Khazaria: A Medieval Jewish kingdom in Asia.

Zach – So, a priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a yurt…
Khaz group
Anna – What are you blathering about?
Joan – Iz one of his silly jokes, no?
Zach – No, I’m serious. This is history. How a large kingdom converted to Judaism was because of a meeting where representatives from each of the major religion had a chat and debated about it.
Anna – Before he gets to the punchline, let’s introduce our panel. Today we have Joan D’Arc, Cleopatra, Gaspar I’m a charlatan Correia and Olga of Kiev.
Gaspar – Wait…what was that?
Anna – Nothing.
Olga – Where is food? Zachski said we would have food.
Gaspar – I ordered pizza. Don’t fret.
Olga – With bacon?
Gaspar – Double pepperoni and double bacon.
Olga – I guess it will do.
Cleopatra – And grapes. Yes, grapes. I call for grapes. And figs. Can’t do without figs.
Joan D’Arc – Enough delay! We will start zeez discussion, oui?
Zach – yes, let’s begin. Khazaria is a kingdom south of Russia by the black and Caspain Seas. Check the map.

There is is. Pretty big.  It was sandwhiched between Russia, Byzantium and the Islamic Empire.  Not a safe place to be.

There it is. Pretty big. It was sandwiched between Russia, Byzantium and the Islamic Empire. Not a safe place to be.

Anna – The kingdom was created when Turkic people from Western China migrated westward.
Gaspar – That’s a polite way of putting it. The Mongols chased them out. Remember last week’s Han Dynasty panel? Well it mentioned pushing Huns and Turks westward, this kingdom of Khasaria is one of the results.
Zach – Is Gaspar actually….
Gaspar – Now, we need to understand a little about the Turks here. (Gaspar leans forward and gestures with his hands.) They weren’t one racial group. Some were Mongolian, some had fair skin and blue eyes and some had bright red hair. When they went west they picked up people along the way from just about everywhere. North of the Black Sea where they eventually settled already had a large Jewish population. The Khazars didn’t just tolerate the Jews, they liked them. So when Jews from other parts of the world heard about that, they flocked to Khazaria. Persecution pushed them out of Western Europe, the Byzantine Empire and Africa and Palestine. It became an oasis of Jewish culture on the Asian steppes.
Anna – Gaspar, I’m impressed.
Gaspar – I am a historian, you puffed up princess.
Olga – Your mom’s a historian.
(Cleopatra moves close to Gaspar.)
Cleopatra – Gaspar, I had no idea you were so…scholarly. Oh, please tell me more. (strokes Gaspar’s cheek. Joan glares at them and clears her throat.)
Joan – Also, ze Khazars had connections to ze Chinese, Mongols, Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Russians and even ze Polish. They often allies with Byzantium against ze Arabs and prevented an Arab invasion of southern Russia.
Olga – We Russians don’t need stinking Khazars to protect us against anything!
Zach – That reminds me Olga, where are you from?
Olga – Kiev of course!
Zach – Well guess what? The Khazars founded Kiev.
Olga – What??
Zach – Yup. They founded the great city of Kiev and later on the Rus took it from them.
Olga – Ha ha! My peoples take what they want.
Anna – Yes, the Khazars created a large and powerful Empire that collected tribute from its many neighbors. They weren’t as great as us Romans of course, but no one is. Because they controlled the northern route of the Silk Road, they didn’t lack for money either.
Zach – Now, these Turks were nomads, but more civilized people moved into their lands. The cities they created had yurts (think: Mongol tents) mixed with wooden and stone houses. Their religion was a shamanic pagan one and their writing was simple runes. However, they were impressed with monotheism and all the cool culture and impressive ceremonies it brought with it. So, the leaders started looking around. The Jews that were already living there were pretty outspoken and were building a growing population. The Khazars had two leaders, a spiritual one called a “Kagan” was the most powerful. A secondary leader that dealt with day to day stuff and warfare was called a “Bek.” Well, the Bek having the army you can guess what happened. Beks became more and more powerful until the Kagan was just a figure head. In 860 AD, Khazaria sent an envoy to Constantinople and asked, “What’s up with this whole Christianity thing?” So, the Byzantines sent Cyril and his brother to go talk to them. Cyril is famous for making the Cyrillic alphabet that Russia uses today… in a modified form. The Muslims were asked to send a representative as well. They met in the Kagan’s palace and there they were asked questions and debated about religion. We’re not sure why, but the Bek chose Judaism. Some say it was because he was already familiar with it and others say it was a way to assert his independence from the Christian Byzantines and the Islamic Caliphate.

