot where the fortress was to be built. Thus came Sarkel into being, the famous fortress and priceless archaeological site, virtually the only one that yielded clues to Khazar history - until it was submerged in the Tsimlyansk reservoir, adjoining the Volga-Don canal. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who related the episode in some detail, says that since no stones were available in the region, Sarkel was built of bricks, burnt in specially constructed kilns. He does not mention the curious fact (discovered by Soviet archaeologists while the site was still accessible) that the builders also used marble columns of Byzantine origin, dating from the sixth century, and probably salvaged from some Byzantine ruin; a nice example of Imperial thrift.5

The potential enemy against whom this impressive fortress was built by joint Roman-Khazar effort, were those formidable and menacing newcomers on the world scene, whom the West \86\ called Vikings or Norsemen, and the East called Rhous or Rhos or Rus.

Two centuries earlier, the conquering Arabs had advanced on the civilized world in a gigantic pincer movement, its left prong reaching across the Pyrenees, its right prong across the Caucasus. Now, during the Viking Age, history seemed to create a kind of mirror image of that earlier phase. The initial explosion which had triggered off the Muslim wars of conquest took place in the southernmost region of the known world, the Arabian desert. The Viking raids and conquests originated in its northernmost region, Scandinavia. The Arabs advanced northward by land, the Norsemen southward by sea and waterways. The Arabs were, at least in theory, conducting a Holy War, the Vikings waged unholy wars of piracy and plunder; but the results, as far as the victims wore concerned, were much the same. In neither case have historians been able to provide convincing explanations of the economical, ecological or ideological reasons which transformed these apparently quiescent regions of Arabia and Scandinavia quasi overnight into volcanoes of exuberant vitality and reckless enterprise. Both eruptions spent their force within a couple of centuries but left a permanent mark on the world. Both evolved in this time-span from savagery and destructiveness to splendid cultural achievement.

About the time when Sarkel was built by joint Byzantine-Khazar efforts in anticipation of attack by the eastern Vikings, their western branch had already penetrated all the major waterways of Europe and conquered half of Ireland. Within the next few decades they colonized Iceland, conquered Normandy, repeatedly sacked Paris, raided Germany, the Rhone delta, the gulf of Genoa, circumnavigated the Iberian peninsula and attacked Constantinople through the Mediterranean and the Dardanelles - simultaneously with a Rus attack down the Dnieper and across the Black Sea. As Toynbee wrote:6 ‘In the ninth century, which was the century in which the Rhos impinged on the Khazars and on the East Romans, the Scandinavians were raiding and conquering and colonizing in an immense are that eventually \87\ extended south-westward ... to North America and southeastward to ...the Caspian Sea.’

No wonder that a special prayer was inserted in the litanies of the West: A furore Normannorum libera nos Domine. No wonder that Constantinople needed its Khazar allies as a protective shield against the carved dragons on the bows of the Viking ships, as it had needed them a couple of centuries earlier against the green banners of the Prophet. And, as on that earlier occasion, the Khazars were again to bear the brunt of the attack, and eventually to see their capital laid in ruins.

Not only Byzantium had reason to be grateful to the Khazars for blocking the advance of the Viking fleets down the great waterways from the north. We have now gained a better understanding of the cryptic passage in Joseph’s letter to Hasdai, written a century later: ‘With the help of the Almighty I guard the mouth of the river and do not permit the Rus who come in their ships to invade the land of the Arabs. ... I fight heavy wars [with the Rus].’


The particular brand of Vikings which the Byzantines called ‘Rhos’ were called ‘Varangians’ by the Arab chroniclers. The most probable derivation of ‘Rhos’, according to Toynbee, is ‘from the Swedish word “rodher”, meaning rowers’.7 As for ‘Varangian’, it was used by the Arabs and also in the Russian Primary Chronicle to designate Norsemen or Scandinavians; the Baltic was actually called by them ‘the Varangian Sea’.8 Although this branch of Vikings originated from eastern Sweden, as distinct from the Norwegians and Danes who raided Western Europe, their advance followed the same pattern. It was seasonal; it was based on strategically placed islands which served as strongholds, armories and supply bases for attacks on the mainland; and its nature evolved, where conditions were favorable, from predatory raids and forced commerce to more or less permanent settlements and ultimately, amalgamation with the /88/ conquered native populations. Thus the Viking penetration of Ireland started with the seizure of the island of Rechru (Lambay) in Dublin Bay; England was invaded from the isle of Thanet; penetration of the Continent started with the conquest of the islands of Walcheren (off Holland) and Noirmoutier (in the estuary of the Loire).

At the eastern extreme of Europe the Northmen were following the same blueprint for conquest. After crossing the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland they sailed up the river Volkhov into Lake Ilmen (south of Leningrad), where they found a convenient island - the Holmgard of the Icelandic Sagas. On this they built a settlement which eventually grew into the city of Novgorod. From here they forayed on southward on the great waterways: on the Volga (Itil) into the Caspian, and on the Dnieper into the Black Sea.

The former route led through the countries of the militant Bulgars and Khazars; the latter across the territories of various Slavonic tribes who inhabited the north-western outskirts of the Khazar Empire and paid tribute to the Kagan: the Polyane in the region of Kiev; the Viatichi, south of Moscow; the Radimishchy east of the Dnieper; the Severyane on the river Derna, etc.* These Slavs seemed to have developed advanced methods of agriculture, and were apparently of a more timid disposition than their ‘Turkish’ neighbors on the Volga (Itil), for, as Bury put it, they became the ‘natural prey’ of the Scandinavian raiders. These eventually came to prefer the Dnieper, in spite of its dangerous cataracts, to the Volga (Itil) and the Don. It was the Dnieper which became the ‘Great Waterway’ - the ‘Austrvegr of the Nordic Sagas - from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and thus to Constantinople. They even gave Scandinavian names to the seven major cataracts, duplicating their Slavonic names; Constantine conscientiously enumerates both versions (e.g., Baru-fors in Norse, Volnyi in Slavonic, for ‘the billowy waterfall’).

*Not to be confused with Nizhny Novgorod (now re-named Gorky).
*Constantine Porphyrogenitus and the Russian Chronicle arc in fair agreement concerning the names and locations of these tribes and their subjection to the Khazars.

Polyane - Slavic for “Field People”, i.e. “Steppe People”, i.e. steppe nomads, i.e. Türkic pastoralists, in Türkic Alans “Field People” and Yassı/Assi “Flat-landers”, i.e. the same “Steppe People”. The RPC in its reverse projection called them “Slavs” neither in linguistic nor in ethnic aspects. The very term “Slavs” in the 9th c. did not exist yet, it was first attested in the 12th c. RPC.

Viatichi - Fennic population, not Slavic. Viatichi may describe a Slavic offshoot of West Slavic Lechite ethnos interspersed in the Fennic sea headed by eponymic Lechite brothers Radim and Vyatko.

Radimiches (Radimichs) - Fennic population, not Slavic. Radimiches may describe a Slavic offshoot of West Slavic Lechite ethnos interspersed in the Fennic sea headed by eponymic brothers Radim and Vyatko.

Severyane  - Türkic Savirs, Suvars, at the time of the Norman conquest of Kyiv a part of Suvars fled to Itil Bulgaria and established a Suvar principality with a center Nur-Suvar. Suvars were spread from Pannonia to Caspian, they were one of two major constituents of the Khazar Kaganate. The location at the river Derna in the watershed of the Carpathian mountains suitable only for pastoralism and not for “advanced methods of agriculture” attests to their nomadic provenance.

Drevlyane - Slavic for “Forest People”, Türkic Agach-eri “Forest People”, Greek Agathyrthi, people kindred with the Scythians. Agacheries is one of the primordial European Scythian tribes traceable to present time. Greek sources link Agacheries with the initial composition of the Khazars.

These Varangian-Rus seem to have been a unique blend - unique even among their brother Vikings - combining the traits of pirates, robbers and meretricious merchants, who traded on their own terms, imposed by sword and battle-axe. They bartered furs, swords and amber in exchange for gold, but their principal merchandise were slaves. A contemporary Arab chronicler wrote:

In this island [Novgorod] there are men to the number of 100000, and these men constantly go out to raid the Slavs in boats, and they seize the Slavs and take them prisoner and they go to the Khazars and Bulgars and sell them there. [We remember the slave market in Itil, mentioned by Masudi]. They have no cultivated lands, nor seed, and [live by] plunder from the Slavs. When a child is born to them, they place a drawn sword in front of him and his father says: ‘I have neither gold nor silver, nor wealth which I can bequeath to thee, this is thine inheritance, with it secure prosperity for thyself’.9

A modern historian, McEvedy, has summed it up nicely:

Viking-Varangian activity, ranging from Iceland to the borders of Turkestan, from Constantinople to the Arctic circle, was of incredible vitality and daring, and it is sad that so much effort was wasted in plundering. The Northern heroes did not deign to trade until they failed to vanquish; they preferred bloodstained, glorious gold to a steady mercantile profit.10

Thus the Rus convoys sailing southward in the summer season were at the same time both commercial fleets and military armadas; the two roles went together, and with each fleet it was impossible to foretell at what moment the merchants would turn into warriors. The size of these fleets was formidable. Masudi speaks of a Rus force entering the Caspian from the Volga (Itil) (in 912-13) as comprising ‘about 500 ships, each manned by 100 persons’. Of these 50000 men, he says, 35000 were killed in battle.* Masudi may have been exaggerating, but apparently not much. Even at an early stage of their exploits (circa 860) the Rus crossed the Black Sea and laid siege on Constantinople with \90\ a fleet variously estimated as numbering between 200 and 230 ships.

*See below, Chapter IV, 1.

In view of the unpredictability and proverbial treacherousness of these formidable invaders, the Byzantines and Khazars had to ‘play it by ear’ as the saying goes. For a century and a half after the fortress of Sarkel was built, trade agreements and the exchange of embassies with the Rus alternated with savage wars. Only slowly and gradually did the Northmen change their character by building permanent settlements, becoming Slavonized by intermingling with their subjects and vassals, and finally, adopting the faith of the Byzantine Church. By that time, the closing years of the tenth century, the ‘Rus’ had become transformed into ‘Russians’ (rather, Rusians/Ruses/Ruthenians vs. Russians. Rus lived through the 16th c., Russia took off in the 16th c. after disintegration of the Kipchak Khanate/Golden Horde. These terminological polysemities do informational disservice to the narrative). The early Rus princes and nobles still bore Scandinavian names which had been Slavonized: Rurik from Hrörekr, Oleg from Helgi, Igor from Ingvar, Olga from Helga, and so on. The commercial treaty which Prince Igor-Ingvar concluded with the Byzantines in 945 contains a list of his companions, only three of which have Slavonic names among fifty Scandinavian names.11 But the son of Ingvar and Helga assumed the Slavonic name Svyatoslav (Svyatoslav is not a name, but a title-name, a la Pope Francis. Probably, the name Svyatoslav is a posthumous title, like the Chinese dynastic chronicles with reverse projection names. Svyatoslav did not need a local title, but the chronicler creating 300 years later a Slavophil panegyric to the emerging state needs that), and from there onward the process of assimilation got into its stride, the Varangians gradually lost their identity as a separate people, and the Norse tradition faded out of Russian history (the venerated Rurik dynasty lasted into 17th c., 1610, complete with the Türkic institution of Boyars and traditions down to Lateral Succession and the cut of kaftans, traditions that lasted to the 20th c. and beyond).

It is difficult to form a mental picture of these bizarre people whose savagery sticks out even in that savage age. The chronicles are biased, written by members of nations who had suffered from the northern invaders; their own side of the story remains untold, for the rise of Scandinavian literature came long after the Age of the Vikings, when their exploits had blossomed into legend. Even so, early Norse literature seems to confirm their unbridled lust for battle, and the peculiar kind of frenzy which seized them on these occasions; they even had a special word for it: berserksgangr - the berserk way.

The Arab chroniclers were so baffled by them that they contradict not only each other, but also themselves, across a distance of a few lines. Our old friend Ibn Fadlan is utterly disgusted by \91\ the filthy and obscene habits of the Rus whom he met at the Volga (Itil) in the land of the Bulgars. The following passage on the Rus occurs just before his account of the Khazars, quoted earlier on:

They are the filthiest creatures of the Lord. In the morning a servant girl brings a basin full of water to the master of the household; he rinses his face and hair in it, spits and blows his nose into the basin, which the girl then hands on to the next person, who does likewise, until all who are in the house have used that basin to blow their noses, spit and wash their face and hair in it.12

In contrast to this, Ibn Rusta writes about the same time:  'They arc cleanly in regard to their clothing’ - and leaves it at that.13

Again, lbn Fadlan is indignant about the Rus copulating and defecating in public, including their King, whereas Ibn Rusta and Gardezi know nothing of such revolting habits. But their own accounts are equally dubious and inconsistent. Thus Ibn Rusta: ‘They honor their guests and are kind to strangers who seek shelter with them, and everyone who is in misfortune among them. They do not allow anyone among them to tyrannize them, and whoever among them does wrong or is oppressive, they find out such a one and expel him from among them.’14 But a few paragraphs further down he paints a quite different picture - or rather vignette, of conditions in Rus society:

Not one of them goes to satisfy a natural need alone, but he is accompanied by three of his companions who guard him between them, and each one of them has his sword because of the lack of security and treachery among them, for if a man has even a little wealth, his own brother and his friend who is with him covet it and seek to kill and despoil him.15

Regarding their martial virtues, however, the sources are unanimous:

These people are vigorous and courageous and when they descend on open ground, none can escape from them without being \92\ destroyed and their women taken possession of, and themselves taken into slavery.16


Such were the prospects which now faced the Khazars.

Sarkel was built just in time; it enabled them to control the movements of the Rus flotillas along the lower reaches of the Don and the Don-Volga (Itil) portage (the ‘Khazarian Way’). By and large it seems that during the first century of their presence on the scene* the plundering raids of the Rus were mainly directed against Byzantium (where, obviously, richer plunder was to be had), whereas their relations with the Khazars were essentially on a trading basis, though not without friction and intermittent clashes. At any rate, the Khazars were able to control the Rus trade routes and to levy their 10 per cent tax on all cargoes passing through their country to Byzantium and to the Muslim lands.

They also exerted some cultural influence on the Northmen, who, for all their violent ways, had a naive willingness to learn from the people with whom they came into contact. The extent of this influence is indicated by the adoption of the title ‘Kagan’ by the early Rus rulers of Novgorod. This is confirmed by both Byzantine and Arab sources; for instance, Ibn Rusta, after describing the island on which Novgorod was built, states: ‘They have a king who is called Kagan Rus.’ Moreover, Ibn Fadlan reports that the Kagan Rus has a general who leads the army and represents him to the people. Zeki Validi has pointed out that such delegation of the army command was unknown among the Germanic people of the North, where the king must be the foremost warrior; Validi concludes that the Rus obviously imitated the Khazar system of twin rule. This is not unlikely in view of the fact that the Khazars were the most prosperous and culturally advanced people with whom the Rus in the early stages of their conquests made territorial contact. And that \93\ contact must have been fairly intense, since there was a colony of Rus merchants in Itil - and also a community of Khazar Jews in Kiev.

*Very roughly, 830-930.

The scientific prejudice of the prior scholarship leads astray and blinds the inquisitive author. The blinds are obvious: the same people who ranged across Europe and “from North America to the Caspian Sea” had a huge access to the royal titles from Emperor to Caliph, if they really needed one. That they used the title from the far away East Asia, an oddball event in Europe, and at least exotic and not burdened by the ideas of hierarchical rankings, should be taken more seriously than the copycat of the title from the Khazar Kaganate on the opposite side of the Northmen's oicumena. The second, and really unneeded pointer is the dual governance, again dutifully recognized as a Türkic trademark. Excluding the possibility of the imitation leaves only one conclusion, that Northmen bore their original traditional royal title, that that title came to them from the same original source in parallel and independently of the Khazar title, and that there must be a certain direct link between the horsed Khazar nomads and the maritime nomads. Any Northman conferring with Khazars on the permit of the passage or on the taxes would hear from the Khazars his own basic familiar words: yol (road), earth, sea, sal (sail), ik (I), ik (two), son, kuni (kin), kithu (girl), guest, tei (tell), ber (bear, carry), kara (care), ya (yes), ne (no), sik (sick), thuss (tooth), zindan (jail), weis (we), and many others. This similarity attests that genetic connection between Northmen and Khazars is not only not non-existent, it is deep and extends way beyond purely linguistics, into societal organization and ethnological traditions.

The shared origin and history do not alleviate conflicts dictated by life, which laid different historical paths and different development for each side. Greed has nothing to do with ethnicities, greed may divide brothers and unite aliens.

It is sad to report in this context that more than a thousand years after the events under discussion, the Soviet regime has done its best to expunge the memory of the Khazars’ historic role and cultural achievements. On January 12, 1952, The Times carried the following news item:


Another Soviet historian has been criticized by Pravda for belittling the early culture and development of the Russian people. He is Professor Artamonov, who, at a recent session of the Department of History and Philosophy at the USSR Academy of Sciences, repeated a theory which he had put forward in a book in 1937 that the ancient city of Kiev owed a great deal to the Khazar peoples. He pictures them in the role of an advanced people who fell victim to the aggressive aspirations of the Russians.

‘All these things,’ says Pravda, ‘have nothing in common with historical facts. The Khazar kingdom which represented the primitive amalgamation of different tribes, played no positive role whatever in creating the statehood of the eastern Slavs. Ancient sources testify that state formations arose among the eastern Slavs long before any record of the Khazars.

‘The Khazar kingdom, far from promoting the development of the ancient Russian State, retarded the progress of the eastern Slav tribes. The materials obtained by our archaeologists indicate the high level of culture in ancient Russia. Only by flouting the historical truth and neglecting the facts can one speak of the superiority of the Khazar culture. The idealization of the Khazar kingdom reflects a manifest survival of the defective views of the bourgeois historians who belittled the indigenous development of the Russian people. The erroneousness of this concept is evident. Such a conception cannot be accepted by Soviet historiography.’

Artamonov, whom I have frequently quoted, published (besides numerous articles in learned journals) his first book, \94\ which dealt with the early history of the Khazars, in 1937.

His magnum opus, History of the Khazars, was apparently in preparation when Pravda struck. As a result, the book was published only ten years later - 1962 - carrying a recantation in its final section which amounted to a denial of all that went before - and, indeed, of the author’s life-work. The relevant passages in it read:

The Khazar kingdom disintegrated and fell into pieces, from which the majority merged with other related peoples, and the minority, settling in Itil, lost its nationality and turned into a parasitic class with a Jewish coloration.

The Russians never shunned the cultural achievements of the East.... But from the Itil Khazars the Russians took nothing. Thus also by the way, the militant Khazar Judaism was treated by other peoples connected with it: the Magyars, Bulgars, Pechencgs, Alans and Polovtsians.... The need to struggle with the exploiters from Itil stimulated the unification of the Ghuzz and the Slavs around the golden throne of Kiev, and this unity in its turn created the possibility and prospect for a violent growth not only of the Russian state system, but also of ancient Russian culture. This culture had always been original and never depended on Khazar influence. Those insignificant eastern elements in Rus culture which were passed down by the Khazars and which one usually bears in mind when dealing with the problems of culture ties between the Rus and the Khazars, did not penetrate into the heart of Russian culture, but remained on the surface and were of short duration and small significance. They offer no ground at all for pointing out a ‘Khazar’ period in the history of Russian culture.

This translation co-mingles the terms Rus and Russia, and has to be read in terms of the times, Ruses (Русь) and Russia, Russian (Россия, российский).

The dictates of the Party line completed the process of obliteration which started with the flooding of the remains of Sarkel.


Intensive trading and cultural interchanges did not prevent the Rus from gradually eating their way into the Khazar Empire by appropriating their Slavonic subjects and vassals. According to \95\ the Primary Russian Chronicle, by 859 - that is, some twenty-five years after Sarkel was built - the tribute from the Slavonic peoples was ‘divided between the Khazars and the Varangians from beyond the Baltic Sea’.

The Varangians levied tribute on ‘Chuds’, ‘Krivichians’, etc. - i.e., the more northerly Slavonic people - while the Khazars continued to levy tribute on the Viatichi, the Seviane (typo, i.e. Severyane, the Suvars), and, most important of all, the Polyane in the central region of Kiev. But not for long. Three years later if we can trust the dating (in the Russian Chronicle), the key town of Kiev on the Dnieper, previously under Khazar suzerainty, passed into Rus hands.

This was to prove a decisive event in Russian (Rus) history, though it apparently happened without an armed struggle. According to the Chronicle, Novgorod was at the time ruled by the (semi-legendary) Prince Rurik (Hrörekr), who held under his sway all the Viking settlements, the northern Slavonic, and some Finnish people. Two of Rurik’s men, Oskold and Dir, on travelling down the Dnieper, saw a fortified place on a mountain, the sight of which they liked; and were told that this was the town of Kiev, and that it ‘paid tribute to the Khazars’. The two settled in the town with their families, ‘gathered many Northmen to them, and ruled over the neighboring Slavs, even as Rurik ruled at Novgorod. Some twenty years later Rurik’s son Oleg [Helgi] came down and put Oskold and Dir to death, and annexed Kiev to his sway.’

According to the Bulgarian side of the story, Dir was a Norman mercenary serving as a Khazarian viceroy in Bashtu, future Kyiv, and Kyiv at that time was a name of the White Fortress (Slavic Belgorod/Белгород), Türkic Kyy Ev “White House or Residence, Dwelling” (Cf. English eaves, Türkic Kishin Ev (Kishinev) “People's House”), a stone princely fortress vacated by Asparukh in ca. 660, when the Khazars took over his domain. Since Ukraine gained independence, history experienced a flood studies swinging the Russian postulations to the Ukrainian side, critically assessing Russian self-aggrandizing assertions.

Kiev soon outshone Novgorod in importance: it became the capital of the Varangians and ‘the mother of Russian towns’; while the principality which took its name became the cradle of the first Russian state.

Joseph’s letter, written about a century after the Rus occupation of Kiev, no longer mentions it in his list of Khazar possessions. But influential Khazar-Jewish communities survived both in the town and province of Kiev, and after the final destruction of their country they were reinforced by large numbers of Khazar emigrants. The Russian Chronicle keeps referring to heroes coming from Zemlya Zhidovskaya, ‘the country of the Jews’; and the \96\ ‘Gate of the Khazars’ in Kiev kept the memory of its erstwhile rulers alive till modern times.


We have now progressed into the second half of the ninth century and, before continuing with the tale of the Russian (Rus) expansion, must turn our attention to some vital developments among the people of the steppes, particularly the Magyars. These events ran parallel with the rise of Rus power and had a direct impact on the Khazars - and on the map of Europe.

The Magyars had been the Khazars’ allies, and apparently willing vassals, since the dawn of the Khazar Empire. ‘The problem of their origin and early wanderings have long perplexed scholars’, Macartney wrote;17 elsewhere he calls it ‘one of the darkest of historical riddles’.18 About their origin all we know with certainty is that the Magyars were related to the Finns, and that their language belongs to the so-called Finno-Ugrian language family, together with that of the Vogul and Ostyak people living in the forest regions of the northern Urals. Thus they were originally unrelated to the Slavonic and Turkish nations of the steppes in whose midst they came to live - an ethnic curiosity, which they still are to this day. Modern Hungary, unlike other small nations, has no linguistic ties with its neighbors; the Magyars have remained an ethnic enclave in Europe, with the distant Finns as their only cousins.

The revisionist movement across the post-Soviet space swept all histories induced by the Russian dominance into the dust bin of history. On the way, it touched much more than the Russian ideological dictate, impinging on the older dictates of the dominating powers, including that of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Hungarian Finno-Ugrian concept, developed by the Germanic scholars, still predominant in the authorized institutions, is also undergoing a revisionist criticism. That concept, advocated by the state, is being severely challenged on three grounds, the unconcealable falsification, the penury of Finno-Ugrian, Vogul, and Ostyak traces, and the richness of Türkic connections. According to the analysis of the Hungaro-Sumerian correspondences, between 50 and 55% of the Hungarian random (in respect to the Hungaro-Türkic correspondences) vocabulary ascends to the Türkic milieu, much greater than the 32%  of the attested and “reconstructed” FU component. “Reconstructions” are in quotation marks because no rules exist on how to reconstruct the “Proto-FU” language, and both the reconstructions and the very existence of the FU linguistic family are disputed. The Hungarian syntax and morphology are not matching the FU pattern either. That obviously demonstrates the extent of the falsification, which admits single-digit Turkisms in the Hungarian, and advertises the FU classification of the Hungarian.

Such turn of events validates the riddle portion of the Macartney's research, and invalidates the erroneous presumptions above and below.

At an unknown date during the early centuries of the Christian era this nomadic tribe was driven out of its erstwhile habitat in the Urals and migrated southward through the steppes, eventually settling in the region between the Don and the Kuban rivers. They thus became neighbors of the Khazars, even before the latter’s rise to prominence. For a while they were part of a federation of semi-nomadic people, the Onogurs (‘The Ten Arrows’ or ten tribes); it is believed that the name ‘Hungarian’ is a Slavonic version of that word;19 while ‘Magyar’ is the name by which they have called themselves from time immemorial.

