SELJUK TURKS (1050–1300)


Seljuks at the Battle of Malazgirt

The Seljuk Turks were nomadic horsemen who converted to Islam and recognized the Abbasid caliph. They usurped power from the Abbasids and then embraced their culture and conquered much of Central Asia and the Middle East. They were named after one of one their early leaders and converted as a group to Islam through the efforts of Arab missionaries.

The Seljuk Turks created a huge empire that stretched from western China to the Mediterranean and included modern-day Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and parts of Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. At their height, the Seljuk sultan had himself invested as emperor by the caliph of Baghdad. Their success was largely accidental.

The Seljuks emerged at a time when the Bagdad caliphate was weak and the Muslim world was in chaos and was made a number of shifting independent states that fought among themselves with none eing able to establish dominance until the Seljuks came along. The Seljuks ruled for about a century before they were weakened by fights for succession that thrust Central Asia into another period marked by chaos and conflicts between feuding states.

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The entry of the Seljuk Turks into Western Asia in the second half of the eleventh century forms one of the great epochs of world history. It added a third nation, after the Arabs and Persians, to the dominant races of Islam; it prolonged the life of the moribund Cali phate for another two hundred years, it tore Asia Minor away from Christendom and opened the path to the later Ottoman invasion of Europe, it allowed the orthodox Muslims to crush the Ismailian heresy, and provoked in reprisal the murderous activities of the Assassins; it put an end to the political domination of the Arabs in the Near East, it spread the language and culture of Persia over a wide area from Anatolia to Northern India, and by posing a grave threat to the Christian Powers, it impelled the Latin West to undertake the remarkable counter-offensive of The Crusades.” [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=\

Ken Johnson wrote in the New York Times, “The Great Seljuq Empire, which occupied most of western Asia and the Middle East from around 1040 to 1157, was among the more short-lived” empires, “and it left a comparatively modest material inheritance. But if the Seljuq dynasty produced nothing so grand as the pyramids, the Parthenon or the Taj Mahal, it nevertheless presided over a cosmopolitan multicultural age of terrific artistic and intellectual vitality and innovation. In the long run, the Seljuq Empire was not cohesive enough to withstand divisions within its own family dynasty and rebellions by competing tribes. The empire collapsed in the mid-12th century, but its successor states persisted independently in places like Anatolia, Syria and northern Mesopotamia into the early 14th century. /*/

Websites and Resources: Ottoman Empire and Turks: The ; Ottoman Text Archive Project – University of Washington ; Wikipedia article on the Ottoman Empire Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on the Ottoman Empire ; American Travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th Century Shapell Manuscript Foundation ; Ottoman Empire and Turk Resources – University of Michigan ; Turkey in Asia, 1920 ; Wikipedia article on the Turkish People Wikipedia ; Turkish Studies, Turkic republics, regions, and peoples at University of Michigan ; Türkçestan Orientaal's links to Turkic languages ; Turkish Culture Portal ; ATON, the Uysal-Walker Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative at Texas Tech University ; The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

Seljuks and Early Turkish States

In the 11th Turkish tribes began invading western Asia from their homelands in Central Asia. The strongest of these tribes was the Seljuks. In the wake of the Samanids (819-1005) — Persians who set up a local dynasty in Central Asia within the Abbasid Empire — arose to two Turkish dynasties: the Ghaznavids, based in Khorasan in present-day Turkmenistan, and the Karakhanids from present-day Kazakhstan. Karakhanids are credited with converting Central Asia to Islam. The established a large empire that stretched from Kazakhstan to western China and embraced three important cities: Balasagun (present-day Buruna in Kyrzgzstan), Talas (present-day Tara in Kazakhstan) and Kashgar. Bukhara continued as a center of learning. The Karakhanids and Ghaznavids fought one another off and on until they were both out maneuvered diplomatically and militarily by the Seljuk Turks, who created a huge empire that stretched from western China to the Mediterranean.

Founding of the Seljuk Turks

Nomadic Turkic people in China

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The pasture-lands to the north of the Caspian and Aral Seas had long been the home of a group of Turkish tribes known as the Ghuzz or Oghuz, later styled Turkomans. About 950 a number of clans withdrew from the Ghuzz confederacy, and settled in and around Jand, along the lower reaches of the Jaxartes, under a chief named Seljuk. A few years later they abandoned their ancestral shamanism for Islam, a change of faith as momentous for the future of Aia as the conversion of Clovis and his Franks to Catholicism in 496 was to Christian Europe. Seljuk is a semi-legendary figure who is said to have lived to the patriarchal age of 107, but he seems to have been an able leader, who welded his people into a first-class fighting force and by adroit diplomacy played off one neighbouring prince against another. He supported the Samanids against the Kara- Khanids; his son Arslan ran into trouble with Mahmud of Ghazna, to whom he boasted that he had 100,000 bowmen under his command, whereupon Mahmud's minister advised his master to have these men's thumbs cut off, so that they could no longer draw the bow! [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

“However, Mahmud contented himself with holding Arslan as a hostage for the good behaviour of his people, some of whom he brought into Khurasan and settled in widely-separated areas in the hope that they could thus be kept under control. The hope was vain: the tribesmen began raiding all over northern Persia and holding towns to ransom. After Mahmud's death in 1030, the rest of the tribe, led by Arslan's nephews Tughril-Beg and Chaghri-Beg, after encamping for a time in Khwarazm, along the lower Oxus, pushed their way into Khurasan and in 1036 seize Merv and Nishapur. Mahmud's son Mas'ud, attempting to bar their path, was routed with heavy loss at Dandankan near Merv in 1040, and retreated on Ghazna. From this battle dates the foundation of the Seljuk Empire. \=\

Advance of the Seljuk Turks

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The Seljuks now moved westwards into the disintegrating realm of the Buyids. Conditions in Persia and Iraq favoured their intervention. Political power had been split up among the various members of the Buyid family. The semi-feudal practice had grown up of paying high officials out of the taxes of certain fiscal districts: hence there was a serious loss of control by the central government. The Fatimid policy of diverting trade with the East from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea had impoverished the Buyid State. Isma'ilian propaganda helped to undermine its authority. It had no outlet to the Mediterranean since the Byzantines and the Fatimids had divided Syria between them. The urban merchant class resented the loss of trade and the arrogance of the military aristocracy. Local dynasties, some Arab, some Kurdish, sprang up and drained the strength of the regime. Orthodox Muslims chafed under the rule of Shi'ites, especially those unable to maintain peace and order. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

