Capital dating back to 1000 ad

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.Medieval Russian epic poems mention Russian warriors fighting the "Jewish Giant." "In many ways, Russia is a successor of the Khazar state," Vasilyev said.He said his dig revealed traces of a large fire that was probably caused by the Russian conquest.The dictator Josef Stalin, in particular, detested the idea that a Jewish empire had come before Russia's own.He ordered references to Khazar history removed from textbooks because they "disproved his theory of Russian statehood," Satanovsky said.

"But from the Khazars themselves we have nearly nothing." The Khazars' ruling dynasty and nobility converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries."The discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe's first feudal state is of great significance," he told The Associated Press."We should view it as part of Russian history." • Click here to visit's Archaeology Center.Vasilyev said the limited number of Jewish religious artifacts such as mezuzas and Stars of David found at other Khazar sites prove that ordinary Khazars preferred traditional beliefs such as shamanism, or newly introduced religions including Islam.Yevgeny Satanovsky, director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, said he believes the Khazar elite chose Judaism out of political expediency — to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states.

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