Near East 1072

Near East in 1073: green is The Turks, orange is the Fatimid Empire, and purple is the Byzantine Empire.

The Seljuk Empire was a Turkish Islamic empire that was founded in 1037 by Tugril Beg, who extended his domains from Turkestan to the Levant through military conquest. The Muslims conquered the Ghaznavid Empire after the Battle of Dandankan in 1040, and under the leadership of Arp Aslan, conquered Asia Minor and the Middle East in the 1060s, and defeated the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in 1072. After the death of Aslan, his empire was divided by Seljuk warlords, carving out their own kingdoms in the boundaries of the Great Seljuq Empire. In 1080, their successors, the Sultanate of Rum, reconquered all of their former lands. Their empire ended in 1157 after conquest by the Khwarezmian Empire and the Ayyubid Empire.


Seljuk and his successors

The Seljuk Turks gained their name because they had originally come together under the leadership of Seljuk, a charismatic warlord. They cannot be seen as a "people" or a "nation" in normal sense. Toward the end of the 10th century, Seljuk, leader of the Kirik clan, had set him up at the head of the Oghuz Confederation. This brought together a large number of nomadic communities who until then had been living in the Syr basin, an area of open grassland to the north and east of the Aral Sea. It was a loose and opportunistic alliance, formed for the purposes of conquest and plunder. It was big and powerful, however: Seljuk attracted hundreds of adherents.

Even so, the Seljuk Turks might have remained simply one more of many such raggle-taggle warbands roaming the western steppe had Seljuk himself not been impressed and inspired by the teachings of Muslim missionaries. All of his followers embraced Islam, and when his grandsons, Tugril Beg and Chagri, began their first raids on the northern frontier of the Ghaznavid Empire, they did so with the justification that they were fighting in the prophet's name.

However, Mahmud of Ghazni's son, Mas'ud I, saw himself as the champion of Islam. He marched out to meet the interlopers with a mighty army, some 50,000 strong. As this formidable force marched northward, the Seljuks jabbed and harried, cutting off enemy supplies and preventing access to strategic wells. And they were ready for a full-scale confrontation when the time came. The two armies clashed at Dandankan (now in eastern Turkmenistan), on May 23, 1040. Dehydrated, hungry, and demoralized, Mahmud's men were defeated before the order came to engage. The massacre that followed was a mere formality: though outnumbered by more than two to one, the Seljuks cut the Ghaznavids to ribbons.

Holy war

The Dandankan victory opened up a way to the west, heading over the Ghaznavid empire and beyond into Iraq. Tugril Beg seized Baghdad in 1055, taking the enfeebled Abbasin caliph under his "protection". The Seljuk Sultans (as they now referred to themselves) expected to rule jointly with the caliphs. The Great Seljuk empire was dedicated to the strictest principles of Sunni Islam and to the punishment of infidels of every kind.

To Arp Aslan, Tugril Beg's nephew and (on his uncle's death in 1063) his successor, that included both Christian Byzantium and the Shiite Fatimid dynasty then ruling Egypt. He took Armenia from the Christians in 1064, and invaded the Byzantine empire four years later, occupying much of Anatolia (present-day Turkey). Arp Aslan then took Syria, invading Palestine, Egypt, and even Arabia itself in a bid to "liberate" the two holy sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina from Shiite rule. The closer these supposedly "pagan" Seljuk Turks came to Europe through their campaign of conquest, the more anxious Christendom became. When Arp Aslan then destroyed the Byzantine army at the battle of Manzikert in 1071 (present-day Malazgirt in Turkey), the west was in the grip of something close to panic.


The Byzantine emperor, Romanus IV, had an army of up to 60,000 warriors at his disposal. Such vast numbers ought, in theory, to have made short work of the Turkish cavalry force that, at most, numbered only 20,000 men. But Arp Aslan's warriors were battle-hardened. They were also bound to one another by ties of comradeship and loyalty that were simply lacking in the Byzantine army, as its members comprised of an assortment of Frankish, Norman, Bulgarian, and German mercenaries.

The extent of disunity among the Byzantine troops became clear when, as evening approached after an initial and inconclusive round of fightng, the Byzantine leader gave the order to withdraw. A rational decision - but a communications breakdown brought disaster. Fearing that their commander had sensed defeat and was trying to save his own skin, the majority of the soldiers turned and fled the battlefield in abject rout. Arp Aslan's army streamed after them.

In the years that followed, Muslim Turks overran Anatolia, fundamentally transforming what had been a Christian land with a Hellenistic culture. Now the Middle East was Islamic, and the stage was set for one of the great showdown struggles of the medieval age.


Christian Crusades

The Seljuk captureof Jerusalem from the Fatimids in 1073 was of symbolic rather than strategic importance for the West, but for a fearful Christendom it seemed the final straw. Hence the eruption of support when, in 1095 at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade.

Continued Disturbances

Meanwhile, the flow of nomadic invaders was set to continue, giving rise not just to the Mongol invasions and the wars of Kublai Khan but a second wave of Turks, the Ottomans. Slave-soldiers also continued to play a part in the history of war when the Egyptian Mamelukes seized power in Egypt in the 13th century.

The Seljuk Empire Splits

In 1092, following Malik Shah's death, one son, Kalij Arslan I, founded the "Sultanate of Rum", so-called because its Anatolian territories had been taken from the Byzantines or Romans. His brothers established realms in Syria and Persia: the Seljuks were no longer the monolithic menace they once seemed to the crusaders.

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