Khazars: History of the Jewish Turkic Nomads

In his book on ceremonial protocol at the
Byzantine court, Emperor Constantine VII stated that letters to such exalted figures as the
Pope and Frankish Emperor ought to bear a seal worth two gold coins in value. However,
it seems that these recipients were not the greatest priority to the early middle-age
world of the empire. Holding sway from the Black to the Caspian Sea, from the Caucasus
Mountains to the Volga River, messages to the Khazar Khaganate were to bear seals worth
three gold coins. In this video we will explain why the Romans felt bound to honour these
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use code “KNG” Link in description! While our last episode ended with the emergence
of an independent Khazar state from the ruins of a decaying Western Turkic Khaganate, we
must first go back a few centuries in order to establish just who they were and how they
came to be. We know that the tribes which would eventually coalesce into the Khazar
Empire were living in an area of the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, straddling the northwest shore of
the Caspain Sea, and probably formed part of the eastern section of the Hunnic tribal
hierarchy. These horseborne warriors did what such nomadic peoples almost always did when
rubbing up against the borders of settled civilisation: they raided and plundered relentlessly,
extracting vast amounts of wealth from the South Caucasus region.
Half way through the sixth-century, the Khazars had subjugated almost all of the tribes north
of the Caucasus Mountains, such as the Sabirs, Saragurs, Samandars , Balanjars and others.
That didn’t mean they were the region’s overlords however, because the middle 500s
also saw yabghu Istami and his lethal Gökturk cavalry armies rampage west in pursuit of
whatever remained of their former Avar rulers, whom the Celestial Khagan considered rogues.
This conquest of the western regions of the steppe seems to have brought the Khazars under
Ashina rule without much resistance, and the newly incorporated nomads became members of
the Turkic Khaganate’s circle of elite inner tribes, indicating their strength and importance,
as the Khazars formed a significant part of the Western Khaganate’s martial strength.
Their power was confirmed when the Western Turks made an alliance with Byzantium against
Persia in 627, as the Turkic yabghu with whom Emperor Heraclius formed his pact seems to
have been a relatively autonomous Khazar, a group whom Byzantine chronicler Theophanes
called ‘Chozars’. As we know, the Western Khaganate dissolved
into its tribal components at about this time, which finally gave the Turkic Khazars their
independence. The 630s were also the time of Islam’s stunning initial conquests, which
took over Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, and even put a final nail into the coffin of Sassanid
Persia. More relevant to our story is the northern advance of the Rashidun armies, which
eventually stood before the mighty Caucasus Mountain chain by 640.
While the Persians and Romans had been content to merely defend against the nomadic forces,
the conquering Muslims were not, and they now sought to assert superiority over the
Khazars who resided there. The mountains were a formidable obstacle, but they could be surmounted
by traversing one of two passes at Darial or Derbent. If the Arabs succeeded in crushing
the nomads to the north, they could outflank the resilient Byzantines and attack Europe
from the steppe. In short, if the Khazars lost, the whole history of Europe might have
been very different. The viciously expansionist armies of both
Khazaria and the Arabs initially met in 642, when raiders serving the latter reached Derbent,
a strategic city positioned at the narrowest point between the Caucasus Mountains and Caspian
Sea. Conflict continued back and forth for the next eight years, with the Muslims slowly
pushing beyond Derbent and towards the Khazar capital at Balanjar. Meanwhile, the armies
of the Caliph managed to defeat a Byzantine army in Armenia composed partly of Khazar
and other steppe allies. A climactic offensive was launched in 652
in the form of an Arab army tasked with the conquest of Balanjar itself, which would serve
as a foothold for Islamic armies on the European side of the Caucasus Mountains. In the great
battle that followed, Khazar defenders used vast amounts of ballistae and catapult artillery
to repel repeated Arab assaults. 4,000 Muslim troops were killed, including their commander
– Abdal-Rahman ibn-Rabiah. The surviving Arabs were driven back across the mountains by the
victorious Khazars, and did not attempt anymore serious conquests to the north for decades.
Instead, their gaze returned to Byzantium. The caliphate besieged Constantinople on several
occasions but, as we covered in a previous video, failed to breach the great city and
lost their momentum. Had the Arabs managed to encircle the Byzantine Empire by piercing
through the Caucasus and assaulting it from around the Black Sea, it is probable that
the strain of such a two-front war would have sealed the Empire’s fate right then and
there. While war between between the ascendant Caliphate
and beleaguered Empire was raging, a still ferociously expansionist Khazar Empire restarted
its own war against other steppe peoples north of the Caucasus who had still not submitted
to Khazar rule. In the 650s and 660s, hegemony was asserted over the Magyars and Bulgars,
the latter of which were scattered in many directions. Some remained under Khazar rule,
while two other columns of Bulgar refugees ended up on the Danube, where they would have
extensive relations with the Byzantine Empire, and on the Volga, where they would become
known as the Volga Bulgars. These were wars of conquest after which the
victories incorporated the vanquished into a Khazar Empire, possessing a stable administration,
