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fd-Khazaria-art – 2/15/10


"Eating patterns in pre 12th Century Khazaria among observant Jews" by Baron Khadir bar Yosef Ha-Kuzari.


NOTE: See also the files: fd-Jewish-msg, Khazars-msg, fd-Persia-msg, fd-Russia-msg, E-Arab-recip-art, Jews-msg, Mongols-msg, fresh-cheeses-msg, Palestine-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This paper was originally written for Kingdom A&S Festival in Atlantia in 2009.


Eating patterns in pre 12th Century Khazaria among observant Jews

by Baron Khadir bar Yosef Ha-Kuzari


Executive Summary


Identifying uniquely Khazar foods is a challenge on several points.  First, the surviving documentation is very scarce, with few if any direct references to Jewish foods or eating habits. Those comments by such authors as Ibn Fadlan clearly show that he was likely not dining with observant Jews.  Secondly, since the Jewish population was a combination of local ethnic Jews, displaced or immigrant Jews from various parts of the European continent, and converts from the local population the likely foods that would be consumed vary between those found locally and those from their respective homelands or cultures which met the unique dietary considerations of the laws of Kashrut(1).  While these are spelled out in Torah(2), primarily in the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, they would have been amplified in Talmud(3).  My hypothesis is that by taking the above into account, and considering that both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud had been published in the 5th century CE, there would be a great deal of information regarding the laws and observance. We know that there was communication between Khazaria and Babylon as well as Khazaria and Jerusalem regarding issues of observance and interpretation from the surviving letters between rabbis of these centers.


This paper will first look at the guidance that is contained within the primary Jewish documents, the Torah, and the Talmud.  Secondly, I will look at what archaeological evidence is available to see what was grown in the lands of Khazaria.  Finally, I will take a look at the available documentation from scholars and travelers in and around Khazaria for any indications of foods that may have been common in the region.  I fully expect that this will extend to Jewish communities and cultures in and around the region.  From this perspective, I believe the likely cultures involved would be from the Middle East, Byzantium, Turkey, and the various nomadic tribes surrounding the Khazaar and Black seas, the land of the Rus, and the areas along the Silk Road to Mongolia.  Interestingly, I would not expect to this familiarity to extend to the Sepharad(4).  


The Laws of Kashrut


The Talmud was published for the first time in approximately 450 C.E. and so by the time of the Jewish Khazar Khaganate(5), in 8th Century, the Talmud was available.  We know that the Rabbis of the Khazars did correspond with both Babylonia and Jerusalem.  The source of the laws is the Torah.  These laws are found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus and cover primarily the rules concerning meat, what can and can not be eaten, as well as combinations of dairy and meat.  Or more simply stated in modern terms, not mixing meat and dairy.  This however, was not the original interpretation.  The Torah statement is "thou shalt not seeth a kid in its mother's milk". The literal interpretation of this statement is that you may not cook a kid in milk from that kid's mother.  It first states cook (seeth) or boil, second it states a relationship between elements.  By this logic, rabbis argued that it would be permitted to eat dairy with meat 1) You were certain there was not association between the two.  2) Cooking together is not involved i.e. one may eat cheese with meat since this is not 'seething'.  3) You may eat meat (beef) with goat milk since there is no way the goat is the 'mother' of the beef.  4) Chicken, i.e. foul and fish are not impacted.  (Rabbi Abba, Jewish Eating pg 42)


Subsequent to initial interpretation the characterization of prohibition took an additional turn in that they, the Rabbis, began defining separation both in terms of time and distance.  One could eat dairy and meat as long as one waited an appropriate time between.  Further, they defined order.  You could eat dairy first, then meat but not the other way around.  (Jewish Eating pg 42)  Rules seemed to 'pop up'.  You could eat one after the other if you wiped your hands and mouth between them (R. Shemmai, Jewish Eating, pg 43); or rinsed your mouth with water or wine.  From Hullin (104b-105a) One of the early Rabbis felt it was a separate meal as long as one said the appropriate blessing.  There was one opinion that differentiated between day and night suggesting that during the day it was possible to be certain your ands were clean while at night, due to poor light, one may not be certain.  From this it should be clear that some of these interpretations and implementations of the rules were somewhat arbitrary and none were stated in Torah.  What creates the authority in the statements is direction in the Torah to follow the words of the sages and prophets.  The Rabbis took on this role and began dictating interpretation of the Torah.