Seljuk empire at its greatest extent

Rulers of Iraq and Syria before the Seljuks
Dynasty, Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Hamdanid—Mosul: 317–391: 927–1000
Nasir al-Dawla al-Hasan: 317–58: 929–69
cUddat al-Dawla Abu Taghlib: 358–79: 969–89
Ibrahim / al-Husayn (joint rule): 379–91: 989–1000
Hamdanid—Aleppo: 333–394: 945–1004
Sayf al-Dawla cAli I: 333–56: 945–67
Sacd al-Dawla Sharif I: 356–81: 967–91
Sacid al-Dawla Sacid: 381–92: 991–1002
cAli II: 392–94: 1002–4
Sharif II: 394: 1004
Mirdasid: 414–472: 1023–1079
cUqaylid: 380–489: 990–1096
Marwanid: 372–478: 983–1085
Mazyadid: 350–545: 961–1150
Inalid: 490–579: 1096–1183
[Source: Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art]


Buyid—Fars and Khuzistan: 322–454: 934–1062
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
cImad al-Dawla cAli: 322–38: 934–49
cAdud al-Dawla Fana-Khusraw: 338–72: 949–83
Sharaf al-Dawla Shirzil: 372–80: 983–90
Samsam al-Dawla Marzuban: 380–88: 990–98
Baha' al-Dawla Firuz: 388–403: 998–1012
Sultan al-Dawla: 403–12: 1012–21
Musharrif al-Dawla Hasan: 412–15: 1021–24
cImad al-Din Marzuban: 415–40: 1024–48
al-Malik al-Rahim Khusraw-Firuz: 440–47: 1048–55
Fulad-Sutun (Fars only): 447–54: 1055–62

Buyid dynasty before the Slejuks

Buyid—Kirman: 324–440: 936–1048
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Mucizz al-Dawla Ahmad: 324–38: 936–49
cAdud al-Dawla Fana-Khusraw: 338–72: 949–83
Samsam al-Dawla Marzuban: 372–88: 983–98
Baha' al-Dawla Firuz: 388–403: 998–1012
Qawam al-Dawla: 403–19: 1012–28
cImad al-Din Marzuban: 419–40: 1028–48
Buyid—Jibal: 320–366: 932–977
cImad al-Dawla cAli: 320–35: 932–47
Rukn al-Dawla Hasan: 335–66: 947–77

Buyid—Hamadan and Isfahan: 366–419: 977–1028
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Mu'ayyid al-Dawla Buya: 366–73: 977–83
Fakhr al-Dawla cAli: 373–87: 983–97
Shams al-Dawla: 387–412: 997–1021
Sama' al-Dawla: 412–ca. 419: 1021–ca. 1028
Buyid—Rayy: 366–420: 977–1029
Fakhr al-Dawla cAli: 366–87: 977–97
Majd al-Dawla Rustam: 387–420: 997–1029
Buyid—cUman: 363–388: 974–998
Dulafid: 210–284: 825–898
Banijurid: 233–237: 848–948
Qarakhanid: 382–607: 992–1222
Khwarazmshah—Afrighid: ?–385: ?–995
Khwarazmshah—Ma'munids: 385–408: 995–1017
Khwarazmshah—Governors: 408–425: 1017–1034
Khwarazmshah—Anushtigin line: 470–624: 1077–1231
Anushtigin Gharcha'i: ca. 470–90: ca. 1077–97
[Turkish governor: 490: 1097]
Qutb al-Din Muhammad: 490–521: 1097–1127
cAla' al-Din Atsiz: 521–51: 1127–56
Il-Arslan: 551–67: 1156–72
cAla' al-Din Tekish: 567: 1172
[Rival ruler: 567–89: 1172–93]
cAla' al-Din Muhammad: 596–617: 1200–1220
Jalal al-Din: 617–28: 1220–31
Ziyarid: 315–483: 927–1090
Hasanwayhid: 348–405: 959–1014
Ilyasid: 320–357: 932–968
Kakuyid: 398–443: 1008–1051

Creation of the Seljuk Empire In Iran and Iraq

Persian image of a standing soldier holding a sword

The Turks began their rise to power when one of their leaders was denied the hand of daughter from another tribe, the Juan Juans, who enlisted the Turk's help. The leader married a daughter of Chinese group who united with Turks to break the Juan Juans. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

The first great state which carried the name Turk was the Kok-Turk State which extended from Manchuria to the Black Sea and Iran between the A.D. 6th and 8th centuries. This empire had trade links with China, Iran and the Byzantines and left behind inscriptions and an unusual alphabet on stones in Mongolia.

The Seljuks (Seljuqs, Sejuk Turks) were a clan of the Oghuz (or Ghuzz) Turks, who lived north of the Oxus River (present-day Amu Darya). The Turkish migrations after the sixth century were part of a general movement of peoples out of central Asia during the first millennium A.D. that was influenced by a number of interrelated factors--climatic changes, the strain of growing populations on a fragile pastoral economy, and pressure from stronger neighbors also on the move. Among those who migrated were the Oguz Turks, who had embraced Islam in the tenth century. They established themselves around Bukhara in Transoxania under their khan, Seljuk. Split by dissension among the tribes, one branch of the Oguz, led by descendants of Seljuk, moved west and entered service with the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. [Source: Library of Congress, January 1995 *]

Ken Johnson wrote in the New York Times, “A Turkic tribe named after a 10th-century ancestral chief, they came from the steppes east of the Caspian Sea, where they converted from their traditional shamanistic beliefs to Islam. Around A.D. 1000, they began moving south in search of fresh grazing lands. Under the shared leadership of Seljuq’s grandsons Tughril and Chaghri, they eventually ruled over a territory extending from Afghanistan to Syria. [Source: Ken Johnson, New York Times, January 9, 2016]

Turkish Tribes in the Middle Ages

Seljuk perfume burner

Dominant Turkic tribes in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries included the Uighars, Khazars, Kipchacks and Seljucks. The Mongols were slightly related to Turkic groups. One of the main differences between the Mongols and the Turks is that the Mongols tended to return home after their conquests while the Turks tended to stay in their conquered lands. The Russians lumped the Mongols, Tatar and Turks together and called them "Tatars."

