I understood that Sarkel was a vast Khazar hilltop limestone-bricks fortress of the type of a fortified town, located in the present-day Rostov Oblast of Russia, on the left bank of the lower Don River.

It was built by the Khazars with Byzantine assistance and supervision of the Greek architect Petronas Kamateros around 830-840 and got its name from the white limestone-bricks used in its construction ; it was probably built to defend the northeastern border and watery trade outposts of the Khaganate.


I understood from Wikipedia that the fortress was conquered (without being destroyed) by Sviatoslav I of Kiev in 965 and was renamed Belaya Vezha ("White house" in Russian), as part of his campaign to eliminate the Khazar state as a major force in its region and which included the total destruction of its capital city Atil and the reduction of the Khaganate to a small polity in Taman region that didn't last long anyway.

It was written in Wikipedia in the article Sarkel without a source that the area later conquered from the Rus by Kipchaks (I assume the Wikipedian author of this data meant Kipchaks-Cumans).


The ruins of the site lied and were massively excavated by the Russian historian and archaeologist Mikhail Artamonov and his team in the 1930s.

The entire hill and ruins were covered with water with the completion of Tsimlyansk Reservoir in 1952 so no further excavations might be possible or beneficial.

The Alchetron free encyclopedia article about Sarkel shows beautifully detailed reconstructions of the fortified town based on multiple air photographs taken before the Tsymlyansk floating.

My questions

How was the vast Khazar fortress of Sarkel destroyed?

Maybe it was destroyed by Sviatoslav I or maybe Kipchaks-Cumans destroyed it or maybe Mongols destroyed it or maybe the destruction was temporary and natural?

I give credit to English Wikipedia for learning on the subject and using their article as base for the first two passages of this question, which I since then changed per my own wording.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 6:38

2 Answers 2


Some of this history is still controversial (namely, the actual location of Sarkel).

Following is what I have extracted from the book S. Pletneva, "Essays on Khazar archeology," ("Очерки хазарской археологии") Jerusalem, 1999, that was written mostly on the basis of archeological excavations, namely, Artamonov's expedition (Artamonov was Pletneva's PhD advisor).

Page 98:

Sarkel was completely destroyed [by Sviatoslav I]. Many brick buildings were totally demolished, including the Central Gates and the Market Square.

After that, Pletvena continues,

parts of Sarkel were resettled by Slavs and nomads (Pechenegs and Oghuz) who started to build their huts on the remnants of the fortress, especially, in the less destroyed part of Sarkel, the citadel.

Pletneva refers to this as the second period in the life of Sarkel.

Around the same time, another fortress, on the opposite side of the river, was built from white stone. [This makes sense: Most medieval Russian cities were built on the right side of rivers.] According to Pletneva, the construction of that fortress was left unfinished. The fortress was demolished only in 1744 (page 105 of the same book).

Given this, one should differentiate between Sarkel and Belaya Vezha.

Here is what Artamonov says about the latter in his article "Белая Вежа — русская колония в степях Подонья":

Apparently, because of the unbearable conditions prevailing for the Russian population of the city due to the frequent clashes with the Polovtsy, Belaya Vezha, according to the Russian historic annals, was abandoned by its residents in 1117.... Archaeological evidence confirms this. In the XII century, Belaya Vezha became uninhabited....


Sviatoslav I destroyed Sarkel. He built a settlement there called Bela Vezha, "white tower". This lasted until the Cumans, who then used it as a winter campground.

  • 1
    Hello John ; there seems to me to be a conflict between the two sources as the second one (Alan's book) doesn't indicate destruction, rather preservation and even later Cuman usage lasted until the 12th centenary. The term "Slavic layer" further means alteration rather than destruction. For me at least.
    – user41617
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 8:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.