From about the middle of the seventh to the end of the ninth centuries they were, as already said, subjects of the Khazar Empire. It is a remarkable fact that during this whole period, while other tribes were engaged in a murderous game of musical chairs, we have no record of a single armed conflict between Khazars and Magyars, whereas each of the two was involved at one time or another in wars with their immediate or distant neighbors: Volga (Itil) Bulgars, Danube Bulgars, Ghuzz, Pechenegs, and so on - in addition to the Arabs and the Rus. Paraphrasing the Russian Chronicle and Arab sources, Toynbee writes that throughout this period the Magyars ‘took tribute’, on the Khazars’ behalf, from the Slav and Finn peoples in the Black Earth Zone to the north of the Magyars’ own domain of the Steppe, and in the forest zone to the north of that. The evidence for the use of the name Magyar by this date is its survival in a number of place-names in this region of northerly Russia. These place-names presumably mark the sites of former Magyar garrisons and outposts.’20 Thus the Magyars dominated their Slavonic neighbors, and Toynbee concludes that in levying tribute, ‘the Khazars were using the Magyars as their agents, though no doubt the Magyars made this agency profitable for themselves as well’.21

The arrival of the Rus radically changed this profitable state of affairs. At about the time when Sarkel was built, there was a conspicuous movement of the Magyars across the Don to its west bank. From about 830 onward, the bulk of the nation was re-settled in the region between the Don and the Dnieper, later to be named Lebedia. The reason for this move has been much debated among historians; Toynbee’s explanation is both the most recent and the most plausible:

We may ...infer that the Magyars were in occupation of the Steppe to the west of the Don by permission of their Khazar suzerains.... Since the Steppe-country had previously belonged to the Khazars, and since the Magyars were the Khazars’ subordinate allies, we may conclude that the Magyars had not established themselves in this Khazar territory against the Khazars’ will....

Indeed we may conclude that the Khazars had not merely permitted the Magyars to establish themselves to the west of the Don, but had actually planted them there to serve the Khazars’ own purposes. The re-location of subject peoples for strategic reasons was a device that had been practiced by previous nomad empire builders. ... In this new location, the Magyars could help the Khazars to check the south-eastward and southward advance of the Rhos. The planting of the Magyars to the west of the Don will have been all of a piece with the building of the fortress Sarkel on the Don’s eastern bank.22

All these deep thought conclusions are based on implied premises that Khazaria was ruled not by a Boyar Council but by some abstract Khazars, that the ruling Boyar Council did not consist of the tribal heads mostly represented by Bulgars and Suvars, that Bulgars are not Onogur Bulgars ruling their subject Fennic companions, that the abstract Khazars can move the Bulgar's Magyars left and right at will as their own abstract Magyars; that, in the second half of the ninth century (after 850s) the Kangars, who chopped off a greater part of Khazaria after migrating from the Aral area to the N. Pontic, did not play a major role in the life of the reduced and diminished Khazaria and its backbone Bulgars and Suvars.

The misguided premises lead to wild interpretations that serve as a springboard for further assumptive speculations. In the abstract world of the desk scholars, reality need not disturb the iconic fantasy.

Prior to 750
Khazaria squeezed between Avar Kaganate and Kangar Union
After 750
Khazaria squeezed between Kangars (Bajanaks) and Oguz Yabgu state


This arrangement worked well enough for nearly half a century. During this period the relation between Magyars and Khazars became even closer, culminating in two events which left lasting marks on the Hungarian nation. First, the Khazars gave them a king, who founded the first Magyar dynasty; and, second, several Khazar tribes joined the Magyars and profoundly transformed their ethnic character.

The first episode is described by Constantine in De Administrando (circa 950), and is confirmed by the fact that the names he mentions appear independently in the first Hungarian Chronicle (eleventh century). Constantine tells us that before the Khazars intervened in the internal affairs of the Magyar tribes, these had no paramount king, only tribal chieftains; the most prominent of these was called Lebedias (after whom Lebedia was later named):

And the Magyars consisted of seven hordes, but at that time they had no ruler, either native or foreign, but there were certain chieftains among them, of which the principal chieftain was the aforementioned Lebedias.... And the Kagan, the ruler of Khazaria, on account of their [the Magyars’] valour and military assistance, gave their first chieftain, the man called Lebedias, a noble Khazar lady as wife, that he might beget children of her; but Lebedias, by some chance, had no family by that Khazar woman.
Another dynastic alliance which had misfired. But the Kagan \99\ was determined to strengthen the tics which bound Lebedias and his tribes to the Khazar kingdom:

After a little time had passed, the Kagan, the ruler of Khazaria, told the Magyars... to send to him their first chieftain. So Lebedias, coming before the Kagan of Khazaria, asked him for the reason why he had sent for him. And the Kagan said to him: We have sent for you for this reason: that, since you are well-born and wise and brave and the first of the Magyars, we may promote you to be the ruler of your race, and that you may be subject to our Laws and Orders.

But Lebedias appears to have been a proud man; he declined, with appropriate expressions of gratitude, the offer to become a puppet king, and proposed instead that the honor should be bestowed on a fellow chieftain called Almus (Almysh, Türkic “Diamond”), or on Almus’s son, Arpad (Arbat, Türkic ar “Warrior” + bat “father, elder”, a popular element of the title-names). So the Kagan, ‘pleased at this speech’, sent Lebedias with a suitable escort back to his people; and they chose Arpad to be their king. The ceremony of Arpad’s installation took place ‘after the custom and usage of the Khazars, raising him on their shields. But before this Arpad the Magyars never had any other ruler; wherefore the ruler of Hungary is drawn from his race up to this day.’

Almas was Bulgarian Baltavar, 895-925 (head of the tribal union) residing in Bashtu, future Kyiv, Arbat was one of his princeling sons; Lebedias was the tribal head of the FU subject allies.

‘This day’ in which Constantine wrote was circa 950, that is, a century after the event. Arpad in fact led his Magyars in the conquest of Hungary; his dynasty reigned till 1301, and his name is one of the first that Hungarian schoolboys learn. The Khazars had their fingers in many historic pies.


The second episode seems to have had an even more profound influence on the Hungarian national character. At some unspecified date, Constantine tells us,23 there was a rebellion (apostasia) of part of the Khazar nation against their rulers. The insurgents consisted of three tribes,

‘which were called Kavars [or Kabars] (Almysh, Türkic “Diamond”), and which were of the Khazars’ own race. The Government prevailed; some of the rebels were slaughtered and some fled \100\ the country and settled with the Magyars, and they made friends with one another.

They also taught the tongue of the Khazars to the Magyars, and up to this day they speak the same dialect, but they also speak the other language of the Magyars. And because they proved themselves more efficient in wars and the most manly of the eight tribes [i.e., the seven original Magyar tribes plus the Kabars], and leaders in war, they were elected to be the first horde, and there is one leader among them, that is in the [originally] three hordes of the Kavars, who exists to this day.’

To dot his i’s, Constantine starts his next chapter with a list ‘of the hordes of Kavars and Magyars. First is that which broke off from the Khazars, this above-mentioned horde of the Kavars . . .’, etc.24 The horde or tribe which actually calls itself ‘Magyar’ comes only third.

It looks as if the Magyars had received - metaphorically and perhaps literally - a blood transfusion from the Khazars. It affected them in several ways. First of all we learn, to our surprise, that at least till the middle of the tenth century both the Magyar and Khazar languages were spoken in Hungary. Several modern authorities have commented on this singular fact. Thus Bury wrote: ‘The result of this double tongue is the mixed character of the modern Hungarian language, which has supplied specious argument for the two opposite opinions as to the ethnical affinities of the Magyars.’25 Toynbee26 remarks that though the Hungarians have ceased to be bilingual long ago, they were so at the beginnings of their state, as testified by some two hundred loan-words from the old Chuvash dialect of Turkish which the Khazars spoke (see above, Chapter I, 3).

The count of some 200 Chuvash words is dubious, albeit in line with the assertions that Hungarian has Turkisms only in dozens, not 50-55% of the entire language. Such quasi-scholarly assertions lead their own life, independent of the facts and evidence.

The Magyars, like the Rus, also adopted a modified form of the Khazar double-kingship. Thus Gardezi: ‘...Their leader rides out with 20,000 horsemen; they call him Kanda [Hungarian: Kende] (Kağan with silent ğ, i.e. Kaan with locative affix -da/-de) and this is the title of their greater king, but the title of the person who effectively rules them is Jula (Hungarian Gyula, Türkic Ogur Gulu(ɣ), Ulu(ɣ) “Great”, Cf. Ulubek “Great Prince”). And the Magyars do whatever their Jula commands.’ There is reason to believe that the first Julas of Hungary were Kabars.27

Traditional Türkic marital compact between male and female dynastic tribes provide a male Kagan in the Lateral Succession accession, and female Hatun (Queen) with the male tribal leader occupying position of the Prime Minister and Supreme Judge, the title Ulu(ɣ)bek or simply Ulu(ɣ), in Chinese first dynastic annals recorded as Hunnic Gulu (Bek).

There is also some evidence to indicate that among the dissident Kabar tribes, who de facto took over the leadership of the Magyar tribes, there were Jews, or adherents of ‘a judaizing religion’.28 It seems quite possible - as Artamonov and Bartha have suggested29 - that the Kabar 'apostasia' was somehow connected with, or a reaction against, the religious reforms initiated by King Obadiah. Rabbinical law, strict dietary rules, Talmudic casuistry might have gone very much against the grain of these steppe-warriors in shining armor. If they professed ‘a judaizing religion’, it must have been closer to the faith of the ancient desert-Hebrews than to rabbinical orthodoxy. They may even have been followers of the fundamentalist sect of Karaites, and hence considered heretics. But this is pure speculation.

The idea of the religious rebellion is too far fetched, considering the religious tolerance nature not only of the ruling elite, but also of the entire Türkic population. The chapter on religion discusses religious tolerance that also infected the Christians and Muslims of the state in the days when outside they were intolerant and superbly violent from the beginning. The idea of the state religion was foreign and malicious in the nomadic state, where religion was personal affair of free individuals.


The close cooperation between Khazars and Magyars came to an end when the latter, AD 896, said farewell to the Eurasian steppes, crossed the Carpathian mountain range, and conquered the territory which was to become their lasting habitat. The circumstances of this migration are again controversial, but one can at least grasp its broad outlines.

During the closing decades of the ninth century yet another uncouth player joined the nomad game of musical chairs: the Pechenegs (Bajanaks).* What little we know about this Turkish tribe is summed up in Constantine’s description of them as an insatiably greedy lot of Barbarians who for good money can be bought to fight other Barbarians and the Rus. They lived between the Volga (Itil) and the Ural rivers under Khazar suzerainty; according to Ibn Rusta,30 the Khazars ‘raided them every year’ to collect the tribute due to them.

Belittling Bajanaks is no use, since the same Constantine describes their social organization, location of their subdivisions, and their cities. In 760 Kangars led Bajanaks into N. Pontic, where they wedged between the northern Bulgars centered in Bashtu (Kyiv) and southern Bulgars along the northern coast of the Black Sea, and occupied a huge section of the Steppe Belt, but Ibn Fadlan attests that their possessions extended to the Aral Sea north of the Oguz Yabgu state which displaced Bajanaks south of the Aral. For their eastern trade, Khazar Kaganate needed a safe passage across the Itil-Yaik interfluvial, thus who took tribute from whom is a mute question. The fact is that Bajanaks cut the Khazar Kaganate into two fractions, reducing its possessions by 1/3rd and swaging it down to Khazar domicile with vicinities.

Skipping the Bajanak part from the Khazar story in a demographical study is probably the worst that can be done to the narrative. For 6 generations the remaining local Bulgars, including any Jews and Bulgar converts, coexisted with Bajanaks, while those who fled moved to the Khazar-controlled areas of Bashtu (Kyiv) and Karajar (Chernigiv) in the north, and Crimea and Khazar central areas in the south and east. The Khazar impotence north of the Bajanak belt made the Rus conquest possible, commencing the next migration wave of the narrative.

Toward the end of the ninth (i.e. eighth, ca 900) century a catastrophe (of a nature by no means unusual) befell the Pechenegs: they were evicted from their country by their eastern neighbors. These neighbors were none other than the Ghuzz (or Oguz) whom \102\ Ibn Fadlan so much disliked - one of the inexhaustible number of Turkish tribes which from time to time cut loose from their Central-Asiatic moorings and drifted west.

*Or ‘Paccinaks', or in Hungarian, ‘Beseııyök’ (Arabic Bajanak, native Türkic Bečen (Bechen) “in-law”, a matrimonial union of a part of Kangars with a branch of Kipchaks, with Kipchaks a junior “in-law” partner) .

The subject of the ca. 900 catastrophe is the displacement from the  N. Pontic belt, the same saga that started in the Aral area in 759.

The displaced Pechenegs tried to settle in Khazaria, but the Khazars beat them off.* The Pechenegs continued their westward trek, crossed the Don and invaded the territory of the Magyars. The Magyars in turn were forced to fall back further west into the region between the Dnieper and the Sereth rivers. They called this region Etel-Koz (Atil Kuzu, Türkic for “Father's people”, i.e. “Ancestral land”, Cf. Askuza (Scythians)“As people”), ‘the land between the rivers’ (Area between Pruth and Southern Buh). They seem to have settled there in 889; but in 896 the Pechenegs struck again, allied to the Danube Bulgars, whereupon the Magyars withdrew into present-day Hungary.

This, in rough outline, is the story of the Magyars’ exit from the eastern steppes, and the end of the Magyar-Khazar connection (Calling the Arbat's Bulgar horde “Magyars” is as misleading as calling the Asparukh horde “Slavs”, it is a misleading reverse projection. Constantine was correct in calling the Horde and their state “Turks”, any modern propaganda notwithstanding). The details are contested; some historians32 maintain, with a certain passion, that the Magyars suffered only one defeat, not two, at the hands of the Pechenegs, and that Etel-Köz was just another name for Lebedia, but we can leave these quibbles to the specialists. More intriguing is the apparent contradiction between the image of the Magyars as mighty warriors, and their inglorious retreat from successive habitats. Thus we learn from the Chronicle of Hinkmar of Rheims33 that in 862 they raided the East Frankish Empire - the first of the savage incursions which were to terrorize Europe during the next century. We also hear of a fearful encounter which St Cyril, the Apostle of the Slavs, had with a Magyar horde in 860, on his way to Khazaria. He was saying his prayers when they rushed at him luporum more ululantes - ‘howling in the manner of wolves’. His sanctity, however, protected him from harm.34 Another chronicle35 mentions that the Magyars, and the Kabars, came into conflict with the Franks in 881; and Constantine tells us that, some ten years later, the Magyars ‘made war upon Simeon (ruler of the Danube Bulgars) and trounced him soundly, and came as far as Preslav, and shut him up in the fortress called Mundraga, and returned home.’36

*This seems to be the plausible interpretation of Constantine’s statement that ‘the Ghuzz and the Khazars made war on the Pechenegs’.31

How is one to reconcile all these valiant deeds with the series of retreats from the Don into Hungary, which took place in the same period? It seems that the answer is indicated in the passage in Constantine immediately following the one just quoted:

...But after Symeon the Bulgar again made peace with the Emperor of the Greeks, and got security, he sent to the Patzinaks, and made an agreement with them to make war on and annihilate the Magyars. And when the Magyars went away on a campaign, the Patzinaks with Symeon came against the Magyars, and completely annihilated their families, and chased away miserably the Magyars left to guard their land. But the Magyars returning, and finding their country thus desolate and ruined, moved into the country occupied by them today [i.e. Hungary].

Thus the bulk of the army was ‘away on a campaign’ when their land and families were attacked; and to judge by the chronicles mentioned above, they were ‘away’ raiding distant countries quite frequently, leaving their homes with little protection. They could afford to indulge in this risky habit as long as they had only their Khazar overlords and the peaceful Slavonic tribes as their immediate neighbors. But with the advent of the land-hungry Pechenegs the situation changed. The disaster described by Constantine may have been only the last of a series of similar incidents. But it may have decided them to seek a new and safer home beyond the mountains, in a country which they already knew from at least two previous forays.

There is another consideration which speaks in favor of this hypothesis. The Magyars seem to have acquired the raiding habit only in the second half of the ninth century - about the time when they received that critical blood-transfusion from the Khazars. It may have proved a mixed blessing. The Kabars, who were ‘more efficient in war and more manly’, became, as we saw, the leading tribe, and infused their hosts with the spirit of adventure, which was soon to turn them into the scourge of Europe, as the Huns had earlier been. They also taught the Magyars ‘those very peculiar and characteristic tactics employed \104\ since time immemorial by every Turkish nation - Huns, Avars, Turks, Pechenegs, Kumans (Scythians, Sarmats, Parthians, etc.) - and by no other ...light cavalry using the old devices of simulated flight, of shooting while fleeing, of sudden charges with fearful, wolf-like howling (and a surprise ambush, and a meticulous intelligence, the main tactical tools). 37

These methods proved murderously effective during the ninth and tenth centuries when Hungarian raiders invaded Germany, the Balkans, Italy and even France - but they did not cut much ice against the Pechenegs, who used the same tactics, and could howl (rather, ambush against sitting ducks, whether sedentary or pastoral) just as spine-chillingly.

Thus indirectly, by the devious logic of history, the Khazars were instrumental in the establishment of the Hungarian state, whereas the Khazars themselves vanished into the mist. Macartney, pursuing a similar line of thought, went even further in emphasizing the decisive role played by the Kabar transfusion (confusing Kabars with Khazars turns the storyline into an undecipherable myth):

The bulk of the Magyar nation, the true Finnio-Ugrians, comparatively (although not very) pacific and sedentary agriculturalists, made their homes in the undulating country ...west of the Danube. The plain of the Alföld was occupied by the nomadic race of Kabars, true Turks, herdsmen, horsemen and fighters, the driving force and the army of the nation. This was the race which in Constantine’s day still occupied pride of place as the ‘first of the hordes of the Magyars (at that time, “Turks”)’. It was, I believe, chiefly this race of Kabars which raided the Slavs and Russians (Ruses) from the steppe; led the campaign against the Bulgars in 895; in large part and for more than half a century afterwards, was the terror of half Europe.38

And yet the Hungarians managed to preserve their ethnic identity. ‘The brunt of sixty years of restless and remorseless warfare fell on the Kabars, whose ranks must have been thinned by it to an extraordinary extent. Meanwhile the true Magyars, living in comparative peace, increased their numbers.39 They also succeeded, after the bilingual period, in preserving their original Finno-Ugric language in the midst of their German and Slav neighbors - in contrast to the Danube Bulgars, who lost their original Turkish language, and now speak a Slavonic dialect.

There is no contrast there. The Russian rulers, be they Mongol or Türkic, speak Slavic vernacular, the Bulgarian rulers speak Slavic vernacular, the Hungarian rulers spoke Magyar vernacular, the Hunnic and As rulers spoke as needed Germanic, Indian and Chinese vernaculars, the Germanic rulers spoke French vernaculars, Parthian rulers spoke Armenian vernacular, and so on. It is called amalgamation.

However, the Kabar influence continued to make itself felt in Hungary, and even after they became separated by the \105\ Carpathian Mountains, the Khazar (i.e. Kabar)-Magyar connection was not completely severed.

According to Vasiliev,40 in the tenth century the Hungarian Duke Taksony invited an unknown number of Khazars to settle in his domains. It is not unlikely that these immigrants contained a fair proportion of Khazarian Jews. We may also assume that both the Kabars and the later immigrants brought with them some of their famed craftsmen, who taught the Hungarians their arts (see above, Chapter I, 13).

Here we are confusing a fraction of Tokhars called Tuhsi in Türkic, who could remain in Pannonia after the fall of the Western Hunnic empire, or move into Pannonia with the Bulgar wave, or had fled N.Pontic after the Rus attacks, with the Bulgar Kabars, who in turn are confused with the Khazars. None of these confusions affect the Kabars, their craft subjects, or later migrants.

In the process of taking possession of their new and permanent home, the Magyars had to evict its former occupants, Moravians and Danube Bulgars, who moved into the regions where they still live. Their other Slavonic neighbors too - the Serbs and Croats - were already more or less in situ. Thus, as a result of the chain-reaction which started in the distant Urals - Ghuzz chasing Pechenegs, chasing Magyars, chasing Bulgars and Moravians, the map of modern Central Europe was beginning to take shape. The shifting kaleidoscope was settling into a more or less stable jigsaw.

For Arbat and his successors, the local farmers and nomads were an asset, not a liability, they were drafted into the powers to be as warriors, provisioners, or foot soldiers, each category according to their status and capabilities. It is a different matter that some of them chose to flee, with most of the Pannonia Serbs and Croats fleeing to their brethren in the Balkans.


We can now resume the story of the Rus ascent to power where we left it - the bloodless annexation of Kiev by Rurik’s men around AD 862. This is also the approximate date when the Magyars were pushed westward by the Pechenegs, thus depriving the Khazars of protection on their western flank. It may explain why the Rus could gain control of Kiev so easily.

But the weakening of Khazar military power exposed the Byzantines, too, to attack by the Rus. Close to the date when the Rus settled in Kiev, their ships, sailing down the Dnieper, crossed the Black Sea and attacked Constantinople. Bury has described the event with much gusto:

In the month of June, ad 860, the Emperor [Michael III], with all his forces, was marching against the Saracens. He had probably gone far when he received the amazing tidings, which recalled him with all speed to Constantinople. A Russian host had sailed across \106\ the Euxine [Black Sea] in two hundred boats, entered the Bosphorus, plundered the monasteries and suburbs on its banks, and overrun the Island of the Princes.

The inhabitants of the city were utterly demoralized by the sudden horror of the danger and their own impotence. The troops (Tagmata) which were usually stationed in the neighborhood of the city were far away with the Emperor... and the fleet was absent. Having wrought wreck and ruin in the suburbs, the barbarians prepared to attack the city. At this crisis... the learned Patriarch, Photius, rose to the occasion; he undertook the task of restoring the moral courage of his fellow- citizens. ...He expressed the general feeling when he dwelt on the incongruity that the Imperial city, ‘queen of almost all the wrorld’, should be mocked by a band of slaves [sic] a mean and barbarous crowd. But the populace was perhaps more impressed and consoled when he resorted to the ecclesiastical magic which had been used efficaciously at previous sieges. The precious garment of the Virgin Mother was borne in procession round the walls of the city; and it was believed that it was dipped in the waters of the sea for the purpose of raising a storm of wind. No storm arose, but soon afterwards the Russians (Rus) began to retreat, and perhaps there were not many among the joyful citizens who did not impute their relief to the direct intervention of the queen of heaven.41

We may add, for the sake of piquantry, that the ‘learned Patriarch’, Photius, whose eloquence saved the Imperial city, was none other than ‘Khazar face’ who had sent St Cyril on his proselytizing mission. As tor the Rus retreat, it was caused by the hurried return of the Greek army and fleet; but ‘Khazar face’ had saved morale among the populace during the agonizing period of waiting.

Toynbee too has interesting comments to make on this episode. In 860, he writes, the Russians (Rus) ‘perhaps came nearer to capturing Constantinople than so far they have ever come since then’.42 And he also shares the view expressed by several Russian historians, that the attack by the eastern Northmen’s Dnieper flotilla across the Black Sea was coordinated with the simultaneous attack of a western Viking fleet, approaching Constantinople across the Mediterranean and the Dardanelles:

Vasilicv and Paszkicvicz and Vernadsky are inclined to believe that the two naval expeditions that thus converged on the Sea of Marmara were not only simultaneous but were concerted, and they even make a guess at the identity of the master mind that, in their view, worked out this strategic plan on the grand scale. They suggest that Rurik of Novgorod was the same person as Ror. This makes one appreciate the stature of the adversary with whom the Khazars had to contend. Nor was Byzantine diplomacy slow in appreciating it - and to play the double game which the situation seemed to demand, alternating between war, when it could not be avoided, and appeasement in the pious hope that the Russians (Rus) would eventually be converted to Christianity and brought into the flock of the Eastern Patriarchate. As for the Khazars, they were an important asset for the time being, and would be sold out on the first decent - or indecent - opportunity that offered itself.


