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"KHAZARS" by P. L. G.
in Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition, 1897


     KHAZARS. This vanished people, who appear also as Chozars, as 'Akatziroi or Xazaroi in Byzantine writers, as Khazirs in Armenian and Khwalisses in Russian chronicles, Ugri Bielii in Nestor, and Kosa (?) in Chinese, occupied a prominent place amongst the secondary powers of the Byzantine state-system. In the epic of Firdousi "Khazar" is the representative name for all the northern foes of Persia, and legendary invasions long before the Christian era are vaguely attributed to them. But the Khazars are an historic figure upon the borderland of Europe and Asia for at least nine hundred years (190-1100 A.D.). The three hundred and fifty years 600-950 A.D. mark the epoch of their greatness, but their rise can be traced for four centuries before and their decline for one hundred and fifty years to follow. Their home was in the spurs of the Caucasus and along the shores of the Caspian - the "sea of the Khazars;" and their cities, all of them populous and civilized commercial centres, were Itil, the capital, upon the delta of the Volga, the "river of the Khazars," Semender (Tarkhu), the older capital, Khamlidje or Khalendsch, Belendscher, the outpost towards Armenia, and Sarkel on the Don. They were the Venetians of the Caspian and the Euxine, the organizers of the transit between the two basins, the universal carriers between East and West; and Itil was the meeting-place of the commerce of Persia, of Byzantium, of Armenia, of Russia, and of the Bulgarians of the Middle Volga. The tide of their dominion ebbed and flowed repeatedly during their history, but the normal Khazaria may be taken as the territory included between the Caucasus, the Volga, and the Don, with the outlying province of the Crimea or "Little Khazaria." The southern boundary never greatly altered; it did at times reach the Cyrus and the Araxes, but on that side the Khazars were confronted by the great power of Byzantium and Persia, and were for the most part restrained within the passes of the Caucasus by the fortifications of Dariel. Amongst the nomadic Ugrians and agricultural Slavs of the north their frontier fluctuated widely, and in its zenith Khazaria extended from the Dnieper to Bolgari upon the Middle Volga, and along the eastern shore of the Caspian to Asterabad.

     Ethnology. -- Few points have been more disputed than the origin of this interesting people; and there is still no consent amongst authorities upon the subject. They are assigned to the Turkish stock by Latham and Howorth, to the Ugrian by Klaproth and Vivien St. Martin, and have even been claimed as Jews on account of their use of the Hebrew character and the profession of the Hebrew faith amongst them. But their geographical position, their history, and the contemporary witness we have as to their physical character, their language, and their own national tradition, may be accepted as conclusive proof that the Khazars were an indigenous people of the Caucasus, and near akin to the Armenians and the Georgians.
     Their king Joseph, in answer to the inquiry of the Rabbi Chasdai Ibn-Shafrût of Cordova (circ. 958) stated that his people sprang from Thogarmah, grandson of Japhet, and the supposed ancestor of the other peoples of the Caucasus. The Arab geographers who knew the Khazars best connect them either with the Georgians (Ibn el Athîr) or with the Armenians (Dimashqy, ed. Mehren, p. 263); whilst Ahmed ibn Fadlân, who passed through Khazaria on a mission from the caliph Moktadir (921 A.D.), positively asserts that the Khazar tongue differed not only from the Turkish, but from that of the bordering nations, which were Ugrian.
     Nevertheless there are many points connected with the Khazars which indicate a close connection with Ugrian or Turkish peoples. The official titles recorded by Ibn Fadlân are those in use amongst the Tartar nations of that age, whether Huns, Bulgarians, Turks, or Mongols. The names of their cities can be explained only by reference to Turkish or Ugrian dialects (Klaproth, Mém. sur les Khazars; Howorth, Khazars). Some too amongst the mediæval authorities (Ibn Haukal and Istakhry) note a resemblance between the speech in use amongst the Khazars and the Bulgarians; and the modern Magyar -- a Ugrian dialect -- can be traced back to a tribe which in the 9th century formed part of the Khazar kingdom. These characteristics, however, are accounted for by the fact that the Khazars were at one time subject to the Huns (448 A.D. et seq.), at another to the Turks (circ. 580), which would sufficiently explain the signs of Tartar influence in their polity, and also by the testimony of all observers, Greeks, Arabs, and Russians, that there was a double strain within the Khazar nation. There were Khazars and Kara (black) Khazars. The "Khazars" were fair-skinned, black-haired, and of a remarkable beauty and stature; their women indeed were sought as wives equally at Byzantium and Baghdad; while the "Kara Khazars" were ugly, short, and were reported by the Arabs almost as dark as Indians. The latter were indubitably the Ugrian nomads of the steppe, akin to the Tartar invaders of Europe, Huns, Bulgarians, and Hungarians, who filled the armies and convoyed the caravans of the ruling caste. But the Khazars proper were a civic commercial people, the founders of cities, remarkable for somewhat elaborate political institutions, for persistence, for good faith -- all qualities foreign to the Hunnic character.
