The Khazar Empire

Irina Shingiray’s research focuses on the Khazar Empire of the second half of the first millennium CE (6th—10th centuries)—a large nomadic imperial confederation, which dominated the Western Eurasian Steppe with multiple and culturally diverse communities and transcontinental trade corridors.  From a relatively small regional subdivision of the vast First Turkish Empire, the Khazar nomadic regime expanded into a major geopolitical power from its center in the plains of the North-Eastern Caucasus and presented a Steppe imperial counterforce to the Islamic Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. At their strategic location, the nomadic Khazars mediated trade that connected the lands of Northern Europe, the Russian Forest, the Eurasian Steppe, and the empires of Islam and the Byzantines.

The importance of this nomadic empire in Early Medieval global trade is increasingly becoming recognized. But since very little historically verifiable information is available about the Khazar nomads, this topic suffers from a crisis of representation and often serves as a kind of tabula rasa on which writers of fiction project their literary imagination.  What is particularly ignored in the case of the Khazars is their mobility and nomadic strategies which made them a powerful rival to the mighty empires of their day. In this research project and the resulting monograph, Shingiray will focus on the politics of war, trade, and religion of the Khazar nomads. She will investigate the topic from the nomadic perspective and from their imperial core territory using interdisciplinary resources in the fields of history, archaeology, anthropology, human and landscape geography, religion, and spaces of cultural representation and materiality.