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The Rus, Khazars & Bulgars
CEUS-R 596
Edward Lazzerini

Three kaganates—the Rus, the Khazar, and the Bolgar—vied for political and economic influence in the heart of Central Eurasia during the 500 years preceding the grand unification of the region by Mongols and their allies. Representing the last, spectacular bloom and power of pastoral nomadism, the Mongol Empire swept up Central Eurasia, wrecking in the process numerous state formations, including that of the Bolgars and Rus. Before then, from the Dnepr River eastward beyond the Caspian Sea, and from the Crimea and the Caucasus northward to the Gulf of Finland, Lake Ladoga, and the upper reaches of the Volga River, the three kaganates emerged to create the earliest extensive urban cultures in this large region. With urbanization came commercialization and the development of long-distance trade routes and their necessary markets; following the merchants came institutionalized religion with their attendant cultures that drew upon the rich store of Christian, Judaic, and Islamic traditions. Economic competition, political alliances, cultural interaction, and wars forged and reflected development of a zone of common interest that also attracted foreign attention from powerful neighbors, including Byzantium, the Abbasid Caliphate, China, and finally the Mongols.

Of the three “states,” only that of Rus has much of a historiography, partly explained by the complete disappearance of the other two by the 13th century and the cultural tradition that has claimed continuity between Rus and the Russian Empire through Muscovy. Challenging that tradition, while analyzing the extant sources revealing the parameters of Khazar and Bolgar history, this course will examine the three kaganates in all of their aspects and interrelations.


Quality reading of primary sources—textual, archeological, and numismatic—as well as portions of major secondary studies. My intention is to make all readings— along with relevant maps and images, the full syllabus, and other course-related materials—available in digital form.

No book purchases required

No examinations

Two written projects:

  1. Philological exercise on the Slovo o Polku Igoreve

I want each of you to take a portion of the strophes comprising this treasure of early Russian literature, upon which to perform a textual analysis in the manner of a philologist. This means that you would have to deconstruct (in the classical, not post-modernist sense) the text so as to identify

(1) all names—whether of humans, animals, plants, or sites;
(2) reveal and explain all allusions;
(3) unravel meanings; and
(4) provide a reader with as much ancillary information (e.g., a map) as possible.

One task that you will not have to perform (since the text is an English translation) is a linguistic one: close examination of the language actually used to produce the text. So as to limit your effort, you need provide only two examples (explained fully) from each of the first three (and if you can, one from the fourth) activities listed above, although you should also list all other items that you think require explanation.

  1. A twelve to fifteen-page essay on a subject acceptable to the instruction


Philological exercise = 20%
Essay = 50%
In-class discussion = 30%