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The Greek colony of Hermonassa was located a few miles west of Phanagoria and Panticapaeum, major trade centers for what was to become the Bosporan Kingdom. After a long period as a Roman client state, the kingdom succumbed to the Huns, who defeated the nearby Alans in 375/376. With the collapse of the Hunnic Empire in the late 5th century, the area passed within the Roman sphere once again but was taken by the Bulgars in the 6th century. Following the fall of the city to the Khazars in the late 7th century, it was rebuilt as a fortress town and renamed Tamatarkha. Arabic sources refer to it as Samkarsh al-Yahud (i.e., "Samkarsh the Jewish") in reference to the fact that the bulk of the trading there was handled by Jews.[1] Other variants of the city's name are "Samkersh" and "Samkush".[2]

Fortified with a strong brick wall and boasting a fine harbor, Tamatarkha was a large city of merchants. It controlled much of the Northern European trade with the Byzantine Empire and Northern Caucasus. There were also trade routes leading south-east to Armenia and the Muslim domains, as well as others connecting with the Silk Road to the east. The inhabitants included Greeks, Armenians, Russians, Jews, Ossetians, Lezgins, Georgians, and Circassians. After the destruction of the Khazar empire by Svyatoslav of Rus in the mid-10th century, Khazars continued to inhabit the region. The Mandgelis Document, a Hebrew letter dated AM 4746 (985–986) refers to "our lord David, the Khazar prince" who lived in Taman and who was visited by envoys from Kievan Rus to ask about religious matters.

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