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The Seljuk Empire (1040 - 1157 AD) - S.Shaw

Most important in terms of their influence over the Ottomans were the Seljuks, a group of Oguz warriors that apparently entered the Middle East in the tenth century. The Seljuks rose originally as mercenary guards in the service of the Karahanids. Later they acted to defend towns in Horasan and Transoxania against nomads and military adventururs. And, finally, they assumed the role of protectors of the later Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad against threats to their dominions. In 1055 the real founder of the Seljuk dynasty, Tugrul Bey, forced the Abbasid caliph to make him protector of orthodox Islam and to recogniz him as sultan, or temporal ruler. The Seljuks were not the first military protectors of the powerless later caliphs, but they were the first to complete the process of regularizing and institutionalizing the relationship.

With northern Iran entirely under Seljuk control and Iraq professing submission, the Seljuks were confronted with the problem of consolidating their rule and restoring order and prosperity in the Middle East while providing their nomadic vassals with the booty and grazing lands they demanded. Were the Seljuks still leaders of nomadic Turkomans, or were they now rulers and protectors of the civilization they had conquered? It was the latter role that came to dominate, leading to conflicts between the Seljuk rulers and their nomadic commanders and followers, who were dissatisfied with the restrictions imposed on them to save the settled populations of the area. The Seljuk leader, as sultan, assumed most of the caliph's authority to legislate and rule in matters concerning administrative, military, and secular questions not directly regulated in the Muslim law. The caliph remained more as a spiritual leader with the power to regulate matters of personal behavior and individual relationships. As temporal rulers of the Islamic state the Seljuks took over, restored, and elaborated the traditional Perso-Islamic administrative apparatus developed in late Abbasid times, relying largely on Persian ministers who emphasized their own culture, reviving the Persian language and largely eliminating Arabic in government and culture alike, using Persians in most of the administrative positions of the empire, even those in areas inhabited mainly by Arabs.
In return for caliphal recognition the Seljuks became champions of orthodoxy in the Islamic world and leaders of the movement to eradicate the political, military and religious influence of Shiism. Shias were routed out of administrative positions and replaced by orthodox officials. To provide the latter in sufficient quality and numbers the Muslim educational system was reorganized and centered in the mosque schools and higher medrese schools, which strengthened the orthodox religious institution. The sufi mystic movement, which was fulfilling the popular need for more personal religion, was reconciled as orthodox and spread all over the empire to counteract the efforts of the heterodox Shias to capture the masses.

What was to be done with the Turkoman nomads who were driving out the settled populations of eastern Iran and Azerbaijan to the northwest and establishing their own pastoral economy? As long as the nomads formed the main element of the Seljuk army, their demands for booty and fodder could not be entirely ignored. But controlling them was very difficult. The Seljuk solution provided the key to the sultans' success in maintaining power and organizing their administration. They first used their position as sultans to institute a new regular salaried army of mamluk slaves brought from the highlands of the Caucusus and of prisoners taken in conquests. Once the new army gave the Seljuks a sufficient military alternative to the Turkomans, they solved the remainder of the problem by using it to drive the Turkomans out of Iran and Iraq into the territories of their enemies.

But these solutions created a new financial problem. How were the bureaucrats and soldiers to be paid? Clearly, the booty that had satisfied the nomads could no longer be relied on. But the state was not yet strong enough to establish direct rule and levy sufficient taxes to meet its obligations. The solution was a system of indirect revenue assignment (ikta), developed originally in Iran by the Buyids as a means of tax collection and now used also as the primary unit of administration. The essential premise of the system was the idea that all wealth (though not necessarily all property) belonged to the ruler. To exploit it he acted not through salaried officials of state, but rather by superimposing ikta units, each of which gave its possessor the right to administer a source of wealth and to collect its revenues. Officers of the new army and officials of the administration were given these iktas in return for performing their duties, thus as the equivalent of a salary. This relieved the treasury of the problem of finding money to pay its soldiers and civil servants and also gave the ikta holders and interest in preserving the prosperity of agriculture and trade. They could no longer ravage the land and move on as nomads had done in the past.

With the new army and bureaucracy organized and financed, the Turkomans could be and were pushed out of the settled areas of Iran and Iraq as rapidly as possible. At the end of the eleventh century the Seljuks acutally seem to have wanted the nomads to move against the Fatimids in Egypt as a further means of ending the heterodox threat against Islamic orthodoxy. Bu the more natural road for the Turkomans was to the north and west. The plateaus of Iran and Iraq running into the highlands of eastern Anatolia seem to have been far more convenient conduits to pastures than were the mountains of southwestern Iran and the deserts of Syria and Sinai. In addition, the Byzantine and Armenian states in Anatolia appeared to be much weaker and offered the prospect of much more booty than did that of the Fatimids. The Seljuks opposed the Turkoman pushes into Anatolia because of their own efforts to ally with the first Crusaders and even with the Byzantines against the Fatimids, and they made little effort to follow up on the early Turkoman onslaughts with formal occupation. Eventually, however, the momentum of the Turkomans carried the Seljuks along.

