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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
A people of Turkish origin whose life and history are interwoven with the very beginnings of the history of the Jews of Russia. The kingdom of the Chazars was firmly established in most of South Russia long before the foundation of the Russian monarchy by the Varangians (855). Jews have lived on the shores of the Black and Caspian seas since the first centuries of the common era. Historical evidence points to the region of the Ural as the home of the Chazars. Among the classical writers of the Middle Ages they were known as the "Chozars," "Khazirs," "Akatzirs," and "Akatirs," and in the Russian chronicles as "Khwalisses" and "Ugry Byelyye."
The Armenian writers of the fifth and following centuries furnish ample information concerning this people. Moses of Chorene refers to the invasion by the "Khazirs" of Armenia and Iberia at the beginning of the third century: "The chaghan was the king of the North, the ruler of the Khazirs, and the queen was the chatoun" ("History of Armenia," 2:357). The Chazars first came to Armenia with the Basileans in 198. Though at first repulsed, they subsequently became important factors in Armenian history for a period of 800 years. Driven onward by the nomadic tribes of the steppes and by their own desire for plunder and revenge, they made frequent invasions into Armenia. The latter country was made the battle-ground in the long struggle between the Romans and the Persians. This struggle, which finally resulted in the loss by Armenia of her independence, paved the way for the political importance of the Chazars. The conquest of eastern Armenia by the Persians in the fourth century rendered the latter dangerous to the Chazars, who, for their own protection, formed an alliance with the Byzantines. This alliance was renewed from time to time until the final conquest of the Chazars by the Russians. Their first aid was rendered to the Byzantine emperor Julian, in 363. About 434 they were for a time tributary to Attila—Sidonius Apollinaris relates that the Chazars followed the banners of Attila—and in 452 fought on the Catalanian fields in company with the Black Huns and Alans. The Persian king Kobad (488-531) undertook the construction of a line of forts through the pass between Derbent and the Caucasus, in order to guard against the invasion of the Chazars, Turks, and other warlike tribes. His son Chosroes Anoshirvan (531-579) built the wall of Derbent, repeatedly mentioned by the Oriental geographers and historians as Bab al-Abwab (Justi, "Gesch. des Alton Persiens," p. 208).
In the second half of the sixth century the Chazars moved westward. They established themselves in the territory bounded by the Sea of Azov, the Don and the lower Volga, the Caspian Sea, and the northern Caucasus. The Caucasian Goths (Tetraxites) were subjugated by the Chazars, probably about the seventh century (Löwe, "Die Reste der Germanen am Schwarzen Meere," p. 72, Halle, 1896). Early in that century the kingdom of the Chazars had become powerful enough to enable the chaghan to send to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius an army of 40,000 men, by whose aid he conquered the Persians (626-627). The Chazars had already occupied the northeastern part of the Black Sea region. According to the historian Moses Kalonkataci, the Chazars, under their leader Jebu Chaghan (called "Ziebel Chaghan" by the Greek writers), penetrated into Persian territory as early as the second campaign of Heraclius, on which occasion they devastated Albania ("Die Persischen Feldzüge des Kaisers Herakleios," in "Byzantinische Zeitschrift," 3:364). Nicephorus testifies that Heraclius repeatedly showed marks of esteem to his ally, the chaghan of the Chazars, to whom he even promised his daughter in marriage. In the great battle between the Chazars and the Arabs near Kizliar 4,000 Mohammedan soldiers and their leader were slain.
In the year 669 the Ugrians or Zabirs freed themselves from the rule of the Obrians, settled between the Don and the Caucasus, and came under the dominion of the Chazars. For this reason the Ugrians, who had hitherto been called the" White" or "Independent" Ugrians, are described in the chronicles ascribed to Nestor as the "Black," or "Dependent," Ugrians. They were no longer governed by their own princes, but were ruled by the kings of the Chazars. In 735, when the Arab leader Mervan moved from Georgia against the Chazars, he attacked the Ugrians also. In 679 the Chazars subjugated the Bulgars and extended their sway farther west between the Don and the Dnieper, as faras the head-waters of the Donetz in the province of Lebedia (K. Grot, "Moravia i Madyary," St. Petersburg, 1881; J. Danilevski and K. Grot, "O Puti Madyars Urala v Lebediyu," in "Izvyestiya Imperatorskavo Russkavo Georaficheskavo Obshchestva," ). It was probably about that time that the chaghan of the Chazars and his grandees, together with a large number of his heathen people, embraced the Jewish religion. According to A. Harkavy ("Meassef Niddaḥim," ), the conversion took place in 620; according to others, in 740. King Joeph, in his letter to Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut (about 960), gives the following account of the conversion:
"Some centuries ago King Bulan reigned over the Chazars. To him God appeared in a dream and promised him might and glory. Encouraged by this dream, Bulan went by the road of Darlan to the country of Ardebil, where he gained great victories [over the Arabs]. The Byzantine emperor and the calif of the Ishmaelites sent to him envoys with presents, and sages to convert him to their respective religions. Bulan invited also wise men of Israel, and proceeded to examine them all. As each of the champions believed his religion to be the best, Bulan separately questioned the Mohammedans and the Christians as to which of the other two religions they considered the better. When both gave preference to that of the Jews, that king perceived that it must be the true religion. He therefore adopted it".
