Sarkel (or Sharkil, literally "white house" in Khazar language) [D. Dunlop, "The History of the Jewish Khazars", Princeton University Press (1954).] was a large limestone-and-brick fortress built by the Khazars with Byzantine assistance in the 830s. Sarkel was located on the left bank of the lower Don River, in present-day Rostov Oblast of Russia.


Sarkel was built to protect the north-western border of the Khazar state in 833, when the Khazars asked their ally, Byzantine emperor Theophilus, for engineers to build them a fortified capital, and Theophilus sent his chief engineer Petronas. In recompense for these services, the Khazar khagan ceded Chersonesos and some other Crimean dependencies to Byzantium.

Historians have been unable to determine why such a strong fortress was built on the Don. It is usually asserted that its costly construction was motivated by the appearance of a strong regional power which posed a threat to the Khazars. Alexander Vasiliev and George Vernadsky, among others, argued that Sarkel was built to defend a vital portage between the Don and the Volga from the Rus' Khaganate, but this polity seems to have been situated many hundred miles to the north. Another nascent power, the Magyars, were not particularly dangerous to the Khazars as long as they paid tribute to the khagan.


The city served as a bustling commercial center, as it controlled the Volga-Don portage, which was used by the Rus to cross from the Black Sea to the Volga and thence to the Caspian; the route was known as the "Khazarian Way". A garrison fortified at Sarkel included Oghuz and Pecheneg mercenaries.

Sarkel's fortress and city were captured by Kievan Rus' under prince Sviatoslav I in 965. The city was renamed Belaya Vezha (Slavic for "White Tower" or "White Fortress") and settled by Slavs. It remained Slavic until the 12th century, when the district was taken over by the Kipchaks.

Mikhail Artamonov excavated the site in the 1930s. It was the most ambitious excavation of a Khazar site ever undertaken. Among many Khazar and Rus items, Artamonov discovered Byzantine columns used in the construction of Sarkel. The site is now submerged by the Tsimlyansk Reservoir, so no further excavations may be conducted.



* Dunlop, Douglas Morton (1997). "Sarkel". "Encyclopedia Judaica" (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House. ISBN 965-07-0665-8
* Grousset, René (1970). "The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia". (transl. Naomi Walford). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. SBN 8135-0627-1
* Dunlop, Douglas M. (1954). "The History of the Jewish Khazars". Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
* Brook, Kevin Alan (2006). "The Jews of Khazaria." 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
* Koestler, Arthur. "The Thirteenth Tribe"
* Vernadsky, George. "A History of Russia". ( [ online] )

External links

* [ Sarkel on]

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