Expansion of the Seljuk Turks Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Ogŏuz Turkish Seljuks migrated from Central Asia to Khorāsān and later into Persia and Anatolia, where they took Baghdad from the Buyid Dynasty and established an empire that lasted for more than two centuries.

Summary of Event

The Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu, or Huns) of the Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal region, mentioned in the Chinese documents of the second century b.c.e., are most likely the ancestors of the Turks. Turkish nomads, the Ogŏuz or Turkmen, founded the Göktürk Empire Göktürk Empire in Transoxiania in the sixth century and by the eighth century extended from the Aral Sea to the Hindu Kush. As part of the great migrations of peoples from Central Asia in the first millennium of the common era, in the eighth century, Turkish tribes, including the Ogŏuz, moved south of the Oxus and into the steppe north of the Black Sea. Migrations;Oğuz Turks to Transoxiana[Oghuz Turks to Transoxiana] [kw]Expansion of the Seljuk Turks (1040-1055) [kw]Seljuk Turks, Expansion of the (1040-1055) [kw]Turks, Expansion of the Seljuk (1040-1055) Seljuk Turks Oğhuz Turks[Oghuz Turks] Central Asia;1040-1055: Expansion of the Seljuk Turks[1570] Iraq;1040-1055: Expansion of the Seljuk Turks[1570] Iran;1040-1055: Expansion of the Seljuk Turks[1570] Expansion and land acquisition;1040-1055: Expansion of the Seljuk Turks[1570] Seljuk Toghrïl Beg Chaghrï Beg Masՙūd I

One of the military leaders of the Ogŏuz was the resourceful Duqaq Duqaq (Iron Bow), a member of the Qiniq tribe, the leading clan of the Ogŏuz. Duqaq’s son Seljuk Seljuk fled with his family and followers from the Ogŏuz leader Yabghu Yabghu , who had become jealous of his popularity and power. When Seljuk became khan, he moved to the lower Jaxartes (Syr Darya) River. In the 990’, the tribe adopted Islam and began fighting against the pagan Turks. Seljuk’s son bore biblical names—Mūsā (Moses), Mikail (Michael), and Arslan Israil (Israel). Although this practice was not uncommon among Turkish Muslim leaders, some scholars have suggested that before converting to Islam, the Seljuks had considered Christianity. Seljuk’s son moved farther southward to find better grazing lands and herbs.

The Seljuks served as frontier guards for the Turkish Sāmānids of western Turkistan and Maḥmūd of Ghazna in Afghanistan. Seljuk’s descendants split, some going to India, others becoming vassals of the ՙAbbāsid caliph of Baghdad, the spiritual Sunni successor of Muḥammad the Prophet. The latter group, led by Mikail’s sons, Seljuk’s grandsons Toghrïl Beg Toghrïl Beg (Seljuk sultan) and Chaghrï Beg Chaghrï Beg , established the empire bearing his name in 1040. Although some individuals had moved into Persia and Egypt earlier, this was the first large-scale migration of Turks from Central Asia into the Middle East, opening a new era of Islamic history. They were fierce warriors, but their contact with the Persians greatly influenced their culture and made them able administrators and promoters of Islamic art and science as well.





In 1038, Toghrïl and Chaghrï defeated Masՙūd I Masՙūd I , son of Maḥmūd of Ghazna Maḥmūd of Ghazna , at the Battle of Nishapur, Nishapur, Battle of (1038) and the Seljuks, a pastoral herding people, moved into the Khorāsān grazing grounds of northeastern Persia. The Seljuks used the effective tactics of fire and feigned flight. The light cavalry of the Turks rode close to the enemy, fired at them with their bows and arrows, and then retreated rapidly, drawing the enemy into an encirclement. After this battle, Masՙūd I saw that the Seljuks were a threat to his empire and prepared to defeat them. However, although he won battles in 1039, he was unable to destroy the Seljuk threat. Masՙūd I proposed a peace that would leave the Seljuks the border cities of Nesa, Bevard, and Fevre, while the Turks would leave Nishapur, Serahs, and Merv, and Masՙūd I would concentrate his forces in Herāt. The Seljuks agreed in order to gain time to regroup, but soon they began to invade Ghaznavid territory again. Masՙūd faced the Turks in a series of battles, the greatest of which took place at Dandāngān Castle Dandāngān Castle, Battle of (1040) near Merv on May 24, 1040, where the Seljuk army won a decisive victory over Masՙūd’s forces.

Toghrïl declared himself emir of Khorāsān and sultan al-muazzam (exalted leader). As was the custom, he also sent a fetih-name, a declaration of victory, to neighboring rulers. The Seljuks now were an independent state. The Seljuk leaders met in council at Merv immediately after the battle and declared that they were loyal to the Sunni ՙAbbāsid caliph and that they would administer Khorāsān with justice. According to Turkish custom, the council also announced plans for future conquests and the lands they would administer. Chaghrï Beg, whom the council declared as melik (king) of Khorāsān, would expand into Ceyhan and Ghazna. The council assigned Toghrïl Beg to rule over Nishapur and the western regions of Persia. Their uncle, Mūsā Yabghu, was given the command to move south toward Herāt in Persia. The Seljuks carried out their tasks rapidly over the next months.