Succession of Kings.
This account of the conversion was considered to be of a legendary nature. Harkavy, however (in "Bilbasov" and "Yevreiskaya Biblioteka"), proved from Arabic and Slavonian sources that the religious disputation at the Chazarian court is a historical fact. Even the name of Sangari has been found in a liturgy of Constantine the Philosopher (Cyrill). It was one of the successors of Bulan, named Obadiah, who regenerated the kingdom and strengthened the Jewish religion. He invited Jewish scholars to settle in his dominions, and founded synagogues and schools. The people were instructed in the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud, and in the "divine service of the ḥazzanim." In their writings the Chazars used the Hebrew letters (Harkavy, "Skazaniya," etc., p. 241). Obadiah was succeeded by his son Hezekiah; the latter by his son Manasseh; Manasseh by Ḥanukkah, a brother of Obadiah; Ḥanukkah by his son Isaac; Isaac by his son Moses (or Manasseh II.); the latter by his son Nisi; and Nisi by his son Aaron II. King Joseph himself was a son of Aaron, and ascended the throne in accordance with the law of the Chazars relating to succession. On the whole, King Joseph's account agrees generally with the evidence given by the Arabic writers of the tenth century, but in detail it contains a few discrepancies. According to Ibn Faḍlan, Ibn Dastah, and others, only the king and the grandees were followers of Judaism. The rest of the Chazars were Christians, Mohammedaus, and heathens; and the Jews were in a great minority (Frähn, "De Chazaris," pp. 13-18, 584-590). According to Mas'udi ("Les Prairies d'Or," 2:8), the king and the Chazars proper were Jews; but the army consisted of Mohammedans, while the other inhabitants, especially the Slavonians and Russians, were heathens. From the work "Kitab al-Buldan," written about the ninth century (p. 121; cited by Chwolson in "Izvyestiya o Chazarakh," etc., p. 57), it appears as if all the Chazars were Jews and that they had been converted to Judaism only a short time before that book was written. But this work was probably inspired by Jaihani; and it may be assumed that in the ninth century many Chazar heathens became Jews, owing to the religious zeal of King Obadiah. "Such a conversion in great masses," says Chwolson (ib. p. 58), "may have been the reason for the embassy of Christians from the land of the Chazars to the Byzantine emperor Michael. The report of the embassy reads as follows: 'Quomodo nune Judæi, nune Saraceni ad suam fidem eos molirentur convertere'" (Schlözer, "Nestor," 3:154).
Internal Administration and Commercial Relations.
The history of the kingdom of the Chazars undoubtedly presents one of the most remarkable features of the Middle Ages. Surrounded by wild, nomadic peoples, and themselves leading partly a nomadic life, the Chazars enjoyed all the privileges of civilized nations, a well-constituted and tolerant government, a flourishing trade, and a well-disciplined standing army. In a time when fanaticism, ignorance, and anarchy reigned in western Europe, the kingdom of the Chazars could boast of its just and broad-minded administration; and allwho were persecuted on the score of their religion found refuge there. There was a supreme court of justice, composed of seven judges, of whom two were Jews, two Mohammedans, and two Christians, in charge of the interests of their respective faiths, while one heathen was appointed for the Slavonians, Russians, and other pagans (Mas'udi, c. 2:8-11).
