The Khazars: A Judeo-Turkish Empire on the Steppes, 7th - 11th Centuries AD

Published: May 27th, 2019     
Product Image
Book Cover
Author: Mikhail Zhirohov and David Nicolle; Illustrators: Christa Hook
Reviewed by: 
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035
Company: Osprey Publishing
ISBN #: 978-1-4728-3013-5
Other Publication Information: Softbound, 7.25” x 9.75”, 48 pages, also available in E formats.
Price: $19.00
Product / Stock #: MAA 522

Mikhail Zhirohov was born in eastern Ukraine, in 1974. Mikhail graduated from Donetsk State University with a degree in History. He has focused on the former USSR ranging from its medieval history to modern warfare. He has authored over 20 books and published more than 300 articles on various aspects of Ukrainian and military history for popular magazines in Russia, Ukraine, France, UK and other countries since 1998. He lives in Chernihiv, Ukraine.

David Nicolle is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Medieval Studies, Nottingham University. David has focused his research on the military history of Islam. He is the author of over a dozen books on medieval military history. He lives in High Barnet, UK.

Christa Hook began her illustrating career in 1986, after studying under her father Richard Hook. Her work has featured extensively in the worlds of publishing and television and, having illustrated over 40 Osprey titles, she has established herself as one of their most popular artists. Her illustrations combine the historian's attention to detail with the artist's sense of drama and atmosphere, and they are sought after by collectors worldwide. Christa lives and works in East Sussex, England.

Osprey's 522nd book in the Men at Arms series is a square back soft cover including 48 gloss paper pages. The front cover features a clip of a color painting by Christa Hook on page 27 of a Khazar heavy cavalryman and a Kabarian cavalryman. I counted 21 black and white pictures and three black and white maps. There were some 122 black and white drawings, primarily of different weapon heads. Christa Hook contributes Color Plates that are provided detailed descriptions in the Plate Commentary section.

The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people with a confederation of Turkic-speaking tribes that in the late 6th century established a major empire covering the southeastern section of modern European Russia. The Khazars were also unique in that their aristocratic and military elites converted to Judaism, creating what would be territorially the largest Jewish-ruled state in world history. They became significant allies of the Byzantine Empire, blocking the advance of Islam (via the Umayyad Caliphate) north of the Caucasus Mountains for several hundred years. This alliance was dropped around 900. Byzantium began to encourage the Alans to attack Khazaria and weaken its hold on Crimea and the Caucasus, while seeking to obtain an entente with the rising Christian Rus' power to the north. Between 965 and 969, the Kievan Rus' ruler Sviatoslav I of Kiev conquered the capital Atil and destroyed the Khazar state. The Khazar state provided the foundations upon which medieval Russia and modern Ukraine were built.

The contents include:

  1. Dedication
  2. Artist's Note
  3. Historical Background
    • Origins
    • Expansion
    • Decline and Fall
    • Chronology
  4. Campaigns and Battles
    • Arab-Khazar Wars, 7th - 8th Centuries
      • Emergence of Derbent, Frontier Zone, AD 642-692
      • Khazar Successes and Failures, AD 721-764
    • Byzantine-Khazar Wars, 8th - 10th Centuries [Page 12]
      • Abkhazia and Crimea, AD 760s - early 800s
      • Campaigns also involving Alans, c. AD 900 - 932
      • Campaigns also involving the Rus, AD 939-965
    • Russian-Kharzarian Wars, 10th Century
    • Pecheneg-Khazar Wars, 9th - 10th Centuries
  5. Armies of the Khaganate
    • Character, Strengths, and Organization
    • The 'Feudal' Core, Mercenaries, and Vassals
  6. Arms and Armour
    • Offensive Weapons
      • Bows and Arrows
      • Swords
      • Daggers and Fighting Knives [Page 33]
      • Spears
      • Axes
      • War-Flails
  7. Color Plates [Page 25]
    • Defensive Equipment
      • Body Armour
      • Helmets [Page 38]
      • Shields
      • Horse Harness
    • Fortifications
      • Classification
      • The Evidence from Sarkel
  8. Select Bibliography
  9. Plate Commentaries
  10. Index

Mikhail Zhirohov and David Nicolle provide a very readable text with plenty of photographs and drawings to depict their topics. I found this tome well organized. Starting off with an overview of the Khazar's rise and fall, the authors dive into sub-topics. These sub-topics address successively the major campaigns and battles, the Khazar military organization and constitution, the offensive arms and defensive equipment, and finally the Khazar fortifications. The Color Plates by Christa Hook add life to this narrative and are well described in the back of the book in the Plate Commentaries.

I was able to read the book easily over two evenings. I was taken by surprise to see the Swedish influence on the Khazars between AD 939 and 965. The founders of the Kievan Rus state were Scandinavian, primarily Swedish, who conquered the Slav tribes. Although early on the Kievan Rus were actually allied with the Khazars, this turned when a Khazar Muslim mercenary group attached the Rus as the Rus returned from a Caspian campaign against Muslim territories. The authors believe this was a strategic error of the Khazar leadership. The Khazar's apparent attempt to play both sides, Christianity against Muslim, only served to lead the Rus to destroy the Khazaganate.

I really enjoyed this book by Mikhail Zhirohov and David Nicolle on a topic I had previously no exposure to. If you own one the previous releases in the Men at Arms series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended

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