While a great deal is made with regard to meat in Torah it is significant to note that the consumption of meat, in general, was not all that common (Cohen, pg 248).  More it was an occasion of holidays and Shabbat(6) (Jewish Eating, pg 49).  The reasons for this are as much about economics as anything else.  The sources of meat were the domestic animals which provided other valued items.  i.e. wool from sheep, cheese and milk from goats, milk from cows, eggs from chickens.  Therefore, to eat flesh would mean that the source of these commodities would end.  The exceptions, as mentioned earlier, were holidays and Shabbat when an animal may have been used in sacrifice or, as part of ritual, fed out to the general population.  Now we have a dilemma, since after the destruction of the Second Temple, the sacrificial cult aspect of Judaism was ended as the faith transitioned to that of Rabbinic guidance.  I also believe that as the Diaspora(7) deepened, the common Jew was further and further from their home.  All that would have remained was the things they could do that would help them establish their identity and follow the rules as they knew them or were told by the rabbinic leaders.  


This motive is also suggested by Kraemer in his analysis of the laws.  Another possibility suggested by Kraemer is that with the destruction of the Temple, the emerging Rabbinic authority wanted to create separation from the, now destroyed, Temple and so suggested that since meat was an integral part of the sacrificial system of the Temple, new guidance was necessary (Kraemer, pg 50).  In contrast, dairy is not used in any part of the Temple practice.  Therefore, to separate dairy and meat is to separate from the Temple, now destroyed.  It was these same Rabbinic leaders who felt it appropriate to morn the loss of the Temple and therefore were downplaying meat as a category in the Jewish diet.


In addition to the prohibition regarding dairy and meat the other notable prohibition are in those foods (generally flesh) not permitted. (Torah, Leviticus chpt 11).  In modern period the most significant is swine.  However, this was not the only prohibited meat. I would like to point out that all the prohibitions apply to flesh and how it may or may not be prepared and consumed.  From both the Second Temple period and early Rabbinic period, swine is only one of the several prohibited items and is not characterized as the worst.  Kraemer argues that it was later that swine achieved the reviled status it currently has.  With this in mind, let me review these prohibited animals.  In accordance with Torah, as stated the following may not be eaten (Leviticus chapter 11; Kraemer pg 11)


Leviticus chapt XI:

1. And the Lord spoke unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them: 2. Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: these are the living things which ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.  3. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that may ye eat.  4. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that only chew the cud, or of them that only part the hoof: the camel, because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you.  5. And the rock badger, because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you.  6.  And the hare, because she cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, she is unclean unto you.  7.  And the swine, because he parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, but cheweth not the cud, he is unclean unto you.  8. Of their flesh ye shall not eat, and their carcasses ye shall not touch; they are unclean unto you.  9.  These may ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them may ye eat.  10.  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that swarm in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are a detestable thing unto you.  11.  and they shall be a detestable thing unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses ye shall have in detestation.  12. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that is a detestable thing unto you.  13. And these ye shall have in detestation among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are a detestable thing: the great vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the ospray; 14 and the kite, and the falcon after its kinds; 15 every raven after its kinds; 16 and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea-mew, and the hawk after its kinds; 17 and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl; 18. and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the carrion-vulture; 19. and the stork, and the heron after its kinds, and the hoopoe, and the bat.  20. All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing unto you.  21.  Yet these may be eaten of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours, which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth;  22.  even these of them ye may eat: the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds.  23. But all winged swarming things which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you.  24. And by these ye shall become unclean; whosoever toucheth the carcasses of them shall b e unclean until the even.  25. And whosoever beareth aught of the carcass of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.. . . . . . . . . .. . . . .29. And these are they which are unclean unto you among the swarming things that swarm upon the earth:  the weasel, and the mouse, and the great lizard after its kinds, 30. and the gecko, and the land-crocodile, and the lizard and the sand-lizard, and the chameleon.  31. These are they which are unclean to you among all that swarm; whosoever doth touch them when they are dead, shall be unclean until the even.  32. And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether to be any vessel of wood, or rainment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherewith any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; then shall it be clean. . . . .. . . . .