Later in 1040, Chaghrï Beg drove the Ghaznavids from their last positions in Khorāsān, taking the city of Belh. In 1043, Chaghrï and Toghrïl captured the commercial center Harezm, the city of Shah Melik Shah Melik , who had previously raided into their lands. Chaghrï Beg and his son, the future sultan Alp Arslan Alp Arslan (Seljuk sultan) , defeated the Qarakhanids Qarakhanids;Seljuk defeat of and established a border treaty with them. In 1059, Chaghrï also came to agreement with the Ghaznavid sultan Ibrāhīm, establishing a border at the Hindu Kush Mountains between them. Mūsā Yabghu took Herāt and the Sistan, but in 1064, he rebelled against his great-nephew Alp Arslan (by then sultan) and lost his political positions.

The ՙAbbāsid caliph, al-Qā՚im, Qā՚im, al- organized the Turks under Toghrïl Beg as ghazi warriors (defenders of the faith) in tribal bands living on the borders of the empire and defending its territories from invaders, but Toghrïl asked for the task of spreading Islam westward, a task he had been assigned by the Seljuk council. The caliph designated him King of the East and the West, giving the Seljuks great prestige, and they established a well-administered Sunni state with its capital at Isfahan under the nominal authority of the ՙAbbāsid caliphs in Baghdad.

The Sunni ՙAbbāsid ՙAbbāsids[Abbasids] caliphs, however, were under the control of the ruling Shīՙite Buyid Dynasty Buyid Dynasty in Persia, and from 1043 to 1055, Toghrïl Beg invaded their territory in northern and eastern Persia. He also raided Armenia and, in 1048, the Byzantine territory of Anatolia. Then, in 1055, Toghrïl Beg led the ghazis and his mercenary slaves, mainly Circassians and Kurds, into Baghdad and seized power from the Buyids, beginning the great Seljuk sultanate.


The Seljuk Empire revived Islamic political power in the Middle East and established several ruling dynasties—in Iraq, in Kirman (southeast Persia), in Syria, and most famously in Asia Minor, where the Seljuks paved the way for the great Ottoman Empire that succeeded them.

This first large-scale Turkish invasion into the Middle East instigated an age of great cultural achievement, although many of the advances were accomplished by non-Turkish Muslims such as the Persian Niẓām al-Mulk Niẓām al-Mulk (1018/1019-1092), whose Siyāsat-nāma (c. 1091; The Book of Government: Or, Rules for Kings, 1960) Book of Government, The (Niẓām al-Mulk) gives insight into the Seljuk state and also the Islamic philosophies of the age. The Seljuks also established hospitals and medical schools. They introduced some Turkish elements into Islamic society, art, and culture such as the use of the horsetail, or galish, as the symbol of the van of the army and the sultan’s gold embroidered leather saddle as his symbol on public occasions.

Ultimately, the Seljuks’s empire proved to be short-lived because of their practice of dividing their land among all their heirs—unlike the later Ottomans, who kept their empire together under one son of the sultan.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Editors of Time-Life Books. Light in the East: Time Frame A.D. 1000-1100. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1988. A history designed for the general reading putting the role of the Seljuks in the context of the eleventh century. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A scholarly account containing chapters on the Seljuk Turks. Illustrations, maps, bibliographic references, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leiser, Gary, ed. and trans. A History of the Seljuks:İbrahim Kafesogŏlu’s Interpretation and the Resulting Controversy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. An authoritative and indispensable translation of a book-length article by a modern scholar that is not only “a significant Turkish contribution to Seljuk historiography, but . . . also among the most recent surveys of the entire Seljuk period in any language,” a claim that remained true to the end of the twentieth century. Genealogical tables, glossary, bibligraphy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rāshid al-Dīn ibn ṭabib. The History of the Seljuq Turks from the Jāmiՙal-tawārīkh. Translated and annotated by Kenneth Allin Luther; edited by C. Edmund Bosworth. Richmond, Surrey, England: Curzon, 2001. An annotated English translation of two contemporary works on the Seljuks. Maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richards, D. S. The Annals of the Saljuq Turks. London: Routledge/Curzon, 2002. A modern translation of contemporary Turkish documents. Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richards, D. S, ed. Islamic Civilization, 950-1150: A Colloquium Published Under the Auspices of the Near Eastern History Group, Oxford, the Near East Center, University of Pennsylvania. Oxford, England: Cassier, 1973. A scholarly colloquium covering the period of the Seljuks and their impact on the Islamic world. Illustrations, bibliographic references, and index.

Categories: History