MOSCOW – A Russian archaeologist says he has found the lost capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear leaving little trace of its culture.
Dmitry Vasilyev, a professor at Astrakhan State University, said his nine-year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress of flamed brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings, and he believes these are part of what was once Itil, the Khazar capital.
By law Khazars could use flamed bricks only in the capital, Vasilyev said. The general location of the city on the Silk Road was confirmed in medieval chronicles by Arab, Jewish and European authors.
“The discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe’s first feudal state is of great significance,” he said. “We should view it as part of Russian history.”
Kevin Brook, the American author of “The Jews of Khazaria,” e-mailed Wednesday that he has followed the Itil dig over the years, and even though it has yielded no Jewish artifacts, “Now I’m as confident as the archaeological team is that they’ve truly found the long-lost city.”
The Khazars were a Turkic tribe that roamed the steppes from northern China to the Black Sea. Between the 7th and 10th centuries they conquered huge swaths of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains, and Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea.
The Khazar empire was once a regional superpower, and Vasilyev said his team has found “luxurious collections” of well-preserved ceramics that help identify cultural ties of the Khazar state with Europe, the Byzantine Empire and even Northern Africa.