|Turkish Warriors (Hurriyet Daily News)|
The Coming of The Seljuk Turks
By 1045 the Byzantines had stabilized their eastern borders with the Arabs and eliminated Bulgaria as a threat. But they were still being pressed by Muslim armies in Italy as well as the Christian Normans.
This fairly peaceful situation did not last. A new enemy appeared. The second half of the 11th century was marked by the strategically significant invasion of the Seljuq Turks, who by the end of the 1040s had succeeded in building a vast nomadic empire including most of Central Asia and Persia.
The Seljuqs united the fractured political scene of the eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades. Highly Persianized in culture and language, the Seljuqs also played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition, even exporting Persian culture to Anatolia.
The settlement of Turkic tribes in the northwestern peripheral parts of the empire, for the strategic military purpose of fending off invasions from neighboring states, led to the progressive Turkicization of those areas.
|Turkish attacks in green, Byzantine attacks in red.|
Anatolia - Ground Zero for Invasion
By the 10th century the Roman Army led was less reliant on the militia of the themes; it was by now a largely professional force, with a strong and well-drilled infantry at its core and augmented by a revived heavy cavalry arm. With one of the most powerful economies in the world at the time, the Empire had the resources to put to the field a powerful host when needed, in order to reclaim its long-lost territories.
From 1048 to 1069 the Eastern Roman Army took on the invading Muslim Seljuk Turks in a series of four large battles and no doubt countless unreported smaller attacks and skirmishes.
All these battles were leading up the the disastrous final confrontation at Manzikert that gutted the Empire.
Once again detailed campaign histories of these vital events are lost in time or were simply not written at all.
|10th Century Byzantine Varangian Guard|
The Turks had invaded the Roman military theme of Iberia, and for some time there appears to have been a considerable amount of fighting on the eastern border.
The Turks under İbrahim Yinal attacked the city of Arzen, a vibrant commercial center in the Byzantine-administered in Iberia. The Turks set fire to the city reducing it to ashes.
As Roman troops entered the area it was reported that tens of thousands of Christians had been massacred and several areas were reduced to piles of ashes.
In 1048 a large combined Roman-Georgian army of 50,000 men made first contact with, and defeated the Seljuks at the Battle of Kapetron in a fierce nocturnal battle.
The destruction in the east was horrific. Armenian historians claim that 140,000 people were killed and that the Turks filled the slave markets of the east with women and children.
First Battle of Manzikert (1054)
The Turks were defeated and driven out of eastern Anatolia. The defeat must have made a major impression on the Turks for there was not another major invasion until 6 years later in 1054.
That first success was followed by yet another Byzantine victory against the Turks at the First Battle of Manzikert.
General Basil Apokapes, a patrikios and strategos, rallied local forces and the people of Manzikert to repulse an attack by the Seljuks under Sultan Toğrül.
Battle of Caesarea (1067)
The Battle of Caesarea occurred in 1067 when the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan attacked Caesarea as part of the wave conquests implemented by him to expand west of Central Asia.
By the mid 11th century, the Seljuk Turks had deposed the current Abbasid caliphate, with the leader of the Seljuk Turks taking the title for himself. Their expansion into the Middle East brought them to the borders of Antioch and Armenia which were under the control of the Byzantine Empire.
With the hope of capturing Caesarea Mazaca, the capital of Cappadocia, he placed himself at the head of the Turkish cavalry, crossed the Euphrates, and invaded.
The Byzantine Empire had steadily increased in power, with a large force capable of being assembled from their successful tagmata army. Despite this, the Byzantines seemed not to have been prepared for this danger, since Seljuk raids had been occurring across Armenia and Caesarea was stormed by the Seljuks in 1067 culminating with the sack of Caesarea and the plundering of the Church of St Basil.
A Byzantine counter-attack was launched from Antioch. Details are not available, but it appears the Turks abandoned or were driven from the city of Caesarea.
Campaign of 1068
Though Caesarea was most likely re-captured, no doubt the Seljuk Turks had developed a taste for the lands of the Byzantine Empire.
|Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan|
That winter the Turks camped on the frontiers of the empire and waited for the next year's campaigning season. The Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was confident of Byzantine superiority on the field of battle, looking on the Turks as little more than hordes of robbers who would melt away at the first encounter.
He did not take into account the degraded state of the Byzantine forces, which had suffered years of neglect from his predecessors, in particular Constantine X. His forces, mostly composed of Sclavonian, Armenian, Bulgarian, and Frankish mercenaries, were ill-disciplined, disorganized, and uncoordinated, and he was not prepared to spend time in upgrading the arms, armour, or tactics of the once-feared Byzantine army. It was soon evident that while Romanos possessed military talent, his impetuosity was a serious flaw.