(Pentateuch and Haftorahs)


What is interesting to note is the temper of the language used here.  These things are not merely forbidden, or bad, they are detestable.  Even having contact with them makes one unclean until time or ablution is done.  Note that in this list, swine is not treated any differently than is all the rest of the forbidden things.


Kraemer points out that swine in period was both common and used exclusively for food.  In other words, it is the only animal that is exclusively raised to be consumed as food.  For the biblical lifestyle, it did not provide any other function than food.  Non trivially, the pig is a consumer as well.  Further, it could easily consume the very same food stuffs that humans needed.  In contrast, a cow eats things a human does not.  I would suggest that the only other potential benefit a pig provided is that they will eat garbage which could be a risk to health.


If we now look at this listing (from Torah) from a slightly different perspective, they could be divided into three categories:  Garbage eaters, flesh eaters, and odd items.



Garbage    eaters


Flesh    Eaters






Raptors,   eagles










Bottom   feeders










Rock   badger














Sea   gull


























Now note that in this distinction, many of the prohibited items are either garbage eaters or flesh and blood eaters.  Given the influence of the local Gentile community, many of the prohibited foods are now plentiful where in biblical Judea, they were scarcer. In the philosophical make up of the Jewish mind, there is a teaching of  'you are what you eat'.  In this context, the guidance from the Rabbis was to consume those animals which are identified with Israel (Kraemer, pg 20) and to avoid those identified with the Gentile community around them.


Availability of Foods in Khazaria


I need to point out that in Khazaria, there were ethnicities more than Jews.  In fact the original faith of the land was Tengri Shamanism.  Additionally, there is the presence of both Christian and Muslim faiths as well.  Of these, either the Shaman and Christian would not have been bothered by the limitations presented by the dietary laws. Note also that for the ruling Jewish nobility and Kagan, there was no requirement to force compliance to the Jewish laws.  Of note, during the inquisition of Spain, it will be these dietary laws that often were used to convict suspect secret Jews.  We know from period records that the Khazars exported sheep, swine and cattle indicating that there was general availability of these animals.  To the Jewish mind, swine is most identified with the Hellenized people of Byzantium.  We can see that the Rabbis are now admonishing the Jewish population to hold itself apart and retain its racial and religious identity.  Therefore, to spurn assimilation.  This reaches a high point where the observant Jew is told not to eat 'Gentile' food regardless of whether or not it is of the prohibited forms.  The rules do not apply in the other direction however, and a Gentile could eat with a Jew.


As I had noted earlier, dairy was not a prohibited item.  Neither was grain, vegetables, honey, or fruits.  In essence the common diet of the observant Jew would be fairly vegetarian with meat being a luxury (Cohen, pg 248).  To the Khazars who are Jewish, either ethnically or by conversion, they must consider how to be observant and still survive.  Khazaria is along the trade routes and so could, and did, have a variety of foods available.  I would expect however, that the majority of foods consumed would be drawn from either traditional dishes which had been koshered, or from indigenous species and types.  Using both the scarce documents and archaeological evidence, we can then say that the following would have been available to the Khazars:  Grain, sheep, horned cows, fish from the Don Steppes (Noonan, pg 219).   In the letter from Khagan Joseph to Hasdai ibn Shaprut, he indictes that the Khagan and the nobility maintained holdings for agriculture in and around the capital city of Itil (Atil) supplying food for the populous. (Noonan, pg 217)  In addition to the food supplied by the holdings of the Khagan and nobility, we are told that various tributary tribes/peoples paid in goods as well as precious metals.  As a result, we know that some peoples paid tribute in the form of furs, others in surplus sheep, cattle and produce through the capital.


