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8-08-2015, 00:10

The seljuq invasion

However, it was another Turkic group – a branch of the Oghuz named after the founder of their dynasty, Saljuq – who posed the most serious threat to the Byzantines. The Turks, as we have seen, did not appear in the Middle East as a deus ex machina. By the beginning of the tenth century, the Oghuz occupied the lands along the river Jaxartes and between the Aral and Caspian seas, as far as the northern borders of Khorasan. Their lifestyle was similar to that of other Turkic peoples, but their language differed, having dominant voicing consonants and distinctive grammatical features, notably in its system of declension. They formed a complex hierarchy of tribes, whose common ancestor was a legendary Oghuz khagan, and their short-lived ‘state’ under their own yabghu was neither centralised nor organised as a single political or military unit. The dynasty’s founder, Saljuq, son of Duqaq, was a military commander (subas¸i) of the Oghuz yabghu. At the beginning of the eleventh century he lived in Jand, an important emporium on the Jaxartes, where he had fled from the anger of the yabghu who had opposed his conversion to Islam. There, Saljuq began to organise Turkic units of his own. It is important to note that the Oghuz Turks did not unite around Saljuq on a tribal basis. Zahir al-Din Nishapuri, one of the main early Seljuq chroniclers, writing in the twelfth century, listed the five ‘pillars’ of Seljuq power: ‘They [the Seljuqs] were an illustrious family, [which ruled over] a great number [of possessions], with countless riches, well-equipped [military] units (‘iddat), tribes (khail) and retainers (h. asham¯ı ).’5 It was on this basis that the Seljuqs, as one of the richest, most militarily successful clans, came to be recognised as leaders by other Oghuz tribes and finally, in the mid-eleventh century, managed to establish the first great Turkic Muslim state. The nucleus of Seljuq military power, especially at the beginning of their conquests, was their kinsmen, retainers, slaves (ghilman) and servants. The early Seljuq army consisted of three types of unit: the askar, cavalry under the command of the sultan himself; the jund, auxiliary cavalry of the sultans’ retainers, relatives, subordinates or tribal chieftains; and the mushat, or infantry. The other nomadic Oghuz made up part of the jund, but they were extremely unreliable allies. As we shall see, this helps explain why the conquest of Asia Minor continued even when the Byzantine empire and the Great Seljuq sultanate were formally at peace. Saljuq had three sons:Mika’il,Musa and Isra’il/Arslan.Mika’il was killed while still a young man, but he left capable sons, two of whom, Tughril-beg (c. 1037–63) and Chaghri-beg, became the founders of the Seljuq state.6 After breaking away from the yabghu, the Seljuqs moved to the Zarafshan valley near Samarkand, becoming subordinate firstly to the Samanids, and then, from 999, to the Qarakhanids. In 1025 Ali-Tegin, the Qarakhanid ruler of Bukhara, was defeated by Mahmud of Ghazna; Isra’il/Arslan was taken prisoner by the Ghaznavids and imprisoned in India, where he died. The Seljuqs askedMahmud for new lands, and he granted them the northern borders of Khorasan. However, they proved to be unruly subjects and started to raid Ghaznavid territories; in 1027, Mahmud defeated and scattered them. Without a leader, the Seljuqs fled, some reaching Persian Iraq and Azerbaijan in 1029; these were the first Seljuq Turks to appear in the vicinity of the Byzantine borders in Armenia. Under pressure from Shah-Malik of Jand, Tughril-beg moved his people – who formed a separate grouping from Isra’il/Arslan’s – from their pasturing grounds in Khwarizm to the northern borders of Khorasan in 1034; Shah-Malik was probably an Oghuz yabghu and certainly an ally of Sultan Masud I of Ghazna (1030–41). Tughril-beg thus had to seek Masud I’s permission for his Turks to live near Nasa and Farava in Khorasan, in the fertile valleys west of Merv, that separated the province from the sands of Qara Qum. The sultan, preoccupied with trying to conquer India, halfheartedly agreed. However, when Tughril-beg boldly claimed lordship over Merv, one of the richest cities of Khorasan, Masud’s patience snapped. Open warfare between the Seljuqs and the Ghaznavids ended in the defeat of the latter at the decisive battle at Dandanqan on 23 May 1040. Masud escaped to Ghazna, only to be killed the following year on his way back to India; his state survived, mostly in Afghanistan and northern India, but its Iranian lands, Khorasan and Sistan, were lost forever. Tughril-beg was proclaimed amir of Khorasan on the battlefield. Possession of Khorasan gave the Seljuqs an excellent opportunity to conquer the otherGhaznavid territories in Iran. Rayy soon fell, becoming a springboard for further conquests, as didHamadhan in 1043. The newly founded polity was never centralised in the manner of the Ghaznavids or the Samanids. It was, rather, based on the military presence of the Turks in various provinces of Iran, Iraq and later Syria. The Seljuq sultan ruled his vast dominions with the help of his relatives, whom he rewarded with rights, revenues and offices, such as the military command of certain regions. One such region was southern Azerbaijan, which the Seljuq leaders began to occupy from the 1040s onwards, finishing the conquest of the entire province in 1055; and Isra’il’s son Qutlumush was granted the provinces of Gurgan, Damghan and Qumis by his