All the Turkic tribes converted to Islam except for the reindeer herding Yakuts in Siberia and the Chuvash in the Volga region of Russia, but the wolf mythology stayed with them. Ninth century stelae in Mongolia show young Turkic children suckling from the teats of a mother wolf like Romulus and Remus, and the Osmanli Turks, the forbears of the Ottomans, marched with banners depicting a wolf's head when they conquered their way from Central Asia to the outskirts of Constantinople.

The Abbasids—the Arab-Muslim rulers of Bahgdad—were displaced by Turkic-speaking warriors who had been in Central Asia for more than a millennium. The Abbasid caliphs began enlisting these people as slave warriors as early as the ninth century. The Turkish horsemen, known as gazis , were organized into tribal bands to defend the frontiers of the caliphate, often against their own kinsmen.

Shortly thereafter the real power of the Abbasid caliphs began to wane; eventually they became religious figureheads while the warrior slaves ruled. As the power of the Abbasid caliphs diminished, a series of independent and indigenous dynasties rose in various parts of Iran, some with considerable influence and power. Among the most important of these overlapping dynasties were the Tahirids in Khorasan (820-72); the Saffarids in Sistan (867-903); and the Samanids (875-1005), originally at Bukhara (also cited as Bokhara).

The Seljuks took over several Samanid cities. Their leader, Tughril Beg, turned his warriors against the Ghaznavids in Khorasan. He moved south and then west, conquering but not wasting the cities in his path. In 1055, Tugrul Bey occupied Baghdad at the head of an army composed of gazis and mamluks (slave-soldiers, a number of whom became military leaders and rulers). Tugrul forced the caliph (the spiritual leader of Islam) to recognize him as sultan, or temporal leader, in Persia and Mesopotamia.

Suzan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: The Seljuks became the new rulers of the eastern Islamic lands following their defeat of the powerful Ghaznavids at the Battle of Dandanakan (1040). By 1055, the Seljuks had reached and taken over Baghdad, which put an end to Buyid rule, and established themselves as the new protectors of the Abbasid caliphate and Sunni Islam. Within fifty years, the Seljuks created a vast though relatively short-lived empire, encompassing all of Iran, Iraq, and much of Anatolia.[Source: Suzan Yalman, Department of Education, Based on original work by Linda Komaroff Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Seljuk Turks Conquer Baghdad

The Seljuks defeated the Persians and began moving westward and took over Baghdad, then the capital of the Islamic caliphate, in 1055. They came to a special relationship with the Muslim caliph, who at the time was very weak and needed military support. In return for propping up the caliph, the Seljuks — still close to the ir nomadic horseman roots — were able to conquer in the name of Islam and keep the spoils of their conquests.

The Seljuks usurped power from the Abbasids and then embraced their culture, claiming Sunni Orthodoxy, declared themselves sultans "holder of power." The Seljuks proceeded to unify the Muslim world again by conquering Iraq and eastern Asia Minor. The y helped make the Muslim world stringer by allowing the regions to serve a Muslim hierarchy but maintain a degree of autonomy that stretched beyond Seljuk territory. Although places like Cairo, Samarkand and Cordova were not under Seljuk rule they were able to prosper due to stability in the Muslim world and independence at home.

The Seljuks reached their peak under the brilliant Persian vizier Nizamulmulk (ruled 1063 to 1092), who wanted to use the Turks to unify Muslims and rebuild the old Abbasid bureaucracy. He augmented the Seljuk cavalry with a new slave corp that was able to expand the Seljuk empire as far Yemen in the south, Afghanistan in the west and Syria in the west. Under Nizamulmulk, the Seljuk Turks captured Jerusalem and the Holy land in 1071 and held it during the time of the First Crusade.

Seljuk Turks Briefly Occupy Baghdad

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The Abbasids, humiliated by their impotence, yearned for deliverance from their heretic masters, and entered into negotiations with Tughril. One by one the towns of Persia fell into Seljuk hands. In Iraq power was held by the Buyid general Basasiri, who asked for help from Cairo in order to stop the advance of the Seljuks by declaring for the Fatimids. An extraordinary struggle ensued, with Tughril defending the Abbasid Caliph Ka'im and Basasiri striving to get the Fatimid Caliph Mustansir recognized in Baghdad. The Seljuks occupied Baghdad in 1055, but the excesses and indiscipline of the tribesmen provoked a reaction among the populace, and Wasit, Mosul and other places went over to the Fatimids. Tughril recaptured Mosul, and returning to Baghdad in 1058 was solemnly received by Ka'im and given the title of 'King of the East and West'. Called away by a rebellion of his younger brother Ibrahim, he was unable to prevnt Basasiri recovering control of Iraq and proclaiming the Fatimid Imam in Baghdad itself. For forty Fridays the khutba was recited in the Abbasid capital in the name of Mustansir of Cairo. Finally in 1060 the Seljuks fought their way back into Baghdad; Basasiri was killed, and Tughril replaced the Abbasid on his throne. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

Bowl depicting Bahram Gur and Azada

“Many things were decided by this episode. First, the Fatimids lost their last chance of repeating the success of the Abbasids in 750: the failure of Basasiri's coup in Baghdad meant that the Alid Caliph would be restricted to Egypt and the neighbouring lands and would never acquire universal dominion in Islam. Secondly, the fall of the Buyids and the coming of the Seljuks registered a great triumph for Sunnite orthodoxy: the power of the State could now be employed to put down Shi'ism of all kinds and Isma'ilism in particular. Thirdly, the Abbasid Caliphate was restored to some sort of life and independence, but its character was changed, and a new institution -- the Sultanate -- was created in an endeavour to reestablish the political unity of Islam. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