As Khazaria expanded its dominion over surrounding tribes, they in turn became productive members of the emerging Khazar society.  In the Crimea, the Bulgars, who were primarily using the land to graze nomadic herds, were caught up in this struggle.  From the 8th Century, archeological evidence shows extensive settlements ( Noonan, pg 220) with a shift to a more sedentary agrarian lifestyle (Noonan, pg 221 from Baronov). Grain grown in the Kerch penisula and along foothills and rivers included wheat, rye, barley and millet (Noonan, pg 222 from Baronov Tavrika pg 72-75).  According to Baronov, estimates of surplus were calculated at 85,000 Kg/25 families.  It is apparent from archeological evidence that the level of agriculture was fairly well developed with finds of iron plowshares attached to heavy plows.  Clearly the soil was worked frequently (Baronov, Tavrika pg 72).  A number of sites also reveal millstones, grinders and mortars for working grain.  Archeological evidence shows the presence of barley, wheat, millet and rye for grains.  Further, there is evidence of peaches, sour cherries, crabapples and plums as well as grapes.


From reports by Ibn Fadlan, we know that the Turkic peoples encountered ate meat including horse, mutton, and venison.  However, neither he, nor other contemporary writers indicate what the Khazars ate specifically the Jewish Khazars.  This would seem to indicate that there was nothing particularly unusual with their diet and that it was consistent with that of the local peoples.  In this regard, the Khazars would not have had as typical a diet as the Judean Jews.  Though arguably it is very hard to prove with negative evidence the truth of the matter.  Other contemporary writers were more focused on the geo-political and trade issues more so than the cultural.  With this being the case, I would like to address the other influences that would have impacted the Khazars.


Other Peoples


We know from a number of sources that the Khazars had regular contact and trade with the Byzantines, Rus, Iranian, Mongol, and Turkic peoples.  Interestingly, the other large Jewish community in Iberia seems to have been out of touch with the Khazars and so we do not have indications of their influence in Khazaria until the time of Khagan Joseph as a result of the communications with Hisdai ibn Shaprut.  It is through these letters that we learn a great deal about the state of the economy of Khazaria as well as the geo-political conditions.  Assuming meat in the form of cattle, sheep and goats are more plentiful due to the available grazing grounds, the diet would likely have been heavier in these proteins.  There is also indication that the diet would have also included dairy combinations of both cow and goat milk, cheese and yogurt.  


From the Turkic peoples and Rus, there are a number of borrowed words indicating the use of grains in the preparations of both bread and cakes.  Some of the advances in agriculture are also credited to the Khazars during periods of domination over local tribes from the late 7th Century.  Charles Perry points to a number of these borrowed words for various grain products in his essay on "Grain Foods of the Early Turks".  From this we get a sense of commonality between the peoples of the region extending to the Steppes.


The archeological evidence from the Carpathian Basin show an established agricultural infra-structure growing barley, einkorn, emmer as well as lentils, Indian peas and peas as early as 6000 BCE.  Such agriculture was more mobile, but by the middle Bronze Age, had begun a transition to sedentary agriculturalism (Gyulai, pg122) which may have been stimulated by a general cooling characterized by increased precipitation. Also found in the remains of the settlements are evidence of the use of wild fruits, other cereal grains such as millet, and chick peas and fava beans.  By the early Iron Age, wheat, flax and fruits such as plums, peach and grapes are now being cultivated. (Gyulai, pg 124)