For the next two hundred years Byzantine-Russian (Rus) relations alternated between armed conflict and treaties of friendship. Wars were waged in 860 (siege of Constantinople), 907, 941, 944, 969-71; and treaties concluded in 838-9, 861, 911, 945, 957, 971. About the contents of these more or less secret agreements we know little, but even what we know shows the bewildering complexity of the game. A few years after the siege of Constantinople the Patriarch Photius (still the same) reports that the Rus sent ambassadors to Constantinople and - according to the Byzantine formula for pressurized proselytizing - ‘besought the Emperor for Christian baptism’. As Bury comments: ‘We cannot say which, or how many, of the Russian (Rus) settlements were represented by this embassy, but the object must have been to offer amends for the recent raid, perhaps to procure the deliverance of prisoners. It is certain that some of the Russians (Rus) agreed \108\ to adopt Christianity ...but the seed did not fall on very fertile ground. For upwards of a hundred years we hear no more of the Christianity of the Russians (Rus). The treaty, however, which was concluded between ad 860 and 866, led probably to other consequences.’44

Among these consequences was the recruiting of Scandinavian sailors into the Byzantine fleet - by 902 there were seven hundred of them. Another development was the famous ‘Varangian Guard’, an elite corps of Rus and other nordic mercenaries, including even Englishmen. In the treaties of 945 and 971 the Russian (Rus)) rulers of the Principality of Kiev undertook to supply the Byzantine Emperor with troops on request.45 In Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ day, i.e., the middle of the tenth century, Rus fleets on the Bosphorus were a customary sight; they no longer came to lay siege on Constantinople but to sell their wares. Trade was meticulously well regulated (except when armed clashes intervened): according to the Russian Chronicle, it was agreed in the treaties of 907 and 911 that the Rus visitors should enter Constantinople through one city gate only, and not more than fifty at a time, escorted by officials; that they were to receive during their stay in the city as much grain as they required and also up to six months’ supply of other provisions, in monthly deliveries, including bread, wine, meat, fish, fruit and bathing facilities (it required). To make sure that all transactions should be nice and proper, black-market dealings in currency were punished by amputation of one hand. Nor were proselytizing efforts neglected, as the ultimate means to achieve peaceful coexistence with the increasingly powerful Russians (Rus).

But it was hard going. According to the Russian Chronicle, when Oleg, Regent of Kiev, concluded the treaty of 911 with the Byzantines, ‘the Emperors Leo and Alexander [joint rulers], after agreeing upon the tribute and mutually binding themselves by oath, kissed the cross and invited Oleg and his men to swear an oath likewise. According to the religion of the Rus, the latter swore by their weapons and by their god Perun, as well as by Volos, the god of cattle, and thus confirmed the treaty.’46

Nearly half a century and several battles and treaties later, victory for the Holy Church seemed in sight: in 957 Princess Olga of Kiev (widow of Prince Igor) was baptized on the occasion of her state visit to Constantinople (unless she had already been baptized once before her departure - which again is controversial).

The various banquets and festivities in Olga’s honor are described in detail in De Caerimoniis, though we are not told how the lady reacted to the Disneyland of mechanical toys displayed in the Imperial throne-room - for instance, to the stuffed lions which emitted a fearful mechanical roar. (Another distinguished guest, Bishop Liutprand, recorded that he was able to keep his sang-froid only because he was forewarned of the surprises in store for visitors.) The occasion must have been a major headache for the master of ceremonies (which was Constantine himself), because not only was Olga a female sovereign, but her retinue, too, was female; the male diplomats and advisers, eighty-two of them, ‘marched self-effacingly in the rear of the Russian delegation’.47

Just before the banquet there was a small incident, symbolic of the delicate nature of Russian-Byzantine relations. When the ladies of the Byzantine court entered, they fell on their faces before the Imperial family, as protocol required. Olga remained standing ‘but it was noticed, with satisfaction, that she slightly if perceptibly inclined her head. She was put in her place by being seated, as the Muslim state guests had been, at a separate table.’48

The Russian Chronicle has a different, richly embroidered version of this state visit. When the delicate subject of baptism was brought up, Olga told Constantine ‘that if he desired to baptize her, he should perform this function himself; otherwise she was unwilling to accept baptism’. The Emperor concurred, and asked the Patriarch to instruct her in the faith. The Patriarch \110\ instructed her in prayer and fasting, in almsgiving and in the maintenance of chastity. She bowed her head, and like a sponge absorbing water, she eagerly drank in his teachings....

After her baptism, the Emperor summoned Olga and made known to her that he wished her to become his wife. But she replied, ‘How can you marry me, after yourself baptizing me and calling me your daughter? For among Christians that is unlawful, as you yourself must know.’ Then the Emperor said, ‘Olga, you have outwitted me.’49

When she got back to Kiev, Constantine ‘sent a message to her, saying, “Inasmuch as I bestowed many gifts upon you, you promised me that on your return to Ros you would send me many presents of slaves, wax and furs, and dispatch soldiery to aid me.” Olga made answer to the envoys that if the Emperor would spend as long a time with her in the Pochayna as she had remained on the Bosphorus, she would grant his request. With these words, she dismissed the envoys.’50 This Olga-Helga must have been a formidable Scandinavian Amazon. She was, as already mentioned, the widow of Prince Igor, supposedly the son of Rurik, whom the Russian Chronicle describes as a greedy, foolish and sadistic ruler. In 941 he had attacked the Byzantines with a large fleet, and ‘of the people they captured, some they butchered, others they set up as targets and shot at, some they seized upon, and after binding their hands behind their backs, they drove iron nails through their heads. Many sacred churches they gave to the flames....’51 In the end they were defeated by the Byzantine fleet, spouting Greek fire through tubes mounted in the prows of their ships. ‘Upon seeing the flames, the Russians (Ruses) cast themselves into the sea-water, but the survivors returned home [where] they related that the Greeks had in their possession the lightning from heaven, and had set them on fire by pouring it forth, so that the Russes could not conquer them.’* This episode was followed by another treaty \111\ of friendship four years later.

*Toynbee does not hesitate to call this famous secret weapon of the Greeks ‘napalm’. It was a chemical of unknown composition, perhaps a distilled petroleum fraction, which ignited spontaneously on contact with water, and could not be put out by water.

As a predominantly maritime nation, the Rus were even more impressed by the Greek fire than others who had attacked Byzantium, and the ‘lightning from heaven’ was a strong argument in favor of the Greek Church. Yet they were still not ready for conversion.

When Igor was killed in 945 by the Derevlians (Agathyrsi, a Türkic Scythian and pre-Hunnic tribe), a Slavonic people upon which he had imposed an exorbitant tribute, the widowed Olga became Regent of Kiev. She started her rule by taking fourfold revenge on the Derevlians: first, a Dercvlian peace mission was buried alive; then a delegation of notables was locked in a bath-house and burned alive; this was followed by another massacre, and lastly the main town of the Derevlians was burnt down. Olga’s bloodlust seemed truly insatiable until her baptism. From that day onward, the Chronicle informs us, she became ‘the precursor of Christian Russia, even as daybreak precedes the sun, and as the dawn precedes the day. For she shone like the moon by night, and she was radiant among the infidels like a pearl in the mire.’ In due course she was canonized as the first Russian saint of the Orthodox Church.


Yet in spite of the great to-do about Olga’s baptism and her state visit to Constantine, this was not the last word in the stormy dialogue between the Greek Church and the Russians (Ruses). For Olga’s son, Svyatoslav, reverted to paganism, refused to listen to his mother’s entreaties, ‘collected a numerous and valiant army and, stepping light like a leopard, undertook many campaigns’52 - among them a war against the Khazars and another against the Byzantines. It was only in 988, in the reign of his son, St Vladimir, that the ruling dynasty of the Russians (Ruses) definitely adopted the faith of the Greek Orthodox Church - about the same time as Hungarians, Poles, and Scandinavians, including the distant Icelanders, became converted to the Latin Church of Rome. The broad outlines of the lasting religious divisions of the world were beginning to take shape; and in this process the Jewish Khazars were becoming an anachronism. The growing rapprochement between Constantinople and Kiev, in spite of its ups and downs, made the importance of Itil gradually dwindle; and the presence of the Khazars athwart Rus-Byzantine trade-routes, levying their 10 per cent tax on the increasing flow of goods, became an irritant both to the Byzantine treasury and the Russian warrior merchants.

Symptomatic of the changing Byzantine attitude to their former allies was the surrender of Cherson to the Russians. For several centuries Byzantines and Khazars had been bickering and occasionally skirmishing, for possession of that important Crimean port; but when Vladimir occupied Cherson in 987, the Byzantines did not even protest; for, as Bury put it, ‘the sacrifice was not too dear a price for perpetual peace and friendship with the Russian state, then becoming a great power’.53

Neither Rus nor Russia never controlled the lower course of Dnieper Before the conquest of the Crimean Khanate in 1783. One way or another, whoever controlled that area collected the transit taxes from both Greeks and Ruses/Russians.

Bosnyaks (Bajanaks), Khazaria, and Rus ca. 900 AD


The sacrifice of Cherson may have been justified; but the sacrifice of the Khazar alliance turned out to be, in the long run, a short-sighted policy.




In discussing Russian-Byzantine relations in the ninth and tenth centuries, I have been able to quote at length from two detailed sources: Constantine’s Dc Administrando and the Primary Russian Chronicle. But on the Russian-Khazar confrontation during the same period - to which we now turn - we have no comparable source material; the archives of Itil, if they ever existed, have gone with the wind, and for the history of the last hundred years of the Khazar Empire we must again fall back on the disjointed, casual hints found in various Arab chronicles and geographies.

The period in question extends from circa 862 - the Russian (Rus) occupation of Kiev - to circa 965 - the destruction of Itil by Svyatoslav. After the loss of Kiev and the retreat of the Magyars into Hungary, the former western dependencies of the Khazar Empire (except for parts of the Crimea) were no longer under the Kagan’s control; and the Prince of Kiev could without hindrance address the Slavonic tribes in the Dnieper basin with the cry, ‘Pay nothing to the Khazars!’1

The Khazars may have been willing to acquiesce in the loss of their hegemony in the west, but at the same time there was also a growing encroachment by the Rus on the east, down the Volga (Itil) and into the regions around the Caspian. These Muslim lands bordering on the southern hall of the ‘Khazar Sea’ - Azerbaijan, Jilan, Shirwan, Tabaristan, Jurjan - were tempting targets for the Viking fleets, both as objects of plunder and as trading posts for commerce with the Muslim Caliphate. But the approaches \113\ to the Caspian, past Itil through the Volga (Itil) delta, were controlled by the Khazars - as the approaches to the Black Sea had been while they were still holding Kiev. And ‘control’ meant that the Rus had to solicit permission for each flotilla to pass, and pay the 10 per cent customs due - a double insult to pride and pocket.

For some time there was a precarious modus vivendi. The Rus flotillas paid their due, sailed into the Khazar Sea and traded with the people around it. But trade, as we saw, frequently became a synonym for plunder. Some time between 864 and 8842 a Rus expedition attacked the port of Abaskun in Tabaristan. They were defeated, but in 910 they returned, plundered the city and countryside and carried off a number of Muslim prisoners to be sold as slaves. To the Khazars this must have been a grave embarrassment, because of their friendly relations with the Caliphate, and also because of the crack regiment of Muslim mercenaries in their standing army. Three years later - AD 913 - matters came to a head in an armed confrontation which ended in a bloodbath.

This major incident - already mentioned briefly (Chapter III, 3) has been described in detail by Masudi, while the Russian Chronicle passes it over in silence. Masudi tells us that ‘some time after the year of the Hegira 300 [AD 912-913] a Rus fleet of 500 ships, each manned by 100 persons’ was approaching Khazar territory:

When the ships of the Rus came to the Khazars posted at the mouth of the strait... they sent a letter to the Khazar king, requesting to be allowed to pass through his country and descend his river, and so enter the sea of the Khazars... on condition that they should give him half of what they might take in booty from the peoples of the sea-coast. He granted them permission and they... descended the river to the city of Itil and passing through, came out on the estuary of the river, where it joins the Khazar Sea. From the estuary to the city of Itil the river is very large and its waters abundant. The ships of the Rus spread throughout the sea. Their raiding parties were directed against Jilan, Jurjan, Tabaristan, Abaskun on the coast of Jurjan, the naphtha country [Baku] \115\ and the region of Azerbaijan.... The Rus shed blood, destroyed the women and children, took booty and raided and burned in all directions....23

They even sacked the city of Ardabil - at three days’ journey inland. When the people recovered from the shock and took to arms, the Rus, according to their classic strategy, withdrew from the coast to the islands near Baku. The natives, using small boats and merchant vessels, tried to dislodge them.

But the Rus turned on them and thousands of the Muslims were killed or drowned. The Rus continued many months in this sea.. .. When they had collected enough booty and were tired of what they were about, they started for the mouth of the Khazar river, informing the king of the Khazars, and conveying to him rich booty, according to the conditions which he had fixed with them.... The Arsiyah [the Muslim mercenaries in the Khazar army] and other Muslims who lived in Khazaria learned of the situation of the Rus, and said to the king of the Khazars: leave us to deal with these people. They have raided the lands of the Muslims, our brothers, and have shed blood and enslaved women and children. And he could not gainsay them. So he sent for the Rus, informing them of the determination of the Muslims to fight them.

The Muslims [of Khazaria] assembled and went forth to find the Rus, proceeding downstream [on land, from Itil to the Volga (Itil) estuary]. When the two armies came within sight of each other, the Rus disembarked and drew up in order of battle against the Muslims, with whom were a number of Christians living in Itil, so that they were about 15,000 men, with horses and equipment. The fighting continued for three days. God helped the Muslims against them. The Rus were put to the sword. Some were killed and others were drowned. Of those slain by the Muslims on the banks of the Khazar river there were counted about 30,000.... 2b

Five thousand of the Rus escaped, but these too were killed, by the Burtas and the Bulgars.

This is Masudi’s account of this disastrous Rus incursion into the Caspian in 912-13. It is, of course, biased. The Khazar ruler comes out of it as a double-crossing rascal who acts, first as a \116\ passive accomplice of the Rus marauders, then authorizes the attack on them, but simultaneously informs them of the ambush prepared by ‘the Muslims’ under his own command.

Even of the Bulgars, Masudi says ‘they are Muslims’ - although Ibn Fadlan, visiting the Bulgars ten years later, describes them as still far from being converted. But though colored by religious prejudice, Masudi’s account provides a glimpse of the dilemma - or several dilemmas - confronting the Khazar leadership. They may not have been unduly worried about the misfortunes suffered by the people on the Caspian shores; it was not a sentimental age. But what if the predatory Rus, after gaining control of Kiev and the Dnieper, were to establish a foothold on the Volga (Itil)? Moreover, another Rus raid into the Caspian might bring down the wrath of the Caliphate - not on the Rus themselves, who were beyond its reach, but on the innocent - well, nearly innocent - Khazars.

Relations with the Caliphate were peaceful, yet nevertheless precarious, as an incident reported by Ibn Fadlan indicates. The Rus raid described by Masudi took place in 912-13; Ibn Fadlan’s mission to Bulgar in 921-2. His account of the incident in question is as follows:3

The Muslims in this city [Itil] have a cathedral mosque where they pray and attend on Fridays. It has a high minaret and several muezzins [criers who call for prayer from the minaret]. When the king of the Khazars was informed in A.H. 310 [AD 922] that the Muslims had destroyed the synagogue which was in Dar al-Babunaj [unidentified place in Muslim territory], he gave orders to destroy the minaret, and he killed the muezzins. And he said: ‘If I had not feared that not a synagogue would be left standing in the lands of Islam, but would be destroyed, I would have destroyed the mosque too.’

The episode testifies to a nice feeling for the strategy of mutual deterrence and the dangers of escalation. It also shows once more that the Khazar rulers felt emotionally committed to the fate of Jews in other parts of the world.

Masudi’s account of the 912-13 Rus incursion into the Caspian ends with the words: ‘There has been no repetition on the part of the Rus of what we have described since that year.’ As coincidences go, Masudi wrote this in the same year - 943 - in which the Rus repeated their incursion into the Caspian with an even greater fleet; but Masudi could not have known this. For thirty years, after the disaster of 913, they had lain off that part of the world; now they felt evidently strong enough to try again; and it is perhaps significant that their attempt coincided, within a year or two, with their expedition against the Byzantines, under the swashbuckling Igor, which perished under the Greek fire.

In the course of this new invasion, the Rus gained a foothold in the Caspian region in the city of Bardha (The old capital of the Caucasus Agvania, a little south of Derbent), and were able to hold it for a whole year. In the end pestilence broke out among the Rus, and the Azerbaijanis were able to put the survivors to flight. This time the Arab sources do not mention any Khazar share in the plunder - nor in the fighting. But Joseph does - in his letter to Hasdai, written some years later: ‘I guard the mouth of the river and do not permit the Rus who come in their ships to invade the land of the Arabs ... I fight heavy wars with them.’*

Whether or not on this particular occasion the Khazar army participated in the fighting, the fact remains that a few years later they decided to deny the Russians access to the ‘Khazar Sea’ and that from 943 onward we hear no more of Rus incursions into the Caspian.

This momentous decision, in all likelihood motivated by \118\ internal pressures of the Muslim community in their midst, involved the Khazars in ‘heavy wars’ with the Rus.

*In the so-called ‘long version’ of the same letter (see Appendix III), there is another sentence which may or may not have been added by a copyist: ‘If I allowed them for one hour, they would destroy all the country of the Arabs as far as Baghdad.
Since the Rus sat on the Caspian not for an hour, but for a year, the boast sounds rather hollow - though a little less so if we take it to refer not to the past but to the future.

Of these, however, we have no records beyond the statement in Joseph’s letter. They may have been more in the nature of skirmishes - except for the one major campaign of AD 965, mentioned in the Old Russian Chronicle, which led to the breaking up of the Khazar Empire.

By 965, under Khazarian dominion remained barely 25% of the empire. The N.Pontic area taken by Bajanaks did not revert back to Khazars, tit fell under the expanding Oguzes. Bulgars, with all their dependents and allies, broke the last superficial links to the Khazars. The Suvar (Sl. Severyan) lands with a center in Karajar (Chernigiv) were cut off by the Oguz expansion. The Oguz Yabgu state extended its control from the Aral to the Itil, chopping off any Khazar suzerainty over Itil's left bank territories. Any talk of the Khazar Empire after ca. 925-930 is a figment of a bloated imagination, Khazaria reverted to a second-class local state on a level with the other E. European tumultuous principalities. On the background of the dramatic changes, the Rus raid of 965 against Khazaria was but a minor skirmish.

The turbulent period from 862 to beyond 1000, when the old structure steadily decays and is replaced by an unpredictable melange of incipient structures, and when examples of centrifugal events breed  a rise of new pretenders, must have been saturated with massive migrations and escapes. In the context of demographic changes and westward flows, that period is no less significant than the accentuated next period of the Khazarian ebbing.


The leader of the campaign was Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev, son of Igor and Olga. We have already heard that he was ‘stepping light as a leopard’ and that he ‘undertook many campaigns’ - in fact he spent most of his reign campaigning. In spite of the constant entreaties of his mother, he refused to be baptized, ‘because it would make him the laughing stock of his subjects’. The Russian Chronicle (not yet Russian and already not Rusian, thus rather a generic Slavic Chronicle) also tells us that ‘on his expeditions he carried neither wagons nor cooking utensils, and boiled no meat, but cut off small strips of horseflesh, game or beef, and ate it after roasting it on the coals. Nor did he have a tent, but he spread out a horse-blanket under him, and set his saddle under his head; and all his retinue did likewise.’ When he attacked the enemy, he scorned doing it by stealth, but instead sent messengers ahead announcing: ‘I am coming upon you.’

Something does not jibe in the story of Svyatoslav. His mounted campaign is a typical nomadic campaign, his ethnological habits are typical nomadic habits, his army is unmistakably a nomadic army. Compared with the horse nomads, well into the 20th c., Slavs and Slavicized populations were apprehensive of horses, they were an infantry. The depiction of Svyatoslav, other than the non-Scythian boldness, bear no resemblance with the Northmen, it is a typical depiction of a Türkic prince, down to the shaved head with a royal forelock and a single earring. In Slavic literature, Svyatoslav is a “Varyag” Norman, a son of the Normans Ingvar and Helga. No Türkic connection whatsoever. Otherwise, he is a canonical Türkic prince, Yarotürk rather than Svyatoslav.

Instead of hiring an army of Vikings, Svyatoslav could hire a Bajanak or Oguz army, but that would not change him to Bajanak or Oguz, not only he had to be born a Türk, he had to be groomed a Türkic prince till maturity.

To the campaign against the Khazars, the Chronicler devotes only a few lines, in the laconic tone which he usually adopts in reporting on armed conflicts:

Svyatoslav went to the Oka and the Volga (Itil), and on coming in contact with the Vyatichians [a Slavonic tribe inhabiting the region south of modern Moscow (On the southern side of the river thousands upon thousands of destroyed kurgans attest to its Türkic population, on the northern bank the graves are Fennic, only the RPC claims that everyone around was a Slavic)], he inquired of them to whom they paid tribute. They made answer that they paid a silver piece per ploughshare to the Khazars. When they [the Khazars] heard of his approach, they went out to meet him with their Prince, the Kagan, and the armies came to blows. When the battle thus took place, Svyatoslav defeated the Khazars and took their city of Biela Viezha.4a

Now Biela Viezha - the White Castle - was the Slavonic name \119\ for Sarkcl, the famed Khazar fortress on the Don; but it should be noted that the destruction of Itil, the capital, is nowhere mentioned in the Russian Chronicle - a point to which we shall return.

The Chronicle goes on to relate that Svyatoslav ‘also conquered the Yasians and the Karugians’ (Asses and Kasogians, i.e. Adyge; Asses or Alans were a Türkic nomadic pastoral people, the Asguza Scythians and Asses in Bactria of Strabo) [Ossetians and Chirkassians], defeated the Danube Bulgars, was defeated by the Byzantines, and on his way back to Kiev was murdered by a horde of Pechenegs. ‘They cut off his head, and made a cup out of his skull, overlayed it with gold, and drank from it.’

Several historians have regarded the victory of Svyatoslav as the end of Khazaria - which, as will be seen, is demonstrably wrong. The destruction of Sarkcl in 965 signaled the end of the Khazar Empire, not of the Khazar state - as 1918 signaled the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but not of Austria as a nation. Khazar control of the far-flung Slavonic tribes - which, as we have seen, stretched to the vicinity of Moscow - had now come to a definite end; but the Khazar heartland between Caucasus, Don and Volga (Itil) remained intact. The approaches to the Caspian Sea remained closed to the Rus, and we hear of no further attempt on their part to force their way to it. As Toynbee pointedly remarks: ‘The Rhus succeeded in destroying the Khazar Steppe-empire, but the only Khazar territory that they acquired was Tmutorakan on the Taman peninsula [facing the Crimea], and this gain was ephemeral. ...It was not till half-way through the sixteenth century that the Muscovites made a permanent conquest, for Russia, of the river Volga (Itil)... to the river’s debouchure into the Caspian Sea.6


After the death of Svyatoslav, civil war broke out between his sons, out of which the youngest, Vladimir, emerged victorious. He too started life as a pagan, like his father, and he too, like his grandmother Olga, ended up as a repentant sinner, accepted baptism and was eventually canonized. Yet in his youth St. \119\ Vladimir seemed to have followed St Augustine’s motto: Lord give me chastity, but not yet. The Russian Chronicle is rather severe about this:

Now Vladimir was overcome by lust for women. He had three hundred concubines at Vyshgorod, three hundred at Belgorod (Kyu-Ev, Türkic “White City”), and two hundred at Berestovo. He was insatiable in vice. He even seduced married women and violated young girls, for he was a libertine like Solomon. For it is said that Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. He was wise, yet in the end he came to ruin. But Vladimir, though at first deluded, eventually found salvation. Great is the Lord, and great his power and of his wisdom there is no end.7

Olga’s baptism, around 957, did not cut much ice, even with her own son. Vladimir’s baptism, AD 989, was a momentous event which had a lasting influence on the history of the world.

Vladimir’s baptism was a wise political maneuver, parroting identical moves by his Türkic neighbors, Bulgars and Khazars. By replacing division by ethnicity with division by religion, Vladimir was to erase ethnical differences, cultures, and traditions. The “us vs. them” culture was aimed to make all “us” the “Krestiane” (Christians), and create a new culture independent of the motley ethnic traditions. In destroying the self-identification of the subject population the move was very successful, eventually creating a nation of  “Russians”, lit. “belonging to Russia”. Vladimir was creating a blank page unencumbered by old traditions and restrictions.

That Vladimir’s baptism had nothing to do with religion is attested by his unsteady fluctuation, right before switching to Christianity, Vladimir erected a colossus effigy of Perun, attempting to unite his subjects under an old Norman religion.

It was preceded by a series of diplomatic maneuverings and theological discussions with representatives of the four major religions - which provide a kind of mirror image to the debates before the Khazar conversion to Judaism. Indeed, the Old Russian Chronicle’s account of these theological disputes constantly remind one of the Hebrew and Arab accounts of King Bulan’s erstwhile Brains Trust - only the outcome is different.

This time there were four instead of three contestants - as the schism between the Greek and the Latin churches was already an accomplished fact in the tenth century (though it became official only in the eleventh).

The Russian Chronicle’s account of Vladimir’s conversion first mentions a victory he achieved against the Volga (Itil) Bulgars, followed by a treaty of friendship. ‘The Bulgars declared: "May peace prevail between us till stone floats and straw sinks.” ’ Vladimir returned to Kiev, and the Bulgars sent a Muslim religious mission to convert him. They described to him the joys of Paradise where each man will be given seventy fair women. Vladimir listened to them ‘with approval’, but when it came to abstinence from pork and wine, he drew the line.