Indeed, times were propitious for a Seljuk move into Anatolia. The Christian defenses there were extremely weak. The regular Byzantine army was weakened by internal political dissension and military revolts. The Armenian vassal chiefs who defended much of the southeastern frontier also were fighting among themselves and generally were unwilling to accept Byzantine direction. Moreover, the Byzantine derense system consisted of a few large garrisons stationed in widely separated forts, and it was not too difficult for the Turkomans to slip past them. The Christians relied mainly on heavy armour, pikes, and axes and found it almost impossible to compete successfully with the mobile nomadic cavalrymen who used the bow and arrow with deadly effectiveness. And, finally, Byzantine economic policy and religious strife left the populace largely unwilling to support the efforts of their masters against invaders, whoever they might be.

The Turkoman raids began in 1048, pillaging Armenia, Erzurum, and Trabzon to the north and the valley of the Murat Su to the south. The Seljuk sultan Tugrul Bey led a campaign into the same areas in 1054 while the Turkomans raided farther and farther west each year. The centralizing policies of Sultan Alp Arslan (1063-1072) caused more Turkomans to flee Seljuk rule in Iran. Since most of them entered Anatolia in flight, they were willing to hire themselves out as mercenaries, helping Armenian and Byzantine feudal nobles and princes against each other as well as against Turkoman raids, but this situation made the Christians even more vulnerable.

As soon as Alp Arslan settle his position in Iraq, he undertook a new campaign (1065) in eastern Anatolia to consolidate his control over the frontier Turkomans as well as te Christian princes in the area. Byzantine efforts to stop the invasion by raiding along the upper Euphrates into Syria were beaten back (1068-1069) while the nomads raided farther and farther into western Anatolia. Alp Arslan still hoped to make a truce with the Byzantines so that he could concentrate against the Fatimids; but when he heard that Emperor Roman Diogenus was leading a new offensive to the east, he moved north for a direct confrontation with the Byzantine army, the first time that the Turks had risked such a battle. The two armies came together at Manzikert, north of Lake Van (August 19, 1071), where one of the great momentous battles of history took place. Turkish maneuverability and superiority with the bow and arrow, combined with dissension in the Byzantine army, caused the latter to flee while the emperor was captured. Because Alp Arslan still considered the Fatimids as his primary objective, he did not use the victory to make further organized attacks into Anatolia. But whether he intended to or not, the victory destroyed the old Byzantine border defense system and organized resistance against the Turkomans, opening the gates for the latter to enter in increasing numbers as they sought to evade the organized governmental controls being extended by the Seljuks. The Turkomans, therefore, stepped up the attack, devastating agriculture and trade and paralyzing Byzantine administration. Within a few years all of Byzantine Anatolia east of Cappadocia was occupied by the nomads except for a few forts in the Taurus mountains and Trabzon, on the Black Sea, which was to hold out for centuries. Continued Byzantine internal disputes and feudal anarchy also enabled the Turkomans to raid westward all the way to Iznik (Nicaea) and the Bosphorus, though here they were unable to settle down to the extent that they had in the east.

At this point some of the Turkomans were led by their own hans. Others submitted to the authority of individual Seljuk princes, mililtary commanders, and others who sought to make their fortunes on the western frontiers rather than accepting the authority of the sultan of in Iraq. Some of these established their own small states and left them to heirs, thus founding their own dynasities. In Cilicia one of these, Suleyman, son of Tugrul's cousin Kutlumus, led a group of Turkomans that helped several Byzantine emperors and princes and in return was recognized as ruler of much of south-central Anatolia, forming the base of the Seljuk Empire of Rum, which later rose to dominate most of Turkoman Anatolia.

While Anatolia was gradually transformed into a Turkish dominion, the Great Seljuk Empire, now centered at Isfahan, reached its peak. Alp Arslan was killed a year after Manzikert during a campaign against the Karahanids and was succeeded by his son Maliksah (1072-1092), whose reign inaugurated the decline. Because of his youth the new sultan had to rely heavily on his father's trusted chief minister, Nizam ul-Mulk. The establishment of the Seljuks of Rum posed a threat to Maliksah, who responded by establishing his dominion in northern Syria and reaching the Mediterranean. With the help of the Byzantines he also extended his power into Anatolia, gaining the allegiance of most of the Turkomans against the Rum Seljuks, who were left in control of only a few areas of central and eastern Anatolia from their capital, Konya.