The agricultural base at the beginning of the Khazar influence in the mid 7th Century is founded, in large part, on the evolution of the agricultural basics through the Roman period which adds rye, figs, olives and dates to the diet through the well developed trade network.  For example, we have the Saltovo-Mayack culture which occupied the region bordered by the upper reaches of the Don River to the north, the Caspian Sea (later Khazar Sea) and Volga River to the east, the Crimea and Kuban to the south.  Like the Khazars, this culture was multi-cultural.  From the regional description it is clear that they were also well within the cultural influence of the Khazars.  From Turkic loan words, we can deduce a well-developed agrarian culture (Gyulai, pg 132).  Bulgar Turkic loanwords include barley, wheat, fruit, apples, pear, sour cherry, grape, wine, pea, pepper, squash, burdock, chicory, walnut, sickle, plow, meal, field pressing, grain mortar, grind, etc.


Looking more closely at loan words, Charles Perry (Perry, App B, pg 620) discusses the impact of grains in the diet of the Turks and by extension, the people in the local regions which includes the Khazars.  In doing so, Perry identifies 25 specific words locating the active region and time period using the Turkish culture as the basis.  He divides the region into: The Mid-Central consisting of the Steppes of Central Asia from the Caspian Sea (later Khazar Sea) to the Chinese border.  The Central Northwest Group consisting of the Tatars and Bashkirs who are historically connected to the Golden Horde and the Khanate of Kazan and occupied the middle Volga about 500 miles east of modern Moscow.  Also associated with the Golden Horde, are several groups in the Crimea and Northern Caucasus including the Nogai, Kaichai and Balkar.  This group included some Jewish sects and were categorized, by Perry, as Central Southwest.  The fourth group is the Northeastern group located in the North Western part of Mongolia and so is not a subject of this paper.


By examining this list it is clear that all except the Northwestern Group have congruence with the region or dominion of the Khazars or had significant contact with them either by trade, tribute or both. However, as I mentioned earlier, Perry differentiates time period of his references and as such, I will confine my comments to those that Perry documents as prior to the 11th Century which includes Turfan Texts and Diwan Lughat al Turk (Perry, pg 621).  The terms/loanwords that then apply are as follows:talquan, qawurmac, arpa or varmasi, qawut, tutmac or qiyma ugra, cop, quyma, atmak or otmak, komac, toqac, corak, uvga or yupqa (also yarma yuvga, khabiz meghaddan), paskal, qatma yuvgha, mun or bun, and agartgu.  Most of these are forms of bread; however, the last two listed are forms of beer or liquid. Following now is a description of each taken from the Perry Appendix to the Soup of the Khan:

            Talqan: translates to porridge of toasted grain.  In Afghanistan, this also translates or implies fried grain.

            Qawurmac: a dish of wheat fried in butter.

            Arpa or varmasi: barley groats.  Could also b e porridge or crushed raw grain.

            Qawut: a porridge of parched millet kneaded with butter and sugar.  Commentary from the Diwan Lughat suggest it is a dish for women in childbed.  This dish could be embellished with nut oils, sugar, nuts or saffron.

            Qiyma ugra: noodles cut like bird's tongues.

            Tutmac: noodles similar to qiyma ugra.

            Cop: a single noodle

            Quyma: "a fried bread; the dough is made thin, of the consistency of pancake batter, then it is poured on butter boiling in a pot and made thin in it until done.  Then it is taken out and sugar is sprinkled on it" (Perry, pg 627)

            Atmak or otmak: bread

            Komac: bread stuffed with meat and onions cooked on a hot brick or griddle.

            Toqac: round flat bread

            Carak: round flat loaf.  A bun, cake; loaf usually sweetened.

            Yuvga: thin bread; wrinkled or pleated.  The Uzbeks prepare 10 to 12 raw yupqas, fry one on both sides, sprinkle a filling of fried meat and onions.  Then cover the filling with a raw yupqa and then flip the sandwich over and fry.  This is repeated until all are fried onto the 'cake'. (Perry, pg 630)

            Poskal: thin flatbread.

