Khazar Khaganate. AR dirham (26 mm, 3.93 g). No date, c. 880s-910s AD. Imitation of an Abbasid dirham with two "obverse" dies. Obverse: Slightly blundered first half of the Kalima, heavily blundered legend around. Reverse: Slightly blundered first half of the Kalima, heavily blundered legend around. Album K1481.1. This coin: Stephen Album Auction 36, lot 652 (January 23-25, 2020). The Khazars, although important in their time, are best remembered for their influences on neighboring cultures, and for a religious conversion whose extent has probably been exaggerated by later accounts. There has also been a great deal of poorly-supported speculation, and this, coupled with the shortage of reliable first-hand documents or archaeological evidence, has led to their near-invisibility even to most "amateur historians" (as I presume most readers of the CoinTalk Ancients board would call themselves). In this post, I will try to stick to well-supported facts to explain who the Khazars were, and what we know about their coinage. The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic confederation, whose precise origins are obscure. By about 650 AD they had established themselves between the eastern shore of the Black Sea and the western shore of the Caspian, and they later expanded along the lower Volga and into the Crimea. From this position, they were able to control part of the Silk Road trade and the river routes that led to the Kievan Rus and Vikings in the north, becoming wealthy by taxing trade through their lands. They frequently interacted with the Byzantines to the south, and Emperor Leo IV (775-780) is called "Leo the Khazar" as his mother was a Khazar princess originally named Tzitzak (she converted to Christianity and was renamed Irene). Khazar armies stopped Islamic expansion through the Caucuses into Eastern Europe, and after 840 Khazar mercenaries were an important part of the Byzantine Imperial bodyguard. The Rus to the north eventually came into conflict with the Khazars, and in the 960s the Rus destroyed the main Khazar cities, effectively ending their state (although some outlying areas may have continued for a while). The Khazars then disappear from history shortly afterwards. Probably the most interesting thing known about the Khazars is their religious conversion. The leaders were originally "pagans", probably following a shamanistic Turkic religion focused on a sky-god called Tengri. At some point between about 740 and 920, the rulers and nobility appear to have converted to Judaism. One document claims that the Khazars invited leading Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholars to come and present their best arguments to the Khazar leaders personally, in a public dispute, with the Khazars ultimately choosing Judaism for their new religion. Assuming this happened (there has been some dispute), this was a brilliant political move. If they had converted to Christianity or Islam, the most obvious choices, they would have been naturally more inclined to support either the Byzantines or the various Islamic states, respectively, thus upsetting the local balance of power. By choosing a religion that was not dominant anywhere locally, but which had a certain amount of prestige and respect from both Christians and Muslims, the Khazars were able to bolster their own relative stature without antagonizing either of their two most powerful neighbors. One controversial theory holds that, after the breakup of the Khazar empire, their population migrated to Eastern and Central Europe, settling down in their own communities, and eventually becoming the Ashkenazim (Eastern and Central European Jews). This theory had some popularity in the 19th century, and was revived in the 1970s by Arthur Koestler's book "The Thirteenth Tribe" (which I read many years ago and which was my introduction to the Khazars). However, most historians today dispute this theory, claiming that the historical record does not support any mass exodus of Khazars, and there is no clear cultural connection between the Ashkenazim and Khazars. Also, the conversion to Judaism was apparently only of the upper classes of Khazar society, and most of the population probably followed other religions, so it is not obvious why all the exiled Khazars would have now turned to Judaism. Finally, recent genetic studies do not support this claim of connection between the Khazars and modern Ashkenazim. While the "Khazar Hypothesis" is not generally accepted anymore, it has had some importance historically, so I felt compelled to mention it. There are no known original coin designs struck by the Khazars, and thus it is sometimes claimed that there are no Khazar coins. However, coin hoards found in former Viking and Rus territory in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe often include, mixed with standard Islamic and northern European coins, small numbers of imitations of Islamic coins with altered or blundered legends. Experts have identified several of these as having been struck (probably unofficially) by the Khazars. Stephen Album's "Checklist of Islamic Coins", summarizing this work, lists three distinct types. Type J1481 is an imitation of an Abbasid dirham with an unusual mintmark that was first read as "Ard al-Khayr" (Land of the Good), but which seems to actually be "Ard al-Khazar" (Land of the Khazars). Type K1481.2 is an imitation of a dirham from the Samanids in Persia. Finally, type K1481.1, which includes this coin, is a heterogeneous type of imitations of Abbasid dirhams, often muling two obverse or two reverse dies (my coin has two "obverses") and with badly blundered inscriptions, often unreadable; the engraver was probably not literate in Arabic. While the attribution to the Khazars of K1481.1 is not quite as obvious as J1481, it is accepted by the leading scholars who have studied the matter, and I do not know of any plausible challenges to this attribution. (One should of course be cautious not to assume that every poorly-engraved Abbasid dirham is actually a hidden Khazar coin; but in this specific case, and given that I bought the coin from Stephen Album himself, I feel confident that this is actually a numismatic relic of the Khazars.) Album lists the type as rarity RR ("Very Rare. Seldom available. Collectors may have to wait years to locate one.") I hope you enjoyed reading about the forgotten Khazars. Please share any Khazar coins you have, or whatever else is relevant.