     They are identified with good reason (by Zeuss, V. St. Martin, Howorth, Latham) with the 'Akatziroi (perhaps Ak-Khazari, "White Khazars") who appear upon the Lower Volga in the Byzantine annals, and thence they have been deduced, though with less convincing proof, either from the 'Agathirsoi or the Katiaroi of Herodotus, iv. 104 (Latham, V. St. Martin). There was throughout historic times a close connection which eventually amounted to political identity between the Khazars and the Barsileens (the Passils of Moses of Chorene) who occupied the delta of the Volga; and the Barsileens can be traced through the pages of Ptolemy (Geog., v. 9), of Pliny (iv. 26), of Strabo (vii. p. 306), and of Pomponius Mela (ii. c. 1, p. 119) to the so-called Royal Scyths, Skuthai Basileyes, who were known to the Greek colonies upon the Euxine, and whose political superiority and commercial enterprise led to this rendering of their name. Such points, however, need not be further pursued than to establish the presence of this white race ("La Race Blonde" of Klaproth) around the Caspian and the Euxine throughout historic times. They appear in European history as White Huns (Ephthalites), White Ugrians (Sarogours), White Bulgarians. They were the carriers between Europe and the farthest East. Owing to climatic causes (see ASIA) the tract they occupied was slowly drying up. They were the outposts of civilization towards the encroaching desert, and the Tartar nomadism that advanced with it. They held in precarious subjection the hordes whom the conditions of the climate and the soil made it impossible to supplant. They bore the brunt of each of the great waves of Tartar conquests, and were eventually overwhelmed.
     History. -- From out of the mass of this white race of the steppe the Khazars can be first historically distinguished at the end of the 2d century of our era. They burst into Armenia with the Barsileens, 198 A.D. They were repulsed and attacked in turn, but thenceforth Khazar wars occupy a prominent place in the Armenian annals for eight hundred years. The pressure of the nomads of the steppe, the quest of plunder or revenge, these seem the only motives of these early expeditions; but in the long struggle between the Roman and Persian empires, of which Armenia was not seldom the battlefield, and eventually the prize, the attitude of this powerful people of the Caucasus assumed political importance. Armenia inclined to the civilization and ere long to the Christianity of Rome, whilst her Arsacid princes maintained an inveterate feud with the Sassanids of Persia. It became therefore the policy of the Persian kings to call in the Khazars to neutralize or to chastise the efforts of the Armenians in every collision with the empire (200-350). During the 4th century, however, the growing power of Persia culminated in the annexation of Eastern Armenia. The Khazars, endangered by so powerful a neighbor, passed from under Persian influence into that remote alliance with Byzantium which thenceforth characterized their policy, and they aided Julian in his invasion of Persia (363). Simultaneously with the approach of Persia to the Caucasus the terrible empire of the Huns sprang up among the Ugrians of the northern steppes. The Khazars, straitened on every side, remained passive till the danger culminated in the accession of Attila (434). The emperor Theodosius, with reason terrified for civilization, sent envoys to bribe the Khazars ('Akatziroi) to divert the Huns from the empire by an attack upon their flank. But there was a Hunnic party amongst the Khazar chiefs. The design was betrayed to Attila; and he extinguished the independence of the nation in a moment. Khazaria became the appanage of his eldest son, and the centre of government amongst the eastern subjects of the Hun (448). Even the iron rule of Attila was preferable to the time of anarchy that succeeded it. Upon his death (454) the wild immigration which he had arrested revived. The Khazars and the Sarogours (i.e., White Ogors, possibly the Barsileens of the Volga delta) were swept along in a flood of mixed Tartar peoples which the conquests of the Jouan Jouan (the Avars) had set in motion. The Khazars and their companions broke through the Persian defences of the Caucasus. They appropriated the territory up to the Cyrus and the Araxes, and roamed at large through Iberia, Georgia, and Armenia. The Persian king, deeming the floodgates of the steppes opened, implored the emperor Leo I. to help him defend Asia Minor at the Caucasus (457), but Rome was herself too hard pressed, nor was it for fifty years that the Khazars were driven back, and the pass of Derbend fortified against them (circ. 507).
