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"Khazaria: A Forgotten Jewish Empire"



 "Yet historians, and medieval historians in particular, should be aware of the important existence of this powerful kingdom which played just as crucial a part in the stemming of the Arab advance into Europe as Charles Martel did at Tours at around the same time (i.e. the eighth century). However, this Khazar kingdom was neither Christian nor Muslim at the height of its power but Judaic, which makes study of it all the more interesting, since it places a powerful Judaic military presence amidst the power politics of the period in question."


"Both Byzantium and the Arab empire viewed the Khazars as a linchpin in the power-diplomacy game and an all-important factor in any balance of power considerations. Byzantium regarded Khazaria as more important than any Western kingdom, as can be seen from the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Cerimoniis, a treatise written on state protocol in the tenth century, where letters of correspondence to the Khaqan of the Khazars were to be given a gold seal worth three solidi, whereas those addressed to the pope in Rome or the 'Emperor in the West' were given a seal worth only two solidi. The importance placed on the power of the Khazars can also be seen in the practice adopted by the Persian king of having three golden thrones permanently placed in the royal palace, in addition to his own, representing the great powers of the day: one for the Khazar khaqan, one for the Byzantine emperor, and another for the emperor of China. As allies of the Byzantines the Khazars not only stemmed the Arab advance into Europe (from the seventh century onwards) but earlier helped to bring about the downfall of the Persian empire by supplying the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius, with 40,000 soldiers under the leadership of Ziebel in 627."


The story of the Khazar conversion, although largely fictional, contains revealing insights into the power-politics of the day and how religious considerations played a major part. According to the story the khaqan, on hearing the various arguments put forward by Christian, Muslim and Judaic missionaries, asked each in turn which of the other two religions was considered more acceptable after their own. As to what the Jewish representative replied is of no consequence since both the Christian and Muslim representatives (fearing each other) answered that after their own the Jewish faith would be the most acceptable – the consequences of a Khazar conversion to either Christianity or Islam could have been disastrous to the unsuccessful party. As things turned out the Khazars opted for a path which attracted least hostility, least obligation, and least cultural influence from any of the other major powers of the day."

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