The Jewish population in the entire domain of the Chazars, in the period between the seventh and tenth centuries, must have been considerable. There is no doubt that the Caucasian and other Oriental Jews had lived and carried on business with the Chazars long before the arrival of the Jewish fugitives from Greece, who escaped (723) from the mania for conversion which possessed the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian. From the correspondence between King Joseph and Ḥasdai it is apparent that two Spanish Jews, Judah ben, Meïr ben Nathan and Joseph Gagris, had succeeded in settling in the land of the Chazars, and that it was a German Jew, Isaac ben Eliezer "from the land of Nyemetz" (Germany), who carried Ḥasdai's letter to the king. Saadia, who had a fair knowledge of the kingdom of the Chazars, mentions a certain Isaac ben Abraham who had removed from Sura to Chazaria (Harkavy, in Kohut Memorial Volume, p. 244). Among the various routes enumerated by the Arabic geographer Ibn Khurdadhbah (860-880) as being used by the Rahdanite Jewish merchants, there is one leading from Spain or France, via Allemania, through the land of the Slavonians, close by Atel, the capital of the Chazars, whence they crossed the Sea of the Chazars (Caspian Sea) and continued their voyage, via Balkh, Transoxania, and the land of the Tagasga, to India and China. These merchants, who spoke Arabic, Persian, Greek, Spanish, French, and Slavonic, "traveled continuously from west to east from east to west by sea and by land." They carried eunuchs, serving-maids, boys, silks, furs, swords, imported musk, aloes, camphor, cinnamon, and other products of the Far East (Harkavy, "Skazaniya Musulmanskikh Pisatelei o Slavyanakh i Russkikh," pp. 48, 53; "Journal Asiatique," 1865).
Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut, who was foreign minister to 'Abd al-Raḥman, Sultan of Cordova, in his letter to King Joseph of the Chazars (about 960), relates that the first information about that kingdom was communicated to him by envoys from Khorassan, and that their statements were corroborated by the ambassadors from Byzantium. The latter told him that the powerful Chazars were maintaining amicable relations with the Byzantine empire, with which they carried on by sea a trade in fish, skins, and other wares, the voyage from Constantinople occupying fifteen days. Ḥasdai determined to avail himself of the services of the Byzantine embassy to transmit his letter to the king of the Chazars, and with that view he despatched Isaac ben Nathan with valuable gifts to the emperor, requesting him to aid Isaac in his journey to Chazaria. But the Greeks interposed delays, and finally sent Isaac back to Cordova. Ḥasdai then decided to send his message by way of Jerusalem, Nisibis, Armenia, and Bardaa, but the envoys of the king of the Gebalim (Boleslav I. of Bohemia), who had then just arrived in Cordova, and among whom were two Jews, Saul and Joseph, suggested a different plan. They offered to send the letter to Jews living in "Hungarin" (Hungary), who, in their turn, would transmit it to "Russ" (Russia), and thence through "Bulgar" (probably the country of the Bulgarians on the Kuban) to its destination (Atel, the capital of Chazaria). As the envoys; guaranteed the safe delivery of the message, Ḥasdai accepted the proposal. He further expressed his thankfulness that God in His mercy had not deprived the Jews of a deliverer, but had preserved the remnant of the Jewish race.
Taking a keen interest in everything relating to the kingdom of the Chazars, Ḥasdai begs the king to communicate to him a detailed account of the geography of his country, of its internal constitution, of the customs and occupations of its inhabitants, and especially of the history of his ancestry and of the state. In this letter Ḥasdai speaks of the tradition according to which the Chazars once dwelt near the Seir (Serir) Mountains; he refers to the narrative of Eldad ha-Dani, who thought he had discovered the Lost Ten Tribes; and inquires whether the Chazars know anything concerning "the end of the miracles" (the coming of the Messiah). As to Eldad ha-Dani's unauthenticated account of the Lost Ten Tribes on the River Sambation, it may be interesting to note that, according to Idrisi, the city of Sarmel (Sarkel-on-the-Don) was situated on the River Al-Sabt (Sambat), which is the River Don. The name for Kiev, as given by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, is also Sambatas (Σαμβάτας). These appellations of the River Don and of the city of Kiev point evidently to Jewish-Chazar influences (Westberg, "Ibrahim ibn Ya'ḳub's Reisebericht über die Slavenlande aus dem Jahre 965," p. 134, St. Petersburg, 1898).
The Chazarian Letters.
A complete account of the correspondence between. Ḥasdai and King Joseph has been written by A. Harkavy ("Yevreiskaya Biblioteka," 8:135), one of the leading authorities on the history of the Chazars, from which, the following is, in substance, an extract:
The Chazarian correspondence was first published in the work" Ḳol-Mebasser" of Isaac Aḳrish (Constantinople, 1577), into whose hands these documents came while on a voyage from Egypt to Constantinople. He published them with the view of proving that even after the destruction of Jerusalem the Jews still had their own country, in accordance with the well-known passage in Genesis (49:10), "the scepter shall not depart from Judah."
Among European scholars Johann Buxtorf, the son, was the first to become interested in the Chazarlan letters, which he printed together with the text of 'Aḳrish in his Latin translation of "Cuzari" (Basel, 1660).
Buxtorf believed that the letters themselves and the entire history of the Chazarian kingdom were but fable, for the reason that no seafarers, merchants, or other travelers had brought any information concerning such a flourishing kingdom as that of the Chazars was reputed to be. The learned Orientalist D'Herbelot ("Bibliothèque Orientale," 2:455, Paris, 1697), misled by a wrong conception of the "Cuzari" and its relation to the conversion of the Chazars to Judaism, leaves the authenticity of the correspondence an open question.