The first military operations of Romanos did achieve a measure of success, reinforcing his opinions about the outcome of the war. Antioch was exposed to the Saracens of Aleppo who, with help from Turkish troops, began an attempt to reconquer the Byzantine province of Syria. Romanos began marching to the southeastern frontier of the empire to deal with this threat, but as he was advancing towards Lykandos, he received word that a Seljuk army had made an incursion into Pontus and had plundered Neocaesarea.
Immediately he selected a small mobile force and quickly raced through Sebaste and the mountains of Tephrike to encounter the Turks on the road, forcing them to abandon their plunder and release their prisoners, though a large number of the Turkish troops managed to escape.
Returning south, Romanos rejoined the main army, and they continued their advance through the passes of Mount Taurus to the north of Germanicia and proceeded to invade the Emirate of Aleppo. Romanos captured Hierapolis, which he fortified to provide protection against further incursions into the south-eastern provinces of the empire. He then engaged in further fighting against the Saracens of Aleppo, but neither side managed a decisive victory.
With the campaigning season reaching its end, Romanos returned north via Alexandretta and the Cilician Gates to Podandos. Here he was advised of another Seljuk raid into Asia Minor in which they sacked Amorium but returned to their base so fast that Romanos was in no position to give chase. He eventually reached Constantinople by January 1069.
Campaign of 1069 & Battle of Iconium
|Copper follis of Emperor Romanos IV|
Following Caesarea, the Seljuk Turks made another attempt invading Anatolia, with an assault on Iconium in 1069.
The Battle of Iconium was an unsuccessful attempt by the Seljuk Turks to capture the city of Iconium, modern day Konya. From Syria, a successful counter-attack drove the Turks back.
The land around Caesarea was again overrun by the Turks, forcing Romanos to spend precious time and energy in expelling the Turks from Cappadocia. Desperate to begin his campaign proper, he ordered the execution of all prisoners, even a Seljuk chieftain who offered to pay an immense ransom for his life. Having brought a measure of peace to the province, Romanos marched towards the Euphrates River via Melitene, and crossed the river at Romanopolis, hoping to take Akhlat on Lake Van and thus protect the Armenian frontier.
Romanos placed himself at the head of a substantial body of troops and began his march towards Akhlat, leaving the bulk of the army under the command of Philaretos Brachamios with orders to defend the Mesopotamian frontier.
Philaretos was soon defeated by the Turks, whose sack of Iconium forced Romanos to abandon his plans and return to Sebaste. He sent orders to the Dux of Antioch to secure the passes at Mopsuestia, while he attempted to run down the Turks at Heracleia. The Turks were soon hemmed in in the mountains of Cilicia, but they managed to escape to Aleppo after abandoning their plunder.
Romanos once again returned to Constantinople without the great victory he was hoping for.
Campaign of 1070
Romanos was detained at Constantinople in 1070, while he dealt with many outstanding administrative issues, including the imminent fall of Bari into Norman hands.
Being unable to go on campaign himself, he entrusted the imperial army to one of his generals, Manuel Komnenos, nephew of the former emperor Isaac I, and elder brother to the future emperor Alexios. He managed to engage the Turks in battle, but was defeated and taken prisoner by a Turkish general named Khroudj. Manuel convinced Khroudj to go to Constantinople and see Romanos in person to conclude an alliance, which was soon completed.
This act motivated the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan to attack the Byzantine Empire, besieging and capturing the important Byzantine fortresses of Manzikert and Archesh. Romanos, in return, offered to officially exchange Manzikert and Archesh for Hieropolis in Syria, which Romanos had taken three years previously.
Looking Ahead to Manzikert
As the year 1070 ended there was no hint at all of the coming military disaster at Manzikert.
The Emperor Romanos IV had his hands full on the Anatolian front as well as the Norman war in Italy. But the Emperor had proved himself a fairly good general. He commanded troops right on the front lines, and he gave the Turks punches just as hard as they were giving him.
By the start of 1071 the front lines of the Seljuk War were more or less the same as in previous years. The coming disaster at Manzikert was more the result of betrayal within the Byzantine ranks than from poor generalship.
(Manzikert 1054) (Romanos IV Diogenes) (Caesarea)
(Constantine X Doukas) (Iconium 1069) (Byzantine Studies)
(Alp Arslan) (Seljuq wars) (Seljuq dynasty) (Seljuk Empire)