“For the Caliphate, as a centralized monarchy ruling all Muslim peoples, had woefully failed. It could not even preserve the religious and spiritual unity of the umma: half Islam had fallen to the Fatimids. It never developed into a Papacy, for the interpretation of the law and the faith had long passed to the ulama, the canonists and judges. Yet even in its weakness it was still reverered by the new Turkish converts as the symbol of religious legitimacy: the Vicar of the Prophet alone could confer lawful authority on Muslim kings and princes to whom in theory he delegated his powers. Mahmud of Ghazna had been glad to win recognition from the Caliph, and his court poets had hailed him as 'Sultan', a word meaning originally 'governmental power' but henceforth used as a personal title. The Seljuks were even more anxious to have their rule legitimized: as aliens and barbarians they were unpopular with the civilized townsfolk of Persia and Iraq, and Tughril's investiture by the Caliph in 1058, in a magnificent ceremony during which two crowns were held over his head as symbols of his regal authority over East and West, informed the people that the Commander of the Faithful had delegated his sultanate to his Turkish lieutenant. It was now the Sultan's duty to act as the early Caliphs had done, to defend the umma, to extirpate schism and heresy, and to resume the jihad against the nations who rejected God and his Prophet. Politically, the Seljuks were to play Shoguns to the Caliph's Mikado. \=\

Seljuk Rulers

Seljuqs and Atabegs
Great Seljuq: 429–552: 1037–1157
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Rukn al-Dunya wa-l-Din Toghril I (Tughril): 429–55: 1038–63
cAdud al-Dawla Alp-Arslan: 455–65: 1063–72
Jalal al-Dawla Malik Shah I: 465–85: 1072–92
Nasir al-Din Mahmud I: 485–87: 1092–94
Rukn al-Din Berk-yaruq (Barkiyaruq): 487–98: 1094–1105
Mucizz al-Din Malik Shah II: 498: 1105
Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad I: 498–511: 1105–18
Mucizz al-Din Sanjar: 511–52: 1118–57
[Source: Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Alp Arslan wax figure

Seljuq—Iraq: 511–590: 1117–1194
Dynasty, Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Seljuq—Syria: 471–511: 1078–1117
Seljuq—Kirman: 433–583: 1041–1187
Seljuq—Rum: see below under Asia Minor:

Burid: 497–549: 1104–1154

Zangid—Mosul: 521–619: 1127–1222
Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
cImad al-Din Zangi ibn Aq Sonqur: 521–41: 1127–46
Sayf al-Din Ghazi I: 541–44: 1146–49
Qutb al-Din Mawdud: 544–64: 1149–69
Sayf al-Din Ghazi II: 564–72: 1169–76
cIzz al-Din Mascud I: 572–89: 1176–93
Nur al-Din Arslan Shah I: 589–607: 1193–1211
cIzz al-Din Mascud II: 607–15: 1211–18
Nur al-Din Arslan Shah II: 615–16: 1218–19
Nasir al-Din Mahmud: 616–19: 1219–22
Zangid—Aleppo: 541–577: 1146–1181
Nur al-Din Mahmud ibn Zangi: 541–69: 1146–74
Nur al-Din Ismacil: 569–77: 1174–81
Zangid—Sinjar: 566–617: 1170–1220
Zangid—Jazira: 576–648: 1180–1250

Begteginid: 539–630: 1145–1233
Dynasty, Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Artugid—Hisn Kayfa line: 491–629: 1098–1232
Artugid—Mardin line: 497–811: 1104–1408
Suqman Shahs: 493–604: 1100–1207
Eldeguzid: 531–622: 1136–1225
Salghurid: 543–668: 1148–1270
Fadlawayhid: 448–718: 1056–1318
Hazaraspid: 550–827: 1155–1424
Qutlugh Khans: 619–706: 1222–1306

Slejuk general Caka Bey

Seljuq—Rum: 470–707: 1077–1307
Asia Minor and Turkey
Dynasty, Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Sulayman ibn Qutlumush: 470–79: 1077–86
[Interregnum: 479–85: 1086–92]
Qilich Arslan I: 485–500: 1092–1107
Malik Shah: 500–510: 1107–16
Rukn al-Din Mascud I: 510–51: 1116–56
cIzz al-Din Qilich Arslan II: 551–88: 1156–92
Ghiyath al-Din Kay Khusraw I (1st reign): 588–92: 1192–96
Rukn al-Din Sulayman II: 592–600: 1196–1204
cIzz al-Din Qilich Arslan III: 600–601: 1204
Ghiyath al-Din Kay Khusraw I (2nd reign): 601–7: 1204–10
cIzz al-Din Kay Ka'us I: 607–16: 1210–19
cAla' al-Din Kay Qubadh I: 616–34: 1219–37
Ghiyath al-Din Kay Khusraw II: 634–44: 1237–46
cIzz al-Din Kay Ka'us II: 644–46: 1246–48
Kay Ka'us II / Rukn al-Din Qilich Arslan IV (joint rule): 646–47: 1248–49
Kay Ka'us II / Qilich Arslan IV / cAla' al-Din Kay Qubadh II (joint rule): 647–55: 1249–57
Qilich Arslan IV: 655–63: 1257–65
Ghiyath al-Din Kay Khusraw III: 663–81: 1265–82
Ghiyath al-Din Mascud II (1st reign): 681–83: 1282–84
cAla' al-Din Kay Qubadh III (1st reign): 683: 1284
Ghiyath al-Din Mascud II (2nd reign): 683–92: 1284–93
cAla' al-Din Kay Qubadh III (2nd reign): 692–93: 1293–94
Ghiyath al-Din Mascud II (3rd reign): 693–700: 1294–1301
cAla' al-Din Kay Qubadh III (3rd reign): 700–702: 1301–3
Ghiyath al-Din Mascud II (4th reign): 702–4: 1303–5
cAla' al-Din Kay Qubadh III (4th reign): 704–7: 1305–7
Ghiyath al-Din Mascud III: 707: 1307

Menqüchekid: 464–ca. 650: 1071–1252
Dynasty, Ruler, Muslim dates A.H., Christian dates A.D.
Danishmandid: 464–573: 1071–1177
Isfendiyarid: 690–866: 1291–1461
Saru Khanid: 700–813: 1300–1410
Aydinid: 708–829: 1308–1425
Germiyandid: 699–832: 1300–1429
Hamidid: 700–826: 1239–1423
Menteshadid: 700–829: 1300–1426
Eretnaid: 736–782: 1335–1380
Ramadanid: 780–819: 1378–1416
Dhu-l-Qadrid: 738–928: 1337–1552
Karamanid: 654–888: 1256–1483

