A magnificent city of Kyiv, one of the oldest cities of Eastern Europe and most important Slavic cities of all time, has a really long history whose beginnings are long forgotten.
There is no much disagreement between historians on the events that followed the 9th-century AD. The city fell to Varangians, after whose rule it became the seat of the Kievan Rus. There is also no disagreement that territory around Kyiv was Slavic since times immemorial. But the history of the city itself is somewhat more complicated.
Wikipedia article on the history of Kyiv briefly addresses that problem. The first fortifications of the 8th century were built on an abandoned Slavic settlement. But scholars are not sure if Slavs or Khazars built these walls. Between the 8-9 centuries, the city was definitely a Khazar outpost. The name was Sambat – “high place” in Turkic.
Khazars – who were they?
So who were the Khazars? They were semi-nomadic Turkic people who at some point exchanged their native Tengrism for Judaism. They owned an empire that lasted for several centuries. It played an important role in commerce between China, the Middle East, and Kievan Rus. And almost all maps of Khazaria show the city of Kyiv at the very border of the empire.
Now, a very popular story of the city origins states that the founders of Kyiv were three brothers – Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv. In later versions, a sister Lybid joined them. Her name means “swan” in Slavic, and it is also the name of the river that flows through Kyiv – a right tributary of the Dnieper River.
However, while the name of Lybid is undoubtedly Slavic, the names of the three brothers are probably not. Their etymologies are more problematic and there is no explanation with Slavic terminology.
The oldest source of the “three brothers legend” is the Primary Chronicle. It dates to the year 1,113. Here, we see something else, really interesting and surprisingly overlooked by historians. This is the text in question:
“While going along the Dnieper they caught sight of a city on a hill. They asked: “Whose city is this?”
– “There were three brothers, Kyi, Shchek, and Khoriv.
They perished, and we remain, paying tribute to their Khazar clans.”
Primary Chronicle, Invitation to the Varangians, lines 15 and 16. Full text here.
THEIR Khazar clans? (“родомъ ихъ козаромъ” in the original version) Nestor wrote of this account only a few centuries later in the very city of Kyiv. And it seems that he didn’t really have doubts about the origins of Kyiv’s founders. But if these people were really Khazars, what do their names mean and can they be explained with Turkic etymologies?
Three brothers or three nations?
Another interesting theory states that Kyi decided to settle down in Ukraine, giving Kyiv its name. His other two brothers decided to go further. Shchek became the forefather of the Czech and Khoriv of Croatians. Indirect support for this theory of Croatian origins comes from this Wikipedia quote on the history of Kyiv:
“Magyar tribes ruled the city between 840 and 878, before migrating with some Khazar tribes to Hungary. “
Indeed, there is a large Khazarian necropolis, containing 650 graves and dated to 8-9 century AD, in Chelarevo, Serbia, just below the planes of Hungary. Not many links are available in English, but one of them is here.
But if these names are indeed coming from Turkic / Khazar tribes, one would expect to see them first appear further to the East, in the earlier period, before this western migration. And maybe this is really the case.
Namely, during the excavations in the ancient city of Tanais, near Rostov on Don, modern-day Russia, two tablets have been discovered, known today as Tanais tablets. For our story, the most interesting one is tablet B, dated to year 220 AD and bearing one of the earliest mentions of the ethnonym Croat. As Wikipedia article claims:
“Some of the names are Horoúathos, Horoáthos, and Horóathos. Scholars interpret them as anthroponyms of the Croatian ethnonym Hrvat, of Iranian origin. The Tanais Tablet B mentions Horoathos, the son of Sandarz – a Scytho-Sarmatian name. It is an indication that early Croats could have been Sarmatians or Alans who became Slavicized”
So it seems that six centuries before Khoriv we see the ethnonym Horoathos (-os is a Greek suffix) much further to the East. Of course, provided that there is indeed a connection between these names.
Speaking of connection, it should be mentioned that the city of Tanais was also a part of the Khazarian empire. This was the eastern border of the empire, just as Kyiv marked the west.
The south border of the Khazarian empire was touching the Caucasus mountains, pretty much where the modern state of Chechenia is. I have seen etymological forums where people were ridiculed for making parallels between Czech and Chech-enia. But from this perspective, perhaps there is some truth in these claims. I couldn’t find the official etymology of Chechenia and I don’t speak the local language, so will not go deeper into this debate.
But this brings us to the most important question. Who was Kiy? (Кий in Primary Chronicle). As Wikipedia on Kyiv states:
“..Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv are not Slavic names and their meaning and origin were always problematic for Russian historians.”
Well if these are indeed Turkic tribal names, an obvious candidate could be one of the most important Turkic tribes in history – the Kayi tribe. Could Kayi be related to Kiy? Wikipedia on Kayi states:
“The Kayı tribe had an important role in the history of the Caucasus. The Kayitag language is one of five dialects of the Kumyk language. It was a lingua franca of the North Caucasus for ten centuries (10—19th century AD) “
On the other hand, Wikipedia on Khazars states the following:
“For three centuries (650–965 AD) the Khazars dominated the region stretching from the Volga-Don steppes to the eastern Crimea and the northern Caucasus”
Moreover, both Khazars and Kayi share Turkic origins and Kumyk language, so it is quite likely that Kayi were one of the tribes of the Khazarian empire. If that is the case, could the name of Kiy be related to them? There is no doubt that this ancient and important tribe was roaming the steppes even long before the recorded history. The Kayi were highly revered by Ottoman Turks during the middle ages. But there are indications that their history could be related to the earliest records of Scythians, a connection to which I will dedicate one of the future articles.
The events described here relate to the Turkic migration – expansion of the Turkic tribes in Europe and the Middle East. It took place between the 6th and 11th centuries. Two other important tribes of this stock are Huns, that undoubtedly gave the name to Hungaria and Sabir (also known as Serboi) which may have connections with Serbia.
Slavs and Turkic people from the steppes are both of the Scythian stock. They have been sharing borders from Asia to Europe since times immemorial, sometimes in war, sometimes in peace. Genetics supports this claim. The dominant Y haplogroup of both tribes is R1a (excluding the Caucasus region). Both nations have left their traces on the vast territory that stretched between Europe and India, the Baltic Sea and Siberia. And the deeper we dig in the culture and customs, the differences become more blurred.
If Croats and Czechs indeed bear Turkic tribal names, these names probably belonged to the ruling class, smaller in number. The same is valid for Bulgarians, a Slavic population that owes their name to Bulgars, a Turkic tribe of Volga. They were also a part of the Khazarian empire. From there they migrated to Balkans during these migrations. But their numbers were so insignificant that Slavic language remained dominant, even though a certain cultural influence is evident, such as shamanistic beliefs in Tengrism.
Khazarian empire is not so mysterious as most people think. It was a conglomerate of nations, just like the Scythian “empire” was before it. Its population can probably be best described with the little help of the necropolis of Chelarevo. There we see three distinct types of burials -those of shamanistic Avars who preserved their ancestral faith, Khazarian Jewish and Slavic – all in one place.