"Circumcision was an easier sell than 'no bacon?' I wouldn't have guessed."

“Circumcision was an easier sell than ‘no bacon?’ I wouldn’t have guessed.”

Cleopatra – And where the leader goes, so do the people. Yes, I read a few historians that said “only the leaders were Jews.” I say, nonsense. The people followed.
Olga – Exactly! We Rus leaders converted and look. Whole country of Christians now.
Cleopatra – There is plenty of archeological evidence to prove that Judaism was far more widespread than just the leaders. The funeral practices completely changed. There were letters and historical documents written by Byzantine and Arab chroniclers saying that most of the people were Jews. Also, the use of Hebrew became widespread as well. So, if someone says “No, just the leaders were Jews.” Punch them in the face and tell them “Cleopatra sends her regards.”

"Keep laughing, historians. I'm preparing a dish of hot, steaming "Shut the freak up."

“Keep laughing, historians. I’m preparing a dish of hot, steaming “Shut the freak up.”

Gaspar – But let’s not overlook the true source of the Khazars power. Yes, they had a large professional army with trained and armored cavalry. But what really drove fear into their enemies’ hearts were their golems. These unstoppable warriors of stone destroyed the Jewish Empire’s enemies without remorse or pity.

Only the enemy sorcerers could slow them down.  They only had five of them, but five were enough.

Only the enemy sorcerers could slow them down. They only had five of them, but five were enough.

Cleopatra – But, that’s not true my precious Gaspar.
Zach – Don’t bother. We’ve tried to talk sense into him before.
Cleopatra – But you don’t have my skill set my dear Zachy poo.
Anna – Zachy poo?
Joan – Enough of zis distraction. The leaders of Khazar converted and within a few decades, much of ze people converted as well, oui? Why zey didn’t convert to my beloved faith I’ll never know. But Jewish scholars from around ze world wrote about Khazar and wrote letters to the kings. Two such letters still exist! Ze Khazar leader named Joseph replied to a rabbi in Spain and told him all about zeir way of life, how they send for scholars from Egypt, Iraq, Greece and France to come and teach them ze Tora.
Anna – Do you know what happened next, Zachy poo?
Zach – Don’t call me that.
Anna – Trouble began brewing with the Rus, their fine neighbors to the north. My people, the “Byzantines” didn’t like this growing empire that weren’t Christians, so they used a little diplomacy to get the Rus and Khazars to attack one another. The wars went off and on for a century or so.
Olga – Oh! Oh! I know this! My son, Svyatoslav, he take his army and go and crush the Khazars. He was so excited about it. I told him to pack his favorite boots. He always forgot them. “No, Svy, when you go killing many peoples, make sure to stay warm or you get the cold. He never listened. He was bad boy. He was also a pagan. The little…
Zach – Yes, we get it. Your son crushed the Khazar army in a single horrible battle and occupied a powerful fortress the Khazars had held for centuries. The Khazar Kagan then took the field personally and went out to meet Olga’s son. The Khazars lost big and after that the Rus continued to take more land from the Khazars.

"That was good one, Svyat! I like how you crushed that guy's skull.  Are you bringing your mother a souvenir?" "Dah, severed arms from my slain enemies." "Oh, Olga'll like that."

“That was good one, Svyat! I like how you crushed that guy’s skull. Are you bringing your mother a souvenir?”
“Dah, severed arms from my slain enemies.”
“Oh, Olga’ll like that.”