One of the greatest scholars of the 17th century. Samuel Bochart, in his derivation of the name of the Chazars, introduces the account of Joseph ben Gorion (Yosippon), and in his notes to the "Yuḥasin" of Zacuto gives information about the Chazarian kingdom and the Sea of the Chazars obtained from the "Geographia Nubiensis" of the Arabian writer Idrisi (12th century: see "Geographia Sacra," 1646, p. 226). Bochart's views, however, are not important because he had no knowledge of the "Cuzari" or of the Chazarian letters. All the skepties of thattime and those mentioned below had no knowledge of the facts concerning the Chazars and Chazarian Judaism as contained in Slavonic Russian sources, or of the "Acta Sanctorum," which discusses those sources. It is therefore not surprising that the first author of a comprehensive history of the Jews, Basnage, who in his "Histoire des Juifs," 5:446, Rotterdam, 1707, prints the Chazarian letters, has the boldness to declare as idle fancy, not only the kingdom of the Chazars, but even the existence of the Chazarian people, which was invented, he considers, by Jewish boastfulness.
About the same time Dom Augustine Calmet issued his Biblical researches, part of which treats of "the country whither the Ten Tribes were led away and where the said tribes now live." Calmet considers Media near the Caspian Sea to be "the country," and that it is also identical with "the country of the Chazars," which was glorified so much in the rabbinical writings. According to them the czar of the Chazars adopted the Jewish religion in the eighth century. Calmet, however, considers the whole story a fiction (Calmet, "Biblische Untersuchungen, Uebersetzt von Mosheim," 4:406-407, Bremen, 1743).
Baratier, "the remarkable child," also considered the story of the Chazars to be only a pleasing novel; but it may serve as an excuse for his opinion that when he wrote his work he was only eleven years of age (Baratier, "Voyage de R. Benjamin Fils de Jona de Tudela," 2:285, Amsterdam, 1734). The Danish historiographer Frederick Suhm, who in 1779 wrote a remarkable work, for that time, on the Chazars, and who could not free himself from the view of the Hebraists of the time with regard to the letter of King Joseph, was the first to give a decided opinion in favor of the genuineness of the letter of Ḥasdai (Suhm,"Samlede Skrifter"). The ignorance of these writers is accounted for by the fact that only at the end of the eighteenth century were translations of the old Arabic writers, Mas'udi, Istakhri, Ibn Ḥauḳal, etc., on the Chazars, issued. The first to make use of the testimony of the Arabic writers to corroborate the accounts of the Jewish writers on the Chazars, was the Lithuanian historian Tadeusz Czacki, who had the advantage of using copies of the Arabic manuscripts relating to the subject in the Library of Paris ("Rosprawa o Zydach," pp. 68-69, Wilna, 1807). The Russian historian Karamsin also made use of Mas'udi's information, given in the "Chrestomathy" of Silvestre de Sacy, and of Abulfeda's researches published in the fifth volume of Busching's "Historical Magazine."
The Russian academician Ch. Frähn and the Swedish scholar D'Ohsson collected and published, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, all the Arabic testimony on the subject of the Chazars known at that time. The authenticity of the letter of King Joseph has, however, since been fully established by the very material which those scholars had at their disposal. Frähn acknowledges the genuineness of Ḥasdai's letter, but not that of King Joseph. In the same way D'Ohsson, although he found the information of the Arabic and Byzantine writers in conformity with the contents of the Chazar letters, could not help doubting its genuineness ("Peuples du Caucase," p. 205). This may be explained by the fact that as they did not understand Hebrew they did not care to commit themselves on a question which lay outside of their field of investigation.
But the Jewish scholars had no doubts whatever as to the genuineness of the Chazarian documents, especially since the beginning of the critical school of Rapoport and Zunz. They were made use of by many writers in Spain in the twelfth century; as, for instance, by Judah ha-Levi (1140), who displayed a close 'acquaintance with the contents of King Joseph's epistle (Cassel, "Das Buch Kusari," pp. 13-14, Leipsic, 1869), and by the historian Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo (1160), who distinctly refers to the same letter ("Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah," p. 46b, Amsterdam, 1711).
Later on, with the persecutions which ended with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Chazarian documents, together with many other treasures of medieval Jewish literature, were lost to the learned, and were not recovered until the end of the sixteenth century, when they were found in Egypt by Isaac 'Aḳrish. The Jews of that time took little interest, however, in the history of the past, being absorbed by the cheerless events of their own epoch. The first reference, therefore, to the Chazar letters is by Rabbi Bacharach of Worms, in 1679, who discovered proofs of the genuineness of Ḥasdai's letter in an acrostic in the poem which served as a preface, and which reads as follows: "I, Ḥasdai, son of Isaac, son of Ezra ben Shaprut" (see "Ḥut ha-Shani," p. 110b, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1769).