cousin Tughril-beg. As the Seljuqs pushed along the southern Caspian shore and through Azerbaijan, their next targets would inevitably be Armenia and Asia Minor.7 Once the Seljuqs moved into Azerbaijan and Arran, Turkish incursions into Anatolia gathered pace; indeed, the first was launched from Urmia by the Oghuz Turks in 1038, even before Tughril-beg’s arrival in the region. But the most devastating invasions came between the mid-1040s and the early 1050s. In 1045 the Turkish army, probably led byQutlumush, defeated Stephen Leichoudes, the governor of Vaspurakan. In 1047 another member of the Seljuq clan, Hasan the Deaf, governor of Herat and Sijistan, invaded Vaspurakan, but was defeated by Katakalon Kekaumenos, the governor of Ani. In September 1048, in response toHasan’s defeat, the Seljuq commander Ibrahim Inal took Artsn, devastated the area around Theodosioupolis and Basean, and won a resounding victory over the Byzantine armies. The invasion of 1054, led by Tughril-beg himself, engulfed a vast area from Theodosioupolis to Lake Van. But the Byzantines resisted, and Tughril-beg did not dare besiege Theodosioupolis, his primary target. Empress Theodora (1055–6) sent an embassy to the sultan and bought off his claims to Byzantine territory with rich gifts. Tughril-beg’s name was proclaimed in the Friday prayer (khut.ba) in the mosque of Constantinople between April 1055 and March of the following year, and this represented a form of recognition by the Byzantines that Tughril-beg was now the secular protector and guarantor of the Muslim faithful in Constantinople.8 A temporary halt to incursions by the sultan and his closest relatives was brought about by this peace agreement, and also by Tughril-beg’s preoccupation with Baghdad, which he seized in 1055 and again four years later. But the treaty could not stop repeated raiding by other Turks in the midto late 1050s. In the winter of 1057–8 Melitene was taken by a chieftain named Dinar, and Sebasteia, home to our colophon’s author Gregory, fell on 6 August 1059. The leaders of these Turkish raids included Samukh, Amr K‘ap‘r (whose name derives from am¯ır-i kab¯ır, meaning ‘great amir’), Gichachichi and a commander-in-chief (sip¯ah-s¯al¯ar) of Khorasan.9 The latter is noteworthy for his raids on Paghin and Arghni in 1062/3 and the area around Edessa in 1065/6. Tughril-beg died in 1063. His nephew, Alp Arslan (1063–73) became sultan and resumed an aggressive policy towards Byzantium, culminating in the capture of Ani by the sultan himself on 16 August 1064. Through capturing Ani, the Turks secured the left bank of the Araxes, along their chief invasion route into Byzantine territory. One of the reasons for the Turks’ success was the direction from which they raided; in the north, ranging along the Araxes from Vaspurakan as far as Theodosioupolis, and also along the Aratsani (eastern Euphrates) in the south. Byzantine defences were traditionally strong in Syria and southern Armenia, where they had withstood the Arabs for centuries. But the Turks came from the Caucasus, where the empire least expected any serious threat. The Byzantine cities were unprepared for the task of withstanding Turkish attacks; Sebasteia, for example, had no city walls at all. After the fall of Ani, Oghuz hordes could penetrate Byzantine lands with relative impunity and as a result, the Turkish invasions became lengthier and bolder: in 1066/7 they pillaged Caesarea, reaching Cilicia and the environs of Antioch. In the following year, a certain Afshin al-Turki took Neocaesarea and Amorion, and in the winter and spring of 1070–1 he reached Chonai in western Anatolia. Byzantine fortification lines in Armenia were broken. Nevertheless, one should treat with caution the blood-curdling descriptions of theTurkish invasions found in theByzantine and Armenian sources. For these incursions had yet to break Byzantine power in Armenia, and extensive areas were more or less unscathed; although the Turks penetrated deeply, they went for the easiest pickings – rich, unprotected towns and cities. Equally, the Byzantines were not sitting idly by; for example, the city walls of Melitene were restored after Dinar’s raid of 1057/8. One set of contemporary sources which are untouched by the rhetorical or didactic pretensions of the larger historical works show an astonishing lack of interest in the Turks. These are the Armenian colophons. Our scribe Gregory asked his teacher Isaac to bring precious bindings from Constantinople to Sebasteia in 1066, even as the Turks were threatening the highways. Another colophon, dated to the following year, is particularly interesting for the almost idyllic picture it paints of a monastery mediating between rival lords over a property at Langnut.10 What is really striking is the fact that, although Langnut lay in the province of Asharunik‘ on the Araxes, a border zone raided almost every year by the Turks, the colophon fails to mention them. These colophons have a double significance. Firstly, they show that the Turkish invasions were neither an ethnic ‘avalanche’, nor a carefully orchestrated conquest. The Turkish hordes, whose chief weapon was their speed and mobility, destroyed everybody and everything in their path; but many places not on their direct route escaped devastation. Secondly, people did not realise the full scale of the danger at the time. All the sources which describe the ‘horrifying’ Turkic invasions in the 1050s and 1060s were composed after the battle of Manzikert.

 

 

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