All about the Khazars' multiple religions and history:
Click here for details on the book


by Kevin Alan Brook

      As documented in Chapter 2 of The Jews of Khazaria, a number of Christian churches were located in the Khazar Empire. Some of the worshippers at these churches were Khazarian people, whose original belief system was Tengri Shamanism. Others were members of other Turkic tribes like the Bulgars but probably did not include certain others like the Pechenegs.

      George Tsul and the Tsul Clan in Khazaria may be a case in point.

      Thomas S. Noonan's article "The Khazar-Byzantine World of the Crimea in the Early Middle Ages: The Religious Dimension", which appeared in the journal Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi Volume 10 (1998-1999) on pages 207-230, includes some information of interest to those who explore Christianity's spread in Khazaria as well as those who are curious about the mysterious personality who reigned at the "end" of the kingdom more than 50 years after Prince Svyatoslav crushed the Khazar kaganate.

      Historians note that George Tsul - also known as Georgius Tzul - was the ruler of "Khazaria" circa 1016, the year when Byzantines and Rus collaborated to conquer him. 1016 was regarded by some historians as the date when the defeated Jewish Khazars fled from the Crimea to Lithuania and Spain, but these speculated migrations were later disproved. However, thanks to Noonan's excellent article, we can learn some new things about George Tsul as a person and an inherited name.

      Citing from Igor Avenirovich Baranov's 1990 book Tavrika v epokhu rannego srednevekov'ia: Saltovo-mayatskaya kul'tura, Noonan explains that Tsul was the name of a tribe in the Saltovo culture of Khazaria. At Baklinskoye near Cherson on the Crimea, a Greek inscription was found that says that Tsal had erected a Christian burial vault made of limestone blocks to memorialize a man named Fedor and Fedor's wife (Noonan page 213). The burial rite was "Saltovo" in its nature. Thus Noonan says that this demonstrates that the Greek Orthodox religion was spreading among the Saltovo/Bulgar tribal elite in the southern Crimea by the early 9th century.

      The Tsal clan is apparently connected with the Turkic clan name Tsul (Noonan page 213). Six Greek-lettered seals with the clan or family name Tsul were found in the Crimea and belonged to Byzantine governmental officials who served in Cherson as well as elsewhere in the Crimea. One of the last seals dates perhaps from the 2nd haf of the 9th century or the 1st half of the 10th century. The name "George Tsoul" was written on many of these six seals. Noonan therefore says that the Tsul clan member[s] "had entered Byzantine service and had begun to serve in some of the most important secular positions in the Crimea, i.e., as governors of Kherson and Bospor. Following their conversion to Christianity, the Tsuls had risen to the highest ranks in provincial Byzantine society during the course of the ninth century... It remains to be seen whether George Tsul, the imperial protospatharius of Kherson, was an isolated case, perhaps the result of the personal conversion of his ancestors, or whether he was part of a large transfer of allegiance by members of the Khazar/Saltovo elite." (Noonan page 214).

      On page 213 Noonan writes that "The fragment of a limestone block with a dedicatory inscription in Greek and the picture of a horse was also found inside the vault along with another block in which a Turkic tamgha had been incised... Inside one of the caskets was a flat, circular disc made of limestone and having two holes so that it could be worn as a pendant. Marks resembling Turkic runes had apparently been made on both sides of the disc but had been partially erased." Then on page 215 Noonan writes: "The limestone circular disc with the 'Turkic' runes found in the Baklinskoe burial vault also deserves special attention. Baranov believes, with some justification, that the disc was a pagan amulet on which magical markings had been made. When its owner converted to Christianity, Baranov argues that he attempted to erase these marks. If Baranov's interpretation is correct, then it would suggest that those buried by Tsal in the burial chamber had only converted to Christianity during their lifetimes and that they still retained certain features of their original belief. The disc can thus be seen as a kind of family talisman which was kept even after conversion... The old belief [paganism or shamanism] was not completely eradicated by the new one [Christianity]." Noonan elsewhere emphasizes that while some Saltovians converted to Christianity by the 9th century, others (including Bulgars and Alans, who didn't even adopt Judaism) remained pagans.

      Georgius "the Tzul" - sometimes alleged to have been "the last kagan", with a reign ending in 1016 - is portrayed as a "Christianized Khazar" by Peter Golden and other authors. Probably this George ruled the Crimea, but it has not been determined whether he also ruled over the Taman peninsula and the North Caucasus.

      In any event, Noonan makes it clear that the Tsal/Tsul clan underwent at least three distinct stages:

  • 1st step - Tsuls served as local Khazar rulers
  • 2nd step - Tsuls served as provincial Byzantine governors
  • 3rd step - Tsuls, associated with Khazaria, once again are on the opposing side against the Byzantines

    Thomas Schaub Noonan, a great scholar of Khazar, Viking, Rus', and Russian studies, died on June 15, 2001 of cancer at the age of 63. Noonan was a Professor of Russian History at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA beginning in 1966. He co-edited the journal Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, which regularly included papers on the steppe tribes (Khazars, Kipchaks, etc.) of medieval Eurasia. He also contributed some of his own articles to that publication as well as many more. The Islamic World, Russia and the Vikings, 750-900: The Numismatic Evidence is a collection of some of his writings. He was also a co-editor of the publication series "Russian and East European Studies".

    Alex M. Feldman's article "The First Christian Rus' Generation: Contextualizing the Black Sea Events of 1016, 1024 and 1043" was published in Rossica Antiqua 1/2 (2018) on pages 3-25. On page 7, he wrote:
    "The sigillographer Jean-Claude Cheynet believes that due to his seals, Geōrgios Tzoulas was of Khazar origin, though he declines to give specifics about how exactly the seals prove this, aside from merely stating, like Skylitzēs, that he was the archon of Khazaria, though also the stratēgos of Chersōn ..., which is significant in its own right. The Tzoulas family, judging by the broad extent of their seals, seems to have occupied a prominent place in local Crimean politics ... However, to ascertain whether or not this Geōrgios Tzoulas identified as 'Khazarian' may be ultimately unprovable... As for the mention of [Byzantines] allegedly clearing the last remains of 'Khazaria' in Crimea, this could simply be a reference to a local, autonomous archon from a prominent Crimean family, a Tzoulas."

  • An Introduction to the History of Khazaria
  • An Exploration of Khazarian Shamanism
  • Medieval Quotes About Khazar Judaism
  • The Kuzari's References to the Khazar Conversion to Judaism
  • Bibliography of Khazar Studies, 1901-Present - Section 6: Religious Practices and Influences in Khazaria

  • Homepage