Joan – So sad. As ze Rus attacked from ze north, the Muslims saw ze opportunity and attacked from ze south. Only a small part of Khazaria survived and zis was eventually captured by combined Rus and Byzantine armies under Emperor Basil II. Zay crushed ze Khazar kingdom. The Khazars that fell under Muslim occupation were forced to convert to Islam. Ze Khazars under Rus occupation were scattered. So sad.
Cleopatra – But the Khazar Jews were survivors. Many were scattered. Some came to live in Russia. Others went to Poland, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries. They spread Judaism all across the continent with the death of their kingdom. They lost their land and wouldn’t have another land to call their own until 1948 with the creation of Israel. Many Jewish Cossacks of Russia claimed to be descended from Khazaria.

Though they were scattered all over Europe, Asia and the Mid-East, they kept their religion and traditions.  It's why Easter European has such a strong Jewish community.

Though they were scattered all over Europe, Asia and the Mid-East, they kept their religion and traditions. It’s why Eastern Europe has such a strong Jewish community.

Zach – I wish we could tell more, but not a lot is known. There is more to learn but you’ll have to find that out on your own. Please, go look it up and learn more about this unique and interesting Kingdom of Khazaria.

Please, I implore you by the King of Heaven, go "Like" us on ze Facebook, oui? Do zis or I shall fall upon you with my sword in my righteous anger!

Please, I implore you by ze King of Heaven, go “Like” us on ze Facebook, oui? Do zis or I shall fall upon you with my sword in my righteous anger!


Han Dynasty

Zach – Welcome back to Season 2 of Minimum Wage Historian. We had a two month vacation due to an unfortunate accident with Olga, gasoline and my computer. The computer I ordered was very late and when it finally showed up, broke after six days. The replacement took another two weeks getting here and then I’ve been doing illustrations for Larry Corriea’s book “Warbound” and a short story for the “Crimson Pact. vol 5” for Paul Genesse. But we’re back.
Anna – I spent the time on an island in the Aegean. Very relaxing.
Zach – Well some of us have to work.
Anna – What a shame. Well, today we have a fascinating topic, the ancient Han dynasty from China.

A Han noble enjoying the prosperity.

A Han noble enjoying the prosperity.

Mulan – Ancient Chinese history isn’t something that is taught all that much in your American schools.
Zach – Not really.
Mulan – Your loss.
Anna – Also with us are Countess Matilda of Tuscany, Napoleon Bonaparte, Olga of Kiev and…of course…Gaspar Correia.
Gaspar – I sensed some hesitation at my name.
Anna – You’re imagining things.
Mulan – He’s good at that.
Zach – Let’s get started then.
Mulan – I’ll take point on this one seeing as how I lived in the Han Dynasty. (Unsheathes sword.)
Zach – Be my guest.
Mulan – Seeing as how America doesn’t teach any history in their classrooms that doesn’t involve WWII, I’m going to start with a general overview of Chinese history so we can fit this all into perspective.
Gaspar – So, where’s China?
Mulan – Chinese History is a long story of royal dynasties that are constantly rising and falling. One will rise up to power and stability. The economy will prosper and culture will boom. Then things will fall apart, there’ll be a bunch of warlords and smaller kingdoms until another dynasty rises and unites China again.

The Dynasties of China as they surged in power like the tides of an ocean.

The Dynasties of China as they surged in power like the tides of an ocean.

Olga – Where is famous General Tso. I like General Tso’ s chicken.
Mulan – (Face Palms) Today we’re mainly talking about the Han Dynasty. But first I have to back track to the first emperor of China. Emperor Quin united a bunch of warring states into one, massive, centralized government. It was at this time that the Chinese began thinking of themselves as Chinese and not separate, scattered kingdoms. Under the Quin Dynasty, China’s culture began to grow and become more refined than they ever imagined. The organization became more sophisticated than anything Europe would see until the eighteenth century.
Napoleon – Ha! I read about this so called emperor. He was a madman!
Mulan – Yes, that was a problem. He was a maniacal lunatic that enacted such harsh laws that people quickly began rebelling against them. For example, one army unit was struggeling to march to where they were to report to but the monsoon rains delayed them. Under the Quin, they would be harshly punished for any infraction, regardless of circumstances. So, instead of reporting in and promptly becoming prisoners, they went off on their own and became rebel/bandits.
Matilda – Like Robin Hood, yes?
Mulan – Not so nice as that. In fact, they were very surprised when other disgruntled people began flocking to join them and soon they had a full scale rebellion on their hands. The generals that were sent out to quell the rebellions fought and lost and when they lost they joined their forces with the rebels instead of returning to the Empire for harsh punishment. As a result, the rebellion grew and grew until China was a chaotic jumble or warlords fighting for power.
Anna – So, the Quin (or Chin) Dynasty leaders were so pointlessly harsh that they caused just about everyone to rebel? That’s not what I’d call good governing.