            Qatma yuvgha: layered bread.  In Uzbek, Kazakh and Tatar, the dough is noodle paste brushed with butter and then roooled.  The roll is cut into spiral disks, which are then flattened out.  A filling could also be incorporated such as poppyseed, walnut, cheese or dried fruit.  The resulting spiral flat is then fried. (Perry, pg 632)

            Mun or bun: soup with noodles

            Agarmaq: wheat beer


While we do not typically find cookbooks from this era, nor do we find even detailed descriptions of what they ate, I believe it is possible to discern, at least in part, what was culturally allowed, available, and likely.  On the one part we have the basic laws as identified in Torah and Talmud.  We know what was available in the region either grown or traded.  And we have language which suggest both texture and composition of some of these combinations.  Further, we know this region was active in trade, travel and exchange with a highly diverse group of cultures. We know the region benefited from the Roman, Mongolian, Rus-ian, Byzantine, and middle eastern cultures.  Further we know that these cultures had, in many cases, well developed cuisines.  Recall that at the time of the Khazars, Rome had risen and fallen, all that was written or learned about food could be found either by contact with the remnants or with those influenced by them; and we know that a region of Khazaria did show this influence as demonstrated in their agriculture.


In the letters from Khagan Joseph to Hisdai ibn Shaprut, we know the Khazars have a strong sense of self-sufficiency in that it is the Khagan and nobility that provide food to the capital city of Itil (Atil).  There is no sense of living hand-to-mouth in these letters, nor of shortage.  In fact, the records show quite the contrary with surplus of goods and food being traded/exported from Khazria along the Silk Road.  We further are told tributary tribes and states frequently paid tribute in the form of goods rather than gold or other traditional precious metals.


In their age, the Khazars are an anomaly: they are a wealthy society; they have an effective standing army leading to stable security; they expound a doctrine of equality regardless of religion, something quite rare in that time.  This society blends the myriad influences from Mongolia in the east, Persia and Jerusalem to the south and east, Byzantium to the southwest, the Rus to the north and the Turks and Magyars to the west.  They are unique in their day and became a haven for disaffected Jews escaping the persecution of the Christian world typified by the Byzantines.  And when these immigrant Jews arrived, they brought with them more of their former culture and in became a part of the polyglot that was Khazaria.


A Typical Meal(?)


So it remains to finish this paper with some idea of what the diet might have been.  What would the typical Jewish Khazar have eaten in the period between the 8th to 12th centuries?  I have pointed out that there are no definitive written records, found to date, that identifies a 'Khazar cuisine'.  I am therefore left to assemble from the various sources, an idea of a typical diet or meal consumed at this place and time in history.  Before doing so I again point out the danger of judging using modern context and law.  The kosher laws evolved as interpretation layered itself on prior thought and consideration.  With this in mind what we see in the 8th to 12th century is a developing form of the dietary laws.  These laws had to be interpreted in the context of not only time, but also location and culture.  Jewish dietary laws do make the Jewish people unique among the Gentile population and served to provide both a religious discipline to be practiced daily, as well as an identity.  By the 10th – 11th century the concept of a single God was no longer a unique idea.  It was one embraced by most west of the central Steppes.  It is the further discipline of practicing the mitzvot, including dietary restrictions that make the Jews different. Ironically, in centuries to come, it will be this insistence on following the Torah as interpreted in Talmud that will become one of the significant sources of condemnation for the Jews hiding from persecution of the Christian faith in Spain and Byzantium, and France.