Seljuk Turks Versus the Byzantines

To the west of the Seljuks were the Byzantines. J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “In the previous age” the Byzantines “had thrust deep into the heart of Islam, had conquered a good deal of Syria and annexed Armenia to the Empire. But the Byzantine revival had now spent itself: the vigorous Macedonian dynasty was no more; the central government was in conflict with the great landed families of Asia Minor and in order to reduce their power, had cut down the military establishment, thereby rendering the Empire defensively weak against the new assault from the East. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

Seljuk Alp Arslan humiliating the Byzantine Emporer Romanus

“The Turks drove towards the Byzantine frontiers, partly by design, partly by accident. Their coming had produced something of a social crisis in the Persian and Arab lands. In a society where the fundamental distinction was between believer and unbeliever, the fact that the Turks were Muslims counted for much; but even so, the educated city-dweller could scarcely avoid a feeling of disgust at the presence of these coarse and uncouth sons of the steppes. The chroniclers of the time draw a sharp contrast between the Sultans and their people: 'Their princes are warlike, provident, firm, just and distinguished by excellent qualities: the nation is cruel, wild, coarse and ignorant.' To make matters worse, once the barrier of the Oxus was down, the regular Seljuk forces, cavalrymen of slave origin, were followed by swarms of Turkomans', free and undisciplined nomads seeking pasture and plunder, who raided estates, destroyed crops, robbed merchant caravans, and fought other nomads, such as Kurds and Bedouin Arabs, for the possession of wells and grazing-lands. Many of them poured into Azerbaijan, a fertile province of orchards and pastures which in a few generations became mainly Turkish-speaking, and from there began raiding Byzantine territory.

“When Tughril died childless in 1063, the Sultanate passed to his nephew Alp Arslan ('hero lion'), Chagri's son, who was probably anxious to divert the stream of nomadic violence away from the lands of Islam towards Christendom and at the same time to win glory as a ghazi, or champion of the faith. His armies pushed into the valleys of Armenia and Georgia, while the Turkomans plunged deeper and deeper into Anatolia. An appeal from the enemies of the Fatimids then diverted him into southern Syria, but his plans for an invasion of Egypt were abandoned at the news of an impending massive Byzantine counter-stroke. \=\

Battle of Manzikert

In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks established a small sultanate on Anatolia call Rum (Rome). From here they attacked the Byzantines in Asia Minor, and Arabs in Syria and Palestine. In 1070 the Seljuks took Syria from the Fatimids and entered Byzantine territory. In 1071, they defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert near Lake Van, and took the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogense prisoner. This effectively ended Byzantine rule in Anatolia. The Seljuk Turks gazis cut deeper into Byzantine territory, raiding and taking booty according to their tradition. Some served as mercenaries in the private wars of Byzantine nobles and occasionally settled on land they had taken. The Seljuks followed the gazis into Anatolia in order to retain control over them.*

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The Emperor Romanus Diogenes had resolved on a desperate effort to clear the Turkish raiders out of his dominions, and at the head of a motley army of mercenaries, including Normans from the west and Pechenegs and Uzes (Turkish tribes) from southern Russia, he marched eastwards into Armenia. Alp Arslan, hurriedly returning, met him at Manzikert, near the shores of Lake Van. The Normans started a quarrel and refused to fight for the Emperor; his Turkish mercenaries, perhaps unwilling to face their kinsmen, deserted, and this, combined with Romanus's bad generalship, produced (August 1071) a catastrophic Byzantine defeat. For the first time in history, a Christian Emperor fell a prisoner into Muslim hands. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

"Alp Arslan stands out a not unattractive figure, his name indissolubly connected with the momentous battle which turned Asia Minor into a Turkish land. We picture him as an impressive soldier in his thirties, his long moustaches tied over his tall Persian cap to prevent them interfering with his shooting. In his humanity and generosity he anticipates Saladin. He treated the captive Emperor with courtesy, and when the ransom money was paid sent him home with a Turkish escort. Perhaps he hardly grasped the significance of his victory. He had no plans to conquer Asia Minor and destroy the Byzantine State; he was soon called away to deal with a Kara-Khanid invasion from Transoxiana, and in 1073, while interrogating a rebel chief, the man suddenly sprang at him and stabbed him dead.

Some have argued that Manzikert was not a pivotal battle. In a review of Erik Hildinger’s “Warriors of the Steppe”, Christopher Berg wrote: “As others have pointed out, the real threat was a combination of poor decisions by the Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. The true culprit was a series of strategic and tactical mistakes that led to the collapse of Byzantine influence in Asia Minor, a blow they would never recover from. Political intrigue and instability in the capital coupled with an army that consisted of more mercenaries than loyal Byzantines were concomitants but they were of secondary importance. Had Romanus made wiser decisions in planning and execution his campaign, it is possible that the outcome, even with betrayal by a rival, could have been different. [Sources: “Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia 500BC to 1700AD” by Erik Hildinger (Da Capo Press, 1997); Christopher Berg, Sam Houston State University /^]


After Manzikert

Byzantine territory was greatly reduced by the defeat at Manzikert in 1071. At first only a few Seljuks entered Asia Minor, but when they defeated the Byzantines at Malazgirt the floodgates opened and waves of Turkish immigrants poured in. Anatolia was seen as the new frontier . Seljuk military hordes roamed freely through Anatolia with their animals and set up small states.

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “In fact, Manzikert struck a fatal blow at Christian and imperial power in Anatolia. With the Byzantine field-army gone, the Turks spread over the central plateau, so well adapted for pastoral settlement; in the struggles for the throne which now ensued, rival pretenders hired Turkish troops, and in this way the nomads got possession of towns and fortresses they could never have taken otherwise. The Greek landlords and offlcials fled; the peasants, deprived of their natural leaders, in time adopted the religion of their new masters, and the faith of Muhammad was taught in the lands where St. Paul had proclaimed the gospel of Christ. With Asia Minor, its principal source of soldiers and revenue, lost, menaced by the aggression of the Normans from Italy and the Pechenegs from across the Danube, the Byzantine Empire faced total ruin, and appeals for help to the Pope and the Latin world went out from Constantinople which produced twenty-five years after Manzikert the preaching of the First Crusade. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

