Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) 1071 | Alp Arslan conquest of Anatolia (Turkey) |Seljuk-Byzantine war

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The Battle of Manzikert is the only battle in history, where a roman emperor was captured by Muslims. the Battle of Manzikert was fought between the Byzantine empire and the Seljuk Empire on 26 August 1071. It was the beginning of an end to the byzantine empire. This battle is significant in Islamic history as it had enabled the entry of Islam in Anatolia the modern-day turkey. The decisive victory of Muslims played an important role in weakening Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia.

Background


the first battle between Muslims and Romans was fought in 636 under the leadership of Khalid bin Walid. Since then, the Roman empire had lost plenty of land in the hand of Muslims.

Battle of Yarmouk between Khalid bin Walid and Byzantine
Battle of Yarmouk between Khalid bin Walid and Byzantine

Muslims were at their greatest extent in the reign of the Abbasid caliphate after capturing all of the middle east and northern Africa. Soon Abbasid caliphate weakened and Empire was divided into many small empires. In 945 Buyid Empire captured Baghdad The capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.

Byzantine, Ghaznavid, Buyid, Fatimid Empire Map
Byzantine, Ghaznavid, Buyid, Fatimid Empire Map

In 1037, a Turkmen named Tughril united all the Turk tribes and led them in the conquest of Eastern Iran. All these tribes traced their ancestry back to a single ancestor named Seljuk. He later established the Seljuk Empire after taking Persia and retaking Baghdad from Buyid Dynasty. The Seljuk empire came in contact with the Byzantine Empire and Fatimid Caliphate at the same time.

Seljuq vs Byzantine war under Tughril
Seljuq vs Byzantine war under Tughril

In 1054 forces of the Seljuk empire confronted Byzantine for the first time. After the death of Tughril, a new young sultan Alp Arslan took the throne. In 1064 Alp Arslan crossed and invaded the Byzantine territory of Georgia and Armenia. After the siege of 25 days, they succeeded in capturing Ani the capital of Armenia. Various Byzantine castles were captured by the Seljuks.

Seljuq vs Byzantine war under Alp Arslan
Seljuq vs Byzantine war under Alp Arslan


In 1067 Emperor Constantine 10 of Ducas died and was succeeded by military General Romanos. Emperor Romanos wanted to take the land back from the Seljuks. In 1068 New Emperor confronted the Seljuk empire near Tephrike where he gained a complete victory. Romanos further attacked the Seljuk army three times and succeeded in driving Turks across Euphrate.

Small attacks from Seljuk Army on the Byzantine land got momentum and it became difficult for the Byzantine to tackle them. Romanos knew that he needed to gather a large army to put the Seljuk empire to an end. so he signed a peace treaty with the Byzantine. Alp Arslan had to accept this proposal as he cannot fight with Fatimids and Byzantine at the same time.

Read Also: History of Berke Khan the savior of Islam

Politically Fatimid caliphate controlled Syria a space that is contested by Byzantine and Seljuks. After the treaty sultan, Alp Arslan went on an expedition against the Fatimid caliphate. One thing to understand is that the Seljuk empire consisted of various tribes. Each tribe is autonomous. Though all the tribes respect the sultan, they did not take orders from Sultan. Even the Sultan made a peace agreement with byzantine, these small tribes continued raiding Byzantine Land. on the other hand, Emperor Romanos kept on recruiting soldiers and mercenaries. Eventually, he gathered a large force to deal with Seljuks.

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Cause


In February 1071, the emperor sent an envoy to Sultan to renew the treaty, and the sultan happily agreed. Alp Arslan who was currently at the siege of Edessa abandoned the siege and led his army to attack Fatimid held Aleppo. It was a cunning move from the emperor to distract the Seljuk sultan. Emperor Romanos now led a large army into Armenia to recover the lost fortresses.

Emperor’s mission to make a surprise attack on the Sultan Army went in vain as Sultan Alp Arslan’s scout informed him that a huge amount of byzantine forces was on a move toward Manzikert. He abandoned the expedition against Fatimids and swiftly moved to Persia to gather more force. The speed and mobility with which Seljuks were able to move played a decisive role in the results of the battle.

Byzantine Army near lake Van
Byzantine Army near lake Van

Emperor divided his army into two. Almost 40,000 stayed with the emperor to capture Manzikert, while around 30,000 moved to the western bank of the lake van. Emperor believed that Sultan will use the path of Syria to attack them, so he ordered his Army to intercept Sultan’s Army near the western bank of Lake Van. Byzantine Army was surprised when Sultan attacked from the eastern bank of Lake Van and ended up being behind the Byzantines. Sultan knew that Byzantine Army was waiting for his Army.

