Manzikert 1071: The breaking of Byzantium (Campaign)
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On 26 August 1071 a large Byzantine army under Emperor Romanus IV met the Saljuq Turk forces of Sultan Alp Arslan near the town of Manzikert to the far east of the Byzantine Empire. The battle ended in a decisive defeat for the Byzantine forces, with the wings of the army routing following withering Turkish arrow fire, and the centre overwhelmed, with the Byzantine emperor captured and much of his fabled Varangian guard killed. This battle is justifiably regarded as a turning point in Middle Eastern, European and to some extent even world history. It is seen as the primary trigger of the Crusades, and as the moment when the power of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire was irreparably broken. The Saljuq victory opened up Anatolia to Turkish-Islamic conquest, which was eventually followed by the establishment of the Ottoman state which went on the conquer south-eastern and much of central Europe, the entire Middle East and most of North Africa. Nevertheless the battle itself was the culmination of a Christian Byzantine offensive, intended to strengthen the eastern frontiers of the empire and re-establish Byzantine domination over Armenia and northern Mesopotamia. Turkish Saljuq victory was in no sense inevitable and might, in fact, have come as something of a surprise to those who achieved it - at least in proving to be so complete. It was not only the battle of Manzikert that had such profound and far-reaching consequences, many of these stemmed from the debilitating Byzantine civil war which followed and was a direct consequence of the defeat.
Such expansionism was seen by the Byzantines as necessary self-defence or the regaining of lands lost to Islam centuries earlier. Furthermore, the region around Lake Van was of key strategic importance. During the 11th century the most important fortified towns on the northern side of the lake were Ahlat, Altzike, Archech and Perkri with Manzikert dominating their hinterland. Rising on the eastern shore of the lake was the citadel of Van while the rugged southern shore was backed by almost
nevertheless thwarted when his uncle ‘Atiyya, having found refuge in Byzantine antine Antioch, Antioch pillaged the central Syrian city of Ma’arrat al-Nu’man. Mahmud hurriedly returned to secure his powerbase in Aleppo while Aytakin al-Sulaymani took his men to join Alp Arslan in Azarbayjan. In Syria the stage was set for the Saljuq conquest, but first Alp Arslan had to face Emperor Romanos IV. Al-Turtushi recorded that the Byzantine advance caused concern across the Islamic countries and
Younger admitted that it had been a hard fight: ‘a mass of Turks perished, but the Romans also suffered huge losses’. It was probably around this time that Muslim captives from the Manzikert garrison tried to escape while the Byzantine army’s attention was focused elsewhere. Some succeeded but others were killed. Finally the Emperor Romanos accepted the seriousness of the situation and that Alp Arslan’s army had arrived. Apparently abandoning his march upon Ahlat, he reorganized the army for an