The Rus, Khazars and Bulgars
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.