Diplomacy gone to seed: a history of Byzantine foreign relations, A.D. 1047-57

Diplomacy gone to seed: a history of Byzantine foreign relations, A.D. 1047-57

By Paul A. Blaum

International Journal of Kurdish Studies (2004)

Introduction: The reign of the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus (1042-55) was a watershed in the history of the Middle East. For the Christian nations of the “Orient,” particularly Armenia, his reign proved a disastrous turning point, since it was in his time that the Seljuk Turks launched their first massive ghazwa or raid into Byzantine Armenia (1048) and the Byzantine frontier in the East was forever breached. The raid – led by Ibrahim Inal, uterine brother of the sultan Toghrul Beg – was marked by the horrific sack of Arzen or Artze, a huge commercial center near the modern Erzerum, and a short time later by the fierce nocturnal battle near the castle of Kapetrou (Saturday, September 10). Here, a combined Byzantine and Georgian army of 50,000 met the Turks head-on, fought hard, but failed to administer the coup de grace. The nineteenth century British historian George Finlay writes of the holocaust at Arzen: “Never was so great a conflagration witnessed before, and it has only been rivaled by the burning of Moscow. One hundred and forty thousand persons are said to have perished by fire and sword, yet the Turks captured so many prisoners that the slave-markets of Asia were filled with ladies and children from Arzen. The Armenian historians dwell with deep feeling on this terrible calamity, for it commenced a long series of woes which gradually reduced destroyed all the capital accumulated by ages of industry in the mountains of Armenia, and reduced one of the richest and most populous countries in the East to a poor and desolate region.”

In all places through which he passed, Ibrahim Inal left behind a tableau of stupendous devastation. The Arab chronicler Ibn al-Athir notes that Ibrahim brought back from Byzantine territory 100,000 captives and a vast booty loaded on the backs of ten thousand camels. Included in his spoil were eighty thousand coats of mail and an infinite number of beasts of burden. In 1051/52, Eustathius Boilas, a Byzantine magnate who emigrated from Cappadocia to the theme of Iberia (the former Taiq, northeast of Erzerum), could still find the land “foul and unmanageable … inhabited by snakes, scorpions, and wild beasts.”

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