The Battle of Manzikert: Military Disaster or Political Failure?
By Paul Markham
Published Online (2005)
Introduction: On the 26th of August 1071, an army under the command of the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (1068-1071AD) was defeated on the borders of Armenia by the army of the Seljuk Turkish Sultan, Alp Arslan (1063-1072AD). Since that time, historians have identified the Battle of Manzikert as the mortal blow that led to the inevitable collapse of the Byzantine Empire. How accurate is this interpretation? Was the loss of Anatolia the result of Romanus IV Diogenes’ failed military campaign against the Seljuk’s or was it a political failure of his predecessors or successors? This paper examines Romanus’ Manzikert campaign and the significance of his defeat, and assesses whether the Byzantine position in Anatolia was recoverable, and if so, why that recovery failed?
The mid-eleventh century was the high water mark of the Byzantine Empire. The successive reigns of the military emperors of the Macedonian dynasty had pushed the boundaries of the Empire to their furthest geographical extent since Justinian the Great had reconquered Italy and North Africa in the sixth century. The Empire now stretched from Dalmatia in the west, incorporating the whole of the Balkans, to Antioch in Syria in the south, and all of Anatolia to Armenia in the east.
The Byzantine recovery had been a long time coming. The seventh century had seen the drastic dismemberment of the Empire. In the west, the Balkans and most of Greece had been lost to the Slavs; the Byzantines maintaining a toehold only in eastern Thrace, Thessalonica and scattered outposts on the Dalmatian coast. In the east, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Africa had been permanently lost to the Arabs. The loss of these valuable provinces triggered the rampant inflation that caused the virtual collapse of the monetary economy during the reign of Constans II (630- 662AD). This crisis led to two permanent changes within the Empire; the old Roman provinces were restructured into smaller administrative units called thema, under the administration of a military governor (strategos), and the assignment land grants to the soldiery in place of paying wages.