Battle of Manzikert was one of the most important battles of the Middle Ages. The war between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Empire in the 11th century also ignited the Crusades.
The battle took place between the troops of the Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes and the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan. The fact that the emperor is betrayed during the war and is eventually captured makes the story of the war interesting.
In this article you can find the events that led to the Battle of Manzikert, a summary of the battle and the results of the battle. This war, which changed the history of Byzantium and Turks forever, has an important place in world military history.
History of the Battle of Manzikert
Turks rode horses in Central Asian steppes and established big states one after another. As a nomad and warrior tribe, Turks lived together with Mongols for centuries. Although Mongols and Turks established marriage relations and allied together, they also fought against each other as well. With its thousands of kilometers length, Chinese Wall was built in order to stop the ongoing invasions of this highly mobile and effective warriors.
Turkish tribes which immigrated from Central Asia to the West in 11th Century founded a strong empire in Iran’s Isfahan city. Known as Great Seljuk Empire, this state was declared as “the protector of Islam” by Abbasid Caliph who was living in Baghdad and it ruled over the holy lands.
Battle of Manzikert was the war that changed the fate of Turks and Byzantines forever. This war would also determine the fate of Anatolia (Asia Minor), located at the intersection of trade routes.
1. Seljuks and Byzantium Become Neighbors
After Abbasid Caliph proclaimed Seljuk Sultan Tughril as the “King of the East and the West” political tension increased in the Middle East. Byzantine Empire was the undeniable super power in the region until Seljuks arrived.
However, expansion of Seljuk Empire under Tughril continued during the rule of his successor Alp Arslan as well. When Armenia and Georgia were captured by Turks, a war between Byzantines and Seljuks was inevitable.
2. Romanos’ Military Campaign
Emperor Romanos aimed to break the power of the Seljuk Empire. For this purpose, he marched across Anatolia and went to the Eastern borders.
Alp Arslan, the leader of the Seljuks, was in the south (Aleppo) at that time. He had no intention of fighting a decisive war. However, when he learned that the Byzantine army was on the territory of Armenia, he decided to face the emperor.
Emperor Romanos was a ruler with a good military career. For this reason, he was highly respected by some parts of the society. However, there were officers from the noble families of Constantinople in the Byzantine army. Majority of this noble folk did not regard Romanos, who became an emperor by marriage, as worthy of the throne.
The Doukas Dynasty, one of the most powerful families of Constantinople, wanted to take over the throne and was ready to do everything for this cause. Andronikos, one of the army’s top generals, was a Doukas and hated Romanos. Inside the army, there was a time bomb waiting to explode.
Romanos did not know that Alp Arslan left Aleppo and came to Armenia. Since he thought the Sultan was in the south, he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and take back some lands in the east. He wanted to take over Manzikert, an important post.
For this purpose, he deployed almost half of his army to the south under the command of General Joseph Tarchaneiotes. If Alp Arslan came from the south, he would first fight against Tarchaneiotes. Meanwhile, Romanos would have already taken Manzikert. However, Alp Arslan’s intelligence in the region was very strong. He knew very well where the emperor was and had already arrived in Manzikert.
The Byzantine army of 40,000 people was unnecessarily divided into two. When Romanos arrived in Manzikert, he met with the Seljuk army consisting of about 20,000 soldiers.
We don’t know what happened to Joseph Tarchaneiotes and the Byzantine army at his disposal. Although it is said in Islamic sources that this army was destroyed by Alp Arslan, there is no information about it in the Byzantine records.
3. Battle of Manzikert: Seljuks vs Byzantines
On 26th of August 1071, Alp Arslan and Romanos IV faced each other at Manzikert (Malazgirt) near Van Lake. The number of soldiers in Byzantine army was slightly more than the Seljuks. However, the fact that a large part of the Seljuk army consisted of fast and effective Seljuk cavalry provided a great advantage to the Sultan.
Sultan Alp Arslan was a strong leader. His boldness and success in war earned him the title Alp (meaning hero or brave). Alp Arslan had absolute control over his soldiers. On the other hand, Romanos’ army did not form a unity because there were many high-ranking officers who did not like Romanos.
When the two armies engaged in the battlefield, the Seljuks applied the crescent tactic from the Turkish-Mongolian tradition. As the center of the Seljuk army suddenly retreated, the Byzantine infantry began to chase them. This move, one of the most common tactics of Asian steppes, caused the Byzantines to be trapped.
The Seljuk army, which had opened to the wings, pressed the Byzantine army from the sides. Seljuk light cavalry, who could shoot arrows while on the move, appeared behind the hill where they had been hiding and attacked.
The Byzantine army hesitated for a moment. In fact, if there was a strong cohesion in the army, they had the strength to recover and resist. However, they failed to retreat at the right time. The emperor’s orders did not reach the right wing, and the tactical withdrawal did not work.
The pincer movement gave the result that the Seljuks had expected. The Byzantine army, which could not survive the shock, could not reorganize. The right wing of Byzantines was completely routed. General Andonikos Doukas, whom Romanos positioned as the rearguard, clearly betrayed and did not fight.
We should note that Varangian Guard (Elite Viking Soldiers) were at the core area of the battlefield. The Varangian Guard fought to death to protect the emperor, showing that their fame was not unfounded. A signature of one of the members of this elite soldiers can be seen on the second floor of Hagia Sophia Museum as Viking Inscription.
4. Results of the Battle of Manzikert
Following the decisive victory of Seljuks, Emperor Romanos IV was held captive and brought to Alp Arslan. Captivity of Roman Emperor was a big deal in Middle Ages. He was eventually released on condition that he would pay a hefty compensation and he would sign a peace treaty including grave conditions.
However Romanos was captured by Doukas family before he had a chance to get back to the capital and he was kept in a monastery in Prince Islands (South of Constantinople in Marmara Sea) after he was blinded.
5. The Fall of the Seljuk Empire
The fact that Alp Arslan won the Battle of Manzikert cracked the Byzantine defense completely. Before Byzantines found time to get on their feet, Seljuks had already captured Eastern and Central Anatolia.
After reaching the peak of their power during Alp Arslan and his son Meliksah era, Seljuk Empire went under a period of decline with the death of Melik Shah at 1192.
With the start of the Crusades, wave of attacks weakened the Seljuk power in Anatolia and Byzantine Emperor (Alexios I Komnenos) got the chance to reclaim the lost lands. With the pressure from the East by other Turkish and Mongol tribes, Seljuks could not maintain the central administration and eventually fell.
6. Sultanate of Rum
Remaining communities after the fall of the Seljuk Empire founded Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, based in Iconium (Konya). Ruled by a Seljuk Sultan, most of the population of this state was comprised of non-Muslims.
Continuing the tradition of ruling with the principle of tolerance, Seljuk Sultanate of Rum succeeded in establishing a culture of blending with Greek, Muslim and Jewish citizens.
Incredible mosques, caravanserais, churches and synagogues were built. These works of art are the best pieces of Turkish architecture that Seljuks built in Anatolia. The best examples can be seen in Erzurum, Sivas and Konya cities of Modern Turkey.
7. Ottoman Empire
The Seljuks were the ancestors of the Turks who migrated from Asia to the west. They blended the Turkish culture they brought from Asia with Persian and Eastern Roman culture. In this way, the foundations of the new state that would emerge after the collapse of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum were also ready.
The Ottoman Empire was born from the ashes of the Seljuks and continued the cosmopolitan culture blended by them. This multilayer culture can be observed today in Modern Turkey.
Written by Serhat Engul