KHAZARS (also known as Chozars, as Άκάτζιροι
or Χάζαροι in Byzantine writers, as Khazirs in Armenian and Khwalisses in Russian chronicles,
and Ugri Bielli in Nestor), an ancient people who 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 900 years (A.D. 190—1100). The
epoch of their greatness is from A.D. 600 to 950. Their home was in the spurs of the Caucasus and along
the shores of the Caspian—called by medieval Moslem geographers Bahr-al-Khazar (“sea of the Khazars”); their
cities, all 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,
Byzantium, Armenia, Russia and the Bulgarians of the middle Volga. The tide of their dominion ebbed and
flowed repeatedly, but the normal Khazari may be taken as the territory 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 time reach the Kur and the Aras, but on that side the Khazars were confronted by 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 Astarabad.
Kasbek Mount shown at right in photo taken in
the pass of Dariel, where the Khazars, ancestors of today's warlike Ashkenazi "Jews," came into frequent contact
with their southern neighbors from Byzantium, Persia and the Baghdad Caliphate. Much of the Caucasus looks quite the
same as it did in ancient times.
origin of the Khazars has been much disputed, and they have been variously regarded as akin to the Georgians, Finno-Ugrians
and the Turks. This last view is perhaps the most probable. Their king Joseph, in answer
to the inquiry of Ḥasdai Ibn Shaprūt of Cordova (c. 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 Athīr) or with the Armenians (Dimishqi, ed. Mehren,
p. 263); whilst Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān, who passed through Khazaria on a mission from the caliph Moqtadir (A.D.
921), positively asserts that the Khazar tongue differed not only from the Turkish, but from that of the bordering nations,
which were Ugrian.
are many points connected with the Khazars which indicate a close connexion with Ugrian or Turkish peoples. The
official titles recorded by Ibn Faḍlān are those in use amongst the Tatar 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 medieval
authorities (Ibn Ḥauqal and Iṣṭakhri) note a resemblance between the speech in use amongst the Khazars and
the Bulgarians; and the modern Magyar—a Ugrian language—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 (A.D. 448 et seq.), at another to the Turks (c. 580), which
would sufficiently explain the signs of Tatar 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 Bagdad; 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 Tatar invaders of Europe, 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 and for good faith—all qualities foreign to the Hunnic character.
They have been identified with the Ἀκάτζιροι (perhaps Ak-Khazari, or
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 Άγάθυρσοι (Agathyrsi) or the Κατίαροι
of Herodotus, iv. 104. There was throughout historic times a close connexion 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.
306), and of Pomponius Mela (ii. c. I, p. 119) to the so-called Royal Scyths, Σκύθαι Βασιληεϛ,
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 here be further pursued than to establish the presence
of this white race around the Caspian and the Euxine throughout historic times. They appear in European
history as White Huns (Ephthalites), White Ugrians (Sar-ogours), White Bulgarians. Owing to climatic causes
the tract they occupied was slowly drying up. They were the outposts of civilization towards the encroaching
desert, and the Tatar 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 Tatar conquests, and were eventually overwhelmed.
History.—Amidst this white race of the steppe the Khazars can be first historically distinguished at
the end of the 2nd century A.D. They burst into Armenia with the Barsileens, A.D. 198.
They were repulsed and attacked in turn. 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 often the battlefield, and eventually the prize, the attitude of the Khazars 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 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 with the accession of Attila (434).
The emperor Theodosius sent envoys to bribe the Khazars (Άκάτζιροι)
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 apanage 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) 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
Tatar peoples which the conquests of 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 Kur and the Aras,
and roamed at large through Iberia, Georgia and Armenia. The Persian king 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 Derbent fortified against them (c. 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 pressure of the Turks in Asia precipitated the Avars upon the West. The conquering
Turks followed in their footsteps (560—580). They beat down all opposition, wrested even Bosporos
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 the Turks and Avars 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 the Crimea, had won complete command of the Sea of Azov, and,
seizing upon the narrow neck which separates the Volga from the Don, had organized the portage which has continued since an
important link in the traffic between Asia and Europe. The alliance with Byzantium was revived.