These activities prevented Nizam ul-Mluk from consolidating the Seljuk Empire as he had hoped to do. The Fatimids remained in Egypt and southern Syria and extended their disruptive Shia missionary activities throughout the sultan's dominions. The Seljuks were also undermined by the activities of a new Shia movement that arose within their own boundaries, that of the Ismaili Assasins founded by Hasan al-Sabbah from his fortified center at Alamut, south of the Caspian Sea. He began a successful campaign of assassination and terror against political and religious leaders of the Seljuk state. In addition, the Seljuks were weakened by the old nomadic idea that rule had to be shared among all members of the ruling dynasty. The sultan gave large provinces to members of his family, and they began to create their own armies and treasuries. Maliksah also compensated his mamluk officers with similar feudal estates where they built autonomous power and thus prepared for the day when a weakening of the central authority would enable them to establish independent states. Finally, divisions between the orthodox establishment of the sultans and the heterodox Turkoman tribes became increasingly serious. Alp Arslan had solved this problem by pushing the tribes into Anatolia. But this outlet was cut off when the Seljuks of Rum rose in Cilicia along with petty Armenian states and the Crusaders in northern Syria. The Turkomans, therefore, now remained in the Great Seljuk possessions, continuing their attacks on the settled populations and resisting Nizam ul-Mulk's efforts to strengthen orthodoxy as the basis of the Seljuk Empire. As long as Maliksah and Nizam ul-Mulk lived, these disruptive tensions were controlled. But with their deaths in 1092 anarchy and dissolution soon followed. The Middle East fell into a new era of anarchy and foreign invasion that lasted through most of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the east the Great Seljuks were replaced by a number of small Turkoman states, some ruled by tribal chiefs with nomadic armies, others by Seljuk princes under the tutelage and domination of military chiefs approinted as regents (atabegs) by the decaying sultanate. In Anatolia, the Seljuks of Rum managed to extend their rule though they were cut off from their kingdoms in Cilicia and at Antioch and Edessa. The last Great Seljuk ruler was Sultan Sancar, son of Maliksah, who gained control (1096) of the province of Horasan, in the northeast, shortly after the death of his father. To him fell the bleak task of defending the Middle East against the Mongol hordes that now threatened it from Transoxania, but after his death in 1157 there was little left to stand in their way. At the same time, a strong and able caliph, al-Nasir suppressed many of the independent Turkomans in Iraq and established direct caliphal rule once again, even getting the Assassins of Alamut to refrain from their terroristic policies in return for recognition of autonomy. He also continued the Seljuk's work of reviving Islamic orthodoxy through the sufi mystic orders, using the futuwwah borhterhoods originally formed by lower-class artisans in the large cities as guilds and mutual-aid organizations, absorbing them into the sufi system, giving them religious ideals into which they could channel their energies, and making them into a kind of chivalric society and an instrument through which Islamic society could revitalize itself in the age of political disruption.

With the death of al-Nasir and the extinction of the Great Seljuk line the Middle East fell mostly to two new Mongol invaders from the east. In the mid- and late twelfth century most of the Mongols were driven out of northern China. Those Mongols who fled westward formed the Kara Hitay Empire, which took much of Transoxania in the late twelfth century in succession to the Seljuks. Other Mongols stayed in China, forming confederations and alliances against the continued attacks of their enemies from north and south. In 1205 the united Mongol confederation came under the leadership of one Temugin, who took the title Genghis Han (Great Han) to manifest his claim and ambition of uniting all the Mongols and, perhaps, all of the Ataic peoples under his leadership. Between 1206 and 1215 he incorporated most of the Asian steppes between northern China and Transoxania into his empire, in the process adding large numbers of Turkomans to his army while building a society devoted almost entirely to war. He next aimed at moving back into China, but when he was unable to establish a peaceful relationship with the Hvarezmsahs who had displaced both the Great Seljuks and the Kara Hitays in Transoxania, he responded with and attack that overwhelmed the Middle East in a relatively short time. In the end the invasion was stopped not by the Middle East's military defenses, but rather by periodic crises within the Mongol Empire caused by the deaths of Genghis Han and his successors. In 1242 the Mongols defeated the Seljuks of Rum and forced them to recognize the Mongol Great Han as suzerain.

From "The History of Modern Turkey, Vol. 1" by Stanford Shaw