‘ “Drinking,” said he, “is the joy of the Russes. We cannot exist without that pleasure.”8

Next came a German delegation of Roman Catholics, adherents of the Latin rite. They fared no better when they brought up, as one of the main requirements of their faith, fasting according to one’s strength.  ‘...Then Vladimir answered: “Depart hence; our fathers accepted no such principle.”’9 The third mission consisted of Khazar Jews. They came off worst. Vladimir asked them why they no longer ruled Jerusalem. ‘They made answer: “God was angry at our forefathers, and scattered us among the Gentiles on account of our sins.” The Prince then demanded: “How can you hope to teach others while you yourselves are cast out and scattered abroad by the hand of God? Do you expect us to accept that fate also?” ’

The fourth and last missionary is a scholar sent by the Greeks of Byzantium. He starts with a blast against the Muslims, who are ‘accursed above all men, like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon which the Lord let fall burning stones, and which he buried and submerged... . For they moisten their excrement, and pour the water into their mouths, and anoint their beards with it, remembering Mahomet. ...Vladimir, upon hearing these statements, spat upon the earth, saying: “This is a vile thing.”’10 The Byzantine scholar then accuses the Jews of having crucified God, and the Roman Catholics - in much milder terms - of having ‘modified the Rites’. After these preliminaries, he launches into a long exposition of the Old and New Testaments, starting with the creation of the world. At the end of it, however, Vladimir appears only half convinced, for when pressed to be baptized he replies, ‘I shall wait yet a little longer.’ He then sends his own envoys, ‘ten good and wise men’, to various countries to observe their religious practices. In due time this commission of inquiry reports to him that the Byzantine Service is ‘fairer than the ceremonies of other nations, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth’.

But Vladimir still hesitates, and the Chronicle continues with a non-sequitur:

‘After a year had passed, in 988, Vladimir proceeded with an armed force against Cherson, a Greek city. . . ,’11 (We remember that control of this important Crimean port had been for a long time contested between Byzantines and Khazars.) The valiant Chersonese refused to surrender. Vladimir’s troops constructed earthworks directed at the city walls, but the Chersonese ‘dug a tunnel under the city wall, stole the heaped-up earth and carried it into the city, where they piled it up’. Then a traitor shot an arrow into the Rus camp with a message: ‘There are springs behind you to the east, from which water flows in pipes. Dig down and cut them off.’ When Vladimir received this information, he raised his eyes to heaven and vowed that if this hope was realized, he would be baptized.12
He succeeded in cutting off the city’s water supply, and Cherson surrendered. Thereupon Vladimir, apparently forgetting his vow, ‘sent messages to the Emperors Basil and Constantine [joint rulers at the time], saying: “Behold, I have captured your glorious city. I have also heard that you have an unwedded sister. Unless you give her to me to wife, I shall deal with your own city as I have with Cherson.” ’

The Emperors replied: ‘If you are baptized you shall have her to wife, inherit the Kingdom of God, and be our companion in the faith.’

And so it came to pass. Vladimir at long last accepted baptism, and married the Byzantine Princess Anna. A few years later Greek Christianity became the official religion not only of the rulers but of the Russian people, and from 1037 onward the Russian Church was governed by the Patriarch of Constantinople.


It was a momentous triumph of Byzantine diplomacy. Vernadsky calls it ‘one of those abrupt turns which make the study of history so fascinating . . . and it is interesting to speculate on the possible course of history had the Russian princes . . . adopted either of these faiths [Judaism or Islam] instead of Christianity... .

The acceptance of one or another of these faiths must necessarily have determined the future cultural and political development of Russia (Rus). The acceptance of Islam would have drawn Russia into the circle of Arabian culture - that is, an Asiatic-Egyptian culture. The acceptance of Roman Christianity from the Germans would have made Russia a country of Latin or European culture. The acceptance of either Judaism or Orthodox Christianity insured to Russia cultural independence of both Europe and Asia.’13 But the Russians needed allies more than they needed independence, and the East Roman Empire, however corrupt, was still a more desirable ally in terms of power, culture and trade, than the crumbling empire of the Khazars. Nor should one underestimate the role played by Byzantine statesmanship in bringing about the decision for which it had worked for more than a century. The Russian Chronicle’s naive account of Vladimir’s game of procrastination gives us no insight into the diplomatic maneuverings and hard bargaining that must have gone on before he accepted baptism - and thereby, in fact, Byzantine tutelage for himself and his people. Cherson was obviously part of the price, and so was the dynastic marriage to Princess Anna. But the most important part of the deal was the end of the Byzantine- Khazar alliance against the Rus, and its replacement by a Byzantinc-Russian (Rus) alliance against the Khazars. A few years later, in 1016, a combined Byzantine-Russian army invaded Khazaria, defeated its ruler, and ‘subdued the country’ (see below, IV, 8).

Yet the cooling off towards the Khazars had already started, as we have seen, in Constantine Porphyrogenitus’s day, fifty years before Vladimir’s conversion. We remember Constantine’s musings on ‘how war is to be made on Khazaria and by whom’. The passage quoted earlier on (II, 7) continues:

If the ruler of Alania docs not keep the peace with the Khazars but considers the friendship of the Emperor of the Romans to be of greater value to him, then, if the Khazars do not choose to maintain friendship and peace with the Emperor, the Alan can do them great harm. He can ambush their roads and attack them when they are off their guard on their route to Sarkel and to ‘the nine \124\ regions’ and to Cherson . . . Black Bulgaria [the Volga (Itil) Bulgars] is also in a position to make war on the Khazars.14

Toynbee, after quoting this passage, makes the following, rather touching comment:

If this passage in Constantine Porphyrogenitus’s manual for the conduct of the East Roman Imperial Government’s foreign relations had ever fallen into the hands of the Khazar Khaqan and his ministers, they would have been indignant. They would have pointed out that nowadays Khazaria was one of the most pacific states in the world, and that, if she had been more warlike in her earlier days, her arms had never been directed against the East Roman Empire. The two powers had, in fact, never been at war with each other, while, on the other hand, Khazaria had frequently been at war with the East Roman Empire’s enemies, and this to the Empire’s signal advantage. Indeed, the Empire may have owed it to the Khazars that she had survived the successive onslaughts of the Sasanid Persian Emperor Khusraw II Parviz and the Muslim Arabs. ...And thereafter the pressure on the Empire of the Arabs’ onslaught had been relieved by the vigour of the Khazars’ offensive-defensive resistance to the Arabs’ advance towards the Caucasus. The friendship between Khazaria and the Empire had been symbolized and scaled in two marriage-alliances between their respective Imperial families. What, then, had been in Constantine’s mind when he had been thinking out ways of tormenting Khazaria by inducing her neighbors to fall upon her?15

The answer to Toynbee’s rhetorical question is obviously that the Byzantines were inspired by Realpolitik - and that, as already said, theirs was not a sentimental age. Nor is ours.


Nevertheless, it turned out to be a short-sighted policy. To quote Bury once more:

The first principle of Imperial policy in this quarter of the world was the maintenance of peace with the Khazars. This was the immediate consequence of the geographical position of the Khazar Empire, lying as it did between the Dnieper and the Caucasus.

From the seventh century, when Heraclius had sought the help of the Khazars against Persia, to the tenth, in which the power of Itil declined, this was the constant policy of the Emperors. It was to the advantage of the Empire that the Chagan should exercise an effective control over his barbarian neighbors.16

This ‘effcctive control’ was now to be transferred from the Khazar Kagan to the Rus Kagan, the Prince of Kiev. But it did not work. The Khazars were a Turkish (i.e. Türkic) tribe of the steppes, who had been able to cope with wave after wave of Turkish (i.e. Türkic) and Arab invaders; they had resisted and subdued the Bulgars, Burtas, Pechencgs, Ghuzz, and so on. The Russians and their Slav subjects were no match for the nomad warriors of the steppes, their mobile strategy and guerilla tactics.* As a result of constant nomad pressure, the centers of Russian power were gradually transferred from the southern steppes to the wooded north, to the principalities of Galiczia, Novgorod and Moscow. The Byzantines had calculated that Kiev would take over the role of Itil as the guardian of Eastern Europe and center of trade; instead, Kiev went into rapid decline. It was the end of the first chapter of Russian history, followed by a period of chaos, with a dozen independent principalities waging endless wars against each other.

This created a power vacuum, into which poured a new wave of conquering nomads - or rather a new offshoot of our old friends the Ghuzz, whom Ibn Fadlan had found even more abhorrent than the other Barbarian tribes which he was obliged to visit. These ‘pagan and godless foes’, as the Chronicle describes them, were called Polovtsi by the Russians, Kumans by the Byzantines, Kun by the Hungarians, Kipchaks by their fellow Turks (i.e. Türks). They ruled the steppes as far as Hungary from the late eleventh to the thirteenth century (when they, in turn, were swamped by the Mongol invasion).* They also fought several \126\ wars against the Byzantines.

*The most outstanding Russian epic poem of the period, ‘The Lay of Igor’s Host’, describes one of the disastrous campaigns of the Russians against the Ghuzz.
*One substantial branch of the Kumans, fleeing from the Mongols, was granted asylum in Hungary in 1241, and merged with the native population. ‘Kun’ is still a frequent surname in Hungary.

Another branch of the Ghuzz, the Seljuks (named after their ruling dynasty) destroyed a huge Byzantine army in the historic battle of Manzikert (1071) and captured the Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. Henceforth the Byzantines were unable to prevent the Turks from gaining control of most provinces of Asia Minor - the present-day Turkey - which had previously been the heartland of the East Roman Empire.

One can only speculate whether history would have taken a different course if Byzantium had not abandoned its traditional policy, maintained throughout the three previous centuries, of relying on the Khazar stronghold against the Muslim, Turkish (i.e. Türkic) and Viking invaders. Be that as it may, Imperial Realpolitik turned out to have been not very realistic.


During the two centuries of Kuman rule, followed by the Mongol invasion, the eastern steppes were once more plunged into the Dark Ages, and the later history of the Khazars is shrouded in even deeper obscurity than their origin.

Here the Dark Ages refers to the author, not to the Kipchak/Kuman or Mongol rule. Not only the records were consistently destroyed, but the entire cities taken apart and used as construction materials for all Russian fortresses in the Itil area. The Dark Ages were manually created by savages.

The references to the Khazar state in its final period of decline are found mainly in Muslim sources; but they are, as we shall see, so ambiguous that almost every name, date and geographical indication is open to several interpretations. Historians, famished for facts, have nothing left but a few bleached bones to gnaw at like starving bloodhounds, in the forlorn hope of finding some hidden morsel to sustain them.

In the light of what has been said before, it appears that the decisive event precipitating the decline of Khazar power was not Svyatoslav’s victory, but Vladimir’s conversion. How important was in fact that victory, which nineteenth-century historians* habitually equated with the end of the Khazar state? We remember that the Russian Chronicle mentions only the destruction \127\ of Sarkel, the fortress, but not the destruction of Itil, the capital.

*Following a tradition set by Frachn in 1822, in the Memoirs of the Russian Academy.

That Itil was indeed sacked and devastated we know from several Arab sources, which are too insistent to be ignored; but when and by whom it was sacked is by no means clear. Ibn Hawkal, the principal source, says it was done by the Rus who ‘utterly destroyed Khazaran, Samandar and Itil’ - apparently believing that Khazaran and Itil were different towns, whereas we know that they were one twin-town; and his dating of the event differs from the Russian Chronicle’s dating of the fall of Sarkel - which Ibn Hawkal does not mention at all, just as the Chronicle does not mention the destruction of Itil. Accordingly, Marquart suggested that Itil was sacked not by Svyatoslav’s Rus, who only got as far as Sarkel, but by some fresh wave of Vikings. To complicate matters a little more, the second Arab source, ibn-Miskawayh, says that it was a body of ‘Turks’ which descended on Khazaria in the critical year 965. By ‘Turks’ he may have meant the Rus, as Barthold maintained. But it could also have been a marauding horde of Pechenegs, for instance. It seems that we shall never know who destroyed Itil, however long we chew the bones.

And how seriously was it destroyed? The principal source, Ibn Hawrkal, first speaks of the ‘utter destruction’ of Itil, but then he also says, writing a few years later, that ‘Khazaran is still the center on which the Rus trade converges’. Thus the phrase ‘utter destruction’ may have been an exaggeration. This is the more likely because he also speaks of the ‘utter destruction’ of the town of Bulghar (Bulgar), capital of the Volga (Itil) Bulgars. Yet the damage which the Rus caused in Bulghar (Bulgar) could not have been too important, as we have coins that were minted there in the year 976-7 - only about ten years after Svyatoslav’s raid; and in the thirteenth century Bulghar (Bulgar) was still an important city. As Dunlop put it:

The ultimate source of all statements that the Russians (Rus) destroyed Khazaria in the tenth century is no doubt Ibn Hawkal... Ibn Hawkal, however, speaks as positively of the destruction of Bulghar (Bulgar) on the middle Volga (Itil). It is quite certain that at the time of the Mongol attacks in the thirteenth ccntury Bulghar (Bulgar) was a flourishing community. Was the ruin of Khazaria also temporary?17

It obviously was. Khazaran-Itil, and the other towns of the Khazars, consisted mostly of tents, wooden dwellings and ‘round houses’ built of mud, which were easily destroyed and easily rebuilt; only the royal and public buildings were of brick.

The damage done must nevertheless have been serious, for several Arab chroniclers speak of a temporary exodus of the population to the Caspian shore or islands. Thus Ibn Hawkal says the Khazars of Itil fled from the Rus to one of the islands of the ‘naphta coast’ [Baku], but later returned to Itil and Khazaran with the aid of the Muslim Shah of Shirwan. This sounds plausible since the people of Shirwan had no love for the Rus who had plundered their shores earlier on. Other Arab chroniclers, Ibn Miskawayh and Muqaddasi (writing later than Ibn Hawkal), also speak of an exodus of Khazars and their return with Muslim help. According to Ibn Miskawayh, as a price for this help ‘they all adopted Islam with the exception of their king’. Muquadassi has a different version, which does not refer to the Rus invasion; he only says that the inhabitants of the Khazar town went down to the sea and came back converted to Islam. The degree of his reliability is indicated by the fact that he describes Bulghar (Bulgar) as being closer to the Caspian than Itil, which amounts to placing Glasgow south of London.*

In spite of the confused and biased nature of these accounts, which seems all too obvious, there is probably some truth in them. The psychological shock of the invasion, the flight to the sea, and the necessity of buying Muslim help may have led to some deal which gave the Muslim community in Khazaria a greater say in the affairs of state; we remember a similar deal with Marwan two centuries earlier (I, 7), which involved the Kagan himself, but left no mark on Khazar history.

According to yet another Arab (Khoresmian) source - Biruni, who died \129\ in 1048 - Itil, in his time, was ‘in ruins’- or rather, once more in ruins.19

It was rebuilt again, but henceforth it went under the name of Saksin (Saksin, or Saksin Bolgar, aka Sarai Batu, 48.5°N 45.0°E, since Batu located his palace sarai there; this is a specific indication on the location of the capital Itil in the Middle Itil, not in the estuary).* It figures repeatedly in the chronicles well into the twelfth century as ‘a large town on the Volga (Itil), surpassed by none in Turkestan’,20 and eventually, according to one source, became the victim of inundations (The Saksin/Saksin Bolgar/Sarai Batu is located high enough to be inundated only by extremely rare, 1000-year floods). Another century later the Mongol ruler Batu built his capital on its site.21

In summing up what the Russian Chronicle and the Arab sources tell us about the catastrophe of 965, we can say that Itil was devastated to an unknown extent by the Rus or some other invaders, but rebuilt more than once; and that the Khazar state emerged from the ordeal considerably weakened. But there can be little doubt that inside its shrunken frontiers it survived for at least another two hundred years, i.e., to the middle of the twelfth century, and perhaps - though more doubtfully - until the middle of the thirteenth.


The first non-Arab mention of Khazaria after the fatal year 965 seems to occur in a travel report by Ibrahim Ibn Jakub, the Spanish-Jewish ambassador to Otto the Great, who, writing probably in 973, describes the Khazars as still flourishing in his time.22 Next in chronological order is the account in the Russian Chronicle of Jews from Khazaria arriving in Kiev AD 986, in their misfired attempt to convert Vladimir to their faith.

The flowery conversion legend has negative credibility, although it is popular with many storytellers.

As we enter the eleventh century, we read first of the already mentioned joint Byzantine-Rus campaign of 1016 against Khazaria, in which the country was once more defeated. The event is reported by a fairly reliable source, the twelfth-century Byzantine chronicler Cedrenus.23 A considerable force was apparently needed, for Cedrenus speaks of a Byzantine fleet, supported by an army of Russians (Rus). The Khazars evidently had the qualities \130\ of a Jack-in-the-Box, derived from their Turkish (i.e. Türkic) origin, or Mosaic faith, or both.

*‘The probability is that Saksin was identical with, or at least at no great distance from Khazaran-Itil, and the name may be the older Sarisshin revived’ (Dunlop, p. 248, quoting Minorski).

The whole land where Saksin was located was called Saksin after its population called Saklabs, who lived in the belt from Don to Itil at a latitude of the modern Kalmykia. The adjacent provinces Saklab and Saksin were distinct provinces of Khazaria. The map shows their relative location in the Don-Itil interfluvial. The symbol of yurts marks locations of major Kipchak centers in the 12th c. Where the name Sarisshin came from is not clear, but it is likely a misspelling.
Relative location of Saklan and Saksin within the Kipchak belt, ca 1200 AD

Cedrenus also says that the name of the defeated Khazar leader was Georgius Tzul. Georgius is a Christian name; we know from an earlier report that there were Christians as well as Muslims in the Kagan’s army.

The next mention of the Khazars is a laconic entry in the Russian Chronicle for the year 1023, according to which ‘[Prince] Mtislav marched against his brother [Prince] Yaroslav with a force of Khazars and Kasogians’.* Now Mtislav was the ruler of the short-lived principality ot Tmutorakan, centered on the Khazar town ot Tamatarkha (Tamatarkhan, Tarkhan is a high title) (now Taman) on the eastern side of the straights of Kerch. This, as already said, was the only Khazar territory that the Rus occupied after their victory of 965. The Khazars in Mtislav’s army were thus probably levied from the local population by the Russian (Rus) prince (the local population must have been Bulgars, since that area was a Bulgar heartland since the Onogur time in the 5th c. BC, and a location of the Bulgar capital Banja).

Seven years later (ad 1030) a Khazar army is reported to have defeated a Kurdish invading force, killed 10,000 of its men and captured their equipment. This would be added evidence that the Khazars were still very much alive and kicking, if one could take the report at face value. But it comes from a single twelfth-century Arab source, ibn-al-Athir, not considered very reliable.

Plodding on in our chronology, anxious to pick up what morsels of evidence are left, we come across a curious tale about an obscure Christian saint, Eustratius. Around AD 1100, he was apparently a prisoner in Cherson, in the Crimea, and was ill-treated by his ‘Jewish master’, who forced ritual Passover food on him.24 One need not put much trust in the authenticity of the story (St. Eustratius is said to have survived fifteen days on the cross); the point is that it takes a strong Jewish influence in the town for granted - in Cherson of all places, a town nominally under Christian rule, which the Byzantines tried to deny to the Khazars, which was conquered by Vladimir but reverted later (circa 990) to Byzantium.

They were still equally powerful in Tmutorakan. For the \131\ year 1079 the Russian Chronicle has an obscure entry: ‘The Khazars [of Tmutorakan] took Oleg prisoner and shipped him overseas to Tsargrad [Constantinople].’ That is all.

*The Kasogians or Kashaks were a Caucasian tribe under Khazar rule and may or may not have been the ancestors of the Cossacks (No relation between Adyge Kasogs and Türkic/Ukrainian Cossacks of any time).

Obviously the Byzantines were engaged in one of their cloak-and-dagger intrigues, favoring one Russian (Rus) prince against his competitors. But we again find that the Khazars must have wielded considerable power in this Russian (Rus) town, if they were able to capture and dispatch a Russian (Rus) prince (Tamiatarkhan episodically for in instance was under some Rus princes, but the Rus pretensions were unsustainable, and the whole peninsula fell into the Russian hands only in 18th c., in 1791). Four years later Oleg, having come to terms with the Byzantines, was allowed to return to Tmutorakan where ‘he slaughtered the Khazars who had counseled the death of his brother and had plotted against himself’. Oleg’s brother Roman had actually been killed by the Kipchak- Kumans in the same year as the Khazars captured Oleg. Did they also engineer his brother’s murder by the Kumans? Or were they victims of the Byzantines’ Macchiavcllian game of playing off Khazars and Rus against each other? At any rate, we are approaching the end of the eleventh century, and they are still very much on the scene.

Here, like in the case of Cherson, and other similar cases, the appellation “Khazars” should not be treated literally, the term “Tatars”, for example, was applied as a synonym of “stranger”, “not ours”, and covered a variety of persons and ethnoses as different as Adyge in the Caucasus, Fennic Mordva, tundra Nenets and Nganasan of the Taymyr Peninsula, etc. Such monikers tell more of the speaker than of his subject.

A few years later, sub anno 1106, the Russian Chronicle has another laconic entry, according to which the Polovtsi, i.e., the Kumans, raided the vicinity of Zaretsk (west of Kiev), and the Russian (Rus) prince sent a force out to pursue them, under the command of the three generals Yan, Putyata and ‘Ivan, the Khazar’. This is the last mention of the Khazars in the Old Russian Chronicle, which stops ten years later, in 1116.

But in the second half of the twelfth century, two Persian poets, Khakani (Kagani) (circa 1106-90) and the better-known Nizami (circa 1141-1203) (both from Azerbaijan writing in Persian) mention in their epics a joint Khazar-Rus invasion of Shirwan during their lifetime. Although they indulged in the writing of poetry, they deserve to be taken seriously as they spent most of their lives as civil servants in the Caucasus, and had an intimate knowledge of Caucasian tribes. Khakani speaks of ‘Dervent Khazars’ - Darband being the defile or ‘turnstile’ between the Caucasus and the Black Sea, through which the Khazars used to raid Georgia in the good old days of the seventh century, before they developed a more sedate style of \132\ life. Did they revert, towards the end, to the unsettled nomad-warrior habits of their youth?

The presumption that nomadic Khazars ever settled is fanciful and unjustified. So long as Khazars proper had sedentary subject “Khazars” of most diverse origin and ethnicity, the Khazars proper did not have any need to settle. Only a loss of the cattle and pastures could force individual nomads to get by as a pauper. The situation may be illustrated on the example of the American Indians, who “settled” only after genocidal campaigns of 1870s, a loss of any means of subsistence, and forced deportations. In case of “Khazars”, the deportations were “from”, and not “to”, were political and not ethnic or religious, and like the American example, were driven by the greed of the powerful.

After - or possibly before - these Persian testimonies (testimonies written in Persian), we have the tantalizingly short and grumpy remarks of that famed Jewish traveler, Rabbi Petachia of Regensburg, quoted earlier on (II, 8). We remember that he was so huffed by the lack of talmudic learning among the Khazar Jews of the Crimean region that when he crossed Khazaria proper, he only heard ‘the wailing of women and the barking of dogs’. Was this merely a hyperbole to express his displeasure, or was he crossing a region devastated by a recent Kuman raid? The date is between 1170 and 1185; the twelfth century was drawing to its close, and the Kumans were now the omnipresent rulers of the steppes.

As we enter the thirteenth century, the darkness thickens, and even our meager sources dry up. But there is at least one reference which comes from an excellent witness. It is the last mention of the Khazars as a nation, and is dated between 1245-7. By that time the Mongols had already swept the Kumans out of Eurasia and established the greatest nomad empire the world had as yet seen, extending from Hungary to China.

Majority of the E. European population stayed put and accepted a change of the ruling strata as a fact of life. The escapees were a visible minority, since they disturbed the existing status elsewhere, and happened to leave some records. One vice that Mongols can't be accused with is religious intolerance, neither can they be accused of excessive taxation. By abolishing local taxation for the right of passage, and reducing the tax rate to nearly nil, the Mongol rule facilitated prosperity, but gave a rise to local rulers who tended to collect the old taxes and pass only a small fraction to their masters, blaming Mongols for the excesses. The change in the supreme command was invisible to the submitted populace, and but for the hurt pride, beneficial to the elite. Mongols were mindful about preservation of the tax base and artisanship. For intimidation, persecution was used for any resistance.

The same old Kipchaks, not the Mongols, headed the Kipchak Khanate popularly known under a moniker Golden Horde.

In 1245, Pope Innocent iv sent a mission to Batu Khan, grandson of Jinghiz (Chingiz) Khan, ruler of the western part of the Mongol Empire, to explore the possibilities of an understanding with this new world power - and also no doubt to obtain information about its military strength. Head of this mission was the sixty-year-old Franciscan friar, Joannes de Plano Carpini. He was a contemporary and disciple of St Francis of Assisi, but also an experienced traveler and Church diplomat who had held high offices in the hierarchy. The mission set out on Easter day 1245 from Cologne, traversed Germany, crossed the Dnieper and the Don, and arrived one year later at the capital of Batu Khan and his Golden Horde in the Volga (Itil) estuary: the town of Sarai Batu, alias Saksin, alias Itil.

After his return to the west, Carpini wrote his celebrated Historica Mongolorum. It contains, amidst a wealth of historical, ethnographical and military data, also a list of the people living \133\ in the regions visited by him. In this list, enumerating the people of the northern Caucasus, he mentions, along with the Alans and Circassians, the ‘Khazars observing the Jewish religion’. It is, as already said, the last known mention of them before the curtain falls.