Simultaneously, and no doubt in concert, with the Byzantine campaign against Persia (589), the Khazars had reappeared
in Armenia, though it was not till 625 that they appear 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 from 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, and shared in the victory over Chosroes at Nineveh.
Meanwhile the Moslem empire had arisen. The Persian empire was struck down (637) and the Moslems
poured into Armenia. The khakan, who had defied the summons sent him by the invaders, now aided the Byzantine
patrician in the defence of Armenia. The allies were defeated, and the Moslems undertook the subjugation
of Khazaria (651). Eighty years of warfare followed, but in the end the Moslems prevailed.
The khakan and his chieftains were captured and compelled to embrace Islam (737), and till the decay of the Mahommedan
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 Mahommedans,
and made the Caucasus the limit of their conquests.
In the interval between the decline of the Mahommedan empire and the rise of Russia the Khazars reached the zenith
of their power. The merchants of Byzantium, Armenia and Bagdad met in the markets of Itil (whither since
the raids of the Mahommedans 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 despatched
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 and good faith in the Khazar
cities. The Jews, expelled from Constantinople, sought a home amongst them, developed the Khazar trade,
and contended with Mahommedans and Christians for the theological allegiance of the Pagan people. The dynasty
accepted Judaism (c. 740), but there was equal tolerance for all, and each man was held amenable to the authorized
code and to the official judges of his own faith. At the Byzantine court the khakan was held in high honour.
The emperor Justinian Rhinotmetus took refuge with him during his exile and married his daughter (702).
Justinian’s rival Vardanes 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 Simeon of Bulgaria; and the khakan was honoured 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 Carolingian 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.
The arrival of the Varangians amidst the scattered Slavs (862) had united them into a nation. 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 seized 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 Kiev, 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 Kiev supplanted the Khazars as the carriers between Constantinople
and the North. When Ibn Faḍlān 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 administration was in the hands of a major domus also
called khakan. At the assault of Swiatoslav of Kiev 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 Azov. The
principality of Tmutarakan, 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 in 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 Lazis.
Till the 13th century the Crimea was known to European travelers as Gazaria; the “ramparts of the
Khazars” are still distinguished in the Ukraine; and the record of their dominion survives in the names of Kazarek,
Kazaritshi, Kazarinovod, Kozar-owka, Kozari, and perhaps in Kazan.
AUTHORITIES.—Khazar: The letter of King Joseph to R. Hasdai Ibn Shaprūt, 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). Cf. Harkavy, Russische Revue, iv. 69; Graetz, Geschichte, v. 364, and Carmoly, Itinéraires
de la Terre Sainte (Brussels, 1847). Armenian: Moses of Chorene; cf. Saint-Martin,
Mémoires historiques et géographiques sur l’Armènie (Paris, 1818). Arabic:
The account of Ibn Faḍlān (921) is preserved by Yāḳūt, ii. 436 seq. See
also Iṣṭakhry (ed. De Geoje, pp. 220 seq.), Mas῾ūdy, ch. xvii. pp. 406 seq. of Sprenger’s
translation; Ibn Ḥauḳal (ed. De Goeje, pp. 279 seq.) and the histories of Ibn el Athīr and Ṭabary.
Much of the Arabic material has been collected and translated by Fraehn, “Veteres Memoria Chasarorum” in
Mém. de St Pét. (1822); Dorn (from the Persian Ṭabary), Mém. de St Pét.
(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 Memoriae Populorum (St Petersburg, 1778). Russian:
The Chronicle ascribed to Nestor.
Modern: Klaproth, “Mém. sur les Khazars,” in Journ. As. 1st
series, 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, vol. ii.); Latham, Russian
and Turk, pp. 209—217; 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 (1857);
D’Ohsson, Peuples du Caucase (Paris, 1828); S. Krauss, « Zur Geschichte der Chazaren,» in
Revue orientale pour les études Ourals-altaïques (1900).
(P. L. G.; C. El.)