This acrostic, however, again remained unnoticed until it was rediscovered by Frensdorf, Independently of Bacharach, in 1836 ("Zeitschrift für Jüdische Theologie," 2:513). Four years later (1840) the genuineness of Ḥasdai's letter was absolutely proved by Joseph Zedner. He also acknowledged the authenticity of the chaghan's letter, but did not submit proofs ("Auswahl Historischer Stücke aus der Jüdischen Literatur," pp. 26-36, Berlin, 1840). At the same time Solomon Munk gave his opinion in favor of the genuineness of both letters ("Orient, Lit." 1:136; "Archives Israélites." 1848, p. 343; "Mélanges de Philosophie Juive et Arabe," p. 483, Paris, 1859). Since then most of the Jewish scholars have adopted his view, including Lebrecht, 1841; Michael Sachs, 1845; S. D. Luzzatto, 1846-50; Z. Frankel, 1852; D. Cassel and H. Joloviez, 1853, 1859, 1872; Leop. Löw, 1855-74; Hartog, 1857; Jost, 1858; Steinschneider, 1860; Grätz, 1860 and 1871; Harkavy, beginning with 1864; Geiger, 1865; Kraushar, 1866; D. Kaufmann, 1877; and many others. A comparison of Jewish with other sources, especially with Arabic, as far as they were then known, must be credited to E. Carmoly. He began his work with the comparison of the various sources in his "Revue Orientale" (1840-44). He completed it in 1847 ("ltinéraires de la Terre Sainte," pp. 1-110, Brussels, 1847). Some useful supplements to Carmoly's works were presented by Paulus Cassel in 1848 and 1877 ("Magyarische Alterthümer," pp. 183-219, Berlin, 1848; "Der Chazarische Königsbrief aus dem 10. Jahrhundert," Berlin, 1877).
The results of these investigations were accepted by the following Christian scholars: Grigoryev, 1834; Schafarik, 1848; Lelevel, 1851-60; Vivien de San Martin, 1851; S. Solovyov, 1851-1874, Byelevski, 1864; Brun, 1866-77; Bilbasov, 1868-71; Kunik, 1874 and 1878: and many others. Still there were some writers who were misled by the earlier opinions, and on the strength of them spoke skeptically of the documents; as Jacob Goldenthal (1848); Dobryakov (1865); and even the historian Ilovaiski (1876).
The translation of the letters given by Harkavy is from a manuscript in the St. Petersburg Public Library. The genuineness of the St. Petersburg manuscript has been demonstrated by him (against P. Cassel, Vambéry, etc.), in the "Russische Revue" and in "Meassef Niddaḥim," , No. 10, pp. 149 et seq.
The Capital of Chazaria.
In 960 Atel (or Itil), at that time the capital of the kingdom of the Chazars, was situated about eight miles from the modern Astrakhan, on the right bank of the lower Volga, which river was also called "Atel" or "Itil." The meaning of "Atel" in the Gothic language is "father" or "little father," that of "Itil" in the Turanian language is "river"; it is difficult to decide which of these two words gave the river its name. The western part of the city was surrounded by a wall pierced by four gates, of which one led to the river, and the others to the steppes. Here was situated the king's palace, which was the only brick building in the city. According to Mas'udi, the city was divided into three parts, the palace of the chaghan standing on an island. The king had twenty-five wives, all of royal blood, and sixty concubines, all famous beauties. Each one dwelt in a separate tent and was watched by a eunuch. The authority of the chaghan was so absolute that during his absence from the capital, even his viceroy, or coregent (called "isha," or "bek," or "pech"), was powerless. The viceroy had to enter the chaghan's apartments barefooted and with the greatest reverence. He held in his right hand a chip of wood, which he lit when he saluted the chaghan, whereupon he took his seat to the right of the latter, on the throne, which was of gold. The walls of the palace were also gilded, and a golden gate ornamented the palace.
All the other dwellings of the then populous city were insignificant mud huts or felt tents. The position of the chaghan of the Chazars was evidently similar to that of the former mikados of Japan, while the bek, his military coregent, correspondedto the shoguns of the latter. Emperor Heraclius in 626 concluded a treaty with the chaghan of the Chazars, and Constantine Copronymus, in his description of the embassy of the Chazars (834), states that it was sent by the "ċhaghan and the pech." Ibn Faḃlan relates that the king of the Chazars was called the "great chaghan," and his deputy "chaghan-bhoa" ("bey," "beg," or "bek"). The bek led the army, administered the affairs of the country, and appeared among the people; and to him the neighboring kings paid allegiance. It will thus be seen that the extent of the powers of the bek varied with the times. When the chaghan wanted to punish any one, he said, "Go and commit suicide"—a method resembling the Japanese custom of hara-kiri.
