First conflicts: the First Arab
Khazar War and aftermath
The Khazars themselves first campaigned in the Caucasus during the Byzantine
Sassanid War of 602
628, as asubject of the Western Turkic Khaganate. The Turks sacked Derbent and joined the Byzantines in their siege of Tiflis. Their contribution proved decisive for the eventual Byzantine victory in the war. For a few years afterwards,until ca. 632, the Khazars exercised some control over Iberia and Albania
The Khazars and the Arabs came into conflict as a result of the first phase of Muslim expansion: by 640 the Arabshad reached Armenia,
and in 642, they launched their first raid across the Caucasus under Abd ar-Rahman ibnRabiah.
In 645/646, the Arabs defeated a Byzantine army in Armenia, reinforced with Khazar and Alancontingents.
It was followed by an attempt in 651
652 to advance onto the Khazar capital, Balanjar, but theArabs were heavily defeated in battle before the city, resulting in the death of Abd ar-Rahman's brother Salman and4,000 Muslim troops. Three years later, the Khazars repelled a retaliatory campaign under Habib ibn Maslama.
Due to the outbreak of the First Muslim Civil War and the Arab priorities on other fronts, the Muslims refrainedfrom repeating an attack on the Khazars until the early 8th century.
The Khazars, on their part, only launched afew raids into the Transcaucasian principalities that were loosely under Muslim dominion: in 661
662, theylaunched a raid into Caucasian Albania but were defeated by the local prince; in 683
685 (also a time of civil war inthe Muslim world), a large-scale raid across Transcaucasia was more successful, capturing much booty and manyprisoners.
Climax: the Second Arab
Map of the Caucasus region ca. 750
Relations between the two powers remained relativelyquiet until the early years of the 8th century, by whichtime the stage for the new round of conflicts was set.Byzantine political authority had been marginalized,and the Caliphate tightened its grip on Armenia afterthe suppression of a large-scale rebellion in 705. WithArmenia annexed into the Caliphate, the Arabs and theKhazars faced each other for control of the Caucasus.Only the western parts of Transcaucasia, comprisingmodern Georgia, remained free from direct control byeither of the two rival powers.
War broke out in713/714, when the Umayyad general Maslamah, a sonof the Caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685
705), conqueredDerbent. Maslamah then drove deeper into Khazarterritory, trying, without success, to subdue the "Huns" living north of the Caucasus. The Khazars opposed himunder the general Alp', but also launched raids to the south into Albania in response. In 717, the Khazars raided inforce into Iranian Azerbaijan, but they were driven back by the Arabs under Hatin ibn al-Nu'man.
Escalation of the conflict
In 722, the main phase of the war began. In the previous winter, 30,000 Khazarslaunched an invasion of Arab-ruled
Armenia, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the mostly Syrian army of the local governor Mi'laq ibn Saffaral-Bahrani at Marj al-Hijara in February/March 722. In response, Caliph Yazid II (r. 720
724) sent one of his mostcelebrated generals, al-Jarrah ibn Abdallah al-Hakami, with 25,000 Syrian troops north. Al-Jarrah was swiftlysuccessful in driving the Khazars back across the Caucasus, recovered Derbent and even advanced on Balanjar. TheKhazars tried to defend their capital by ringing the citadel with a laager of wagons, but the Arabs broke it apart andstormed the city on 21 August 722 (or 723). Most of Balanjar's inhabitants were killed or enslaved, but a few