So he attacked them from a direction they cannot imagine. Byzantine Army was not prepared to tackle an attack from this direction, leaving the battleground Byzantine army ran towards central Anatolia. Meanwhile, the emperor successfully captured Manzikert. Romanos was unaware of what happened to his army near Lake Van due to a lack of spies, but the Sultan was aware of the fall of Manzikert. Alp Arslan moved around the mountains to get a battlefield more favorable for his heavy cavalry.

The Battle


Alp Arslan gathered his Army and delivered a speech in a white robe similar to the Islamic funeral shroud. This is an encouraging message that he was prepared to die in the battle. Seljuk Army was organized in a crescent shape formation. Alp Arslan divided his Army into three different wings. He commanded the center. Alp Arslan sent a peace ambassador to Romanos.

Emperor Romanos was confident that he could easily win the battle as he had double the force than Seljuks, so he rejected the peace proposal. Romanos sent the Armenian general Basilakes with some cavalry to attack Seljuks, as Romanos did not believe this was Alp Arslan’s full army. The cavalry was destroyed and Basilakes was taken, prisoner.

Battle of Manzikert army formation
Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) 1071 army formation


The same day some of the Turkic mercenaries deserted Romanos and joined the Army of Seljuks. Romanos was waiting for the response from the army he sent to west of lake van, as he was unaware that the Army fled to central Anatolia. That Romanos divided his Army into four sections.

The Centre was commanded by the emperor himself. left-wing was under Bryennios, the right-wing was under Theodore Alyates. Left and right-wing included multinational mercenaries. The rear section was headed by a member of the Ducas family which was feuding with emperor Romanos. The purpose of the rear group was to support the position that was in the most danger. Entrusting such a responsibility to his enemy was Romanos’s biggest mistake. Byzantine center, left and right-wing moved forward to attack Seljuks.

As the Romanos army drew closer Seljuk army tried to avoid the battle using hit and run tactics. Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they drew closer; the center of their crescent continually moved backward while the wings moved to surround the Byzantine troops. The Center wing of Byzantine was able to capture the camps of Seljuks as Seljuks were continuously trying to avoid the battle.

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As the night getting closer Romanos ordered his army to retreat to his fortified camp. His order caused confusion. While the center commanded by Romanos was retreating to fortified camps, Sultan Alp Arslan used this opportunity and attacked the right-wing of Byzantine with his center and right-wing. Commander of Rear wing whose duty was to support the group who was in danger, betrayed Romanos as his family was feuding with the emperor and left the battlefield.

Seljuk easily crushed the right-wing. The left-wing of Byzantine held out a little longer, but soon it was convinced that the emperor was dead and so they retreated towards Manzikert. Only the center of the byzantine empire under the command of Romanos left in the battleground. Sultan Alp Arslan attacked it with its full force. by nightfall, this group was crushed and Romanos was captured and brought in front of the sultan.

Emperor Romanos was captured by Alp Arslan in Battle of Manzikert
Emperor Romanos was captured by Alp Arslan in Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) 1071

When Emperor Romanos was conducted into the presence of Alp Arslan, the Sultan refused to believe that the bloodied and tattered man covered in dirt was the mighty Emperor of the Romans. After discovering his identity, Alp Arslan placed his boot on the Emperor’s neck and forced him to kiss the ground.

A famous conversation is also reported to have taken place

Alp Arslan asked Romanos “What would you do if I were brought before you as a prisoner?”
Romanos replied: “Perhaps I’d kill you, or exhibit you in the streets of Constantinople.”
Alp Arslan said: “My punishment is far heavier. I forgive you, and set you free.”

Alp Arslan conversation with Romanos
Alp Arslan conversation with Romanos


Alp Arslan treated Romanos with considerable kindness and again offered the terms of peace that he had offered before the battle.


A payment of 10 million gold pieces demanded by the Sultan as a ransom for Romanos was deemed as too high by the latter, so the Sultan reduced its short-term expense by asking for 1.5 million gold pieces as an initial payment instead, followed by an annual sum of 360,000 gold pieces. Plus, a marriage alliance was prepared between Alp Arslan’s son and Romanos’ daughter. The Sultan then gave Romanos many presents and an escort of two emirs and one hundred Mamluks on his route to Constantinople.

Consequence:

The most important consequence of the battle of Manzikert that descendants of Alp Arslan were able to overrun much of Anatolia. By 1078 Sultan ibn Kutulmish was able to add Nicea into his domain. battle of Manzikert is pivotally important in the decline of the byzantine empire.

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