     Throughout the 6th century Khazaria was the mere highway for the wild hordes to whom the Huns had opened the passage into Europe, and the Khazars took refuge (like the Venetians from Attila) amongst the seventy mouths of the Volga. The rise of the first Turk empire in Asia (554) precipitated the Avars upon the West. The conquering Turks followed in their footsteps (560-580). They beat down all opposition, wrested even Bosphorus in the Crimea from the empire, and by the annihilation of the Ephthalites completed the ruin of the White Race of the plains from the Oxus to the Don. The empires of Turks and Avars, however, ran swiftly their barbaric course, and the Khazars arose out of the chaos to more than their ancient renown. They issued from the land of Barsilia, and extended their rule over the Bulgarian hordes left masterless by the Turks, compelling the more stubborn to migrate to the Danube (641). The agricultural Slavs of the Dnieper and the Oka were reduced to tribute, and before the end of the 7th century the Khazars had annexed also the Crimea, had won complete command of the Sea of Azoff, and, seizing upon the narrow neck which separates the Volga from the Don, had organized the protage which has continued since an important link in the traffic between Asia and Europe. The alliance with Byzantium was revived. Simultaneously and, we cannot doubt, in concert with the Byzantine campaign against Persia (589), the Khazars had reappeared in Armenia, though it was not till 625 that this people, long known to Persians and Armenians as Khazirs and to the Romans as Akatzirs, take their place as Khazars in the Byzantine annals. They are then described as "Turks from the East," a powerful nation which held the coasts of the Caspian and the Euxine, and took tribute of the Viatitsh, the Severians, and the Polyane. The khakan, enticed by the promise of an imperial princess, furnished Heraclius with 40,000 men for his Persian war, who shared in the victory over Chosroes at Nineveh.
     Meanwhile a power had arisen which transformed the whole course of Eastern politics and committed the Khazars to a struggle for life which lasted two hundred years. Mohammed had proclaimed his faith, and the Saracens were advancing to enforce it. The Persian empire was struck down (637), and the Moslems poured into Armenia. The khakan had defied the summons sent him by the invaders, and he now aided the Byzantine patrician in the defence of Armenia. The allies were defeated; and ere long the Moslems undertook the subjugation of Khazaria (651). It was the beginning of eighty years of ceaseless, obstinate, ineffectual warfare. Ten great invasions of Khazaria through the pass of Derbend are recorded, and many a retributive raid upon the Moslems; but in the end their fanaticism and enormous superiority of numbers prevailed. The khakan and his chieftains were captured and compelled to embrace Islam (737), and till the decay of the Mohammedan empire Khazaria with all the other countries of the Caucasus paid an annual tribute of children and of corn (737-861). Nevertheless, though overpowered in the end, the Khazars had protected the plains of Europe from the Mohammedans, and made the Caucasus the limit of their conquests.
     In the interval between the decline of the Mohammedan empire and the rise of Russia the Khazars reached the zenith of their power. The merchants of Byzantium, Armenia, and Baghdad met in the markets of Itil (whither since the raids of the Mohammedans the capital had been transferred from Semender), and traded for the wax, furs, leather, and honey that came down the Volga. So important was this traffic held at Constantinople that, when the portage to the Don was endangered by the irruption of a fresh horde of Turks (the Petchenegs), the emperor Theophilus himself dispatched the materials and the workmen to build for the Khazars a fortress impregnable to their forays (834). Famous as the one stone structure is in that stoneless region, the post became known far and wide amongst the hordes of the steppe as Sar-kel or the White Abode. Merchants from every nation found protection, justice, and perfect good faith in the Khazar cities. The Jews, expelled from Constantinople, sought a home amongst them, developed the Khazar trade, and contended with Mohammedans and Christians for the theological allegiance of the pagan people. The dynasty accepted Judaism (circ. 740), but there was equal tolerance for all, and each man was held amenable to the authorized code and to the official judges of the faith which he professed. At the Byzantine court the khakan was held in high honor. The emperor Justinian Rhinotmetus took refuge with him during his exile and married his daughter, 702. Justinian's rival Bardanes in turn sought an asylum in Khazaria, and in Leo IV. (775) the grandson of a Khazar sovereign ascended the Byzantine throne. Khazar troops were amongst the bodyguard of the imperial court; they fought for Leo VI. against Simon of Bulgaria (888); and the khakan was honored in diplomatic intercourse with the seal of three solidi, which marked him as a potentate of the first rank, above even the pope and the Carlovingian monarchs. Indeed his dominion became an object of uneasiness to the jealous statecraft of Byzantium, and Constantine Porphyrogenitus, writing for his son's instruction in the government, carefully enumerates the Alans, the Petchenegs, the Uzes, and the Bulgarians as the forces he must rely on to restrain it.