But it took a long time until their memory was effaced. Genovese and Venetian merchants kept referring to the Crimea as ‘Gazaria’ and that name occurs in Italian documents as late as the sixteenth century. This was, however, by that time merely a geographical designation, commemorating a vanished nation.


Yet even after their political power was broken, they left marks of Khazar-Jewish influence in unexpected places, and on a variety of people.

Among them were the Seljuk, who may be regarded as the true founders of Muslim Turkey. Towards the end of the tenth century, this other offshoot of the Ghuzz had moved southwards into the vicinity of Bokhara, from where they were later to erupt into Byzantine Asia Minor and colonize it. They do not enter directly into our story, but they do so through a back-door, as it were, for the great Seljuk dynasty seems to have been intimately linked with the Khazars. This Khazar connection is reported by Bar Hebraeus (1226-86), one of the greatest among Syriac writers and scholars; as the name indicates, he was of Jewish origin, but converted to Christianity, and ordained a bishop at the age of twenty.

Bar Hebraeus relates that Seljuk’s father, Tukak (aka Tuqaq, Temür Yalığ, “iron bow”, of Kınık tribe ), was a commander in the army of the Khazar Kagan, and that after his death, Seljuk (ca. 985–1038) himself, founder of the dynasty, was brought up at the Kagan’s court. But he was an impetuous youth and took liberties with the Kagan, to which the Katoun (Hatun) - the queen - objected; as a result Seljuk had to leave, or was banned from the court.25

Another contemporary source, ibn-al-Adim’s History of Aleppo, \134\ also speaks of Seljuk’s father as ‘one of the notables of the Khazar Turks’;26 while a third, Ibn Hassul,27 reports that Seljuk ‘struck the King of the Khazars with his sword and beat him with a mace which he had in his hand... .’ We also remember the strong ambivalent attitude of the Ghuzz towards the Khazars, in Ibn Fadlan’s travelogue.

Thus there seems to have been an intimate relationship between the Khazars and the founders of the Seljuk dynasty, followed by a break. This was probably due to the Seljuks’ conversion to Islam (while the other Ghuzz tribes, such as the Kumans, remained pagans (The use of the word “pagans” is derogatory, “pagan” is a person who does not acknowledge your god, and a scholar can't have “my god” and “your god”, it is disgraceful). Nevertheless, the Khazar-Judaic influence prevailed for some time even after the break. Among the four sons of Seljuk, one was given the exclusively Jewish name of Israel; and one grandson was called Daud (David). Dunlop, usually a very cautious author, remarks:

In view of what has already been said, the suggestion is that these names are due to the religious influence among the leading families of the Ghuzz of the dominant Khazars. The ‘house of worship’ among the Ghuzz mentioned by Qazwini might well have been a synagogue.28

We may add here that - according to Artamonov - specifically Jewish names also occurred among that other Ghuzz branch, the Kumans. The sons of the Kuman Prince Kobiak were called Isaac and Daniel.


Where the historians’ resources give out, legend and folklore provide useful hints.

The Primary Russian Chronicle was compiled by monks; it is saturated with religious thought and long biblical excursions. But parallel with the ecclesiastical writings on which it is based, the Kiev period also produced a secular literature - the so-called bylina, heroic epics or folk-songs, mostly concerned with the \135\ deeds of great warriors and semi-legendary princes.

The ‘Lay of Igor’s Host’, already mentioned, about that leader’s defeat by the Kumans, is the best known among them. The bylina were transmitted by oral tradition and - according to Vernadsky - ‘were still chanted by peasants in remote villages of northern Russia in the beginning of the twentieth century’.29

In striking contrast to the Russian Chronicle, these epics do not mention byname the Khazars or their country; instead they speak of the ‘country of the Jews’ (Zemlya Jidovskaya), and of its inhabitants as ‘Jewish heroes’ (Jidoviti bogatir) who ruled the steppes and fought the armies of the Russian (Rus) princes. One such hero, the epics tell us, was a giant Jew, who came ‘from the Zemlya Jidovskaya to the steppes of Tsetsar under Mount Sorochin, and only the bravery of Vladimir’s general, Ilya Murometz, saved Vladimir’s army from the Jews’ (The image of Ilya Murometz ascends to the events of 660, when Bat-Boyan succeeded Kurbat, he was entitled Ilyatbir Balyndjer (Elteber Balyndjer, lit. “Ruler (Elteber) of Balyn Land “Meadow Land” (lit. Honeyed Earth), Cf. Engl. earth; the version lyatbir Malyndjer turned into Ilya Murometz).30 There are several versions of this tale, and the search for the whereabouts of Tsetsar and Mount Sorochin provided historians with another lively game. But, as Poliak has pointed out, ‘the point to retain is that in the eyes of the Russian (Rus) people the neighboring Khazaria in its final period was simply “the Jewish state”, and its army was an army of Jews’.31 This popular Russian (Rus) view differs considerably from the tendency among Arab chroniclers to emphasize the importance of the Muslim mercenaries in the Khazar forces, and the number of mosques in Itil (forgetting to count the synagogues).

The legends which circulated among Western Jews in the Middle Ages provide a curious parallel to the Russian (Rus) bylina. To quote Poliak again: ‘The popular Jewish legend does not remember a “Khazar” kingdom but a kingdom of the “Red Jews”.’ And Baron comments:

The Jews of other lands were flattered by the existence of an independent Jewish state. Popular imagination found here a particularly fertile field. Just as the biblically minded Slavonic epics speak of ‘Jews’ rather than Khazars, so did western Jews long after spin romantic tales around those ‘red Jews’, so styled perhaps because of the slight Mongolian pigmentation of many Khazars.32

The “Mongolian pigmentation” may sound couth to few bigoted scholars with ingrained prejudice, but the reality is that in comparison with northern Mongoloids, an average European looks like mulatto, Cf. Lapps and Italians. On the other hand, monikers like Kermichiones, Karmir Xyones, and Red Chyon (i.e. Red Huns) correspond to the monikers Spet Xyon which is White Chyon. These Chyonite monikers described specific traditional dress, which was independent of the confession, racial prejudice, and any other racial criteria that may be ingrained into scholarly mind. The Jewish Kermichion Huns would be distinguished by the red element of the dress in the same fashion as Lubavitches are distinguished by black without any Negroid pigmentation.


Another bit of semi-legendary, semi-historical folklore connected with the Khazars survived into modern times, and so fascinated Benjamin Disraeli that he used it as material for a historical romance: The Wondrous Tale oj Alroy.

In the twelfth century there arose in Khazaria a Messianic movement, a rudimentary attempt at a Jewish crusade, aimed at the conquest of Palestine by force of arms. The initiator of the movement was a Khazar Jew, one Solomon ben Duji (or Ruhi or Roy), aided by his son Menahem and a Palestinian scribe. ‘They wrote letters to all the Jews, near and far, in all the lands around them.... They said that the time had come in which God would gather Israel, His people from all lands to Jerusalem, the holy city, and that Solomon Ben Duji was Elijah, and his son the Messiah.’*

These appeals were apparently addressed to the Jewish communities in the Middle East, and seemed to have had little effect, for the next episode takes place only about twenty years later, when young Menahem assumed the name David al-Roy, and the title of Messiah. Though the movement originated in Khazaria, its center soon shifted to Kurdistan. Here David assembled a substantial armed force - possibly of local Jews, reinforced by Khazars - and succeeded in taking possession of the strategic fortress of Amadie, north-east of Mosul. From here he may have hoped to lead his army to Edessa, and fight his way through Syria into the Holy Land.

The whole enterprise may have been a little less quixotic than it seems now, in view of the constant feuds between the various Muslim armies, and the gradual disintegration of the Crusader strongholds. Besides, some local Muslim commanders \137\ might have welcomed the prospect of a Jewish crusade against the Christian Crusaders.

*Thc main sources for this movement are a report by the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela (see above. II, 8); a hostile account by the Arab writer Yahya al-Maghribi, and two Hebrew manuscripts found in the Cairo Geniza (see above, II, 7). They add up to a confusing mosaic; I have followed Baron's careful interpretation (Vol. Ill, p. 204; Vol. IV, pp. 202-4, and notes).

Among the Jews of the Middle East, David certainly aroused fervent Messianic hopes. One of his messengers came to Baghdad and - probably with excessive zeal - instructed its Jewish citizens to assemble on a certain night on their flat roofs, whence they would be flown on clouds to the Messiah's camp. A goodly number of Jews spent that night on their roofs awaiting the miraculous flight.

But the rabbinical hierarchy in Baghdad, fearing reprisals by the authorities, took a hostile attitude to the pseudo-Messiah and threatened him with a ban. Not surprisingly, David al-Roy was assassinated - apparently in his sleep, allegedly by his own father- in-law, whom some interested party had bribed to do the deed.

His memory was venerated, and when Benjamin of Tudela travelled through Persia twenty years after the event, ‘they still spoke lovingly of their leader’. But the cult did not stop there. According to one theory, the six-pointed ‘shield of David’ which adorns the modern Israeli flag, started to become a national symbol with David al-Roy’s crusade. ‘Ever since,’ writes Baron, ‘it has been suggested, the six-cornered “shield of David”, theretofore mainly a decorative motif or a magical emblem, began its career toward becoming the chief national-religious symbol of Judaism. Long used interchangeably with the pentagram or the “Seal of Solomon ”, it was attributed to David in mystic and ethical German writings from the thirteenth century on, and appeared on the Jewish flag in Prague in 1527.’33

Baron appends a qualifying note to this passage, pointing out that the connection between al-Roy and the six-pointed star ‘still awaits further elucidation and proof’. However that may be, we can certainly agree with Baron’s dictum which concludes his chapter on Khazaria:

During the half millennium of its existence and its aftermath in the East European communities, this noteworthy experiment in Jewish statecraft doubtless exerted a greater influence on Jewish history than we are as yet able to envisage.




The evidence quoted in the previous pages indicates that - contrary to the traditional view held by nineteenth-century historians - the Khazars, after the defeat by the Russians (Rus) in 965, lost their empire but retained their independence within narrower frontiers, and their Judaic faith, well into the thirteenth century. They even seem to have reverted to some extent to their erstwhile predatory habits. Baron comments:

In general, the reduced Khazar kingdom persevered. It waged a more or less effective defense against all foes until the middle of the thirteenth century, when it fell victim to the great Mongol invasion set in motion by Jenghiz (Chingiz) Khan. Even then it resisted stubbornly until the surrender of all its neighbors. Its population was largely absorbed by the Golden Horde which had established the center of its empire in Khazar territory. But before and after the Mongol upheaval the Khazars sent many offshoots into the unsubdued Slavonic lands, helping ultimately to build up the great Jewish centers of eastern Europe.1

Here, then, we have the cradle of the numerically strongest and culturally dominant part of modem Jewry.

The news about Khazar heroic resistance to the Mongol conquest hangs up in thin air. Somehow it conflicts with the known outline of events. In 1222, the army of Subetai and Jebe crossed the Caucasus ridge via Darial pass from Tabriz to Don, 31 May 1223 near Mariupol overrun the Kipchak-Rus army at Kalka, approached Kyiv, and turned to Itil Bulgaria. There, the Mongol army was ambushed and trapped by Bulgar army at the Battle of Samara Bend, inflicting the only Mongol defeat during their entire campaign. Without entering Bulgaria, Subetai turned southeast to join Chingiz-Khan in Horezm. Except for incursion into Crimea, Mongols completely bypassed the Khazar lands.

In the campaign of 1236–1240, The first objective was Bulgaria (1236-37), then Ases and Burtas that bordered on Bulgaria. In the winter of 1237, Mongols turned west toward Rus, in 1238 it was all over, and the army turned to the Caucasus, where early 1239 was taken Derbent. The campaign of 1240 turned to Ukraine, then to Volynia, Galich, and Podolia, then Poland, and then Silesia and Moravia. In 1241 Mongol forces reunited in Hungary. The campaign ended in 1242 with the retreat of Batu. During that campaign, Mongols completely bypassed the Khazar lands.

However, the 1236–1240 campaign annihilated any resistance, with human losses probably in millions, with millions of refugees. Before the dust settled, major demographic changes took place. In those events, the dispersed tribes of Khazaria were a small and slender potato. The area of the Itil city was not deserted, Batu would not set up the Batu Sarai in a deserted place without any services. Possibly, at first Batu occupied the remains of the abandoned Kagan's compound, suitable for holding his retinue.

The ‘offshoots’ to which Baron refers were indeed branching out long before the destruction of the Khazar state by the Mongols - as the ancient Hebrew nation had started branching into the Diaspora long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Ethnically, the Semitic tribes on the waters of the Jordan and the Turko-Khazar tribes on the Volga (Itil) were of course ‘miles apart’, but \142\ they had at least two important formative factors in common.

Each lived at a focal junction where the great trade routes connecting east and west, north and south intersect; a circumstance which predisposed them to become nations of traders, of enterprising travelers, or ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ - as hostile propaganda has unaffectionately labeled them. But at the same time their exclusive religion fostered a tendency to keep to themselves and stick together, to establish their own communities with their own places of worship, schools, residential quarters and ghettoes (originally self-imposed) in whatever town or country they settled. This rare combination of wanderlust and ghetto-mentality, reinforced by Messianic hopes and chosen-race pride, both ancient Israelites and mediaeval Khazars shared - even though the latter traced their descent not to Shem but to Japheth.

Confusing myths with ethnology may bring unexpected results, like equating sheep transhumant foot pastoralists with horse nomadic pastoralists, cloistered tribal beliefs with syncretic international religion, and cloistered ghetto mentality with the mentality of the world traveler.


This development is well illustrated by what one might call the Khazar Diaspora in Hungary.

We remember that long before the destruction of their state, several Khazar (i.e. Bulgar) tribes, known as the Kabars (Türkic “nobles, nobility”), joined the Magyars and migrated to Hungary. Moreover, in the tenth century, the Hungarian Duke Taksony (of the Tuhsi tribe, aka Tokhars, of the Kipchak tribal union) invited a second wave of Khazar emigrants to settle in his domains (see above, III, 9) (To invite Khazars is akin to inviting a potato soup, one might invite potatoes, another carrots, a third onions). Two centuries later John Cinnamus, the Byzantine chronicler, mentions troops observing the Jewish law, fighting with the Hungarian army in Dalmatia, AD 1154.2 There may have been small numbers of ‘real Jews’ living in Hungary from Roman days, but there can be little doubt that the majority of this important portion of modern Jewry originated in the migratory waves of Kabar- Khazars who play such a dominant part in early Hungarian history.

Not only was the country, as Constantine tells us, bilingual at its beginning, but it also had a form of double kingship, a variation of the Khazar system: the king sharing power with his general in command, who bore the title of Jula or Gyula (Hungarian Gyula, Türkic Ogur Gulu(ɣ), Ulu(ɣ) “Great”, Cf. Ulubek “Great Prince”) (still a popular Hungarian first name). The system lasted to the end \143\ of the tenth century, when St. Stephen embraced the Roman Catholic faith and defeated a rebellious Gyula - who, as one might expect, was a Khazar, ‘vain in the faith and refusing to become a Christian’.3

Under Türkic social structure, the position of the Khan and Kagan is elective, and no Khan and Kagan can elect himself or appoint anybody he would wish. The elections (kurultai lit. “care of (family) ties”) were conducted by the maternal dynastic clan, following the Lateral Succession rules. The male head of the maternal dynastic clan was statutorily a Gyula (Prime Minister and Superior Judge), thus the “double kingship” of the Khan/Kagan/Kaan and Gyula. The Khazaria, Bulgaria, Suvaria, Hungary, Rus, etc. were just particular examples of the traditional social structure. Rebellious was not the Gyula, who represented the interests of the people, but the “St. Stephen”, who deigned to become a self-elected king. For The Jewish community in Hungary possibly internalized this particular social order, initially foreign to everybody excepting converts, but after four centuries and 20 generations in the Türkic lands it must have been viewed as the natural social order.

Fortunately, such misunderstandings does not affect the story.

This episode put an end to the double kingship, but not to the influence of the Khazar-Jewish community in Hungary. A reflection of that influence can be found in the ‘Golden Bull’ - the Hungarian equivalent of Magna Carta - issued AD 1222 by King Endre (Andrew) II, in which Jews were forbidden to act as mintmasters, tax collectors, and controllers of the royal salt monopoly - indicating that before the edict numerous Jews must have held these important posts. But they occupied even more exalted positions. King Endre’s custodian of the Revenues of the Royal Chamber was the Chamberlain Count Teka, a Jew of Khazar origin, a rich landowner, and apparently a financial and diplomatic genius. His signature appears on various peace treaties and financial agreements, among them one guaranteeing the payment of 2000 marks by the Austrian ruler Leopold II to the King of Hungary. One is irresistibly reminded of a similar role played by the Spanish Jew Hasdai ibn Shaprut at the court of the Caliph of Cordoba. Comparing similar episodes from the Palestinian Diaspora in the west and the Khazar Diaspora in the cast of Europe, makes the analogy between them appear perhaps less tenuous.

It is also worth mentioning that when King Endre was compelled by his rebellious nobles to issue, reluctantly, the Golden Bull, he kept Teka in offıce against the Bull’s express provisions. The Royal Chamberlain held his post happily for another eleven years, until papal pressure on the King made it advisable for Teka to resign and betake himself to Austria, where he was received with open arms. However, King Endre’s son Bela IV, obtained papal permission to call him back. Teka duly returned, and perished during the Mongol invasion.*4

*I am indebted to Mrs. St. G. Saunders for calling my attention to the Teka episode, which seems to have been overlooked in the literature on the Khazars.


The Khazar origin of the numerically and socially dominant element in the Jewish population of Hungary during the Middle Ages is thus relatively well documented. It might seem that Hungary constitutes a special case, in view of the early Magyar-Khazar connection; but in fact the Khazar influx into Hungary was merely a part of the general mass-migration from the Eurasian steppes toward the West, i.e., towards Central and Eastern Europe. The Khazars were not the only nation which sent offshoots into Hungary. Thus large numbers of the self-same Pechenegs who had chased the Magyars from the Don across the Carpathians, were forced to ask for permission to settle in Hungarian territory when they in turn were chased by the Kumans; and the Kumans shared the same fate when, a century later, they fled from the Mongols, and some 40,000 of them ‘with their slaves’ were granted asylum by the Hungarian King Bela.5

At relatively quiescent times this general westward movement of the Eurasian populations was no more than a drift; at other times it became a stampede; but the consequences of the Mongol invasion must rank on this metaphoric scale as an earthquake followed by a landslide. The warriors of Chief Tejumin, called ‘Jinghiz (Chingiz) Khan’, Lord of the Earth (lit. “Sea(-sized) Khan”, Cf. Scythian's Herkul(es) “Lake(-sized) Man”), massacred the population of whole cities as a warning to others not to resist; used prisoners as living screens in front of their advancing lines; destroyed the irrigation network of the Volga (Itil) delta which had provided the Khazar lands with rice and other staple foods; and transformed the fertile steppes into the ‘wild fields’ - dikoyeh pole - as the Russians (Rus) were later to call them: ‘an unlimited space without farmers or shepherds, through which only mercenary horsemen pass in the service of this or that rival ruler - or people escaping from such rule’.6

“Dikoyeh pole” is uncultivated land, the steppe, savanna, or prairie, the economic zone of the nomadic pastoralists who turned the “wild steppe” into a high productivity gold mine. Here we get a vision of a self-admiring desk scholar inured to sedentariness and subsistent grain production as a pinnacle of civilization.

The Black Death of 1347-8 accelerated the progressive depopulation of the former Khazar heartland between Caucasus, Don and Volga (Itil), where the steppe-culture had reached its highest \145\ level - and the relapse into barbarism was, by contrast, more drastic than in adjoining regions.

As Baron wrote: ‘The destruction or departure of industrious Jewish farmers, artisans and merchants left behind a void which in those regions has only recently begun to be filled.’7

Pizzigani map showing flourishing Itil Bulgaria - Itil area in AD 1367, far from behind a void
Caspian Sea at the bottom
Map of  AD 1367, 20 years after the he Black Death of 1347-8

Not only Khazaria was destroyed, but also the Volga (Itil) Bulgar country, together with the last Caucasian strongholds of the Alans and Kumans, and the southern Russian (Rus) principalities, including Kiev. During the period of disintegration of the Golden Horde, from the fourteenth century onward, the anarchy became, it possible, even worse. ‘In most of the European steppes emigration was the only way left open for populations who wanted to secure their lives and livelihood’.8 The migration toward safer pastures was a protracted, intermittent process which went on for several centuries. The Khazar exodus was part of the general picture.

It had been preceded, as already mentioned, by the founding of Khazar colonies and settlements in various places in the Ukraine and southern Russia. There was a flourishing Jewish community in Kiev long before and after the Rus took the town from the Khazars. Similar colonies existed in Perislavel and Chernigov. A Rabbi Mosheh of Kiev studied in France around 1160, and a Rabbi Abraham of Chernigov studied in 1181 in the Talmud School of London. The ‘Lay of Igor’s Host’ mentions a famous contemporary Russian (Rus) poet called Kogan - possibly a combination of Cohen (priest) and Kagan.9 Some time after Sarkel, which the Russians (Rus) called Biela Veza, was destroyed the Khazars built a town of the same name near Chernigov.10

For the sake of accuracy, the historical background after the end of conquest came to normal, under a new management. In the religious sphere, so dear to the author, not only religious tolerance was restored, but specifically protected were the religious institutions of all shades, they were specifically exempted from taxation, an injury to a religious institutions was a criminal offence. Yes, the Kipchak Tengriist government equally protected Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and any other religion. Religious intolerance became a local affair, emanating from the Christian and Islamic institutions, now free to spew vile and hatred. Religious intolerance gained popularity with local political leaders, eager to mobilize subject population under religious banners.

Peaceful time lasted from 1250s to 1500s, with intermittent disturbances in 1360–1370s, 1420s–1470s, and at the end of the Kipchak Khanate state 1480s–1502, for a total of 6 generations. Peasants were free till 1597, long after the fall of the Kipchak Khanate, the rest of the population were free, and the greatest turbulence was caused by the shift of the power to Moscow and the expansion of the Muscovy. The intermittent political disturbances affected the ruling elites, and probably raised the levels of panic and exoduses.

A topic not mentioned in the study is the language of communication. Khazaria was more than just a multi-lingual state. Khazars, Bulgars, and Suvars spoke very close Ogur-type dialects, thus the Bulgar language of the majority of the population likely was a lingua franca in the Khazar state. That language probably remained a lingua franca in the Kipchak Khanate. The areas under the Rus control gradually mutually Slavicized and Türkified, giving a rise to the Russian language. Religion had no bearing on the native vernaculars and the lingua franca. The Türkic converts to Judaism spoke Türkic vernaculars prior and after their migration. A switch to a new language happened within the first few generations at the new community. The Türkic converts to Islam spoke Türkic vernaculars prior and after their conversion. The Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Slavic remained strictly liturgical languages. The Tengrian liturgy was conducted in the local vernaculars.

There is an abundance of ancient place names in the Ukraine and Poland, which derive from ‘Khazar’ or ‘Zhid’ (Jew): Zydowo, Kozarzewek, Kozara, Kozarzow, Zhydowska Vola, Zydaticze, and so on. They may have once been villages, or just temporary encampments of Khazar-Jewish communities on their long trek to the west.11 Similar place-names can also be found in the Carpathian and Tatra mountains, and in the eastern provinces of Austria. Even the ancient Jewish cemeteries of Cracow and \146\ Sandomierz, both called ‘Kaviory’, are assumed to be of Khazar-Kabar origin.

While the main route of the Khazar exodus led to the west, some groups of people were left behind, mainly in the Crimea and the Caucasus, where they formed Jewish enclaves surviving into modern times. In the ancient Khazar stronghold of Tamatarkha (Tamatarkhan) (Taman), facing the Crimea across the straits of Kerch, we hear of a dynasty of Jewish princes who ruled in the fifteenth century under the tutelage of the Genovese Republic, and later of the Crimean Tartars. The last of them, Prince Zakharia, conducted negotiations with the Prince of Muscovi, who invited Zakharia to come to Russia (Rus) and let himself be baptized in exchange for receiving the privileges of a Russian (Rus) nobleman. Zakharia refused, but Poliak has suggested that in other cases ‘the introduction of Khazar Jewish elements into exalted positions in the Muscovite state may have been one of the factors which led to the appearance of the “Jewish heresy” (Zhidovstbuyushtchik) among Russian (Rus) priests and noblemen in the sixteenth century, and of the sect of Sabbath-obscrvcrs (Subbotniki) which is still widespread among Cossacks and peasants’.12

Another vestige of the Khazar nation are the ‘Mountain Jews’ in the north-eastern Caucasus, who apparently stayed behind in their original habitat when the others left. They are supposed to number around eight thousand and live in the vicinity of other tribal remnants of the olden days: Kipchaks and Oghuz. They call themselves Dagh Chufuty (Highland Jews) (Türkic dag “mountain”, chufut “double”, kale “fortress”,  chufut  kale  “double fortress” in Crimea; the name of the Crimean fortress was associated with Jewish population) in the Tat (Türkic “Alien”, i.e. Persian, Cf. Tatar “Alien, Stranger People”) language which they have adopted from another Caucasian tribe; but little else is known about them.

