Episode 17: The Khazar Khagans
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
This lecture mainly concerns the conversion by the Khazars to Judaism in the late 8th and early 9th century and their role in the Byzantine wars against the Arab Caliphate.
According to Harl, the Khazars were semi-nomadic peoples descended from the western Gökturks who established a major commercial empire in the late 6th century AD. The Khazars were heavily involved in providing amber, fur and Slavic slaves to Arabs trading on the northern branch of the Silk Road. This brought them into continual contact with Jewish banking and merchandising houses that stretched from Muslim Spain across North Africa, Egypt and Syria.
The Khazars formed major alliances with the eastern Gökturk Khanate and the Byzantines in attacking Sassanid Empire.* In 705 AD, the Khazars also helped Justinian II regain his throne after he was overthrown in a civil war.
Muslim armies first became a threat to the Byzantine empire in 634 AD, after they crossed from the Arabian Peninsula into Syria (then a Byzantine province). Muslim armies eventually overthrew the Sassanid Empire, as well as Byzantine-controlled Syria, Egypt and North Africa.
The western Gökturks allied with the Byzantine empire against the Muslim Caliphate, while the Eastern Khanate remained under Chinese control. Eventually the entire European steppes would come under Muslim control.
At the end of the 9th century the Magyars, who spoke Finno-Ugrian, migrated to Hungary; the Pechunecs migrated to the south Russian steppes; and the Rus (Scandinavians from Sweden) became prominent in the Volga slave trade.
The Pechunecs, Rus and Byzantines eventually formed alliance against the Khazar Khanate, leading it to collapse in the 10th century.
Harl disputes the widespread belief that the majority of European Jews are descended from Khazars rather than Israelites. He alludes to DNA testing revealing the vast majority of European Jews have Middle East DNA.
*See The Political Forces Controlling the Steppes When Rome Fell
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