“On the murder of Alp Arslan, he was succeeded as Sultan by his son Malik-Shah, a youth of eighteen whose twenty years' reign (1073-1092) marked the fullest ezpansion of Seljuk power. Malik-Shah was a more cultivated man than his father and great-uncle, who were essentially rough tribal chiefs, and he wisely entrusted the civil administration to the great Persian minister usually known by his title Nizam al-Mulk, 'order of the kingdom'. A just and humane ruler, he received the praise of Christian and Muslim historians alike. His suzerainty was recognized from Kashgar to the Yemen, but risings and disturbances were not uncommon in his vast dominions, and he was obliged to leave to others the conduct of operations against the Byzantines and the Fatimids. A cadet of the Seljuk family, Sulaiman b.Kutulmish, founded a durable State in Asia Minor, the so-called Sultanate of Rum; he captured Nicaea in 1081 and threatened Constantinople itself. The war on the Fatimids was inaugurated, not by the Seljuks, but by a Turkoman chief named Atsiz, who in 1070 marched into Palestine and drove the Egyptians out of Jerusalem. Malik-Shah could not tolerate this, and gave his brother Tutush charge of the Syrian front. The Fatimids proved tougher opponents than might have been expected: the Seljuks were not destined to heal the schism that had rent the Muslim world for nearly two centuries. \=\


Sultanate of Rum

Within ten years of the Battle of Manzikert, the Seljuks had won control of most of Anatolia. Although successful in the west, the Seljuk sultanate in Baghdad reeled under attacks from the Mongols in the east and was unable--indeed unwilling--to exert its authority directly in Anatolia. The gazis carved out a number of states there, under the nominal suzerainty of Baghdad, states that were continually reinforced by further Turkish immigration. The strongest of these states to emerge was the Seljuk sultanate of Rum ("Rome," i.e., Byzantine Empire), which had its capital at Konya (Iconium). During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Rum became dominant over the other Turkish states. [Source: Library of Congress, January 1995 *]

The society and economy of the Anatolian countryside were unchanged by the Seljuks, who had simply replaced Byzantine officials with a new elite that was Turkish and Muslim. Conversion to Islam and the imposition of the language, mores, and customs of the Turks progressed steadily in the countryside, facilitated by intermarriage. The cleavage widened, however, between the unruly gazi warriors and the state-building bureaucracy in Konya.

Seljuks Versus Fatimids

The Egypt-based Fatimids were also rivals of the Seljuks: J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The Fatimid regime had, in fact made a surprising recovery from what had seemed certain ruin. A dreadful six years' famine had paralysed Egypt from 1067 to 1072; the civil government virtually broke down; thousands fled from the country, and the misery of those who remained was heightened by the brutal lawlessness of the Turkish, Berber and Sudanese slave soldiery who killed and robbed in quest of food and plunder. The Fatimid Empire all but vanished. The Maghrib had long been lost; Sicily was conquered by the Normans from South Italy, Atsiz seized Palestine, and the Abbasid Caliph was once more prayed for in the Holy Cities. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

“But in 1073 Mustansir called in the governor of Acre, Badr al-Jamali, a brilliant general of Armenian birth, to restore order; the mutinous troops were disciplined, the defences of Cairo were strengthened, trade revived, the revenues rose, and prosperity returned. The price paid was the creation of a military dictatorship, Badr, with the title of Amir al-Juyush, 'Commander of the Armies,' replacing the civilian wazir, and the Caliph being reduced almost to the level of the Abbasids under Buyid rule. \=\

“Badr then set out to recover Syria, and though he failed to regain Damascus, which fell to the Seljuks in 1076, he succeeded in checking Tutush's advance to the Egyptian frontier and in re-establishing Fatimid authority along the Levantine coast as far as Tyre and Sidon. The Alid Caliphate, though shorn of much of its glory, was put on its feet again and enabled to survive for another century. When Badr died in 1094, a few months before the aged Caliph, Seljuk hopes of restoring Egypt to orthodoxy had been frustrated, and the rival parties were still struggling for the control of Syria, a situation highly advantageous to the Latin Crusaders who broke into the Levant three or four years later.” \=\

Assassination of Nizam al-Mulk

Seljuk Turks and the Assassins

The greatest threat to Seljuk rule came from radical Sufis and Shiites, who had became disillusioned by the corruption of the Fatimid empire and remained disillusioned under the Seljuk. The most powerful and radical of these Sufi sects were the Ismaili, also known as the Assassins, a medieval terrorist groups the seized Seljuk strongholds, and murdering leading amirs. By 1092, the were leading a full scale revolt they believed was championing the rights or ordinary people.

The terrorist campaign by the Assassins was met with strong counter attacks. The amirs launched a military and propaganda campaign against them and rounded u suspected Ismailis and had them executed. This campaign was effective. In end it made ordinary people suspicious of not only the Ismaelis but also Shiite Muslims and Sufis.

The first victim of the infamous assassins, an 11th century Muslim sect living in a cliffside fortress in Persia, was Nizam al-Mulk, Grand Vizier of the Seljuk sultan Malikshah. The executioner, disguised as a holy man, stabbed the vizier with a dagger while he was being carried on his litter to his harem. [Source: Pico Iyer, Smithsonian magazine, October 1986 (√)]

Later, the Seljuk sultan Sanjar was warned it was in his best interest to sign a peace treaty with the assassins when a dagger was plunged next to his bed while he slept. A message that followed read: "Did I not wish the sultan well that dagger which was struck hard into the hard ground would have been placed in his soft breast." This point was driven home when Sanjar was given a demonstration of assassin loyalty by their leader Hasan-i Sabbah. When Hasan gave the word one young follower slit his own throat and another threw himself of the fortress walls to his death. Hasan said that he had 60,000 other men who prepared to the same: Sanjar showed good judgment, many would agree, by signing the peace treaty.√

See the Assassins, Under World Topics, Terrorism

Seljuk Turks and the Crusaders

The Seljuk dynasty began declining at the end of the 11th century. The uluma system remained in place but without strong central authority and local leaders constantly fought among themselves. This became most apparent during the Crusaders, when European invaders were able to move relatively easily through Seljuk territory because local amirs were preoccupied with fighting each other.

In 1091, the Byzantine Emperor asked Pope Urban II for help battling the Seljuks. In 1095, the Crusaders came to the aid of the Byzantines and helped drive the Seljuks from Iznik and western Anatolia. The Byzantines had struck a deal, allowing the Crusaders to pass through Constantinople on their way to the Holy Land in return for handing over any territory they took from the Seljuks.