Mountain Jews are Sephardic Jews, only obliquely related to the Khazar Ashkenazim of the study, without genetic or cultural connections, and only with a peculiar religious commonality. Culturally, Mountain Jews were indistinguishable from the surrounding Türkified sedentary populations of the Caucasus. The Mountain Jews, with some religious brethren from around Mediterranean were instrumental in the Khazarian brand of the Judaism, with its peculiar ecclesiastic terminology and liturgical rites.

The “adaptation” of the Tat language, which implies that the Jewish-Persian religious exiles did not know Persian idiom after a millennium of dwelling in Mesopotamia, should rest with the dear departed inventors of that idea.

Sephardic Jews typically belong to Y-DNA J1 and J2 typical Middle Eastern haplogroups. In that, they overlap with the Ashkenazim of the J1 and J2 haplogroups, 20-40%. Another typical Middle Eastern haplogroups E1b1b of the Middle Eastern origin with a leap to Africa, and G of the Middle Eastern origin, are also shared by Sephardic and Ashkenazim Jews, in the range of 10-20% of E1b1b and 7-10% of G. The total Middle Eastern genetic inheritance (E + J + G) at Sephardim and Ashkenazim stands about the same, 55-70%. On that substrate, Sephardim and Ashkenazim overlay quite different admixtures, Sephardim three times more than Ashkenazim of the “Balkan” haplogroup I, 12% vs. 4%, attesting that Ashkenazim originated much further away from the European Balkans. The same is attested by the ratio of the R1a haplogroup, which reached Balkans at about 9,000 YBP from the Central Asia via the Middle East, Sephardic 4%, Ashkenazim 13%, attesting that Ashkenazim originated much closer to the Central Asia or had a greater infusion of R1a related to its Balkan route. R1a has been uncovered in the Hunnic kurgans, attesting to its affiliation with the Türkic Ogur phylum, thus with the Scythians, Huns, Usuns, Bulgars, Suvars, Khazars, Ases-Alans, and Tokhars, to list the most famous suspects. The ratio of the exclusively Türkic R1b haplogroup, which reached the Eastern Europe from Siberia via a northern route at about 8-7,000 YBP, stands at Sephardic 30% and Ashkenazim 12%. That attest that Sephards intermixed with the Türkic Oguz phylum, probably of the Sarmat origin of the Vandal nomadic wave to the southwestern Europe (Vandals, Goths, Burgunds, Alans). Given that the Sephardim are demographically small (2.2 mln vs. 12 mln Ashkenazim), it did not take a massive admixture to create a very significant ratio of 30%. The 12% ratio of the R1b haplogroup at Ashkenazim attest to a much more dispersed origin, since the Sarmat admixture could be an input from the Germanic soil, from the European Celtic phylum, and later from the Khazar mixture of the Bulgars and Suvars, to list the most famous suspects.

Tentatively allowing for a 0.4/0.2/0.4 Germanic/Celtic/Khazar split (or 5% + 2% + 5%), and the initial floor of 4% (before the Sephardim/Ashkenazim separation at the turn of the eras and after the Sephardim R1a example), we guesstimate that the modern component of the Khazar R1b contribution started with 15,000 males, or 30,000 migrants of both sexes:

Source: http://www.scottmanning.com/archives/World%20Population%20Estimates%20Interpolated%20and%20Averaged.pdf
Ashkenazim in 2000 12 mln
New Era R1b admixture (12% - 4%) = 8%
Khazar Turkic portion 8% x 0.4 = 3%%
Khazar Turkic R1b fraction (both sexes) 12 mln  x 3% = 360,000 people
Khazar Turkic  R1b fraction (males) 1/2 x 360,000 = 200,000 men (reverse flow of non-Turkic fraction from other sources is included into 0.6 Germanic/Celtic contribution)
Khazar Turkic R1b fraction (males) population growth, period 650 years from 1000 to 1650 AD, factor 0.041%/annum, 15,000 to 19,000
Khazar Turkic R1b fraction (males) population growth, period 350 years from 1650 to 2000 AD, factor 0.68%/annum, 19,000 to 200,000

The numerical assessment is built on a stack of approximations, and can only  produce a blurry picture that needs to be corrected for other factors, like
1. Probably, the Khazar genetic chart was a motley picture that carried no more than 30% of R1b and 20% R1a. A modern extreme case is that of the Baskort Abdaly (Ephtalites) community, with 65% R1b, 20% R1a, and 15% others. The Khazar Turkic population was definitely more motley than the today's Abdaly. Since we calculated only the R1b contribution, that correction would double the Khazar Jewish migrant population from the base of 30,000 to 60,000 migrants of both sexes.
2. The Jewish Holocaust of 6 mln can be accounted for by adding 9,000,000 to the modern number of 12 mln, i.e. by increasing the modern number and the initial number by the same factor of 1.75. That would increase the Khazar Jewish migrant population from the base of 30,000 to 52,000 migrants of both sexes, or the corrected number of 60,000 in the item 1 above to the 105,000 one-time migrants.
3. The R1b number of 15,000 depicts the centuries-long process as an one-time event. Since migrations tide and ebb, that demographically means that the earlier migrations are smaller, and the later migrations are larger.
4. Political situation makes a great difference in numbers. After 1.5 mln Jews emigrated from the Former USSR, the census number of Jews there not only did not decrease, it increased by 2 mln, making those additional 2 mln people eligible for emigration under the Soviet rules.
5. The estimate of 105,000 one-time migrants in the year 1000 AD equates to the modern population in 2000 AD of 1.5 mln out of the total 12 mln (increase factor 14 times). The Khazar portion is significant, but far from dominant.

The estimated population growth rates established by different sources are fairly consistent, the variations pertain to the absolute numbers of the populations. Since both the absolute number of the modern Ashkenazim population and the fraction of the haplogroup R1b in that population are fairly accurate, the conceptual assessment of the root population for the modern population is also fairly accurate. A 100% underestimate error would double the Khazar-derived segment of the Ashkenazim to 3mln, without a qualitative impact, the Khazar proportion would remain significant, but far from dominant. The total Middle Eastern genetic inheritance (E + J + G) at Sephardim and Ashkenazim would remain about the same, 55-70%.

The assessment result is corroborated on the intuitive level. Since 55-70% or 3.3 to 4.2 mln of the male haplogroups hail from the Middle East, the percent of admixtures stands at 45-30%, or to 1.8 to 2.7 mln, with the purely Türkic R1b contributing 30% of 2 mln and 12% of 10 mln, or about 1 mln male carriers. A 14-fold growth means 0.07 mln donors ca. 1000 AD. Doubling that to account for the non-Middle Eastern Türkic genetic markers would bring the number to up to 0.15 mln of the initial “Khazar” migrants. Half that, or double it, the order of magnitude is clear.

World growth rate
For illustration only, growth factors used for this assessment were taken from the above referenced PDF file table

Other Khazar enclaves have survived in the Crimea, and no doubt elsewhere too in localities which once belonged to their empire. But these are now no more than historic curios compared \147\ to the mainstream of the Khazar migration into the Polish-Lithuanian regions - and the formidable problems it poses to historians and anthropologists.


The regions in eastern Central Europe, in which the Jewish emigrants from Khazaria found a new home and apparent safety, had only begun to assume political importance toward the end of the first millennium.

Around 962, several Slavonic tribes formed an alliance under the leadership of the strongest among them, the Polans, which became the nucleus of the Polish state. Thus the Polish rise to eminence started about the same time as the Khazar decline (Sarkel was destroyed in 965). It is significant that Jews play an important role in one of the earliest Polish legends relating to the foundation of the Polish kingdom. We are told that when the allied tribes decided to elect a king to rule them all, they chose a Jew, named Abraham Prokownik (lit. “contractor, serviceman”).13 He may have been a rich and educated Khazar merchant, from whose experience the Slav backwoodsmen hoped to benefit - or just a legendary figure; but, if so, the legend indicates that Jews of his type were held in high esteem. At any rate, so the story goes on, Abraham, with unwonted modesty, resigned the crown in favor of a native peasant named Piast, who thus became the founder of the historic Piast dynasty which ruled Poland from circa 962 to 1370.

Whether Abraham Prochownik existed or not, there are plenty of indications that the Jewish immigrants from Khazaria were welcomed as a valuable asset to the country’s economy and government administration. The Poles under the Piast dynasty, and their Baltic neighbors, the Lithuanians,* had rapidly \148\ expanded their frontiers, and were in dire need of immigrants to colonize their territories, and to create an urban civilization.

The Polish memory recalls that at the root of their state stood Sarmats. The term “Sarmat”, however, in the 11th c. could only be a literary term, a backward projection. In the 11th c., people operated only with the terms they knew, the actual tribal names The real names of their neighbors, leaders, and masters, who never used or knew the term “Sarmat”. Absent an 11th c. Ptolemy, informational vacuum is filled with reconstructions composed by supremacistic neighbors and nationalistic locals. The neighbors describe their neighbors as chattel, the locals describe their history as heroic. They mutually renounce the other's line as nonsense, and both are not amiss in their criticism.

Combining all elements moves the story from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional space. The European Sarmatia, starting from the 2nd c. BC, had both the dominating Sarmat horse pastoral tribes and the local peasant and forager chattel of various origins. A millennium later, in a social drift, nobility grew up from the former conquerors, and society and its subjects were consolidated. The locals knew their local leaders, and that's how they retained their memory. Absent major cataclysms, status quo is frozen, demographic changes are glacial with population growth at 0.041%/annum, tradition rules the day. In such life, the idea that a lowly trader would become a king is absurd. The idea that a king would resign the crown in favor of a native member of the chattel class is absurd. So is the idea of the royal modesty.

Rather, a royal personality like the Bulgar Shambat or Asparukh or Arbat, or the Viking rulers, of blue blood, announced his dominance or was called to preside over the subject population inclusive of the prior nobility. It may happen, though, that the new prince would be of Jewish persuasion, like the Mongol Sartak was of Christian persuasion, and the Mongol Uzbek was of Islamic persuasion. A palace coup would eventually install a member of the old nobility who was in charge of the local militia or had his own powerful retinue, Piast in Poland, Vladimir in Rus, Simeon (Shambat) in the Danube Bulgaria. Such scenario is more realistic than the absurdity created by the local memories or skeptical neighbors.

The Jewish element of the story, however, is interesting, because Abraham Prokownik (lit. “contractor, serviceman”), as expressed by his title-name, apparently was something like a hired Duke similar to the Viking princes in the Slavic principalities, or an equivalent of the Master of Household at a royal court, or a mercenary commander, and the like. He apparently served for a pay, on a contract. Under a Türkic system, the position would be that of a serf level, but in Europe it would rather be a position for a noble. In any case, in no case Abraham's religion was a marker of his ethnicity or language.

*The two nations became united in a series of treaties, starting in 1386, into the Kingdom of Poland. For the sake of brevity, I shall use the term 'Polish Jews' to refer to both countries - regardless of the fact that at the end of the eighteenth century Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria, and its inhabitants became officially citizens of these three countries. Actually the so- called Pale of Settlement within Imperial Russia, to which Jews were confined from 1792 onward, coincided with the areas annexed from Poland plus parts of the Ukraine. Only certain privileged categories of Jews were permitted to live outside the Pale; these, at the time of the 1897 census, numbered only 200000, as compared to nearly five million inside the Pale - i.e., within former Polish territory.

They encouraged, first, the immigration of German peasants, burghers and craftsmen, and later of migrants from the territories occupied by the Golden Horde*, including Armenians, southern Slavs and Khazars.

Not all these migrations were voluntary. They included large numbers of prisoners of war, such as Crimean Tartars, who were put to cultivate the estates of Lithuanian and Polish landlords in the conquered southern provinces (at the close of the fourteenth century the Lithuanian principality stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea). But in the fifteenth century the Ottoman Turks, conquerors of Byzantium, advanced northward, and the landlords transferred the people from their estates in the border areas further inland.14

Among the populations thus forcibly transferred was a strong contingent of (the Türkic-speaking)  Karaites - the fundamentalist Jewish sect which rejected rabbinical learning. According to a tradition which has survived among Karaites into modern times, their ancestors were brought to Poland by the great Lithuanian warrior-prince Vytautas (Vitold) at the end of the fourteenth century as prisoners of war from Sulkhat in the Crimea.15 In favor of this tradition speaks the fact that Vitold in 1388 granted a charter of rights to the Jews of Troki, and the French traveler, de Lanoi, found there ‘a great number of Jews’ speaking a different language from the Germans and natives.16 That language was - and still is - a Turkish (Türkic, specifically Kipchak) dialect, in fact the nearest among living languages to the lingua Cumanica, which was spoken in the former Khazar territories at the time of the Golden Horde. According to Zajaczkowski,17 this language is still used in speech and prayer in the \149\ surviving Karaite communities in Troki, Vilna, Ponyeviez, Lutzk and Halitch.

*Poland and Hungary were also briefly invaded by the Mongols in 1241-42, but they were not occupied - which made all the difference to their future history.

The Karaites also claim that before the Great Plague of 1710 they had some thirty-two or thirty-seven communities in Poland and Lithuania.

They call their ancient dialect “the language of Kedar” — just as Rabbi Petachia in the twelfth century called their habitat north of the Black Sea “the land of Kedar”; and what he has to say about them — sitting in the dark through the Sabbath, ignorance of rabbinical learning — fits their sectarian attitude. Accordingly, Zajaczkowski, the eminent contemporary Turcologist, considers the Karaites from the linguistic point of view as the purest present-day representatives of the ancient Khazars. About the reasons why this sect preserved its language for about half a millennium, while the main body of Khazar Jews shed it in favor of the Yiddish lingua franca, more will have to be said later.

Kedar may stand for Khazar, with -z-/-d- alteration, a regular occurrence in some Türkic and Germanic vernaculars. On the other hand, such alteration is impossible within the same language, and even more so for their own ethnonym. The -s-/-z- in Khazar is attested by a number of alien languages. “Kedar” may mean a number of different things, but Khazar is the least likely case. There is also a sea of difference between the Ogur languages of Khazars, Bulgars, and Suvars, and the Oguz languages of the Kipchaks and Kumans.


The Polish kingdom adopted from its very beginnings under the Piast dynasty a resolutely Western orientation, together with Roman Catholicism. But compared with its western neighbors it was culturally and economically an underdeveloped country. Hence the policy of attracting immigrants — Germans from the west, Armenians and Khazar Jews from the east — and giving them every possible encouragement for their enterprise, including Royal Charters detailing their duties and special privileges.

In the Charter issued by Boleslav the Pious in 1264, and confirmed by Casimir the Great in 1334, Jews were granted the right to maintain their own synagogues, schools and courts; to hold landed property, and engage in any trade or occupation they chose. Under the rule of King Stephen Báthory (1575-86) (Báthory is a Hungarian allophone of Türkic Batyr “Mighty Hero”) Jews were granted a Parliament of their own which met twice a year and had the power to levy taxes on their co-religionists. After the destruction of their country, Khazar Jewry had entered on a new chapter in its history.

A striking illustration for their privileged condition is given in a papal breve, issued in the second half of the thirteenth century, probably by Pope Clement IV, and addressed to an unnamed Polish prince. In this document the Pope lets it be known that the Roman authorities are well aware of the existence of a considerable number of synagogues in several Polish cities — indeed no less than five synagogues in one city alone.* He deplores the fact that these synagogues are reported to be taller than the churches, more stately and ornamental, and roofed with colorfully painted leaden plates, making the adjacent Catholic churches look poor in comparison. (One is reminded of Masudi’s gleeful remark that the minaret of the main mosque was the tallest building in Itil.) The complaints in the breve are further authenticated by a decision of the Papal legate, Cardinal Guido, dated 1267, stipulating that Jews should not be allowed more than one synagogue to a town.

We gather from these documents, which are roughly contemporaneous with the Mongol conquest of Khazaria, that already at that time there must have been considerable numbers of Khazars present in Poland if they had in several towns more than one synagogue; and that they must have been fairly prosperous to build them so “stately and ornamental”. This leads us to the question of the approximate size and composition of the Khazar immigration into Poland.

The presumption that all Polish Jews were of Khazar extraction seems to be overly optimistic, unless Khazaria and/or Khazars are specifically referenced in the sources.

Regarding the numbers involved, we have no reliable information to guide us. We remember that the Arab sources speak of Khazar armies numbering three hundred thousand men involved in the Muslim-Khazar wars (Chapter I, 7); and even if allowance is made for quite wild exaggerations, this would indicate a total Khazar population of at least half a million souls. Ibn Fadlan gave the number of tents of the Volga Bulgars as 50,000, which would mean a population of 300000-400000, i.e., roughly the same order of magnitude as the Khazars’. On the other hand, the number of Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom in the seventeenth century is also estimated (guestimated) by modern historians \151\ at 500,000 (5 per cent of the total population).

Projecting the 2000 population of 38mln back 350 years to 1650 with a growth factor 0.68%/annum, 38,000,000 from 3,500,000 in 1650, and another 650 years back from 1650 to 1000 with a growth factor 0.041%/annum, 3,500,000 from 2,300,000, and allowing for the same wild guess of 5% Jewish component gives 115,000 Jews instead of 500,000.
Source: http://www.scottmanning.com/archives/World%20Population%20Estimates%20Interpolated%20and%20Averaged.pdf,

The 5% may also be a super-optimistic allowance.

*Probably Wroclav or Crakow.

These figures do not fit in too badly with the known facts about a protracted Khazar migration via the Ukraine to Poland-Lithuania, starting with the destruction of Sarkel and the rise of the Piast dynasty toward the end of the first millennium, accelerating during the Mongol conquest, and being more or less completed in the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries — by which time the steppe had been emptied and the Khazars had apparently been wiped off the face of the earth. Altogether this population transfer was spread out over five or six centuries of trickle and flow. If we take into account the considerable influx of Jewish refugees from Byzantium and the Muslim world into Khazaria, and a small population increase among the Khazars themselves, it appears plausible that the tentative figures for the Khazar population at its peak in the eighth century should be comparable to that of the Jews in Poland in the seventeenth century, at least by order of magnitude — give or take a few hundred thousand as a token of our ignorance.

There is irony hidden in these numbers. According to the article “statistics” in the Jewish Encyclopedia, in the sixteenth century the total Jewish population of the world amounted to about one million. This seems to indicate, as Poliak, Kutschera and others have pointed out, that during the Middle Ages the majority of those who professed the Judaic faith were Khazars. A substantial part of this majority went to Poland, Lithuania, Hungary and the Balkans, where they founded that Eastern Jewish community which in its turn became the dominant majority of world Jewry. Even if the original core of that community was diluted and augmented by immigrants from other regions (see below), its predominantly Khazar-Turkish (i.e. Türkic) derivation appears to be supported by strong evidence, and should at least be regarded as a theory worth serious discussion.

The world growth rate's more than 16-fold increase at about 1650 from 0.041%/annum to 0.68%/annum is more than a drastic difference from the linear model employed previously. The growth rate changes do not impact the relative proportions, but throw a monkey wrench into absolute numbers. Comparisons of the absolute numbers of the eight century population sizes with the 17th century population sizes do not hold water.

Additional reasons for attributing the leading role in the growth \152\ and development of the Jewish community in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe mainly to the Khazar element, and not to immigrants from the West, will be discussed in the chapters that follow.

*The last of the ancient Khazar villages on the Dnieper were destroyed in the Cossack revolt under Chmelnicky in the seventeenth century, and the survivors gave a further powerful boost to the number of Jews in the already existing settlement areas of Poland-Lithuania.

But it may be appropriate at this point to quote the Polish historian, Adam Vetulani (my italics):

Polish scholars agree that these oldest settlements were founded by Jewish emigres from the Khazar state and Russia, while the Jews from Southern and Western Europe began to arrive and settle only- later ...and that a certain proportion at least of the Jewish population (in earlier times, the main bulk) originated from the east, from the Khazar country, and later from Kievian Russia (Rus).21


So much for size. But what do we know of the social structure and composition of the Khazar immigrant community?

The first impression one gains is a striking similarity between certain privileged positions held by Khazar Jews in Hungary and in Poland in those early days. Both the Hungarian and Polish sources refer to Jews employed as mintmasters, administrators of the royal revenue, controllers of the salt monopoly, tax-collectors and ‘money-lenders’ - i.e., bankers. This parallel suggests a common origin of those two immigrant communities; and as we can trace the origins of the bulk of Hungarian Jewry to the Magyar-Khazar nexus, the conclusion seems self-evident.

The early records reflect the part played by immigrant Jews in the two countries’ budding economic life. That it was an important part is not surprising, since foreign trade and the levying of customs duties had been the Khazars’ principal source of income in the past. They had the experience which their new hosts were lacking, and it was only logical that they were called in to advise and participate in the management of the finances of court and nobility. The coins minted in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with Polish inscriptions in Hebrew lettering (see Chapter II, 1) are somewhat bizarre relics of these activities. The exact purpose they served is still something of a \153\ mystery.

Some bear the name of a king (e.g., Leszck, Mieszko), others are inscribed ‘From the House of Abraham ben Joseph the Prince’ (possibly the minter-banker himself), or show just a word of benediction: ‘Luck’ or ‘Blessing’. Significantly, contemporary Hungarian sources also speak of the practice of minting coins from silver provided by Jewish owners.22

It is only natural that the Bek (Prince) would use his real name in lieu of the local equivalent Prokownik. Prince/Bek is a Prime Minister position immediately below Kagan, traditionally the head of the female dynastic line of Hatun (Queen). A marital union, where Jews are treated as a single tribe, is a logical arrangement in a tradition-driven (i.e. Common Law) Türkic society. That strongly attests that a Türkic prince of the Ashina line moved his entire mini-state domain, with intact administrative apparatus, military, nobility, Türkic subjects, and local dependents, to Poland.

However - in contrast to Western Europe - finance and commerce were far from being the only fields of Jewish activity. Some rich emigrants became landowners in Poland as Count Teka was in Hungary; Jewish land-holdings comprising a whole village of Jewish tanners are recorded, for instance, in the vicinity of Breslau betore 1203;23 and in the early days there must have been Khazar peasants in considerable numbers, as the ancient Khazar place-names seem to indicate.

The accent on bankers is exaggerated, only a few of them are needed in a country. Another 100 may be other officials listed above. The bulk of the Jewish population were artisans and pastoralists, since no Jewish peasantry could have arisen in Persia.

A tantalizing glimpse of how some of these villages may have come into being is provided by the Karaite records mentioned before; they relate how Prince Vitold settled a group of Karaite prisoners-of-war in ‘Krasna’, providing them with houses, orchards and land to a distance of one and a half miles. (‘Krasna’ has been tentatively identified with the Jewish small town Krasnoia in Podolia.)21

But farming did not hold out a future for the Jewish community. There were several reasons for this. The rise of feudalism in the fourteenth century gradually transformed the peasants of Poland into serfs, forbidden to leave their villages, deprived of freedom of movement. At the same time, under the joint pressure of the ecclesiastic hierarchy and the feudal landlords, the Polish Parliament in 1496 forbade the acquisition of agricultural land by Jews. But the process of alienation from the soil must have started long before that. Apart from the specific causes just mentioned - religious discrimination, combined with the degradation of the free peasants into serfs - the transformation of the predominantly agricultural nation of Khazars (what a nonsense, to call a state of nomadic pastoralists a “predominantly agricultural nation”) into a predominantly urban community reflected a common phenomenon in the history of migrations. Faced with different climatic conditions and farming methods on the one hand, and on the \154\ other with unexpected opportunities for an easier living offered by urban civilization, immigrant populations are apt to change their occupational structure within a few generations. The offspring of Abruzzi peasants in the New World became waiters and restaurateurs, the grandsons of Polish farmers may become engineers or psychoanalysts.*

However, the transformation of Khazar Jewry into Polish Jewry did not entail any brutal break with the past, or loss of identity. It was a gradual, organic process of change, which - as Poliak has convincingly shown - preserved some vital traditions of Khazar communal life in their new country. This was mainly achieved through the emergence of a social structure, or way of life, found nowhere else in the world Diaspora: the Jewish small town, in Hebrew ayarah, in Yiddish shtetl, in Polish miastecko (myastechko). All three designations are diminutives, which, however, do not necessarily refer to smallness in size (some were quite big small-towns) but to the limited rights of municipal self- government they enjoyed (rather, all of them started as small places, and kept their traditional designation thereafter).

The shtetl should not be confused with the ghetto. The latter consisted of a street or quarter in which Jews were compelled to live within the confines of a Gentile town. It was, from the second half of the sixteenth century onward, the universal habitat of Jews everywhere in the Christian, and most of the Muslim, world. The ghetto was surrounded by walls, with gates that were locked at night. It gave rise to claustrophobia and mental inbreeding, but also to a sense of relative security in times of trouble. As it could not expand in size, the houses were tall and narrow-chested, and permanent overcrowding created deplorable sanitary conditions. It took great spiritual strength for people living in such circumstances to keep their self-respect. Not all of them did.

