In This Article Battle of Manzikert

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographical Articles Analyzing Primary Sources
  • Early Western Scholarship
  • Modern Western Scholarship
  • Modern Turkish and Arabic Perspectives
  • Post-Manzikert Byzantium and Prelude to the Crusades
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Manzikert Studies

Military History Battle of Manzikert
by
Brian Todd Carey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0063

Introduction

The battle of Manzikert (near modern Malazgirt, eastern Republic of Turkey) took place on Friday, 26 August 1071, between the Byzantine Empire and the Great Seljuk Empire of Iran for control over eastern Anatolia. Modern scholars have come to an agreement on the general origins and course of the battle, but some disagreement continues concerning the scope of the military disaster and the connection of the Byzantine loss to the pace of Islamization and Turkification of Anatolia. Although not the great military disaster often presented by medieval and some modern scholars, the Byzantine defeat did precipitate a Greek civil war and the Turkish occupation of large regions of Anatolia and is often described as a casus belli for the Levantine crusades. In the spring of 1071 the Eastern Roman emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (r. 1068–1071) marched east from Constantinople to shore up the empire’s Armenian frontier against Turkish raiding. In late August he split his multinational army into two forces, personally commanding the smaller contingent and camping outside of the walls of the fortress city of Manzikert near Lake Van. His adversary was the second sultan of the Great Seljuk Empire of Iran, Alp Arslan (r. 1063–1072), ruler of the most powerful Muslim state in the Near East and champion of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. Recognizing the threat posed by the Byzantine army, Alp Arslan abandoned his campaign against the Fatimids and moved to intercept the Christian army. The battle that unfolded over the course of a day witnessed desertion, defection, and betrayal among the Byzantine troops and the capture of Romanus. The Seljuk victory at Manzikert also showcased the best of 11th-century Central Asian steppe tactics against a divided and poorly commanded Byzantine host. The decisive defeat of a Byzantine field army and capture of the Eastern Roman emperor sent shockwaves across the Christian and Islamic worlds and opened the floodgates of Turkish invasion and migration into Anatolia, strategically the most important region to the Byzantine Empire. A decade of civil war and Seljuk depredations further weakened the Eastern Roman Empire, forcing Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus (r. 1081–1118) to ask for military assistance from Pope Urban II. Seen in this light, Manzikert is often portrayed as the beginning of a series of events that eventually led to the origin of the First Crusade and Catholic occupation of the Levant. The enduring legacy of Manzikert comes from its convenient use by historians, from the medieval period to now, as a turning point in Byzantine history, a military defeat often portrayed as the beginning of the decline of Byzantium and a martial event that ushered in the cultural transformation of Asia Minor from a bastion of Christian Orthodoxy to the eventual Islamic heartland of modern Turkey. For the latter reason, the battle of Manzikert takes on special significance in the 20th century as a symbol of enduring military power and independence for the Republic of Turkey.

General Overviews

Only a few monographs are dedicated to the battle of Manzikert, although numerous broader studies of Byzantine warfare and the history of medieval Anatolia include sections briefly describing the origins, course, and outcome of the battle and its importance to 11th-century Byzantine history. Friendly 1981 is an engaging and popular handling of the battle, while Carey 2012 relies heavily on findings of Vryonis 1971 (cited under Modern Western Scholarship) and, along with Nicolle 2013, focuses more on the strategic and tactical dimensions of the Manzikert campaign. Rek 2015 emphasizes Byzantine political matters and how they shaped the Manzikert campaign.

  • Carey, Brian Todd. Road to Manzikert: Byzantine and Islamic Warfare, 527–1071. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    Special emphasis placed on the origins, course, and outcome of Manzikert and assessing the impact of this defeat on Byzantium’s strategic position in the decades leading to the First Crusade. Manzikert described as a political debacle rather than a devastating military defeat. Dozens of regional maps and battle diagrams support the text.

  • Friendly, Alfred. The Dreadful Day: The Battle of Manzikert, 1071. London: Hutchinson, 1981.

    E-mail Citation »

    An early and popular treatment of Manzikert that emphasizes the engagement as a decisive military defeat for Byzantium. Friendly applies his Pulitzer Prize–winning narrative skills to write an engaging account of 11th-century Byzantine court politics and the rise of the Seljuks, concluding with the battle of Manzikert.

  • Nicolle, David. Manzikert, 1071: The Breaking of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    Nicolle builds on his numerous other publications on early Byzantine and Islamic warfare to produce this short but detailed treatment of the battle of Manzikert. It includes a fine chronology, maps, descriptions of Byzantine and Seljuk strategy, tactics and military equipment, color photographs, military illustrations of battle scenes, and detailed bibliography.

  • Rek, Stanislaw. Manzikert, 1071. Warsaw, Poland: Bellona, 2015.

    E-mail Citation »

    A detailed treatment of the Manzikert campaign, focusing on the Byzantine perspective, with good coverage of the campaigns of 1068–1070 and the court politics between Romanus IV and the Doukas faction that helped sabotage the campaign of 1071. Political, rather than military analysis, is the strength of this monograph. Includes helpful maps and a solid bibliography. In Polish.

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