and ruled by a khagan like the old Turkic realm had been, a khagan who appointed his
own governors to administer seized lands. Since their defeat at Balanjar, the South
Caucasus had changed hands multiple times and suffered repeated Khazar attacks, but
by 692 the Umayyad lord of Armenia set about establishing a stronger defence against his
enemies beyond the Caucasus. In 721 the Khazars had grown strong enough to take the offensive
themselves, invading Armenia and instigating a 15-year war, which became known as the Second
Arab-Khazar War. While this conflict appears for the most part
to be a series of back-and-forth campaigns following the same pattern over and over,
it was incredibly intense. Often exaggerated Arab sources tell of armies 100,000 or even
300,000 strong colliding on these Caucasian battlefields. Though these numbers are obviously
implausible, even a quarter or a fifth of these staggering totals would drastically
outnumber the defence at Tours which was arguably deciding the fate of Western Europe in the
same period. We will describe one of these intermittent
campaigns and use it as a microcosm, rather than listing them all. Buoyed by recent successes
in the war, the Khazars invaded Muslim lands in modern Azerbaijan in 730, led by Barjik,
probably a son of the Khagan. He seems to have been a traditionally merciless steppe
warlord, who callously ordered his heavily-armoured, light skinned, red-haired and blue-eyed Khazar
cavalry forces to slay any Muslim they came across. After marching his main force towards
Ardabil, Khazar armies met a 25,000 strong Arab force outside the city walls and totally
crushed it, killing its commander Al-Jarrah ibn Abdallah in the process. It it said that
Barjik mounted the dead Arab leader’s head on a throne, from which he led the Khazar
armies throughout the campaign. However, the victors quickly and unwisely
began to scatter throughout the area in search of loot and plunder, which allowed the Arabs
to counterattack and drive them back across the mountains. Barjik himself narrowly escaped
capture. Khazar victory gave way to Muslim success and so on, a state of affairs which
would define this war. It was also an incredibly bitter and brutal clash of civilisations characterised,
as author Arthur Koestler notes, by a distinct ‘fanaticism’, which we can see in the
extreme actions many of the combatants took. For example, an entire surrounded Khazar village
supposedly committed collective suicide by fire rather than surrender to the enemy.
The conflict ended when the Muslims managed to invade Khazaria and force the khagan to
convert to Islam, but it seems like a hollow, insincere conversion, because we never hear
of it again. On the operational scale, matters were inconclusive, but on the grand strategic
scale Islam’s titanic pincer movement had been halted in the east by the Khazars and
in the west by the Franks at almost the same time. This was the end of Umayyad expansionary
efforts against the Khazars, and even the end of an Umayyad ruled caliphate, as the
less expansionist Abbasids took power in 750. Rather than going into more of the military
and politics of the Khazars, we’ll instead discuss two things that they are known for
above all others: their religion and their trade. Unlike the vast majority of empires
in Eurasia at the time, and perhaps uniquely among them, the Khazars were officially a
Jewish state, having converted in roughly the year 740, though the date is a matter
of scholarly debate. What was the reason for this and how did it
come to pass? At the beginning of the eighth-century, the Mediterranean world was polarised primarily
between Christianity and Islam, faiths which served almost as the religious arm of their
respective realms, and would inevitably be used to gain political domination overly the
newly converted. The Khazar Empire was a powerful realm of its own which represented a third
force, and had proved itself a diplomatic and military equal to the Caliphate and the
Empire, even having placed their own candidate on the Roman throne.
Yet, interacting with these sophisticated civilisations had made Khazar rulers realise
that their Tengriist shaman beliefs could not grant spiritual, legal and dynastic legitimacy
like the great monotheistic faiths could. However, the Khazars could not accept Christianity
or Islam; accepting conversion to either superpower’s religion would automatically subordinate Khazars
to either the Emperor or the Caliph. So, it seemed that the only logical choice was to,
as the third major power, choose the third major religion, which did not have as many
strings attached – Judaism. How this happened isn’t entirely certain
– there was no momentous event like Rome’s Battle of the Milvian Bridge, for example,
which eventually led to the empire’s conversion to Christianity. However, there are certain
trends which can explain why it happened when it did. Even before the Khazar ruling caste
put aside Tengriism, the ‘Northern Kingdom’, as Byzantium called it, had extensive connections
with Jews and their religious practices. There were old, prominent Jewish communities on
the Crimean and Taman Peninsulas which had existed ever since Greek and Roman times,
living in cities such as Panticapaeum and Phanagoria.
External events in the early 700s were to increase the Jewish presence in Khazaria to
an unprecedented degree. Persecution of Jews in the Byzantine Empire began in the reign
of Justinian, but particularly intensified under the reigns of Heraclius and Leo III
the Isaurian, the latter of whom sought to forcibly baptise and thus convert Jewish citizens
to Christianity in 722. While Leo’s decree was not effectively enforced, the policy led
many Jews to flee from Byzantium and into Khazar lands, including from Roman possessions
in Crimea. Simultanously the Jews also migrated to Khazaria from the Muslim world, but in