The shtetl, on the other hand, was a quite different proposition - a type of settlement which, as already said, existed only in Poland-Lithuania and nowhere else in the world. It was a \155\ self-contained country town with an exclusively or predominantly Jewish population.

*Thc opposite process of colonists settling on virgin soil applies to migrants from more highly developed to under-developed regions.

The shtetl's origins probably date back to the thirteenth century, and may represent the missing link, as it were, between the market towns of Khazaria and the Jewish settlements in Poland.

The economic and social function of these semi-rural, semi- urban agglomerations seems to have been similar in both countries. In Khazaria, as later in Poland, they provided a network of trading posts or market towns which mediated between the needs of the big towns and the countryside. They had regular fairs at which sheep and cattle, alongside the goods manufactured in the towns and the products of the rural cottage industries were sold or bartered; at the same time they were the centers where artisans plied their crafts, from wheelwrights to blacksmiths, silversmiths, tailors, Kosher butchers, millers, bakers and candlestick-makers. There were also letter-writers for the illiterate, synagogues for the faithful, inns for travelers, and a heder - Hebrew for ‘room’, which served as a school. There were itinerant story-tellers and folk bards (some of their names, such as Velvel Zbarzher, have been preserved)25 travelling from shtetl to shtetl in Poland-and no doubt earlier on in Khazaria, if one is to judge by the survival of story-tellers among Oriental (and European, Cf. ministrels) people to our day.

Some particular trades became virtually a Jewish monopoly in Poland. One was dealing in timber-which reminds one that timber was the chief building material and an important export in Khazaria; another was transport. ‘The dense net of shtetls ' writes Poliak,26 ‘made it possible to distribute manufactured goods over the whole country by means of the superbly built Jewish type of horse cart (that implies that the Scythian wagons, where people lived nearly permanently during pastoral rounds, and which for millennia traveled on rugged terrain without any roads, mechanical shops, and roadside hardware stores, were inferior). The preponderance of this kind of transport, especially in the east of the country, was so marked - amounting to a virtual monopoly - that the Hebrew word for carter, ha'al agalah* was incorporated into the Russian (Rus) language as balagula (Russian for “blabber”, but compare Eng. haul, hale, hauler, haulage).Only the development of the railway in the second half of the nineteenth century led to a decline in this trade.’

*Literally ‘master of the cart’.

Now this specialization in coach-building and cartering could certainly not have developed in the closed ghettoes of Western Jewry; it unmistakably points to a Khazar origin. The people of the ghettoes were sedentary; while the Khazars, like other semi-nomadic people (semi-nomadic nomadic Khazars?), used horse- or ox-drawn carts to transport their tents, goods and chattel (chattel in wagons?) - including royal tents the size of a circus, fit to accommodate several hundred people. They certainly had the know-how to negotiate the roughest tracks in their new country.

Other specifically Jewish occupations were inn-keeping, the running of flour mills and trading in furs - none of them found in the ghettoes of Western Europe.

Such, in broad outlines, was the structure of the Jewish shtetl in Poland. Some of its features could be found in old market towns in any country; others show a more specific affinity with what we know - little though it is - about the townships of Khazaria, which were probably the prototypes of the Polish shtetl.

To these specific features should be added the ‘pagoda-style’ of the oldest surviving wooden shtetl synagogues dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which is totally different from both the native style of architecture and from the building style adopted by Western Jews and replicated later on in the ghettoes of Poland. The interior decoration of the oldest shtetl synagogues is also quite different from the style of the Western ghetto; the walls of the shtetl synagogue were covered with Moorish arabesques, and with animal figures characteristic of the Persian influence found in Magyar-Khazar artefacts (I, 13) and in the decorative style brought to Poland by Armenian immigrants.27

The traditional garb of Polish Jewry is also of unmistakably Eastern origin. The typical long silk kaftan may have been an imitation of the coat worn by the Polish nobility, which itself was copied from the outfit of the Mongols in the Golden Horde - fashions travel across political divisions; but we know that kaftans were worn long before that by the nomads of the steppes. The \157\ skull-cap (yarmolka) is worn to this day by orthodox Jews - and by the Uzbeks and other Turkish people in the Soviet Union.

 On top of the skull-cap men wore the streimel, an elaborate round hat rimmed with fox-fur, which the Khazars copied from the Khasaks (?) - or vice versa. As already mentioned, the trade in fox and sable furs, which had been flourishing in Khazaria, became another virtual Jewish monopoly in Poland. As for the women, they wore, until the middle of the nineteenth century, a tall white turban, which was an exact copy of the Jauluk worn by Khasak (?) and Turkmen women.28 (Nowadays orthodox Jewesses have to wear instead of a turban a wig made of their own hair, which is shaved off when they get married.)

One might also mention in this context - though somewhat dubiously - the Polish Jews’ odd passion for gifillte (stuffed) fish, a national dish which the Polish Gentiles adopted. ‘Without fish’, the saying went, ‘there is no Sabbath.’ Was it derived from distant memories of life on the Caspian, where fish was the staple diet?

Life in the shtetl is celebrated with much romantic nostalgia in Jewish literature and folklore. Thus we read in a modern survey of its customs29 about the joyous way its inhabitants celebrated the Sabbath:

Wherever one is, he will try to reach home in time to greet the Sabbath with his own family. The pedlar (peddler) travelling from village to village, the itinerant tailor, shoemaker, cobbler, the merchant off on a trip, all will plan, push, hurry, trying to reach home before sunset on Friday evening.

As they press homeward the shammes calls through the streets of the shtetl, ‘Jews to the bathhouse!’ A functionary of the synagogue, the shammes is a combination of sexton (caretaker) and beadle (church marshal, officer). He speaks with an authority more than his own, for when he calls ‘Jews to the bathhouse’ he is summoning them to a commandment.

The most vivid evocation of life in the shtetl is the surrealistic amalgam of fact and fantasy in the paintings and lithographs of Marc Chagall, where biblical symbols appear side by side with \158\ the bearded carter wielding his whip and wistful rabbis in kaftan and yarmolka.

It was a weird community, reflecting its weird origins. Some of the earliest small-towns were probably founded by prisoners of war - such as the Karaites of Troki - whom Polish and Lithuanian nobles were anxious to settle on their empty lands. But the majority of these settlements were products of the general migration away from the ‘wild fields’ which were turning into deserts. ‘After the Mongol conquest’, wrote Poliak, ‘when the Slav villages wandered westward, the Khazar shtetls went with them.’30 The pioneers of the new settlements were probably rich Khazar traders who constantly travelled across Poland on the much frequented trade routes into Hungary. ‘The Magyar and Kabar migration into Hungary blazed the trail for the growing Khazar settlements in Poland: it turned Poland into a transit area between the two countries with Jewish communities.’31 Thus the travelling merchants were familiar with conditions in the prospective areas of resettlement, and had occasion to make contact with the landowners in search of tenants. ‘The landlord would enter into an agreement with such rich and respected Jews’ (we are reminded of Abraham Prokownik) ‘as would settle on his estate and bring in other settlers. They would, as a rule, choose people from the place where they had lived.’32 These colonists would be an assorted lot of farmers, artisans and craftsmen, forming a more or less self-supporting community. Thus the Khazar shtetl would be transplanted and become a Polish shtetl. Farming would gradually drop out, but by that time the adaptation to changed conditions would have been completed.

The nucleus of modern Jewry thus followed the old recipe: strike out for new horizons but stick together.

The idyllic picture of travelling migrants has two aspects, surrealism and idiocy. A vision of a desk scholar of the today's Caribbean Cruise-type sightseeing tourism in the 10th c. is both. To deliver Ibn Fadlan and his scribe from the Bagdad to Bulgar, a distance of 3,500 km, took a 6,000 km route, a 200 men army, a year of time, and a portable treasury. A distance from Itil to Cracow is about the same. There were no world trade convention, no free trade, no road safety. Any traveler was just a loose piece of gold slated for delivery to a slave market, as the Kievan Letter attests, “His brother went on the road, and there came 12.brigands who slew him and took his money.” Any traveler or a group of travelers had to buy protection and defense. In today's terms it is corruption and patronage. From an incoming army one could hide for a time in some hideout, but migrants had to arrange beforehand a host and what today is called smuggler, a UPS of the day that would hopefully deliver the goods to the destination, and ensure good faith acceptance at the destination. That was the environment where the “travelling merchants” were operating. Even in the 19th c., under a unified state and established intra-state communications, to deliver goods to a nearest trading center was an adventure of a lifetime, as documented in the Russian literature, Cf. “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, etc.

One advantage that the prospective migrants had was the solidarity of the co-religionists. That is attested by the contents of the Kievan Letter



Two basic facts emerge from our survey: the disappearance of the Khazar nation from its historic habitat, and the simultaneous appearance in adjacent regions to the north-west of the greatest concentration of Jews since the beginnings of the Diaspora. Since the two are obviously connected, historians agree that immigration from Khazaria must have contributed to the growth of Polish Jewry - a conclusion supported by the evidence cited in the previous chapters. But they feel less certain about the extent of this contribution - the size of the Khazar immigration compared with the influx of Western Jews, and their respective share in the genetic make-up of the modern Jewish community.

The disappearance of the Khazar state organization is not the same as the disappearance of the Khazar nation. Most of the Khazar people stayed put, and constituted local population of the following political structures. Religions, languages, traditions changed, the origin remained fixed but largely forgotten. The modern genetic composition of the Eastern European peoples of Russia, Ukraine, Bielorus attests to its past, including the Khazar period.

In other words, the fact that Khazars emigrated in substantial numbers into Poland is established beyond dispute; the question is whether they provided the bulk of the new settlement, or only its hard core, as it were. To find an answer to this question, we must get some idea of the size of the immigration of ‘real Jews’ from the West.


Towards the end of the first millennium, the most important settlements of Western European Jews were in France and the Rhineland.* Some of these communities had probably been \160\ founded in Roman days, for, between the destruction of Jerusalem and the decline of the Roman Empire, Jews had settled in many of the greater cities under its rule, and were later on reinforced by immigrants from Italy and North Africa.

*Not counting the Jews of Spain, who formed a category apart and did not participate in the migratory movements with which we are concerned.

Thus we have records from the ninth century onwards of Jewish communities in places all over France, from Normandy down to Provence and the Mediterranean.

One group even crossed the Channel to England in the wake of the Norman invasion, apparently invited by William the Conqueror (1035 – 1087),1 because he needed their capital and enterprise. Their history has been summed up by Baron:

They were subsequently converted into a class of ‘royal usurers’ whose main function was to provide credits for both political and economic ventures. After accumulating great wealth through the high rate of interest, these moneylenders were forced to disgorge it in one form or another for the benefit of the royal treasury. The prolonged well-being of many Jewish families, the splendor of their residence and attire, and their influence on public affairs blinded even experienced observers to the deep dangers lurking from the growing resentment of debtors of all classes, and the exclusive dependence of Jews on the protection of their royal masters.... Rumblings of discontent, culminating in violent outbreaks in 1189-90, presaged the final tragedy: the expulsion of 1290. The meteoric rise, and even more rapid decline of English Jewry in the brief span of two and a quarter centuries (1066-1290) brought into sharp relief the fundamental factors shaping the destinies of all western Jewries in the crucial first half of the second millennium.2

The English example is instructive, because it is exceptionally well documented compared to the early history of the Jewish communities on the Continent. The main lesson we derive from it is that the social-economic influence of the Jews was quite out of proportion with their small numbers. There were, apparently, no more than 2500 Jews in England at any time before their expulsion in 1290.* This tiny Jewish community in mediaeval \161\ England played a leading part in the country’s economic Establishment - much more so than its opposite number in Poland; yet in contrast to Poland it could not rely on a network of Jewish small-towns to provide it with a mass-basis of humble craftsmen, of lower-middle-class artisans and workmen, carters and innkeepers; it had no roots in the people.

*According to the classic survey of Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Anger in England, based on recorded Jewish family names and other documents.3

England serves as a nice test-tube abject case of self-inflicted misery bestowed by greed-driven bigotry and religious intolerance. By being adverse to nonconformity and expelling the most active members of society, England created the flourishing USA, Australia, opened opportunities for other aspiring candidates, and more, while paving the road to its own demise. It was lucky that the other European states were dumbfound into doing the same, so nearly all boats were sinking.

It would be hard to assert that the Jews, “apparently invited by William the Conqueror” (1035 – 1087), were of the Khazarian provenance. And that demonstrates that the Khazar Jews did not have a patent on banking operations, if the Türkic converts were ever involved in banking. The Jewish banking muscle had blossomed in Classical Rome, under Roman legal statues, and was driven by the system of international promissory notes used along the Silk Road and its branches; it limited the need to physically carry money back and forth. For the outsiders, including the Jewish outsiders, the system had a miraculous tint, and its existence depended on the discretion of the participants and patronage of the sovereign beneficiaries.

On this vital issue, Angevin (Angevine) England epitomized developments on the Western Continent. The Jews of France and Germany faced the same predicament: their occupational stratification was lopsided and top-heavy. This led everywhere to the same, tragic sequence of events. The dreary tale always starts with a honeymoon, and ends in divorce and bloodshed. In the beginning the Jews are pampered with special charters, privileges, favors. They are personae gratae, like the court alchemists, because they alone have the secret of how to keep the wheels of the economy turning. ‘In the “dark ages”,’ wrote Cecil Roth, ‘the commerce of Western Europe was largely in Jewish hands, not excluding the slave trade, and in the Carolingian cartularies Jew and Merchant are used as almost interchangeable terms.’4 But with the growth of a native mercantile class, they became gradually excluded not only from most productive occupations, but also from the traditional forms of commerce, and virtually the only field left open to them was lending capital on interest. ‘...The floating wealth of the country was soaked up by the Jews, who were periodically made to disgorge into the exchequer... .’5 The archetype of Shylock was established long before Shakespeare’s time.

In the honeymoon days, Charlemagne had sent a historic embassy in 797 to Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad to negotiate a treaty of friendship; the embassy was composed of the Jew Isaac and two Christian nobles. The bitter end came when, in 1306, Philip le Bel expelled the Jews from the kingdom of France. Though later some were allowed to return, they suffered further persecution, and by the end of the century the French community of Jews was virtually extinct.*

*The modem community of Jews in France and England was founded by refugees from the Spanish Inquisition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

If we turn to the history of German Jewry, the first fact to note is that ‘remarkably, we do not possess a comprehensive scholarly history of German Jewry.... The Germanica Judaica is merely a good reference work to historic sources shedding light on individual communities up to 1238.’6 It is a dim light, but at least it illuminates the territorial distribution of the Western-Jewish communities in Germany during the critical period when Khazar-Jewish immigration into Poland was approaching its peak.

One of the earliest records of such a community in Germany mentions a certain Kalonymous, who, in 906, emigrated with his kinsfolk from Lucca in Italy to Mayence. About the same time we hear of Jews in Spires and Worms, and somewhat later in other places - Treves, Metz, Strasbourg, Cologne - all of them situated in a narrow strip in Alsace and along the Rhine valley. The Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela (see above, II, 8) visited the region in the middle of the twelfth century and wrote: ‘In these cities there are many Israelites, wise men and rich.’7 But how many are ‘many’? In tact very few, as will be seen.

Earlier on, there lived in Mayence a certain Rabbi Gershom ben Yehuda (circa 960-1030) whose great learning earned him the title ‘Light of the Diaspora' and the position of spiritual head of the French and Rhenish-German community. At some date around 1020 Gershom convened a Rabbinical Council in Worms, which issued various edicts, including one that put a legal stop to polygamy (which had anyway been in abeyance for a long rime). To these edicts a codicil was added, which provided that in case of urgency any regulation could be revoked ‘by an assembly of a hundred delegates from the countries Burgundy, Normandy, France, and the towns of Mayence, Spires and Worms’. In other rabbinical documents too, dating from the same period, only these three towns are named, and we can only conclude that the other Jewish communities in the Rhineland were at the beginning \163\ of the eleventh century still too insignificant to be mentioned.8

By the end of the same century, the Jewish communities of Germany narrowly escaped complete extermination in the outbursts of mob-hysteria accompanying the First Crusade, AD 1096. F. Barker has conveyed the crusader’s mentality with a dramatic force rarely encountered in the columns of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

He might butcher all, till he waded ankle-dcep in blood, and then at nightfall kneel, sobbing for very joy, at the altar of the Sepulchre - for was he not red from the winepress of the Lord?

The Jews of the Rhineland were caught in that winepress, which nearly squeezed them to death. Moreover, they themselves became affected by a different type of mass hysteria: a morbid yearning for martyrdom. According to the Hebrew chronicler Solomon bar Simon, considered as generally reliable,10 the Jews of Mayence, faced with the alternative between baptism or death at the hands of the mob, gave the example to other communities by deciding on collective suicide:11

Imitating on a grand scale Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac, fathers slaughtered their children and husbands their wives. These acts of unspeakable horror and heroism were performed in the ritualistic form of slaughter with sacrificial knives sharpened in accordance with Jewish law. At times the leading sages of the community, supervising the mass immolation, were the last to part with life at their own hands. ...In the mass hysteria, sanctified by the glow of religious martyrdom and compensated by the confident expectation of heavenly rewards, nothing seemed to matter but to end life before one fell into the hands of the implacable foes and had to face the inescapable alternative of death at the enemy’s hand or conversion to Christianity.

Turning from gore to sober statistics, we get a rough idea of the size of the Jewish communities in Germany. The Hebrew sources agree on 800 victims (by slaughter or suicide) in Worms, and vary between 900 and 1300 for Mayence. Of course there must have been many who preferred baptism to death, and the \164\ sources do not indicate the number of survivors; nor can we be sure that they do not exaggerate the number of martyrs.

At any rate, Baron concludes from his calculations that ‘the total Jewish population of either community had hardly exceeded the figures here given for the dead alone’.12 So the survivors in Worms or in Mayence could only have numbered a few hundred in each case. Yet these two towns (with Spires as a third) were the only ones important enough to be included in Rabbi Gershom’s edict earlier on.

Thus we are made to realize that the Jewish community in the German Rhineland was numerically small, even before the First Crusade, and had shrunk to even smaller proportions after having gone through the winepress of the Lord. Yet east of the Rhine, in central and northern Germany, there were as yet no Jewish communities at all, and none for a long time to come. The traditional conception of Jewish historians that the Crusade of 1096 swept like a broom a mass-migration of German Jews into Poland is simply a legend - or rather an ad hoc hypothesis invented because, as they knew little of Khazar history, they could see no other way to account for the emergence, out of nowhere, of this unprecedented concentration of Jews in Eastern Europe. Yet there is not a single mention in the contemporary sources of any migration, large or small, from the Rhineland further east into Germany, not to mention distant Poland.

Thus Simon Dubnov, one of the historians of the older school: ‘The first crusade which set the Christian masses in motion towards the Asiatic east, drove at the same time the Jewish masses towards the east of Europe.’13 However, a few lines further down he has to admit: ‘About the circumstances of this emigration movement which was so important to Jewish history we possess no close information.’14 Yet we do possess abundant information of what these battered Jewish communities did during the first and subsequent crusades. Some died by their own hands; others tried to offer resistance and were lynched; while those who survived owed their good fortune to the fact that they were given shelter for the duration of the emergency in \165\ the fortified castle of the Bishop or Burgrave who, at least theoretically, was responsible for their legal protection.

Frequently this measure was not enough to prevent a massacre; but the survivors, once the crusading hordes had passed, invariably returned to their ransacked homes and synagogues to make a fresh start.

We find this pattern repeatedly in chronicles: in Treves, in Metz, and many other places. By the time of the second and later crusades, it had become almost a routine: ‘At the beginning of the agitation for a new crusade many Jews of Mayence, Worms, Spires, Strasbourg, Wiirzburg and other cities, escaped to neighboring castles, leaving their books and precious possessions in the custody of friendly burghers.’15 One of the main sources is the Book of Remembrance by Ephraim bar Jacob, who himself, at the age of thirteen, had been among the refugees from Cologne in the castle of Wolkenburg.16 Solomon bar Simon reports that during the second crusade the survivors of the Mayence Jews found protection in Spires, then returned to their native city and built a new synagogue.17 This is the leitmotif of the Chronicles; to repeat it once more, there is not a word about Jewish communities emigrating toward eastern Germany, which, in the words of Mieses,18 was still Judenrein - clean of Jews - and was to remain so for several centuries.


The thirteenth century was a period of partial recovery. We hear for the first time of Jews in regions adjacent to the Rhineland: the Palatinate (AD 1225); Freiburg (1230), Ulm (1243), Heidelberg (1255), etc.19 But it was to be only a short respite, for the fourteenth century brought new disasters to Franco-German Jewry.

The first catastrophe was the expulsion of all Jews from the royal domains of Philip le Bel. France had been suffering from an economic crisis, to the usual accompaniments of debased currency and social unrest. Philip tried to remedy it by the habitual method of soaking the Jews. He exacted from them \166\  payments of 100,000 livres (pounds) in 1292, 215,000 livres in 1295, 1299, 1302 and 1305, then decided on a radical remedy for his ailing finances. On June 21, 1306, he signed a secret order to arrest all Jews in his kingdom on a given day, confiscate their property and expel them from the country. The arrests were carried out on July 22, and the expulsion a few weeks later. The refugees emigrated into regions of France outside the King’s domain: Provence, Burgundy, Aquitaine, and a few other feudal fiefs. But, according to Mieses, ‘there are no historical records whatsoever to indicate that German Jewry increased its numbers through the sufferings of the Jewish community in France in the decisive period of its destruction’.20 And no historian has ever suggested that French Jews trekked across Germany into Poland, either on that occasion or at any other time.

Under Philip’s successors there were some partial recalls of Jews (in 1315 and 1350), but they could not undo the damage, nor prevent renewed outbursts of mob persecution. By the end of the fourteenth century, France, like England, was virtually Judenrein.


The second catastrophe of that disastrous century was the Black Death, which, between 1348 and 1350, killed off a third of Europe’s population, and in some regions even two-thirds. It came from east Asia via Turkestan, and the way it was let loose on Europe, and what it did there, is symbolic of the lunacy of man. A Tartar (Tatar, i.e. Chingizid) leader named Janibeg in 1347 was besieging the town of Kaffa (now Feodosia) in the Crimea, then a Genoese trading port. The plague was rampant in Janibeg’s army, so he catapulted the corpses of infected victims into the town, whose population became infected in its turn. Genoese ships carried the rats and their deadly fleas westward into the Mediterranean ports, from where they spread inland.

The bacilli of Pasteurella pestis were not supposed to make a distinction between the various denominations, yet Jews were \167\ nevertheless singled out for special treatment.

After being accused earlier on of the ritual slaughter of Christian children, they were now accused of poisoning the wells to spread the Black Death. The legend travelled faster even than the rats, and the consequence was the burning of Jews en masse all over Europe. Once more suicide by mutual self-immolation became a common expedient, to avoid being burned alive.

The decimated population of Western Europe did not reach again its pre-plague level until the sixteenth century. As tor its Jews, who had been exposed to the twofold attack of rats and men. only a fraction survived. As Kutschera wrote:

The populace avenged on them the cruel blows of destiny and set upon those whom the plague had spared with fire and sword. When the epidemics receded, Germany, according to contemporary historians, was left virtually without Jews. We are led to conclude that in Germany itself the Jews could not prosper, and were never able to establish large and populous communities. How, then, in these circumstances, should they have been able to lay the foundations in Poland of a mass population so dense that at present [AD 1909] it outnumbers the Jews of Germany at the rate of ten to one? It is indeed difficult to understand how the idea ever gained ground that the eastern Jews represent immigrants from the West, and especially from Germany.21

Yet, next to the first crusade, the Black Death is most frequently invoked by historians as the deus ex machina which created Eastern Jewry. And, just as in the case of the crusades, there is not a shred of evidence for this imaginary exodus. On the contrary, the indications are that the Jews’ only hope of survival on this, as on that earlier occasions, was to stick together and seek shelter in some fortified place or less hostile surroundings in the vicinity. There is only one case of an emigration in the Black Death period mentioned by Mieses: Jews from Spires took refuge from persecution in Heidelberg - about ten miles away.

After the virtual extermination of the old Jewish communities in France and Germany in the wake of the Black Death, Western \168\ Europe remained Judenrein for a couple of centuries, with only a few enclaves vegetating on - except in Spain.

It was an entirely different stock of Jews who founded the modern communities of England, France and Holland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - the Sephardim (Spanish Jews), forced to flee from Spain where they had been resident for more than a millennium. Their history - and the history of modern European Jewry - lies outside the scope of this book.

We may safely conclude that the traditional idea of a mass-exodus of Western Jewry from the Rhineland to Poland all across Germany - a hostile, Jewless glacis (sloping bank) - is historically untenable. It is incompatible with the small size of the Rhenish Communities, their reluctance to branch out from the Rhine valley towards the east, their stereotyped behavior in adversity, and the absence of references to migratory movements in contemporary chronicles. Further evidence for this view is provided by linguistics, to be discussed in Chapter VII.