     It was, however, from a power that Constantine did not consider that the overthrow of the Khazars came. Long before, when a band of Slav prisoners was brought into the Khazar camp, a sage had prophesied -- "These men's swords have two edges; ours have but one. We conquer now; but some day they will conquer us." The arrival of the Varangians amidst the scattered Slavs (862) had now united them into a nation and launched them upon that career of conquest which within a hundred years carried the Russian arms to the Balkans and the Caucasus. The advance of the Petchenegs from the East gave the Russians their opportunity. Before the onset of those fierce invaders the precarious suzerainty of the khakan broke up. By calling in the Uzes, the Khazars did indeed dislodge the Petchenegs from the position they had siezed in the heart of the kingdom between the Volga and the Don, but only to drive them inwards to the Dnieper. The Hungarians severed from their kindred and their rulers, migrated to the Carpathians, whilst Oleg, the Russ prince of Kieff, passed through the Slav tribes of the Dnieper basin with the cry "Pay nothing to the Khazars" (884). The kingdom dwindled rapidly to its ancient limits between the Caucasus, the Volga, and the Don, whilst the Russian traders of Novgorod and Kieff supplanted the Khazars as the carriers between Constantinople and the north. When Ibn Fadlân visited Khazaria forty years later, Itil was even yet a great city, with baths and market-places and thirty mosques. But there was no domestic product nor manufacture; the kingdom depended solely upon the now precarious transit dues; and the king or great khakan was a roi fainéant hidden from the sight of men, the actual administration being in the hands of a major domus also called khakan. At the assault of Swiatoslav of Kieff the rotten fabric crumbled into dust. His troops were equally at home on land and water. Sarkel, Itil, and Semender surrendered to him (965-969). He pushed his conquests to the Caucasus and established Russian colonies upon the Sea of Azoff. The principality of Tmoutorakan, founded by his grandson Mstislav (988), replaced the kingdom of Khazaria, the last trace of which was extinguished by a joint expedition of Russians and Byzantines (1016). The last of the khakans, George Tzula, was taken prisoner. A remnant of the nation took refuge in an island of the Caspian (Siahcouyé); others retired to the Caucasus; part emigrated to the district of Kasakhi in Georgia, and appear for the last time joining with Georgia in her successful effort to throw off the yoke of the Seljuk Turks (1089). But the name is thought to survive in "Kadzaria," the Georgian title for Mingrelia, and in "Kadzaro," the Turkish word for the Lazes. Till the 13th century the Crimea was known to European travellers as "Gazaria" the "ramparts of the Khazars" are still distinguished in the Ukraine; and a record of their dominion survives in the names of Kazarek, Kazaritshi, Kazarinovod, Kozar-owka, Kozari, and Kazan (Schafarik, ii. 65).

     Authorities. -- Khazar: The letter of King Joseph to R. Chasdai Ibn Shafrût, first published by J. Akrish, Kol Mebasser, Constantinople, 1577, and often reprinted in editions of Jehuda hal-Levy's Kuzari. German translations by Zedner (Berlin, 1840) and Cassel, Magyar. Alterth., Berlin, 1848; French by Carmoly, Rev. Or. (1841). Comp. Harkavy, Russische Revue, iv. 69; Graetz, Geschichte, v. 364; and Carmoly, Itineraires de la Terre Sainte, Brussels, 1847. Armenian: Moses of Chorene; comp. Saint-Martin, Memoires Historiques et Géographiques sur l'Armenie, Paris, 1818. Arabic: The account of Ibn Fadlân (921) is preserved by Yâkût, ii. 436 sq. See also Istakhry (ed. de Goeje, p. 220 sq.), Mas'ûdi, chap. xvii. 406 sq. of Sprenger's translation; Ibn Haukal (ed. de Goeje, p. 279 sq.), and the histories of Ibn el Athîr and Tabary. Much of the Arabic material has been collected and translated by Fraehn, "Veteres Memoriæ Chasarorum," in Mém. de St. Pet., 1844; Dufrémery, Journ. As., 1849. See also D'Ohsson's imaginary Voyage d' Abul Cassim, based on these sources. Byzantine Historians: The relative passages are collected in Stritter's Memoriæ Populorum, St. Petersburg, 1778. Russian: The Chronicle ascribed to Nestor.
     Modern. -- Kleproth, "Mém. sur les Khazars," in Journ. As., ser. 1, vol. iii.; Id., Tableaux Hist. de l'Asie, Paris, 1823; Id., Tabl. Hist. de Caucases, 1827; Memoirs on the Khazars by Harkavy and by Howorth (Congrès intern. des Orientalistes, ii.); Latham, Russian and Turk, pp. 209-17; Vivien St. Martin, Études de Géog. Ancienne, Paris, 1850; Id., Recherches sur les populations du Caucase, 1847; Id., "Sur les Khazars," in Nouvelles Ann. des Voyages, 1851; D'Ohsson, Peuples du Caucase, Paris, 1828.


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