The collapse of the Quin Dynasty was a time of warfare and anarchy.  It wouldn't be in my top ten places to visit with a time machine.

The collapse of the Quin Dynasty was a time of warfare and anarchy. It wouldn’t be in my top ten places to visit with a time machine.

Mulan – No, it wasn’t very pleasant. The Quin Dynasty fell in 207B.C. However, in about 202BC, the Han dynasty emerged. This was the equivalent to the Roman Empire of the West. About the same time period, set an example for every following empire and eventually fell to barbarians and anarchy while a foreign religion became popular.
Anna – Like the Romans? I like these Han already.
Mulan – The man that united China under the Han was born a commoner. He was a career soldier who showed kindness to his conquered enemies, mercy, charity and a general desire to help his people. He was everything Emperor Quin wasn’t. Under his rule, all the harsh policies of the Quin were erased, he lowered taxes and took a very “hands off” approach to government. The people were free to live as they would and the merchants were free to make as much money as they wanted. This man was Han Kao.

Gaspar -Han Kao is Chinese for "really awesome dude."  Mulan - No it isn't.

Gaspar -Han Kao is Chinese for “really awesome dude.”
Mulan – No it isn’t.

Mulan – However, he died young and had a very short but amazing reign. When he died, his wife, Empress Lu, took over.

Gaspar's photo of Empress Lu.

Gaspar’s photo of Empress Lu.


Mulan - No, Gaspar, she looked more like this.  Matilda - liked Gaspar's photo better.

Mulan – No, Gaspar, she looked more like this.
Matilda – I liked Gaspar’s photo better.

Mulan – Lu proved to be every bit the leader her husband was. Having grown up a commoner, she understood the problems the commoners had and ruled with frugality and benevolence. Her children who succeeded her also ruled with the same generous wisdom. The population soared, the people grew richer than they had under the Quin and China expanded its borders. A later Han emperor named Wu Ti gained power over the nobles and invaded Korea and Vietnam.
Napoleon – Ha! Someone needs to invade North Korea now and shut that fat child up.
Gaspar – At this time during the Han Dynasty, the magic of controlling the elements was first explored. There were people that could bend fire to their will and air and…
Olga – Control fire? Olga must learn this magic.
Matilda – It’s not real, Olga. Gaspar’s just been watching too much Avatar the Last Airbender.
Olga – I like that movie!
Gaspar – Not the horrible movie! The cartoon!
Mulan – Silence or I’ll drop and make you push until I get tired. (Everyone falls silent.) Better. As we see, the Han Dynasty is a stable, peaceful place where a person is free to prosper as she pleases. The military victories brought large areas of land under the control and pushed the proto-Mongol barbarians westward. Those barbarians would eventually show up in the Roman Empire as the Huns of Attila.
Anna – So! Attila was your fault!
Matilda – But… This prosperity can’t last long.
Mulan – Correct. After Wu Ti, there were a bunch of unremarkable leaders that couldn’t maintain this level of progress. Eventually the lack of leadership got so bad that they brought in a non-Han official to take over. His name was Wang Mang. (Gaspar chuckles) Wang Mang was an idealist. He controlled the empire to his strict version of Confucianism. He centralized the power of the government, micro managed everything, made laws that were so strict they were practically unenforceable. He took land from the nobles, business from the merchants and made mountains, rivers, forests and streams government property. In short, he angered every social class in China. Food prices rose like a Chinese rocket, mass starvation created thousands of refugees that were dependent on the government and the border kingdoms that owed China their allegiance succeeded from the Empire. Things got so bad that the government started falling apart.