On the evidence quoted in previous chapters, one can easily understand why Polish historians - who are, after all, closest to the sources - are in agreement that ‘in earlier times, the main bulk of the Jewish population originated from the Khazar country’.1 One might even be tempted to overstate the case by claiming - as Kutschera does - that Eastern Jewry was a hundred per cent of Khazar origin. Such a claim might be tenable if the ill-fated Franco-Rhenish community were the only rival in the search for paternity. But in the later Middle Ages things become more complicated by the rise and fall of Jewish settlements all over the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and the Balkans. Thus not only Vienna and Prague had a considerable Jewish population, but there are no less than five places called Judendorf, ‘Jew-village’, in the Carinthian Alps, and more Judenburgs and Judenstadts in the mountains of Styria. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Jews were expelled from both provinces, and went to Italy, Poland and Hungary; but where did they originally come from? Certainly not from the West. As Mieses put it in his survey of these scattered communities:

During the high Middle Ages we thus find in the east a chain of settlements stretching from Bavaria to Persia, the Causcasus, Asia Minor and Byzantium. [But] westward from Bavaria there is a gap through the whole length of Germany.... Just how this immigration of Jews into the Alpine regions came about we do not know, but without doubt the three great reservoirs of Jews \170\ from late antiquity played their part: Italy, Byzantium and Persia.2

The missing link in this enumeration is, once again, Khazaria, which, as we have seen earlier on, served as a receptacle and transit-station for Jews emigrating from Byzantium and the Caliphate. Mieses has acquired great merit in refuting the legend of the Rhenish origin of Eastern Jewry, but he, too, knew little of Khazar history, and was unaware of its demographic importance. However, he may have been right in suggesting an Italian component among the immigrants to Austria. Italy was not only quasi-saturated with Jews since Roman times, but, like Khazaria, also received its share of immigrants from Byzantium. So here we might have a trickle of ‘genuine’ Jews of Semitic origin into Eastern Europe; yet it could not have been more than a trickle, for there is no trace in the records of any substantial immigration of Italian Jew's into Austria, whereas there is plenty of evidence of a reverse migration of Jews into Italy after their expulsion from the Alpine provinces at the end of the fifteenth century. Details like this tend to blur the picture, and make one wish that the Jews had gone to Poland on board the Mayflower, with all the records neatly kept.

Yet the broad outlines of the migratory process are nevertheless discernible. The Alpine settlements were in all likelihood westerly offshoots of the general Khazar migration toward Poland, which was spread over several centuries and followed several different routes - through the Ukraine, the Slavonic regions north of Hungary, perhaps also through the Balkans. A Rumanian legend tells of an invasion - the date unknown - of armed Jews into that country.3


 There is another, very curious legend relating to the history of Austrian Jewry. It was launched by Christian chroniclers in the Middle Ages, but was repeated in all seriousness by historians as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century. In pre-Christian \171\ days, so the legend goes, the Austrian provinces were ruled by a succession of Jewish princes.

The Austrian Chronicle, compiled by a Viennese scribe in the reign of Albert III (1350-95) contains a list of no less than twenty-two such Jewish princes, who are said to have succeeded each other. The list gives not only their alleged names, some of which have a distinctly Ural-Altaian ring, but also the length of their rule and the place where they are buried; thus: ‘Sennan, ruled 45 years, buried at the Stubentor in Vienna; Zippan (, Türkic for “Village Elder”), 43 years, buried in Tulln’; and so on, including names like Lapton, Ma‘alon, Raptan, Rabon, Effra, Sameck, etc. After these Jews came five pagan princes, followed by Christian rulers. The legend is repeated, with some variations, in the Latin histories of Austria by Henricus Gundelfmgus, 1474, and by several others, the last one being Anselmus Schram’s Flores Chronicorum Austriac, 1702 (who still seems to have believed in its authenticity).4

With the expected distortion of the names, only the title Jupan makes “Ural-Altaian” i.e. Türkic sense, whatever the euphemism “Ural-Altaian” may indicate.

How could this fantastic tale have originated? Let us listen to Mieses again: ‘The very fact that such a legend could develop and stubbornly maintain itself through several centuries, indicates that deep in the national consciousness of ancient Austria dim memories persisted of a Jewish presence in the lands on the upper Danube in bygone days. Who knows whether the tidal waves emanating from the Khazar dominions in Eastern Europe once swept into the foothills of the Alps - which would explain the Turanian flavor of the names of those princes. The confabulations of mediaeval chroniclers could evoke a popular echo only if they were supported by collective recollections, however vague.’5

As already mentioned, Mieses is rather inclined to underestimate the Khazar contribution to Jewish history, but even so he hit on the only plausible hypothesis which could explain the origin of the persistent legend. One may even venture to be a little more specific. For more than half a century - up to AD 955 - Austria, as far west as the river Enns, was under Hungarian domination. The Magyars had arrived in their new country in 896, together with the Kabar-Khazar tribes who were influential in the nation. The Hungarians at the time were not yet converted \172\ to Christianity (that happened only a century later, AD 1000) and the only monotheistic religion familiar to them was Khazar Judaism.

There may have been one or more tribal chieftains among them who practiced a Judaism of sorts - we remember the Byzantine chronicler, John Cinnamus, mentioning Jewish troops fighting in the Hungarian army.* Thus there may have been some substance to the legend - particularly if we remember that the Hungarians were still in their savage raiding period, the scourge of Europe. To be under their dominion was certainly a traumatic experience which the Austrians were unlikely to forget. It all fits rather nicely.

War is a prerogative of a Kagan, thus Arbat (Hu. Arpad) or his successors, if supported by the State Council. Mobilization normally included only a nomadic population, but the dependents' infantry militia or labor could be brought also. Then, Jews are just another group of the auxiliaries drafted according to their status and belonging, irrespective of any other parameter.


Further evidence against the supposedly Franco-Rhenish origin of Eastern Jewry is provided by the structure of Yiddish, the popular language of the Jewish masses, spoken by millions before the holocaust, and still surviving among traditionalist minorities in the Soviet Union and the United States.

Yiddish is a curious amalgam of Hebrew, mediaeval German, Slavonic and other elements, written in Hebrew characters. Now that it is dying out, it has become a subject of much academic research in the United States and Israel, but until well into the twentieth century it was considered by Western linguists as merely an odd jargon, hardly worth serious study. As H. Smith remarked: ‘Little attention has been paid to Yiddish by scholars. Apart from a few articles in periodicals, the first really scientific study of the language was Mieses’s Historical Grammar published in 1924. It is significant that the latest edition of the standard historical grammar of German, which treats German from the point of view of its dialects, dismisses Yiddish in twelve lines.’6

At first glance the prevalence of German loanwords in Yiddish seems to contradict our main thesis on the origins of Eastern Jewry; we shall see presently that the opposite is true, but the \173\ argument involves several steps.

*See above, V. 2.

The first is to inquire what particular kind of regional German dialect went into the Yiddish vocabulary. Nobody before Mieses seems to have paid serious attention to this question; it is to his lasting merit to have done so, and to have come up with a conclusive answer. Based on the study of the vocabulary, phonetics and syntax of Yiddish as compared with the main German dialects in the Middle Ages, he concludes:

No linguistic components derived from the parts of Germany bordering on France are found in the Yiddish language. Not a single word from the entire list of specifically Moselle-Franconian origin compiled by J. A. Balias (Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Trierischen Volkssprache, 1903, 28ff.) has found its way into the Yiddish vocabulary. Even the more central regions of Western Germany, around Frankfurt, have not contributed to the Yiddish language...? Insofar as the origins of Yiddish are concerned, Western Germany can be written off... .8 Could it be that the generally accepted view, according to which the German Jews once upon a time immigrated from France across the Rhine, is misconceived? The history of the German Jews, of Ashkenazi* Jewry, must be revised. The errors of history are often rectified by linguistic research. The conventional view of the erstwhile immigration of Ashkenazi Jews from France belongs to the category of historic errors which are awaiting correction.9

He then quotes, among other examples of historic fallacies, the case of the Gypsies, who were regarded as an offshoot from Egypt, ‘until linguistics showed that they come from India’.10

Having disposed of the alleged Western origin of the Germanic element in Yiddish, Mieses went on to show that the dominant influence in it are the so-called ‘East-Middle German’ dialects which were spoken in the Alpine regions of Austria and Bavaria roughly up to the fifteenth century. In other words, the German component which went into the hybrid Jewish language originated in the eastern regions of Germany, adjacent to the Slavonic belt of Eastern Europe.

*For ‘Ashkenazi’ see below, VIII, 1.

Thus the evidence from linguistics supports the historical record in refuting the misconception of the Franco-Rhenish origins of Eastern Jewry. But this negative evidence does not answer the question how an East-Middle German dialect combined with Hebrew and Slavonic elements became the common language of that Eastern Jewry, the majority of which we assume to have been of Khazar origin.

In attempting to answer this question, several factors have to be taken into consideration. First, the evolution of Yiddish was a long and complex process, which presumably started in the fifteenth century or even earlier; yet it remained for a long time a spoken language, a kind of lingua franca, and appears in print only in the nineteenth century. Before that, it had no established grammar, and ‘it was left to the individual to introduce foreign words as he desires. There is no established form of pronunciation or spelling... . The chaos in spelling may be illustrated by the rules laid down by the Judische Volks-Bibliothek: (1) Write as you speak, (2) write so that both Polish and Lithuanian Jews may understand you, and (3) spell differently words of the same sound which have a different signification.’11

Thus Yiddish grew, through the centuries, by a kind of untrammeled (unconditioned) proliferation, avidly absorbing from its social environments such words, phrases, idiomatic expressions as best served its purpose as a lingua franca. But the culturally and socially dominant element in the environment of mediaeval Poland were the Germans. They alone, among the immigrant populations, were economically and intellectually more influential than the Jews. We have seen that from the early days of the Piast dynasty, and particularly under Casimir the Great, everything was done to attract immigrants to colonize the land and build ‘modern’ cities. Casimir was said to have ‘found a country of wood and left a country of stone’. But these new cities of stone, such as Krakau (Cracow) or Lemberg (Lwow) were built and ruled by German immigrants, living under the so-called Magdeburg law, i. e., enjoying a high degree of municipal self-government. Altogether not less than four million Germans are said to have \175\ immigrated into Poland,12 providing it with an urban middle-class that it had not possessed before.

As Poliak has put it, comparing the German to the Khazar immigration into Poland: ‘the rulers of the country imported these masses of much-needed enterprising foreigners, and facilitated their settling down according to the way of life they had been used to in their countries of origin: the German town and the Jewish shtetl'. (However, this tidy separation became blurred when later Jewish arrivals from the West also settled in the towns and formed urban ghettoes.)

Not only the educated bourgeoisie, but the clergy too, was predominantly German - a natural consequence of Poland opting for Roman Catholicism and turning toward Western civilization, just as the Russian (Rus) clergy after Vladimir’s conversion to Greek orthodoxy was predominantly Byzantine. Secular culture followed along the same lines, in the footsteps of the older Western neighbor. The first Polish university was founded in 1364 in Cracow, then a predominantly German city.* As Kutschera, the Austrian, has put it, rather smugly:

The German colonists were at first regarded by the people with suspicion and distrust; yet they succeeded in gaining an increasingly firm foothold, and even in introducing the German educational system. The Poles learnt to appreciate the advantages of the higher culture introduced by the Germans and to imitate their foreign ways. The Polish aristocracy, too, grew fond of German customs and found beauty and pleasure in whatever came from Germany.13

Not exactly modest, but essentially true. One remembers the high esteem tor German Kultur among nineteenth-century Russian intellectuals.

It is easy to see why Khazar immigrants pouring into mediaeval Poland had to learn German if they wanted to get on. Those who had close dealings with the native populace no doubt also had to learn some pidgin Polish (or Lithuanian, or Ukrainian or \176\ Slovene); German, however, was a prime necessity in any contact with the towns.

*One of its students in the next century was Nicolaus Copernicus or Mikolaj Koppernigk whom both Polish and German patriots later claimed as their national.

But there was also the synagogue and the study of the Hebrew thorah (Heb. Thorah “Law”, Türkic Töre “Law”). One can visualize a shtetl craftsman, a cobbler perhaps, or a timber merchant, speaking broken German to his clients, broken Polish to the serfs on the estate next door; and at home mixing the most expressive bits of both with Hebrew (And how come that the Türkic Khazars spoke Hebrew at home? Living in the Caucasus, Ukraine, N.Caspian? Isn't that a wild idea?) into a kind of intimate private language. How this hotchpotch became communalized and standardized to the extent to which it did, is any linguist’s guess; but at least one can discern some further factors which facilitated the process.

The linguistic model may argue bilingualism of the Türkic-lingual Khazar migrants as German-Türkic, Polish-Türkic, Yiddish-Türkic, probably a tint of Slavic, Hungarian, other areal languages of Khazaria, but not the German-Hebrew aka Yiddish.  Hebrew could have come to Khazaria from any corner of Mediterranean and Middle East together with its carriers, could be a liturgical language of the Türkic converts to Judaism, but save for a miracle not their household language. Jews had an essential need to know Hebrew as lingua franca between Jews of different languages, and that need had no expiration date (Cf. scattered Armenians). The Judaic Khazars did not have that need. This is a major obstacle to the advocated linguistic concept.

Among the later immigrants to Poland there were also, as we have seen, a certain number of ‘real’ Jews from the Alpine countries, Bohemia and eastern Germany. Even if their number was relatively small, these German-speaking Jews (probably bilingual German-Hebrew) were superior in culture and learning to the Khazars, just as the German Gentiles were culturally superior to the Poles. And just as the Catholic clergy was German, so the Jewish rabbis from the West were a powerful factor in the Germanization of the Khazars, whose Judaism was fervent but primitive. To quote Poliak again:

Those German Jews who reached the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania had an enormous influence on their brethren from the east. The reason why the [Khazar] Jews were so strongly attracted to them was that they admired their religious learning and their efficiency in doing business with the predominantly German cities... The language spoken at the Heder, the school for religious teaching, and at the house of the Ghevir [notable, rich man] would influence the language of the whole community.14

A rabbinical tract from seventeenth-century Poland contains the pious wish: ‘May God will that the country be filled with wisdom and that all Jews speak German.’15

Characteristically, the only sector among the Khazarian Jews in Poland which resisted both the spiritual and worldly temptations offered by the German language were the Karaites, who rejected both rabbinical learning and material enrichment. Thus they never took to Yiddish. According to the first all-Russian \177\ census in 1897, there were 12,894 Karaite Jews living in the Tsarist Empire (which, of course, included Poland).

Of these 9,666 gave Turkish (in Russian lingo, Tatar) as their mother tongue (i.e., presumably their original Khazar dialect), 2,632 spoke Russian (as a second language), and only 383 spoke Yiddish (as a second language) (In other words, all of them spoke Karaim Türkic, and some understood other languages).

The Karaite sect, however, represents the exception rather than the rule. In general, immigrant populations settling in a new country tend to shed their original language within two or three generations and adopt the language of their new country.* The American grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe never learn to speak Polish or Ukrainian, and find the jabber-wocky of their grandparents rather comic. It is difficult to see how historians could ignore the evidence for the Khazar migration into Poland on the grounds that more than half a millennium later they speak a different language.

The grounds are not the different language but what different language. Switch to Yiddish is legitimate, Switch to German - exceptional.

Incidentally, the descendants of the biblical Tribes are the classic example of linguistic adaptability. First they spoke Hebrew; in the Babylonian exile, Chaldean; at the time of Jesus, Aramaic; in Alexandria, Greek; in Spain, Arabic, but later Ladino-a Spanish-Hebrew mixture, written in Hebrew characters, the Sephardi equivalent of Yiddish; and so it goes on. They preserved their religious identity, but changed languages at their convenience. The Khazars were not descended from the Tribes, but, as we have seen, they shared a certain cosmopolitanism and other social characteristics with their co-religionists.

The writer of Kievan Letter and the reader both spoke Hebrew as a lingua franca, but the reader was distinguished in that he was learned in spoken and written Türkic.


Poliak has proposed an additional hypothesis concerning the early origins of Yiddish, which deserves to be mentioned, though it is rather problematical. He thinks that the ‘shape of early Yiddish emerged in the Gothic regions of the Khazar Crimea. In those regions the conditions of life were bound to bring about a combination of Germanic and Hebrew elements hundreds of \178\ years before the foundation of the settlements in the Kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania.’16

*This does not, of course, apply to conquerors and colonizers, who impose their own language on the natives.

Poliak quotes as indirect evidence a certain Joseph Barbaro of Venice, who lived in Tana (an Italian merchant colony on the Don estuary) from 1436 to 1452, and who wrote that his German servant could converse with a Goth from the Crimea just as a Florentine could understand the language of an Italian from Genoa. As a matter of tact, the Gothic language survived in the Crimea (and apparently nowhere else) at least to the middle of the sixteenth century. At that time the Habsburg ambassador in Constantinople, Ghiselin de Busbcck, met people from the Crimea, and made a list of words from the Gothic that they spoke. (This Busbeck must have been a remarkable man, for it was he who first introduced the lilac and tulip from the Levant to Europe.) Poliak considers this vocabulary to be close to the Middle High German elements found in Yiddish. He thinks the Crimean Goths kept contact with other Germanic tribes and that their language was influenced by them. Whatever one may think of it, it is a hypothesis worth the linguist’s attention.


'In a sense,’ wrote Cecil Roth, ‘the Jewish dark ages may be said to begin with the Renaissance.’17

Earlier on, there had been massacres and other forms of persecution - during the crusades, the Black Death, and under other pretexts; but these had been lawless outbreaks of mass violence, actively opposed or passively tolerated by the authorities. From the beginnings of the Counter-Reformation (ca. 1550s), however, the Jews were legally degraded to not-quite-human status, in many respects comparable to the Untouchables in the Hindu caste system.

‘The few communities suffered to remain in Western Europe - i.e., in Italy, Germany, and the papal possessions in southern France - were subjected at last to all the restrictions which earlier ages had usually allowed to remain an ideal’18 - i.e., which \179\ had existed on ecclesiastical and other decrees, but had remained on paper (as, for instance, in Hungary, see above, V, 2).

Now, however, these ‘ideal’ ordinances were ruthlessly enforced: residential segregation, sexual apartheid, exclusion from all respected positions and occupations; wearing of distinctive clothes: yellow badge and conical headgear. In 1555 Pope Paul IV in his bull cum nimis absürdüm insisted on the strict and consistent enforcement of earlier edicts, confining Jews to closed ghettoes. A year later the Jews of Rome were forcibly transferred (deported). All Catholic countries, where Jews still enjoyed relative freedom of movement, had to follow the example.

In Poland, the honeymoon period inaugurated by Casimir the Great had lasted longer than elsewhere, but by the end of the sixteenth century it had run its course. The Jewish communities, now confined to shtetl and ghetto, became over-crowded, and the refugees from the Cossack massacres in the Ukrainian villages under Chmelnicky (see above, V, 5) led to a rapid deterioration of the housing situation and economic conditions. The result was a new wave of massive emigration into Hungary, Bohemia, Rumania and Germany, where the Jews who had all but vanished with the Black Death were still thinly spread.

That's the time of wide dissemination of . The Catholic Kulturträgers did more to the spread and codification of Yiddish than all the Christian missioners combined.

Thus the great trek to the West was resumed. It was to continue through nearly three centuries until the Second World War, and became the principal source of the existing Jewish communities in Europe, the United States and Israel. When its rate of flow slackened, the pogroms of the nineteenth century provided a new impetus. ‘The second Western movement,’ writes Roth (dating the first from the destruction of Jerusalem), ‘which continued into the twentieth century, may be said to begin with the deadly Chmelnicky massacres of 1648-49 in Poland.’18


The evidence quoted in previous chapters adds up to a strong case in favor of those modern historians - whether Austrian, \180\ Israeli or Polish - who, independently from each other, have argued that the bulk of modern Jewry is not of Palestinian, but of Caucasian origin. The mainstream of Jewish migrations did not flow from the Mediterranean across France and Germany to the east and then back again. The stream moved in a consistently westerly direction, from the Caucasus through the Ukraine into Poland and thence into Central Europe. When that unprecedented mass-settlement in Poland came into being, there were simply not enough Jews around in the west to account for it; while in the east a whole nation was on the move to new frontiers.

It would of course be foolish to deny that Jews of different origin also contributed to the existing Jewish world-community. The numerical ratio of the Khazar to the Semitic and other contributions is impossible to establish. But the cumulative evidence makes one inclined to agree with the consensus of Polish historians that ‘in earlier times the main bulk originated from the Khazar country’; and that, accordingly, the Khazar contribution to the genetic make-up of the Jews must be substantial, and in all likelihood dominant.




The Jews of our times fall into two main divisions: Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

The Sephardim are descendants of the Jews who since antiquity had lived in Spain (in Hebrew Sepharad) until they were expelled at the end of the fifteenth century and settled in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and to a lesser extent in Western Europe. They spoke a Spanish - Hebrew dialect, Ladino (see VII, 3), and preserved their own traditions and religious rites. In the 1960s, the number of Sephardim was estimated at 500000.

Thus, Sephardim essentially are Sabras, the native Jews of the Palestine, whom the Romans scattered across Mediterranean and into the Middle East. The westward Jews are Sabras called Sephardim, the eastern Jews are Sabras called Ashkenazim. The term Sabra, popularized in 1930s, did not exist at the time of the First Jewish–Roman War in 66 AD, but is convenient designation for the local Jews born in the Palestine, whether before or after  66 AD.

The Ashkenazim, at the same period, numbered about eleven million. Thus, in common parlance, Jew is practically synonymous with Ashkenazi Jew. But the term is misleading, for the Hebrew word Ashkenaz was, in mediaeval rabbinical literature, applied to Germany - thus contributing to the legend that modern Jewry originated on the Rhine. There is, however, no other term to refer to the non-Sephardic majority of contemporary Jewry.

The reference to “mediaeval rabbinical literature” is inaccurate. The term Ashkenaz is the endonym of the As-kuzu (aka Ishkuza) Scythians, and ascends to the time when Scythians were ubiquitous in the Middle East when in 650–630 BC Scythians dominated Middle East, decimating Assyrian state and the Medes, and stretching their power over Palestine to the borders of Egypt. The Scythian origin of the term is undisputable, sources are unambiguous, including the Bible that links the Gomer, Ashkenaz, and Togarmah into a single cluster and alludes to their power in order to destroy the Babylon superpower. In the Bible, the term Ashkenazim names the swift steppe horse nomads, called Scythians by the Greeks and Saka by the Persians. As far as the Bible and Classical informants are concerned, Scythia extends to the north to the end of the world, and that knowledge includes the European Sarmatia populated by the types of the Gomer, Ashkenaz, and Togarmah. There is little doubt that the Sarmatia and the Germania of the mediaeval rabbinical literature are one and the same, the land of the nomadic Ashkenazim. Those were the predecessors of the mediaeval rabbis that impressed the ancestors of the King Joseph that he is an Ashkenaz. The days of the King Joseph belong to the still idyllic period when the Jews were people, primitive coexistence and respect were still universal, and the debauch of the super-Christian civilization have not yet invented holocaust for the peoples of Europe. The famous Saadiah Gaon did not contrive a new story, he stated what was universally known before the new story was cast.

For the sake of piquantry it should be mentioned that the Ashkenaz of the Bible refers to a people living somewhere in the vicinity of Mount Ararat and Armenia. The name occurs in Genesis 10, 3 and I Chronciles 1, 6, as one of the sons of Gomer, who was a son of Japheth. Ashkenaz is also a brother of Togarmah (and a nephew of Magog) whom the Khazars, according to King Joseph, claimed as their ancestor (see above II, 5). But worse was to come. For Ashkcnaz is also named in Jeremiah 51, 27, where the prophet calls his people and their allies to rise and destroy Babylon: ‘Call thee upon the kingdoms of Ararat, Mmni and Ashkenaz.’ This passage was interpreted by the famous Saadiah Gaon, spiritual leader of Oriental Jewry in the tenth century, as a prophecy relating to his own times: Babylon symbolized the Caliphate of Baghdad, and the Ashkenaz who were to attack it were either the Khazars themselves or some allied tribe. Accordingly, says Poliak,1 some learned Khazar Jews, who heard of the Gaon’s ingenious arguments, called themselves Ashkenazim when they emigrated to Poland. It does not prove anything, but it adds to the confusion.

For the Türkic-speaking Khazars, Ashkenazim was not an alien word, it means “Steppe People”, and is synonymous with Alans “Steppe People” and Iyrk, Iurcae, Hyrcae, Yancai, Yörük “Steppe People” (Cf. Hyrcania) of Herodotus and Chinese annals. The Türkic generic terms that at times became ethnic exonymic appellatives are yassı “flat”, alan “field, plain”, and iyrk “nomad”.

[End of posting, the anthropological etc. discourse of the racial traits are long past their time]

In Russian (later)
Khazar Synopsis
Contents Huns
Ogur and Oguz
Kurgan Culture
Ethnic Affiliation Scythians
Scythians and their descendents
Scytho-Iranian Theory
Burgund Dateline
Ephthalite Dateline
P. Golden Khazar Conversion
G. Hosszu Khazar Rune Writings
O.Frolova The ethnic name Burdjan
G. Hosszu Rovash Runic Script
Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Karluk Dateline
Khazar Dateline
Kimak Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Kyrgyz Dateline
Sabir Dateline
Seyanto Dateline
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