far smaller numbers. The refugees which fled to Khazar lands represented
themselves as bearers of an old, sophisticated, ancient culture, and were almost definitely
a key factor in creating a cosmopolitan outlook of tolerance in Atil – the Khazar capital
– which Arab travellers admired. It can also be speculated that Jewish missionary refugees,
who also brought Byzantine arts, crafts and superior methods of agriculture and trade,
probably used this influence to persuade the inner Khazar tribes of the political and spiritual
advantages of conversion to the ‘neutral’ Judaism. Whatever the case, by the mid-800s
at the latest, Jewish-themed ‘Moses coins’ were being issued in Khazar territories, a
fact which allows us to segue onto the second stereotypically Khazar activity – trade.
Khazar lands were known, especially in the eighth and ninth-centuries, as a land of plenty.
The Persian geographical essay Hudud al-Alam states “This is a very pleasant and prosperous
country with great riches, from it come cows, sheep and innumerable slaves’. Unsurprisingly,
such a place attracted significant amounts of commercial activity from all quarters.
Straddling important trade routes along the Azov and Black and Caspian Seas, the Don River
and especially on the Volga River, Khazaria functioned as a nexus for trade moving east
and west, north and south, and this allowed the khagan to make a killing from Silk Road
profits. Customs duties were imposed on merchandise
transported into the steppe realm by land or sea. When traders of the Rus’ brought
valuables they intended to export past Atil, for example, the Khazars taxed them in proportion
to the value of their goods. Lesser chiefs and tribal leaders also demanded payment for
transport through their own local territories, as shown when more Rus’ merchants reached
Sarkel in the late 800s, and the local governor took a tenth of their merchandise as tribute.
They weren’t just extractors of wealth, however, and Khazar merchants from the inner
tribes were often directly involved in trading. According to Persian geographer Gardizi, the
Khazars exported natively produced candle wax and honey, in addition to exotic wine
which was manufactured in Samandar. Traders from the Northern Kingdom also found their
way to Volga Bulgaria, Khwarezm, China, India and even Sweden, where there was a small Khazar
colony at Birka in Lake Malar. Traders from other lands would also flock to and settle
in the capital at Atil in order to sell their goods. Chinese merchants brought fine silk
dresses and sophisticated mirrors from the Tang Empire, while Arabs came in search of
particularly prized Khazar furs, originating from the northern wildernesses and Scandinavia.
Weaving these two threads of religion and commerce together are the Jewish Radhanite
merchants, a commerce-oriented people hypothesized to have originated either in Mesopotamia or
the Rhone valley in France. They were prominent among the Khazar merchants who ventured to
such far-flung eastern destinations as China, India and other parts of Asia. They also travelled
as far west as Spain. According to Matthew Goodman “For more than 100 years, virtually
every bit of spice that entered Christian Europe did so as a result of Radhanite trade.”
These merchants also exported items such as swords, silk, furs and slaves from Europe
and North Africa. In his ‘Book of Routes and Kingdoms’, Persian geographer and explorer
Ibn Khordadbeh tells us that the Radhanites were an incredibly multilingual community,
capable of speaking languages such as Persian, Slavic, Spanish, Frankish, Greek and Arabic.
As a people of commerce, this expertise in language must have provided a distinct advantage,
since they would encounter trading partners from distant areas of the world and from many
diverse cultures. It’s even possible that these Radhanites played a crucial role in
prompting the khagan and his nobles’ conversion to Judaism.
At the beginning of the tenth-century, despite controlling territories from the Aral Sea
in the east to the Dnieper River in the west, and from the Upper Volga in the north to the
Caucasus in the south, Khazaria was beginning to weaken. New nomadic invaders from the east
such as the Magyars and Pechenegs began to rampage through their lands, while the competitive,
warlike and equally mercantile Varangians of Kievan Rus’ began to exert pressure on
the Khazars, cutting off their dominion west of the Dnieper River.
For half a century beginning in around the year 900, the Khazars became tangled up in
multiple disputes with the Rus, many of which resulted in violence and defeats for both
sides, but it was becoming evident that the Northern Kingdom’s dominance had been lost.
The final blow came in the late 960s, when the ambitious Rus prince Svyatoslav of Kyiv
sailed down the Volga River and seized Atil, sacking and razing it, dismantling the khagan’s
realm in the process. Several decades later, Svyatoslav’s son
Vladimir asserted Rus authority over former Khazar territories, including Samandar, the
revered vineyards and gardens of which were burned in the conquest. It seems that land
and riches weren’t the only things the Rus’ seized from the Khazars. 20th century historian
Julius Brutzkus proposed that the ancient Kievan state also inherited sophisticated
customs, legal procedures, governmental frameworks and military organisation. Refugees from the
crumbling Khazar Empire are controversially hypothesized by some historians to have been
the source of Eastern Europe’s future Ashkenazi Jewish community, but this is a matter of
intense genetic analysis and historical debate which will likely go on for years to come.
We will continue talking about Steppe civilizations, so make sure you are subscribed to our channel
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100 thoughts on “Khazars: History of the Jewish Turkic Nomads”

