How important was the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 to the Rise of the Seljuk Turks?

How important was the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 to the Rise of the Seljuk Turks?

By Amanda Mazur

Published Online (2010)

In this 15th-century French miniature depicting the Battle of Manzikert, the combatants are clad in contemporary Western European armour.

Introduction: A truly decisive battle, Manzikert broke the Byzantine border defenses, opened Anatolia to Turkic in-migration and so launched a new phase in the expansion of the frontiers of Islam.

During the latter years of the 11th Century, the Byzantine Empire was in a state of constant flux. The successive reigns 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 aforementioned quote, taken from C.V. Findley’s The Turks in World History concisely demonstrates the importance that this day had on the Byzantines, and how in essence, this one battle can be seen as the starting point for the Turk’s increasingly successful military drive westwards.

Various incursions by surrounding forces were descending deeper into the Empire. In the East, the Turks were gaining territory through Anatolia, whilst the Normans under the watch of Robert Guiscard were slowly capturing any remaining footholds within Southern Italy. It was not just foreign expeditions which were leading to this demise; the constant internal strife between the military and civil aristocracy was creating divides between the leading families, and as such, much of the army was based on mercantile “thematic” troops, who were drawn from the furthest parts of the Empire, and as such held allegiances that could be easily swayed by better fiscal offers. The Seljuk Turks, from their first appearance at the end of the tenth century were known primarily for their military prowess, and as a nomadic people they had little regard for the niceties of land-ownership.

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