With the help of the Crusaders of the First Crusade, Byzantine was able to win back much of the territory lost to the Seljuks. In 1097, the Seljuks were kicked out of Nicaea and driven eastward into Anatolia. The Seljuks then established a provincial capital in Konya. Later the Seljuks were able to win back much of the land taken by the Crusaders and managed to hold on to Anatolia through all Seventh Crusade. Konya reached its peak under the leadership of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in the 13th century but the Seljuk empire as a whole was never as strong as it was.

Seljuks and the First Crusade

The success of the Seljuk Turks stimulated a response from Latin Europe in the form of the First Crusade. A counteroffensive launched in 1097 by the Byzantine emperor with the aid of the crusaders dealt the Seljuks a decisive defeat. Konya fell to the crusaders, and after a few years of campaigning Byzantine rule was restored in the western third of Anatolia. [Source: Library of Congress]

The First Crusade began in 1095. Some crusaders went by land led by princes from France Burgundy, and Normandy. Seafaring contingents from England, Italy and Flanders, arrived in Syria in 1098. Crusaders set up states along the Syrian coast. A Burgundy duke was christened, king of Jerusalem. The crusaders wore clothes stitched with crosses and mussel shells, and one of the main leaders was Duke Godfrey of Belgium. He commanded an army of 4,000 or 5,000 mounted knights and 30,000 foot soldiers and countless civilians. He helped launch the successful assault of Jerusalem that was staged three years after the crusaders left their homelands. The Christians Europeans only held Jerusalem for a few decades before the Muslims led by Saladin the Kurd reclaimed it. [Sources: National Geographic, "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Crusaders suprosed by the Turks

The first crusaders had more problems in Turkey than anywhere else. During a battle at a Turkish-held castle in Iznik, there were reports of Christian soldiers being killed by a stone hurling giant. The crusaders answered back by catapulting heads of victims they had killed over the wall. Near Constantinople thousands were killed in an ambush. Many more died of starvation and thirst on the Turkish steppes when the Turks fell back, destroying crops and blocking wells as they went. Crusaders in the First Crusade slaughtered Jews and Muslims. Many Crusaders had little interst in reaching the Holy Land; they were more interested in raping and pillaging along the way. Local people often rose up against them.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:  Most historians consider the sermon preached by Pope Urban II at Clermont-Ferrand in November 1095 to have been the spark that fueled a wave of military campaigns to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim control. Considered at the time to be divinely sanctioned, these campaigns, involving often ruthless battles, are known as the Crusades. At their core was a desire for access to shrines associated with the life and ministry of Jesus, above all the Holy Sepulcher, the church in Jerusalem said to contain the tomb of Christ (2005.100.373.100). Absolution from sin and eternal glory were promised to the Crusaders, who also hoped to gain land and wealth in the East. Nobles and peasants responded in great number to the call and marched across Europe to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire. With the support of the Byzantine emperor, the knights, guided by Armenian Christians (57.185.3), tenuously marched to Jerusalem through Seljuk-controlled territories in modern Turkey and Syria.  [Source:Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“In June 1099, the Crusaders began a five-week siege of Jerusalem, which fell on July 15, 1099 (92.1.15). Eyewitness accounts attest to the terror of battle. Ralph of Caen, watching the city from the Mount of Olives, saw "the scurrying people, the fortified towers, the roused garrison, the men rushing to arms, the women in tears, the priests turned to their prayers, the streets ringing with cries, crashing, clanging and neighing." The Crusaders then took over many of the cities on the Mediterranean coast and built a large number of fortified castles all over the Holy Land to protect their new territories, , while also establishing churches loyal to Rome. For the Crusaders, the Dome of the Rock was the Temple of Solomon; the Aqsa mosque was converted to use as a palace and stables.\^/

Battle of Antioch

Massacre of Antioch

Antioch castle was the site of a famous battle between 11th century Crusaders and Seljuk Turks. After a siege of several months, the Crusaders captured the castle by bribing a watchmen, but once inside they quickly became trapped without supplies. Just as all seemed lost one of Crusaders had a vision that the lance used to pierce Christ's side before his crucifixion was buried underneath the castle. The next day the Crusaders began digging. They found a lance and this inspired them to drive off the Turks and eventually capture Jerusalem.

Count Stephen of Blois wrote in March 1099: "We found the city of Antioch very extensively fortified with the greatest strength and almost impossible to be taken. In addition 5,000 bold Turkish soldiers had entered the city, not counting Saracens, Publicans, Arabs, Turcopolitans, Syrians, Armenians and other different races.

"In fighting against these enemies of God" we "endured many sufferings and innumerable hardships...throughout the whole winter we suffered for Lord Christ from excessive cold and enormous torrents of rain...Very many of our Franks, indeed, would have met a bodily death from starvation if the mercy of God and our money had not come to their rescue."

"I delight to tell you what happened to us during Lent...The Turks collected an army, fell suddenly upon our two leaders and forced them into a perilous flight. In the unexpected fight we lost 500 of our foot soldiers...But by God’s grace things turned out very differently; for when they tried to build a bridge across the great river Moscholum we followed them as closely as possible, killed many before they reached the bridge and very many at the narrow entrance to the gate...we killed 30 emirs...and 300 other Turkish nobles...Indeed the number of Turks and Saracens killed is reckoned at 1,230, but our we did not lose a single man."

Aftermath of the First Crusade

The Crusades gave trade during the Middle Ages a big push. The crusades opened up trade with the Muslim world, which was also a conduit for products from the Orient. Crusaders returned to Europe with spices and perfumes, knowledge of a world outside their own and a taste for the exotic. States like Venice grew rich selling silks, perfumes and spices and bankers in Italy grew rich financing the purchase of these items for clerics, popes, kings and nobles.

ruined Slejuk mosque

After the Crusaders captured Antioch in 1098, they ruled the coast from northern Syria to the Red Sea for nearly two hundred years. Occupying the network of magnificent castles were historical figures—such as Richard the Lion Hearted, Louis IX of France and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa— and warrior monks—like the white-coated Knights of Templar, the scarlet red Knights of St. John of the Hospital and the Order of Lazarus, made up almost entirely of knights with leprosy.