The mother of the chaghan resided in the western part of the city, whose eastern part, called "Chazaran," was inhabited by merchants of various nationalities. The city and its environs were heavily shaded by trees. The Turkish and the Chazar languages predominated. The entourage of the chaghan, numbering 4,000 men, consisted of representatives of different nationalities. The White Chazars were renowned for their beauty; and according to Demidov, the mountaineers of the Crimea contrasted very favorably with the Nogay Tatars, because they were considerably intermixed with the Chazars and with the equally fine race of the Kumans. Besides the White Chazars, there were also Black Chazars (who were almost as dark as the Hindus), Turkish immigrants, Slavonians, Hunno-Bulgars, Jews, who lived mostly in the cities, and various Caucasian tribes, such as the Abghases, Kabardines, Ossetes, Avares, Lesghians, etc.
Trade and Commerce.
The Chazars cultivated rice, millet, fruit, grains, and the vine. They had important fisheries on the Caspian Sea, and the sturgeon constituted the main article of food. The Arabic writer Al-Maḳdisi remarks: "In Chazaria there are many sheep, and Jews, and much honey" ("Bibl. Geograph. Arabic." , Leyden, 1877). From the upper Volga they brought down from the Mordvines and Russians honey and valuable furs, which they exported to Africa, Spain, and France. They supplied the market of Constantinople with hides, furs, fish, Indian goods, and articles of luxury. The chaghan and his suite resided in the capital only during the winter months. From the month of Nisan (April) they led a nomadic life in the steppes, returning to the city about the Feast of Ḥanukkah (December). The estates and vineyards of the chaghan were on the island on which his palace was situated. Another city of the Chazars, Semender, between Atel and Bab al-Abwab, was surrounded by 40,000 vines. It was identical with the modern Tarku, near Petrovsk, which is now inhabited by Jew's and Kumyks. The latter are supposed to be descended from the Chazars (Klaproth, "Mémoire sur les Khazars," in "Journal Asiatique." 1823, ).
Relations with Byzantium.
At the Byzantine court the chaghan was held in high esteem. In diplomatic correspondence with him the seal of three solidi was used, which marked him as a potentate of the first rank, above even the pope and the Carlovingian monarchs. Emperor Justinian II., after his flight from Kherson to Doros, took refuge during his exile with the chagham, and married the chaghan's daughter Irene, who was famous for her beauty (702) (Nicephorus, "Breviarium," ed. Bonn, 1837, p. 46). Emperor Leo IV., "the Chazar" (775-780), the son of Constantine, was thus a grandson of the king of the Chazars. From his mother he inherited his mild, amiable disposition. Justinian's rival, Bardanes, likewise sought an asylum in Chazaria. Chazarian troops were among the body-guard of the Byzantine imperial court; and they fought for Leo VI. against Simeon of Bulgaria in 888.
King Joseph in his letter to Ḥasdai gives the following account of his kingdom:
"The country up the river is within a four months' journey to the Orient, settled by the following nations who pay tribute to the Chazars: Burtas, Bulgar, Suvar, Arissu, Tzarmis, Ventit, Syever, and Slaviyun. Thence the boundary-line runs to Buarasm as far as the Jordjan. All the inhabitants of the seacoast that live within a month's distance pay tribute to the Chazars. To the south Semender, Bak-Tadlu, and the gates of the Bab al-Abwab are situated on the seashore. Thence the boundaryline extends to the mountains of Azur, Bak-Bagda, Sridi, Kiton, Arku, Shaula, Sagsar, Albusser, Ukusser, Kiadusser, Tzidlag, Zunikh, which are very high peaks, and to the Alans as far as the boundary of the Kassa, Kalkial, Takat, Gebul, and the Constantinian Sea. To the West, Sarkel, Samkrtz, Kertz, Sugdai. Aluss, Lambat, Bartnit, Alubika, Kut, Mankup, Budik, Alma, and Grusin—all these western localities are situated on the banks of the Constantinian (Black) Sea. Thence the boundaryline extends to the north, traversing the land of Basa, which is on the River Vaghez. Here on the plains live nomadic tribes, which extend to the frontier of the Gagries, as innumerable as the sands of the sea; and they all pay tribute to the Chazars. The king of the Chazars himself has established his residence at the mouth of the river, in order to guard its entrance and to prevent the Russians from reaching the Caspian Sea, and thus penetrating to the land of the Ishmaelites. In the same way the Chazars bar enemies from the gates of Bab al-Abwab."
