Battle of Manzikert/ Turkish Myth and Muslim Symbol



Manzikert 1071 is neglected milestone battle in history in both Western scholars and Eastern, interestingly in Turkish too. Though Turkish nomads were already migrating to Anatolia before 1071, it was the stand point for Turks that there won’t be any return to Asia again. Anatolia was being rise in front of them as a new homeland. 

History literature is subjective. Unfortunately, Alp Arslan’s nomads did not leave any written records as Attila’s, so we can only read the history of battle from Byzantine records which was written by losers and Muslims whose records were exaggerated Muslim victory over Christianity. Especially Arabic records were propagandist, they sacrificed content to form. Since the enlargement of Islamic Empire had ceased, the victory of Alp Arslan was excellent propaganda material for Muslim World through centuries. Alp Arslan was Ghazi, his army was Islam’s jihadists, victory was seen impossible without help of God as the victory of prophet Mohammad in Badr and behaviour of Alp Arslan was a proof of superior teachings of Islam.

Seljuq empire was founded by Tugril Bey who is the son of Mikail and grandson of Seljuq Bey. Though there was not any written sufficient evidence, it is thought that Seljuq Bey was a former Jewish Army Commander of Khazar because of his sons names were Michael (Mikail), Israel, Moses (Musa), Jonah (Yunus). Seljuqs migrated southern and raid Muslim provinces under Ghaznavids. They became the masters of Khurasan at the end of the battle between Ghaznavids in 1040 in Dandanaqan and Abbasid Caliph honoured Tugrul Bey with the title of sultan in 1055. Seljuqs had became the ruler and protector of Sunni Islam in Persia and Iraq. In 1063, nephew of Tugril, Alp Arslan became sultan and his first target was Fatimids who were Shafi’i. In 1071 Alp Arslan laid siege to Aleppo in Syria.

On the other hand, though Byzantine was not as powerful as their legendary times, they had still the most powerful army in Anatolia and Middle East. When Romanos IV Diogenes became the emperor in 1068, Byzantine changed its strategy and started to follow aggressive strategy. Diogenes decided to capture his former frontier fortress and in order to achieve his aim, collected a large army, contained Normans, Franks, Slavs, Armenians,  Georgians, Turks (Ghuzz, Pechenegs and Cumans).

One of the two major Byzantine sources for the battle, Nicephorus Bryennius, states that when the emperor reached Cappadocia, he sought the advice of his best generals as to whether to continue to march eastwards and fight the Turks there or to wait for them within Byzantine territory. One group of advisers urged the emperor to fight the sultan straightaway. However, the opposing faction within the Byzantine military – two of his commanders, Joseph Trachaneiotes, who headed a large body of troops, and Nicephoris Bryennius  thought that such a plan was very ill-advised and they begged the emperor to wait, or at least to stay in Erzerum, in a place in which it would be favourable for them to fight. Romanus did not heed their advice and advanced further eastwards, secure in the knowledge that he had already chalked up a success against the Turks at Manbij. So Romanus opted for a more aggressive policy, wishing to recapture and garrison the Armenian fortresses of Manzikert and Akhlat which Alp Arslan had recently taken from Byzantium.    

When Romanus reached Manzikert he was joined by one of his commanders, Basilakes, who brought considerable reinforcements from Syria and Armenia. The emperor heard that the sultan was on the move. On receipt of this news, Romanus decided to divide his army into two; one half would stay where they were and the other would proceed to Akhlat with another of his commanders.

The emperor, bringing out his own men to fight, lined them up in front of the ditch. The disposition of the Byzantine army was as follows: Alyates commanded the right wing, whilst the left wing was led by Nicephorus Bryennius. The emperor was in the centre. At the rear was Andronicus Ducas, who was known to harbour hostile feelings towards Romanus. The Byzantine forces advanced in pursuit of the Turks, who retreated in accordance with their usual tactics.

It may be inferred that whilst the Byzantine army remained as a single wall of men, the usual Turkish practice of showering arrows from all sides would not have achieved a great deal. As evening drew near, however, Romanus ordered his troops to retreat before darkness fell. The imperial standard was therefore turned round. The implications of this were not understood equally well in all parts of the army and amongst some troops it was feared that this action had been taken because the emperor had been defeated or even killed. Panic ensued.

It seems likely that when the Byzantine standard was reversed, all the troops did not maintain their order of battle consistently. If this is indeed what occurred, gaps would inevitably have appeared between the various sections of the Byzantine army and some contingents would have become especially vulnerable to Turkish attack. The return to camp would in such a situation be open to interpretation as a retreat, even a rout.

The Turks harassed the retreating Byzantine army to such an extent that Romanus finally gave orders that the troops should turn round again and fight. This order was obeyed by the whole army, except for the rearguard, led by Andronicus Ducas who left the battle with troops under his command. The effect of this action on morale in the Byzantine army can easily be imagined. With the departure of the Byzantine rearguard, the Seljuqs were able to molest the remaining Byzantine army from behind as well as on both wings. Romanus in the centre continued to fight courageously but was eventually captured and taken to Alp Arslan. The Turks also plundered the Byzantine camp and went away with quantities of booty.

The above brief account has followed the description given by Attaleiates. Two Arabic sources, al-Bundari and Ibn al-Adim, mention that the Turks used ambushes. This is confirmed by Nicephorus Bryennius.

Diogenes was honourably freed by Alp Arslan, however there was a new emperor in Constantinople (Michael VII Ducas) and Diogenes was blinded by his enemis and died in 1072. Release of Diogenes was mentioned in various kinds of Arabic chronicles. The most interesting one is chronicle of al-Turtushi (1126). According to Al-Turtishi Alp Arslan gave order to his men that sell Romanus to a man who pay most.  However nobody paid anything to king of Byzantine except a man who offer his dog. At the end of the day they bring the dog and the emperor to Alp Arslan. Alp Arslan said: ‘That is just, because the dog is better than he is! Take the dog and give this dog  to him.”

Although, Seljuq could not give huge damages to Byzantine army, Byzantine could not collect army again because of civil war and this led Turkish invasion of Anatolia.

On the other hand, Turks sovereignity over Islam was accepted in Muslim and they became the protector of Islam for 800 years.