  1. The best thing about Thanksgiving is that it makes us think about what we are grateful for. We are grateful to have such a great audience, thanks for being with us!
    Did you know that we have a discord server? Patrons and Youtube channel members know. 🙂

  2. As a turk i support israel against arabics. I am sure at least %50 Turkish people support israel. And Most of turkish people hate arabics. Long live israel

  3. Indeed, all genetic study suggests that Ashkenazi Jews originate from this area in eastern Europe, see the Oxford Journal of Genome Biology and Evolution. The modern Palestinian Arabs are genetically the proto-judeans.

  4. I am Turkish from Turkey. We learned them at high school. So This video is not surprising for us. But others don't know naturally. Their reactions are very funny. Yes Turkic people is very strange and wierd :)) Language and some cultural features are common. Other features are changable 🙂

  5. I am curious how did they know Spanish when most of Spain was ruled by the Muslim caliphate at that time?!? Unless Muslim Spain spoke Arabic and Spanish as second maybe. Still a fascinating empire video

  6. So you can't be a jew unless your mother is a jew. Yet they became Jews and they are the modern day European Jews who claim Palestine…. How sickening..

  7. This means that the majority of Jews today are descended from this Turkish race and have nothing to do with the children of Israel

  8. Them Arabs were like a human tsunami, from the desert to history in the blink of an eye! It's had trying to see them in the present day Arabs! Oil or?

  9. You talk of the origins of Ashkenazis, but said genetic tests show that they are closer to Sephardic and other Jewish populations than any other group. That said, claims that Ashkenazis are not semitic has been used as propaganda against them and even Israel in the modern period. It's also a favourite of many antisemites.

  10. Yes, i know this in my Azerbaijan history lesson in 1999 years at school. Even Caspian Sea is called in Azerbaijan language: Xəzər dənizi (Khazar Sea). Yes current İsreal is old Turkic race – Khazar!

  11. REVELATION 2:9 They are FRUADS and Liars.

    Jews came from the tribe of Judah

    Khazar's came from Japheth (the father of Non Jews) They are GENTILES

  12. I think you should at least put on the map Old Great Bulgaria with capital Phanagoria that existed from 632-665 that right next to Khazar Khanate. Huge disinformation out here.

  13. Grate show,this Kings and Generals is super! ….thenks for making the this.

    Tips.make somthing about zulu Nation or Mali empire.

  14. They liked the idea of ruling the world, and that they're entitled to all the wealth of all nations. That's why they chose this so called Babylonian Talmud "judasism"

  15. Don't you dare ever believe that the "jews" brought in superior knowledge and arts. That bull. They probably stole from along the way they traveled. They had to travel because they were crooking people along their travels and had to flee before they were caught out

  16. The king of the Khazars, Bulan, invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim representatives to a debate. The story is detailed in Yehuda HaLevi's book The Kuzari.
    This debate is the moment when the king decides to convert to Judaism.

  17. I thought that the Khazar's Jewish religion was the origin of Tengriism as their beliefs slowly degenerated over time back into a shamanic religion, which would explain why Tengriism is the only monotheistic non-abrahamic religion. Before the Khazars didn't the steppe peoples worship the heptad, also know as the seven gods.