Even the Russian Slavonians of Kiev had, in the ninth century, to pay as yearly tax to the Chazars a sword and the skin of a squirrel for each house.
War with Goths.
At the end of the eighth century, when the Crimean Goths rebelled against the sovereignty of the Chazars, the latter occupied the Gothic capital, Doros. The Chazars were at first repulsed by the Gothic bishop Joannes; but when he had surrendered, the Goths submitted to the rule of the Chazars (Braun, "Die Letzten Schicksale der Krimgothen," p. 14, St. Petersburg, 1890; Tomaschek, Die Gothen in Taurien," Vienna, 1881).
In the second quarter of the ninth century, when the Chazars were often annoyed by the irruptions of the Petchenegs, Emperor Theophilus, fearing for the safety of the Byzantine trade with the neighboring nations, despatched his brother-in-law, Petron Kamateros, with materials and workmen to build for the Chazars the fortress Sarkel on the Don (834). Sarkel ("Sar-kel," the white abode; Russian, "Byelaya Vyezha") served as a military post and as a commercial depot for the north.
In the second half of the ninth century the apostle of the Slavonians, Constantine (CYRIL), went to the Crimea to spread Christianity among the Chazars (Tomaschek, c. p. 25). At this time the kingdom of the Chazars stood at the height of its power, and was constantly at war with the Arabian califs andtheir leaders in Persia and the Caucasus. The Persian Jews hoped that the Chazars might succeed in destroying the califs' country (Harkavy, in Kohut Memorial Volume, p. 244). The high esteem in which the Chazars were held among the Jews of the Orient may be seen in the application to them—in an Arabic commentary on Isaiah ascribed by some to Saadia, and by others to Benjamin Nahawandi—of Isaiah 48:14: "The Lord hath loved him." "This," says the commentary, "refers to the Chazars, who will go and destroy Babel "—e., Babylonia—a name used to designate the country of the Arabs (Harkavy in "Ha-Maggid." 1877, p. 357).
The chaghans of the Chazars, in their turn, took great interest in and protected their coreligionists, the Jews. When one of the chaghans received information (c. 921) that the Mohammedans had destroyed a synagogue in the land of Babung (according to Harkavy the market of Camomile in Atel is meant), he gave orders that the minaret of the mosque in his capital should be broken off, and the muezzin executed. He declared that he would have destroyed all the mosques in the country had he not been afraid that the Mohammedans would in turn destroy all the synagogues in their lands (Ibn Faḍlan, in Frähn, "De Chazaris," p.18). In the conquest of Hungary by the Magyars (889) the Chazars rendered considerable assistance. They had, however, settled in Pannonia before the arrival of the Magyars. This is evident from the names of such places as Kozar and Kis-Kozard in the Nógrad, and Great-Kozar and Ráczkozar in the Baranya district (Karl Szabó, "Magyar Akademiai Ertesitö," 1:132, cited by Vambéry in his "Ursprung der Magyaren," p. 132; compare Kohn, "A Zsidók Története Magyarországon"—The History of the Jews in Hungary—1:12 et seq.).
Mas'udi relates the following particulars concerning the Chazars in connection with Russian invasions of Tabaristan and neighboring countries:
War with Russians.
"After the year 300 of the Hegira (913-914), five hundred Russian [Northmen's] ships, every one of which had a hundred men on board, came to the estuary of the Don, which opens into the Pontus, and is in communication with the river of the Chazars, the Volga. The king of the Chazars keeps a garrison on this side of the estuary with efficient, warlike equipment to exclude any other power from its passage. The king of the Chazars himself frequently takes the field against them if this garrison is too weak.
"When the Russian vessels reached the fort they sent to the king of the Chazars to ask his permission to pass through his dominions, promising him half the plunder which they might take from the nations who lived on the coast of this sea. He gave them leave. They entered the country, and continuing their voyage up the River Don as far as the river of the Chazars, they went down this river past the town of Atel and entered through its mouth into the sea of the Chazars. They spread over el-Jil, ed-Dailem, Tabaristan, Aboskum, which is the name for the coast of Jordjan, the Naphtha country, and toward A derbijan, the town of Ardobil, which is in Aderbijan, and about three days' journey from the sea. The nations on the coast had no means of repelling the Russians, although they put themselves in a state of defense; for the inhabitants of the coast of this sea are well civilized. When the Russians had secured their booty and captives, they sailed to the mouth of the river of the Chazars and sent messengers with money and spoils to the king, in conformity with the stipulations they had made. The Larissians and other Moslems in the country of the Chazars heard of the attack of the Russians, and they said to their king: 'The Russians have invaded the country of our Moslem brothers; they have shed their blood and made their wives and children captives, as they are unable to resist; permit us to oppose them.' The Moslem army, which numbered about 15,000, took the field and fought for three days. The Russians were put to the sword, many being drowned, and only 5,000 escaping. These were slain by the Burtas and by the Moslems of Targhiz. The Russians did not make a similar attempt after that year".