"Hmm...I've raised taxes, confiscated people's land and businesses.  Why don't the people love me?  I don't get it." - Wang Mang

“Hmm…I’ve raised taxes, confiscated people’s land and businesses. Why don’t the people love me? I don’t get it.” – Wang Mang

Mulan – Eventually a group of rebels stormed the palace ( I don’t think the palace guard put up much of a fight. ) and killed Wang Mang. The next ruler was another Han and things got back to normal. Things became prosperous and they even launched an exploratory mission all the way to the Black Sea.
Matilda – I read our assigned reading about this.
Olga – Assigned reading?
Matilda – At this time, the farmers were very different from what we knew in Europe, right? In Europe during this time, a farmer was largely self sufficient. They had different crops, raised livestock and did a bunch of other things. What excess they had they’d trade off with their neighbors. Not so in China. There the farmers worked like a modern economy. Each farmer grew a great deal of one crop and they wouldn’t eat their own crops. They’d take their one crop to town and sell it to merchants who ran the trade routes. Then the farmer would use that money to buy his food and whatever else they needed. It was all very organized and handled in an surprisingly efficient way.
Mulan – That is correct. The bureaucracy was also enormously complicated and grew more prestigious and educated with each passing dynasty. Even minor bureaucrats were expected to know the classics and understand the latest philosophies.

Han were rocking civilization when other parts of the world were hitting each other over the heads with clubs during a feud over an escaped pig.

Han were rocking civilization when other parts of the world were hitting each other over the heads with clubs during a feud over an escaped pig.

Mulan – But the “hands off” style of the Han had one drawback. It let the land owning nobles gain too much power. They started to control their farmers like Medieval peasants and worse and took over their farms. They gathered large private armies until their estates were practically small and separate countries. They slowly eroded the power of the Han. The culture of the nobility, as the power of the Empire shrank, began to care less and less for the world around them and like the French aristocracy before the French Revolution, they withdrew into their own private worlds of pleasure and vice.
Napoleon – Ha! They can only live off the suffering of the common man for so long! I will show what we do to uncaring Monarchists!
Mulan – As the nobles drifted off into apathy, the eunuchs of the court gradually took power until they controlled the government. They began to abuse their power and impoverished the Empire for their villas and extravagant tombs. Generals began rising up in rebellion and making their own little kingdoms. The eunuchs were killed and thrown out, but it was too late. The Empire was too weak to recover. It fell apart into anarchy of many warring states.

Warfare spread all over and like the Roman Empire, collapsed into petty warlords.

Warfare spread all over and like the Roman Empire, collapsed into petty warlords.

Mulan – A general named Tsao Tsao tried to reunite the Empire but only succeeded in unifying the northern half. In his wars to try to bring unity, he fought the famous battle of Red Cliff. (Maybe I’ll do a post on that battle later.) But with the failure of Tsao Tsao (or Cao Cao) the two southern kingdoms continued and we get the famous “Three Kingdoms” era of Chinese History. This was a time of daring deeds and romance. Many stories, books and legends came from this time, almost like how you Westerners view the time of King Aurthur.

King Arthur?  Please.  I'd send him back to his mama, crying and without his lunch money.

King Arthur? Please. I’d send him back to his mama, crying and without his lunch money.

Zach – Very awesome, Mulan. Thank you for that.
Anna – I always wondered what the lands that silk came from were like.
Mulan – I hope to teach more of my land’s history.
Zach – If you buy lunch.
Mulan – Deal.
Olga – But what about this General Tso and his remarkable chicken?
Mulan – Shut up.

Gaspar here, don't forge to "Like" us on Facebook.  Zach told me to say that.  I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.  Facebook?

Gaspar here, don’t forge to “Like” us on Facebook. Zach told me to say that. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean. Facebook? Umm…the “link’s” just below me somewhere….there it is.