Khazar Kaganate

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Khazar Kaganate


an early feudal state that emerged in the mid-seventh century in the Lower Volga Region and in the eastern part of the Northern Caucasus after the dissolution of the Western Turkic Kaganate (seeTURKIC KAGANATE). The capital of the Khazar Kaganate was the city of Samandar (in Dagestan) until the early eighth century, when the capital was moved to Itil’, on the Lower Volga.

In the second half of the seventh century, the Khazars subjugated the Sabirs of coastal Dagestan and some of the Bulgars of the Azov region; Caucasian Albania became a tributary of the Khazar Kaganate. By the early eighth century, the Khazars controlled the Northern Caucasus, the entire Azov region, most of the Crimea, and the steppe and forest-steppe territories of Eastern Europe as far as the Dnieper.

In 735 the Arabs, crossing the Caspian Pass and the Dar’ial Gorge, invaded the Khazar Kaganate and routed the army of the kagan. The kagan and those close to him accepted Islam, which was adopted, however, only by part of the population of the kaganate. In the first half of the eighth century, some of the Khazars of northern Dagestan adopted Judaism.

The principal economic activity of the kaganate remained nomadic livestock raising, although land cultivation and fruit growing developed in the valley of the Lower Volga. Itil’, the capital, became an important center of handicrafts and international trade. As Alani of the Northern Caucasus migrated to the area between the Don and Donets rivers, permanent settlements sprang up in that area, and early feudal relations began to develop. State power was concentrated in the hands of local Khazar and Bulgar feudal lords, and the kagan became a respected but powerless figurehead.

During the eighth century, the close ties maintained by the Khazar Kaganate with the Byzantine Empire contributed to the spread of Christianity. The Byzantines were permitted to establish a metropolitanate of seven eparchies in the kaganate. At the turn of the ninth century Obadiah, who had become ruler of the kaganate, declared Judaism the state religion.

In the late ninth century the Pechenegs seized the northern Black Sea region; in 895 they drove the Magyars, who had been subject to the Khazar Kaganate, toward the Danube. The Byzantine rulers, who wished to weaken the kaganate, incited against the Khazars nomads who inhabited areas neighboring the kaganate. The principal power opposing the Khazars, however, was Kievan Rus’. As early as the ninth century, Russian druzhiny (armed detachments) reached the Caspian Sea. In 913 and 914 and in 943 and 944, Russian troops marched through Khazaria and laid waste the coastal area of the Caspian. In the 960’s the Russian grand prince Sviatoslav Igorevich led a campaign to the Volga and defeated the Khazar Kaganate; Itil’ and Samandar were destroyed, and the city of Sarkil was captured. In the second half of the tenth century the Khazars attempted to retrieve the situation with the help of Khwarazm but were unsuccessful. At the end of the tenth century the Khazar Kaganate ceased to exist.


Artamonov, M. I. Istoriia khazar. Leningrad, 1962.
Pletneva, S. A. Ot kochevanii k gorodam. Moscow, 1967.
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Pletneva, S. A. Khazary. Moscow, 1976.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.