Battle of Manzikert

The Battle of Manzikert, a catastrophic military loss to the Turks, undermined Byzantine control of Asia Minor and launched the Crusades.

Summary of Event

Soon after the Arabs emerged from the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century to extend their conquests eastward and westward, they attempted to conquer the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople. Their repeated failures, however, kept Asia Minor and eastern Europe closed to them. In the middle of the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks Seljuk Turks , who were later converts to Islam, arose to restore the power and prestige of the debilitated Muslim caliphate. In turn, they inherited Arab ambitions against Byzantium. [kw]Battle of Manzikert (August 26, 1071)
[kw]Manzikert, Battle of (August 26, 1071)
Manzikert, Battle of (1071)
Byzantine Empire;Aug. 26, 1071: Battle of Manzikert[1640]
Turkey;Aug. 26, 1071: Battle of Manzikert[1640]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 26, 1071: Battle of Manzikert[1640]
Alp Arslan
Romanus IV Diogenes
Toghrïl Beg

The Seljuks took their name from Seljuk Seljuk , the chieftain of a tribe of Turkish nomads who wandered from the Kirghiz steppes of Turkistan into the Transoxiana region, settling there about the middle of the tenth century. The true founder of the dynasty was Seljuk’s grandson, Toghrïl Beg Toghrïl Beg (Seljuk Turk sultan) , who fought his way slowly westward until he came to the gates of Baghdad in 1055. His nephew, Alp Arslan Alp Arslan (Seljuk sultan) , followed him as sultan and succeeded in extending his empire until it reached from what is now Turkmenistan to the Mediterranean.

Expansion into Armenia caused the decisive Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogenes Romanus IV Diogenes was taken prisoner and Asia Minor was laid open to complete occupation by the Turks. The outcome of the battle had been partially determined by the unexpected desertion of a portion of Romanus’s troops who were ethnic Turks to the Turkish enemy. Whether this was done out of ethnic solidarity or because of Romanus’s unpopularity is unknown, but the desertion fatally undermined the cohesiveness and confidence of the Byzantine army. Alp Arslan did not take Constantinople, although he did conquer up to the Sea of Marmora.

The conquest of Asia Minor may well have been facilitated by disaffection, especially in Armenian areas, because of high taxes. The Battle of Manzikert itself may have been intended by Alp Arslan merely as a strategic act to guarantee his right flank while he subdued Syria and Egypt and not as a step in the conquest of Asia Minor. Nevertheless, the occupation of the area had far-reaching results, less for the Seljuks than for the Byzantines. Prowess and booty invested Baghdad once again with some of the past glory it had enjoyed under the ՙAbbāsids. With the deaths of Sultan Malik Shāh Malik Shāh (r. 1073-1092) and his vizier Niẓām al-Mulk Niẓām al-Mulk by 1092, the unity of the Seljuks collapsed. Civil wars and dissidence in the provinces caused the empire to break up into petty states. One such Turkish band, which eventually carried on the further investment of Asia Minor by occupying and redistributing the land, established the independent sultanate of Rum, or Roman lands. Members of this band in turn lost their independence when they were conquered by Mongol invaders in 1243. It remained for the Ottomans, cousins of the Seljuks, to bring a stable political regime into the area once more.

The impact of the Battle of Manzikert was far more intense and disastrous to Byzantium. The complete conquest of Asia Minor included even the Asiatic shore of the Sea of Marmora directly across from Constantinople, which dominated commercial routes vital to the Greek capital. The further investment of the peninsula at the hands of Süleyman Süleyman (founder of Seljuk Rum) , one of Alp Arslan’s distant cousins, was so thorough that Hellenization of Asia Minor, finally being completed by Byzantium, was wrecked forever. It seems significant and ironic that Süleyman chose Nicaea, a city in western Asia Minor noted for the first Christian ecumenical council, as his capital. Byzantium’s loss of food supplies, raw materials, revenues, commerce, and trade routes was serious indeed, and it was never redeemed. Especially disastrous was the loss of Asia Minor as a source of manpower, for the best army recruits of the Byzantine state came from the interior of that peninsula. Byzantine Empire

It was not immediately clear that Asia Minor would be permanently lost. After all, Byzantine armies had lost considerable territory in the past and much of it had been reconquered. Under the capable Comnenus dynasty of the twelfth century, the Byzantiune Empire, with Crusader assistance, reconquered much of Asia Minor. Yet, after Manzikert, the Turkish presence, in the form of either the Seljuks or their successors, was always there. When Emperor Manuel I Comnenus Manuel I Comnenus (r. 1143-1180) suffered a devastating defeat to the Turks at Myriocephalon in 1176, it was clear that the majority of Asia Minor would be permanently Turkish.


The Battle of Manzikert had an immediate repercussion of wide significance. When the Byzantine Empire called on Western Christendom for aid, the Crusades Crusades were launched. As Italian merchants followed in the wake of the Crusaders and the Latin states were founded, trade routes tended to shift from Byzantium in favor of Syria. The fall of Constantinople to Venetian merchants and soldiers in 1204 wrought such damage to the Byzantine Empire that, even though Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus Michael VIII Palaeologus (r. 1259-1282) managed to overthrow the Latin domination in 1261, the Byzantine Empire never regained its full strength before its final defeat in 1453 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the final fall of Byzantine Constantinople.

Further Reading

  • Angold, Michael. The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204: A Political History. London: Longman, 1984. Provides background on both Alp Arslan and Romanus IV Diogenes.
  • Bryer, Anthony, and Michael Ursinus, eds. Manzikert to Lepanto: The Byzantine World and the Turks, 1071-1571. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert, 1991. A detailed source on Byzantine-Turkish relations in the wake of the Battle of Manzikert.
  • Bull, Marcus. “The Pilgrimage Origins of the First Crusade.” History Today 47, no. 3 (March, 1997). The author explores Pope Urban II’s speech in 1095 calling for a Crusade against the Turks and then traces the Crusades from their start as a Christian pilgrimage to a holy war.
  • Friendly, Alfred. The Dreadful Day: The Battle of Manzikert, 1071. London: Hutchinson, 1981. The author provides a thorough and detailed account of the battle and its consequences.
  • Irwin, Robert. “Muslim Responses to the Crusades.” History Today 47, no. 4 (April, 1997). Presents a rich overview of the Muslim perspective on the Crusades, including the responses of the Seljuks before the First Crusade in the late eleventh century. Provides photographs and a short list of further readings.
  • Kafesoglu, Ibrahim. A History of the Seljuks. Translated and edited by Gary Leiser. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. A fine translation of a contemporary Turkish treatment of Seljuk history. Bibliography, index.
  • Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. The author offers a well-written narrative history that gives a vivid description of the Battle of Manzikert. Illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • Psellus, Michael. Fourteen Byzantine Rulers. Translated by E. R. A. Sewter. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1982. A contemporary translation of the best primary source on the battle. Tables, maps, bibliography, index.