We know the diet consisted of various breads and cakes made from wheat, millet and rye.  Further, we know there was a well-developed agrarian society providing vegetables, fruits and nuts, grains such as barley and legumes such as lentils.  Additionally, contemporary writers talk about honey production, wine and therefore, grapes. While meat in the form of mutton, sheep, chicken and beef are readily available, a common food, horse and horse milk would not have been consumed by Jews, though they were eaten and mare's milk was drunk by the Mongols to the Turks.  Swine is known, and consumed in Byzantium and Western Europe, but there is no mention of it being eaten by the Khazar population and dietary laws of both Muslim and Jew would have made it wrong.  Middle eastern spices as well as exotic spice from Mongolia were available along the Silk Road adding flavour to the fare.  As stated before, drink would have consisted of wine, mead, ale and wheat beer, goat and cows milk.  Cheese from both goat and cow were known and could be either green cheese (un-aged) or hard cheese that had been drained and aged.  Salt, pepper and sugar are all known and would have been used as well. It is reasonable to expect that meat for travel would have been smoked for preservation along the trade routes.


For a merchant traveling the Silk Road, one could expect the morning meal to consist of flatbread cakes which could be filled with either fried meat and onion or fruit and nuts.  Wine and water for refreshment.  Conversely, the morning meal could be a porridge made from barley, wheat or millet.  The mid-day meal would likely be trail cakes such as the qatma yuvgha or Yuvga, with the evening meal being more elaborate, especially if on a Friday they stopped in time to celebrate Shabbat.  That evening meal could be mutton or chicken with fruit, nuts, and exotic spices to flavour; lentils or peas, apples and pears, figs and other whole fruits.  Using the surviving Middle Eastern cook books (though of a later period) it is clear that anyone who had contact with the Persians or Babylonians, would have been exposed to a fairly high quality cuisine.  This would also resonate with the Semitic Khazars who left the Middle East and spread throughout the region.


As much as I would like to be able to find a definitive source providing a detailed menu, such does not exist or as yet, has not been found.  We are therefore left to speculate on the possible, given the imperfect guides of law (Torah), language and historical records regarding trade.  We add to this the sparse archeology conducted so far in the region and we use a little license to arrive at possible ideas.  Such is what I have provided in this paper.




(1) Kahsrut: Laws and rules pertaining to keeping Kosher, or maintaining dietary laws

(2) Torah: Refers to the first 5 book of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy believed to have been given to the Jews by Moses and thus called the 5 books of Moses.

(3) Talmud:Codified Rabbinic commentary on the Torah compiled in two versions, the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud published first in the 5th century CE

(4) Sepharad: Refers to the Jews of the Diaspora who settled in Spain and Mediterranean

(5) Khaganate: Equivalent to Kingdom, ruled by a Khagan vice King.

(6) Shabbat: Also Shabbos, the Jewish word for Sabbath, begins sundown Friday and ends 1 hour after sundown on Saturday.

(7) Diaspora: The dispersion, forcefully, from their homeland and Jerusalem, to Europe, and the Mediterranean and modernly to the rest of the world.




The Jews of Khazaria 2nd ed, Kevin Alan Brook

The Laws of Kashrus, Rabbi Binyomin Forst

The History of the Jewish Khazars, D.M. Dunlop

Tender Meat Under the Saddle, translated by A.M. Chayke and L. Bantoskwicz

            "Archeobotanical Sources in Investigating the Diet of Conquering Hungarians",  Gyulai

Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society

Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Hebrew text, English translation, and commentary second edition, edited by Dr. J.H. Hertz C.H. 1988

Everyman's Talmud, Abraham Cohen © 1949

Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages, David Kraemer

The History of the Jewish Khazars, D.M. Dunlop, 1954

The World of the Khazars, Selected Papers from the Jerusalem 1999 International Khazari Colloquium, edited by Peter Golden, Haggai Ben-Shammai, and Andras Rona-Tas

            "The Economy of the Khazar Khaganate" Thomas Noonan

            "The Conversion of the Khazars to Judaism", Peter Golden

The Soup of the Khan, Appendix B, "Grain Foods of the Early Turks", Charles Perry  

www.khazaria.com "Volga Ethnic Relations from Ibn Fadlan's Perspective"


Copyright 2009 by Hank Steinfeld. <hollyarcher at md.metrocast.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org