The Battle of Marj Ardabil 

The Battle of Marj Ardabil or the Battle of Ardabil was a battle fought on the plains surrounding the city of Ardabil in northwestern Iran in AD 730. A Khazar army led by Barjik, the son of the Khazar khagan, invaded the Umayyad provinces of Jibal and Iranian Azerbaijan in retaliation for Caliphate attacks on Khazaria during the course of the decades-long Khazar-Arab War of the early 8th century.

Barjik’s expedition into northern Iran (and later into Kurdistan and northern Mesopotamia) may have been an attempt to establish Khazar rule south of the Caucasus Mountains.

An outnumbered force led by the Umayyad general al-Jarrah ibn Abdallah engaged the Khazars for three days. Ultimately, abandoned by many of their mawali auxiliaries, the Caliph’s forces were overwhelmed and defeated. During the course of the battle, al-Jarrah was killed. The victorious Barjik mounted his head on top of the throne from which he commanded the battles of his Middle Eastern campaign. According to the historian Agapius, the Arabs suffered 20,000 dead and twice that number captured, a figure which probably includes the population of Ardabil and the surrounding territories.

Following their victory, the Khazars occupied Ardabil. The next year, however, Barjik led an army to Mosul and was defeated. According to Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari and other Arab historians, the Muslims were so enraged by Barjik’s desecration of their commander’s head that they fought with extra vigor. After the defeat at Mosul, the Khazar army withdrew north of the Caucasus Mountains.

Barjik (died 731) was a Khazar prince who flourished in the late 720s. He is described by al-Tabari as “the son of the Khagan”; his exact status and position is unknown though he may have been the Bek.

Barjik led the Khazar armies in the Khazar-Arab wars of the early 8th century. In 730, he won a victory at the Battle of Marj Ardabil, sacking and occupying the city. He killed the Arab general al-Jarrah al-Hakami and mounted the latter’s head on his throne as a trophy. This enraged the Umayyad troops who faced him the following year outside of Mosul, and Barjik was defeated and slain in the ensuing battle.

Arab–Khazar wars

During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Khazars fought a series of wars against the Umayyad Caliphate and its Abbasid successor. The First Arab-Khazar War began during the first phase of Muslim expansion. By 640, Muslim forces had reached Armenia; in 642 they launched their first raid across the Caucasus under Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rabiah. In 652 Arab forces advanced on the Khazar capital, Balanjar, but were defeated, suffering heavy losses; according to Persian historians such as al-Tabari, both sides in the battle used catapults against the opposing troops. A number of Russian sources give the name of a Khazar khagan from this period as Irbis and describe him as a scion of the Göktürk royal house, the Ashina. Whether Irbis ever existed is open to debate, as is whether he can be identified with one of the many Göktürk rulers of the same name.

Due to the outbreak of the First Muslim Civil War and other priorities, the Arabs refrained from repeating an attack on the Khazars until the early 8th century. The Khazars launched a few raids into Transcaucasian principalities under Muslim dominion, including a large-scale raid in 683–685 during the Second Muslim Civil War that rendered much booty and many prisoners. There is evidence from the account of al-Tabari that the Khazars formed a united front with the remnants of the Göktürks in Transoxiana.Caucasus region, c. 740

The Second Arab-Khazar War began with a series of raids across the Caucasus in the early 8th century. The Umayyads tightened their grip on Armenia in 705 after suppressing a large-scale rebellion. In 713 or 714, Umayyad general Maslamah conquered Derbent and drove deeper into Khazar territory. The Khazars launched raids in response into Albania and Iranian Azerbaijan but were driven back by the Arabs under Hasan ibn al-Nu’man. The conflict escalated in 722 with an invasion by 30,000 Khazars into Armenia inflicting a crushing defeat. Caliph Yazid II responded, sending 25,000 Arab troops north, swiftly driving the Khazars back across the Caucasus, recovering Derbent, and advancing on Balanjar. The Arabs broke through the Khazar defence and stormed the city; most of its inhabitants were killed or enslaved, but a few managed to flee north. Despite their success, the Arabs had not yet defeated the Khazar army, and they retreated south of the Caucasus.

In 724, Arab general al-Jarrah ibn Abdallah al-Hakami inflicted a crushing defeat on the Khazars in a long battle between the rivers Cyrus and Araxes, then moved on to capture Tiflis, bringing Caucasian Iberia under Muslim suzerainty. The Khazars struck back in 726, led by a prince named Barjik, launching a major invasion of Albania and Azerbaijan; by 729, the Arabs had lost control of northeastern Transcaucasia and were thrust again into the defensive. In 730, Barjik invaded Iranian Azerbaijan and defeated Arab forces at Ardabil, killing the general al-Djarrah al-Hakami and briefly occupying the town. Barjik was defeated and killed the next year at Mosul, where he directed Khazar forces from a throne mounted with al-Djarrah’s severed head. In 737, Marwan Ibn Muhammad entered Khazar territory under the guise of seeking a truce. He then launched a surprise attack in which The Qaghan fled north and the Khazars surrendered. The Arabs did not have resources to influence affairs of Transcaucasia. The Qağan was forced to accept terms involving conversion to Islam, and to subject himself to the Caliphate, but the accommodation was short-lived as a combination of internal instability among the Umayyads and Byzantine support undid the agreement within three years, and the Khazars re-asserted their independence. The suggestion that the Khazars adopted Judaism as early as 740 is based on the idea that, in part, it was, a re-assertion of independence with regard to both Byzantium and the Caliphate, while conforming to a general Eurasian trend to embrace a world religion.

Whatever the impact of Marwan’s campaigns, warfare between the Khazars and the Arabs ceased for more than two decades after 737. Arab raids continued until 741, but their control in the region was limited as maintaining a large garrison at Derbent further depleted the already overstretched army. A third Muslim civil war soon broke out, leading to the Abbasid Revolution and the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in 750.

In 758, the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur attempted to strengthen diplomatic ties with the Khazars, ordering Yazid ibn Usayd al-Sulami, one of his nobles and the military governor of Armenia, to take a royal Khazar bride. Yazid married a daughter of Khazar Khagan Baghatur, but she died inexplicably, possibly in childbirth. Her attendants returned home, convinced that some Arab faction had poisoned her, and her father was enraged. Khazar general Ras Tarkhan invaded south of the Caucasus in 762–764, devastating Albania, Armenia, and Iberia, and capturing Tiflis. Thereafter relations became increasingly cordial between the Khazars and the Abbasids, whose foreign policies were generally less expansionist than the Umayyads, broken only by a series of raids in 799 over another failed marriage alliance.

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