Notwithstanding the assertions of Mas'udi, the Russians invaded the trans-Caucasian country in 944, but were careful in this expedition to take a different route.
This seems to have been the beginning of the downfall of the Chazar kingdom. The Russian Varangians had firmly established themselves at Kiev, while the powerful dominions of the Chazars had become dangerous to the Byzantine empire, and Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in his instructions on government written for his son, carefully enumerates the Alans, the Petehenegs, the Uzes, and the Bulgarians as the forces on which he must rely to check the influence of the Chazars.
Decline and Fall of the Chazars.
Five years after the correspondence between the king of the Chazars and Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut (965), the Russian prince Swyatoslaw made war upon the Chazars, apparently for the possession of Taurida and Taman. The Russians had already freed from the rule of the Chazars a part of the Black Bulgars, and had established a separate Russian duchy under the name of "Tmutrakan"; but in the Crimean peninsula the Chazars still had possessions, and from the Caucasian side the Russian Tmutrakan suffered from the irruption of the Kossogian and Karbardine princes, who were tributary to the chaghan of the Chazars. The fortress of Sarkel and the city of Atel were the chief obstacles to Russian predatory expeditions on the Caspian Sea. After a hard fight the Russians conquered the Chazars. Swyatoslaw destroyed Sarkel, subdued also the tribes of the Kossogians and Yass (Alans), and so strengthened the position of the Russian Tmutrakan. They destroyed the city of Bulgar, devastated the country of the Burtas, and took possession of Atel and Semender.
Four years later the Russians conquered all the Chazarian territory east of the Sea of Azov. Only the Crimean territory of the Chazars remained in their possession until 1016, when they were dispossessed by a joint expedition of Russians and Byzantines. The last of the chaghans, George Tzula, was taken prisoner; some of the Chazars took refuge in an island of the Caspian, Siahcouye; others retired to the Caucasus; while many were sent as prisoners of war to Kiev, where a Chazar community had long existed. Many intermingled in the Crimea with the local Jews; the Krimtschaki are probably their descendants—perhaps some of the Subbotniki also ("Voskhod," 1891, -). Some went to Hungary, but the great mass of the people remained in their native country. Many members of the Chazarian royal family emigrated to Spain. Until the thirteenth century the Crimea was known to European travelers as "Gazaria," the Italian form of "Chazaria."
- I. 'Akrish, Kol Mebasser, Constantinople, 1577;
- Cassel, Der Chazarische Königsbrief, Berlin, 1877;
- Carmoly, in Revue Orientale, , Brussels, 1841;
- Chwolson, Ibn-Dasta Izvyestiya o Chazarakh, Burtasakh, etc., St. Petersburg,1869;
- Frähn, De Chazaris;
- Excerpta, de Scriptoribus Arabicis, St. Petersburg, 1821;
- idem, Ibn Foszlan (Fadlan), St. Petersburg, 1823;
- Grigoryev, Rossia i Asia, St. Petersburg, 1876;
- Harkavy, Soobshcheniya o Chazarakya, in Yevreiskaya Biblioteka, , St. Petersburg, 1880;
- idem, Chazarskia Pisma, in Yevreiskaya Biblioteka, , St. Petersburg, 1879;
- idem, in Geiger's Jüd. Zeit. , Breslau, 1865;
- idem, in Razsvyet, 1880, No. 4;
- idem, Nyekotoryya Dannyya, in Trudy 4. Archeologicheskavo Syezda v Kazani, Kazan, 1884;
- idem, in Russische Revue, 1875, 1877;
- Hirschfeld, Das Buch Al-Chazari, Breslau, 1885;
- Klaproth, Mémoire sur les Khazars, in Journal Asiatique, ser. 1, vol.;
- Neumann, Die Völker des Südlichen Russlands, Leipsie, 1847;
- C. d'Ohsson, Les Peuples du Caucase, Paris, 1828;
- Sprenger, Al-Mas'udi's Meadows of Gold, , London, 1841;
- Vambéry, Der Ursprung der Magyaren, Leipsic, 1882;
- Vivien de St. Martin, Sur les Khazars, in Nouvelles Annales des Voyages, 1851;
- Bacher, La Conversion des Khazars d'après un Ouvrage, Midraschique, in Rev. Et. Juives, 20:144-146;
- and works mentioned in the text. See, also, Armenia, Caucasus, and Crimea.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Chazars'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/c/chazars.html. 1901.