Establishment of castles during the Crusades helped make the Mediterranean safe for European vessels. Money generated fueled the wars fought between sea powers like Venice, Pisa and Genoa, and banking and overland trade powers like Florence and Milan. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

In Turkey there are several castles, most notably in Bodrum, that were built during the crusades. These castles were positioned along the overland and sea crusade routes, offering protection, lodging and medical care for the crusaders. Organizations that ran the hospitals and protected the castles, like the Knights of St. John, became as powerful as nations.

Although a Turkish revival in the 1140s nullified many of the Christian gains, greater damage was done to Byzantine security by dynastic strife in Constantinople in which the largely French contingents of the Fourth Crusade and their Venetian allies intervened. In 1204 these crusaders installed Count Baldwin of Flanders in the Byzantine capital as emperor of the so-called Latin Empire of Constantinople, dismembering the old realm into tributary states where West European feudal institutions were transplanted intact. Independent Greek kingdoms were established at Nicaea and Trebizond (present-day Trabzon) and in Epirus from remnant Byzantine provinces. Turks allied with Greeks in Anatolia against the Latins, and Greeks with Turks against the Mongols. In 1261 Michael Palaeologus of Nicaea drove the Latins from Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire, but as an essentially Balkan state reduced in size to Thrace and northwestern Anatolia. [Source: Library of Congress]

Decline of the Seljuk Empire

Suzan Yalman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ By the close of the eleventh century, as the Seljuk realm in Iran became troubled due to internal conflicts and the division of the realm among heirs, the empire dissolved into separate territories governed by different branches of the dynasty. The main branch of the Seljuk house, the so-called Great Seljuks, maintained control over Iran. [Source: Suzan Yalman, Department of Education, Based on original work by Linda Komaroff Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Seljuk coins

A serious internal threat to the Seljuks, came from the Ismailis, a secret sect with headquarters at Alumut between Rasht and Tehran. They controlled the immediate area for more than 150 years and sporadically sent out adherents to strengthen their rule by murdering important officials. The word assassins, which was applied to these murderers, developed from a European corruption of the name applied to them in Syria, hashishiyya, because folklore had it that they smoked hashish before their missions. The first half of the thirteenth century corresponds to the zenith of Seljuk power in Anatolia. This period was short lived. The Seljuks were defeated by the Ilkhanids, the Mongol dynasty ruling in Iran, at the Battle of Köse Dagh (1243), after which the Seljuks became Mongol vassals.

J.J. Saunders wrote in “A History of Medieval Islam”: “The Seljuks rendered notable service to Islam, but their successes were balanced by many failures. They brought a new vigour and unity into Western Asia and put an end to the decadent regime of the Buyids. They dealt a staggering blow to Byzantine power by winning Asia Minor for Islam, a feat the Arabs had never been able to achieve, thereby breaking down the last defences of Christendom on the Asiatic continent, and opening up this ancient land to Turkish colonial settlement. Their vehement orthodoxy checked the spread of Isma'ilism, which was in future able to operate only as an underground terrorist movement whose agents became notorious as the Assassins. Under Seljuk protection the champions of Sunnite Islam launched a strong propaganda drive against heretics and deviators from the true faith: madrasas or 'college-mosques' were founded in the principal cities for the instruction of students in fikh (Islamic jurisprudence), according to the teaching of the four orthodox schools. The best known of these institutions was the Nizamiya Madrasa in Baghdad, named after Nizam al-Mulk and dedicated by him in 1067. Orthodoxy produced at this time its ablest defender in al-Ghazali, who died in 1111, and whose massive and comprehensive system of theology has won him the title of 'the Aquinas of Islam'. [Source: J.J. Saunders, “A History of Medieval Islam,” (London: Routledge, 1965), chap. 9. "IX The Turkish Irruption" \=]

“On the other hand, the Seljuks proved unable to create a strong, durable and centralized Empire or to destroy the Fatimid Anti-Caliphate in Egypt. Their conceptions of government were primitive, and despite the efforts of Nizam al-Mulk to instruct them in the principles of ancient Persian despotism, which he regarded as the only satisfactory form of rule, they treated their realm as family property to be divided up among sons and nephews, who if minors were entrusted to the care of atabegs ('father-chiefs'), usually generals of servile origin who governed their appanages until their wards came of age and who often became hereditary princes in their own right. Until the death of Malik-Shah in 1092 some degree of unity was preserved, but under the fourth Seljuk Sultan Berkyaruk (1095-1114) the Empire was changed into a kind of federation of autonomous princes, not all of them Turks, for in certain localities Buyid and Kurdish chiefs held sway while admitting only a vague Seljuk suzerainty. /=/

“Incessant struggles for the succession further weakened the Empire and gave the Abbasid Caliphs a chance to recover some of their power by playing off one candidate for the Sultanate against another. Political disintegration was hastened by the spread of the ikta system, by which military officers were paid out of the revenues of certain landed estates, ikta meaning literally a 'section' or portion of land 'cut off' for that purpose, and in some respects resembling the knight's fee of Western feudalism. Ikta holding tended to become hereditary and the 'fief thus escaped from the jurisdiction of the central government. By 1100 the best days of the Seljuks were over, and it was precisely at this Juncture that the Franks chose to launch against Islam the strange Christian counter-offensive which we know as The Crusades.” \=\

Seljuk Dynasty family tree

End of the Seljuk Turks

The Seljuk empire was divided into states in the 12th century: one was ruled by Seljuks and the other by Mamluks (a military caste of former Turk, Kurd and Circassian slaves). The Mamluks occupied Egypt and the Holy Land until the Ottomans took over.↕

The Seljuk dynasty ended with the invasion of the Mongols in 1243. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad and a number of other great Muslim cities. The Seljuks in Konya surrendered and submitted to the Mongols and after that lost their hold in Anatolia and disappeared from history.

Seljuk Rum survived in the late thirteenth century as a vassal state of the Mongols, who had already subjugated the Great Seljuk sultanate at Baghdad. Mongol influence in the region had disappeared by the 1330s, leaving behind gazi amirates competing for supremacy. From the chaotic conditions that prevailed throughout the Middle East, however, a new power emerged in Anatolia--the Ottoman Turks.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History “ by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples “ by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures“ edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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