  18. This khazar s are ture people of gog and magog and everything make sense blue eyes red hair light skin colour and merciless barbarian's and the area described in verse's body of water that is black in west and a body of water in east and the a pass between a mountain range …

  19. They are mentioned in our history books, as Khazar Khaganate's territory was one of the places where hungarians settled.
    Also, magyars(hungarians) and khazars were allied (but Khazars ruled). Magyars didn't destroy the Khaganate, but they rebelled against them, hence Magyars had to left Khazar territory.

  20. So how do these khazarian jews have any relation to the Jews who lived in the Mediterranean for the last 200 years. Or the Jews who lived in Alexandria in the Middle Ages, or England and France in 800. I know the khazarians existed but why not speak about the real Ashkenazi and Sephardi jews who are decendants of real Judean jews, not the Bukharian and Khavkazi jews(you can tell the name is Turkish) who are so such a small part of Israel’s population

  21. Your final conclusion that DNA of these Ashkenazi jew are non of Turkic origin is totally wrong and does not represent the truth about tge Jewish convert and to their non Semantic link to the middle eastern safardim Hebrew jew

  22. It would've been interesting to see a mention of another significant Jewish population that could have influenced the Khazar conversion, namely the Mountain Jews of the North Caucasus, who had a large presence in and around the city of Derbent, and have inhabited the region from at least the 5th Century AD

  23. Byzantine Empire (☦️☦️☦️): exists
    Arab Caliphate (☪️☪️☪️): also exists

    Khazars (✡️🕎✡️): "There's a third option!"

  24. Converting to Judaism because you really like the Torah's teachings ❌
    Converting to Judaism because you saw Abraham in your dreams ❌
    Converting to Judaism because Islam and Christianity are too mainstream ✔️

  25. If the Ashkenazi Jews had descended from Khazars they would have been speaking a Turkic language but their language Yiddish is based on the southern German dialects because they spread into Eastern Europe from Rome through Austria.

  26. Great video! You've got 2 men wearing tfillin but they're wearing it in the right arm. The majority of people are right handed and would wear tfillin on the left arm. Not exactly wrong to put it in the right arm, maybe they're left handed, but it's pretty uncommon

  27. My parents are from Russia, they're both Ashkenazi Jews & I recall once when I came home from class my mom was talking to my grandma in Yiddish, I was so fascinated because I've never heard Yiddish or Hebrew before that but it sounded amazing. "God is gathering them the Children of Abraham back to Israel today from every corner of the earth where they’ve been scattered. This return of the Jews to their biblical homeland, is yet another important sign that the Messiah’s return is approaching" 🤗

  28. No such thing as Jewish Khazars. Being a convert to Judaism doesn't make you an ethnic descendant of the Israelite tribe of Judah.

  29. Really awesome video, but I wish you had clarified that the Khazar theory for the origin of Ashkenazi Jews has been completely refuted by genetic evidence. There was never any direct historical evidence to begin with, and the genetic evidence has definitively disproved it. We have Khazar DNA and it bears no resemble to Ashkenazi DNA, neither autosomally nor in terms of uniparentals (Y DNA and mtDNA). Ashkenazi Jews are almost identical to Sephardi and Italian Jews, and are very closely-related to North African and Syrian Jews.

  30. Ive been playing total war for years so you already KNOW im darn near a professor of History in my knowledge of the middle ages but I always wanted to know more of the Khazars particularly cuz I dated a Chechen- Circassian. She was Obsesses with Kavkaz – Kazar-ness

  31. There is a book, called: Facts are facts by Dr. David Goldstein LL.D. and Benjamin H.Freedman. Eye opening book on who/what are Jews. They have covered chazars or khazars , too.

  32. I haven’t quite figured out who the Pechenecks were but I like the name Pechenicks. I am going to start calling people I don’t like a Pechenick. And let them figure out if I am giving them a compliment or not. So do not thumbs-down my comment, you Pecheneck.

  33. The under-representation of the Kingdom of Georgia in this video and on the channel in general is heart-breaking and criminal almost. So much history and epic battles there to be explored. Every Historical channel just diddly-doos around it like it never even existed, probably because it's so hard to research, but yeah. Give us Didgori at least, come on! :>

  34. Great video. Would love to see a video on Georgia. I know they've also been living in the Caucasus for a very long time and they even have their own language and writing totally unrelated to any other languages on Earth. It's also interesting they they have a flag which is very similar to the English flag.

  35. great video.

    how about a video about slavs and the reason they settled down in europe ? culture, religion and heritage ?

  36. Oh when I knew about the Khazars because of Hebrew Israelites and not from history games! 😩

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