Battle of Manzikert

Battle of Manzikert
Battle of Manzikert
Part of the Byzantine-Seljuk wars
131 Bataille de Malazgirt.jpg
In this 15th-century French miniature depicting the Battle of Manzikert, the combatants are clad in contemporary Western European armour.
Date August 26, 1071
Location near Manzikert, Byzantine Armenia (modern Malazgirt, Turkey)
Result Decisive Seljuk victory
Byzantine EmpireByzantine Empire
Frankish, English, Norman, Georgian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Turkic Pecheneg and Cuman mercenaries
Divrigi02.jpgGreat Seljuk Empire
Pecheneg and Cuman mercenaries[note 1]
Commanders and leaders
Romanos IV (POW),
Nikephoros Bryennios,
Theodore Alyates,
Andronikos Doukas
Alp Arslan
Afşın Bey
Artuk Bey
Suleyman Shah
~40,000[1] – 70,000[2] ~20,000[3] – 30,000 [1]
Casualties and losses
~2,000 [4] – 8,000[3] dead (including 2,000 Turkish mercenaries who kept loyal to the Emperor)
~4,000 captured[4]
(more than half deserted)

The Battle of Manzikert (Classical Armenian: Մամազկերտ – Manazkert(City of Manaz); Modern Turkish: Malazgirt (Meydan) Savaşı'), was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuq Turks led by Alp Arslan on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert (modern Malazgirt in Muş Province, Turkey). The decisive defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes[5] played an important role in undermining Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia,[6] and allowed for the gradual Turkification of Anatolia.

The brunt of the battle was borne by the professional soldiers from the eastern and western tagmata, as large numbers of the mercenaries and Anatolian levies fled early and survived the battle.[7] The fallout from Manzikert was almost disastrous for the empire, resulting in civil conflicts and an economic crisis that severely weakened the empire's ability to adequately defend its borders.[8] This led to the mass movement of Turks into central Anatolia; by 1080 an area of 30,000 square miles (78,000 km2) had been lost to the empire. It took a decade of internal strife before Alexios I Komnenos (1081 to 1118) restored stability to the empire. Historian Thomas Asbridge says: "In 1071, the Seljuqs crushed an imperial army at the Battle of Manzikert (in eastern Asia Minor), and though historians no longer consider this to have been an utterly cataclysmic reversal for the Greeks, it still was a stinging setback."[9]



Although the Byzantine Empire had remained a strong and powerful entity in the Middle Ages,[10] the Empire began to decline under the reign of the militarily incompetent Constantine IX and again under Constantine X—a brief two year rule of reform under Isaac I Komnenos only delaying the decay of the Byzantine military.[11] It was under Constantine IX's reign that the Byzantines first came into contact with the Seljuk Turks, the latter attempting to annex Ani in Armenia. Yet, Constantine IX secured a truce between Byzantine Empire and the Seljuks. The truce lasted until the year 1064 when Seljuks conquered the Armenian capital at Ani.[10] Constantine X (successor to Isaac Komnenos) did much discredit to his predecessor—in 1067 Armenia was taken by the Seljuks, followed by Caesarea.[12]

In 1068, Romanos IV took power and after a few speedy military reforms he entrusted to Manuel Comnenus to lead an expedition against the Seljuks, allowing him to capture the city of Hierapolis Bambyce in Syria. A Turkish attack against Iconium was thwarted when a Byzantine counter-attack from Syria ended in victory.[5] Yet, the campaign ended in a debacle when Manuel was defeated and captured by Seljuks. Despite the failure of the Byzantium campaign, Alp Arslan had been quick to seek a peace treaty with the Byzantines; he regarded the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt as his main enemy and had no desire to engage with the Byzantines in unnecessary hostilities.[3] Hence, a peace treaty is signed between the Byzantines and the Seljuks in 1069.

In February 1071, Romanus sent an embassy to Alp Arslan to renew the treaty of 1069. Romanus’ envoys reached the Sultan outside Edessa, which he was besieging. Keen to secure his northern flank against Byzantine attack, Alp Arslan happily agreed to the terms.[3] Abandoning the siege, he immediately led his army to the city of Aleppo to attack the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. However, that offer to renew the peace treaty was in fact a key element of Romanus' plan, aiming to distract the Sultan long enough to allow Romanus to lead a large army into Armenia and recover the lost fortresses before the Seljuks had time to respond.[3]


Alp Arslan led Seljuq Turks to victory against the Byzantine annexation of Manzikert in 1071.

Accompanying Romanos was Andronikos Doukas, the co-regent and a direct rival. The army consisted of about 5,000 professional Roman troops from the western provinces and probably about the same number from the eastern provinces; 500 Frankish and Norman mercenaries under Roussel de Bailleul; some Turkic (Uz and Pecheneg) and Bulgarian mercenaries; infantry under the duke of Antioch; a contingent of Georgian and Armenian troops; and some (but not all) of the Varangian Guard, to total around 40,000 men to 70,000 men.[4][13] The quantity of the Roman Thematic (provincial) troops had declined in the years prior to the succession of Romanos as the central government diverted resources to the recruitment of mercenaries who were considered less likely to become involved in coups or factional fighting within the Empire. Even when mercenaries were used, they were disbanded after to save money.

The march across Asia Minor was long and difficult, and Romanos did not endear himself to his troops by bringing a luxurious baggage train along with him; the Roman population also suffered some plundering by Romanos' Frankish mercenaries, whom he was forced to dismiss. The expedition first rested at Sebasteia on the Halys. Then the expedition reached Theodosiopolis in June 1071. There, some of his generals suggested continuing the march into Seljuk territory and catching Arslan before he was ready. Some of the other generals, including Nikephoros Bryennios, suggested they wait there and fortify their position. Eventually it was decided to continue the march.

Thinking that Alp Arslan was either further away or not coming at all, Romanos marched towards Lake Van expecting to retake Manzikert rather quickly, as well as the nearby fortress of Khliat if possible. However, Alp Arslan was actually in the area with allies and 30,000 cavalry from Aleppo and Mosul. Alp Arslan's spies knew exactly where Romanos was, while Romanos was completely unaware of his opponent's movements.

Romanos ordered his general Joseph Tarchaneiotes to take some of the Roman troops and Varangians and accompany the Pechenegs and Franks to Khliat, while Romanos and the rest of the army marched to Manzikert. This split the forces in half, each taking about 20,000 men. It is unknown what happened to the army sent off with Joseph Tarchaneiotes—according to Islamic sources, Alp Arslan smashed this army; however Roman sources remain quiet of any such encounter, whilst Attaleiates suggests that Tarchaneiotes fled at the sight of the Seljuk Sultan—an unlikely event considering the reputation of the Roman general. Either way, Romanos' army was reduced to less than half his planned 40,000 to 70,000 men.[4][13]

The battle

Byzantine territory (purple), Byzantine attacks (red) and Seljuk attacks (green)

Romanos was unaware of the loss of Tarchaneiotes and continued to Manzikert, which he easily captured on August 23; the Seljuks responded with heavy incursions by bowmen.[13] The next day some foraging parties under Bryennios discovered the Seljuk army and were forced to retreat back to Manzikert. The Armenian general Basilakes was sent out with some cavalry, as Romanos did not believe this was Arslan's full army; the cavalry was destroyed and Basilakes taken prisoner. Romanos drew up his troops into formation and sent the left wing out under Bryennios, who was almost surrounded by the quickly approaching Turks and was forced to retreat once more. The Seljuk forces hid among the nearby hills for the night, making it nearly impossible for Romanos to send a counterattack.[5][14]

On August 25, some of Romanos' Turkic mercenaries came into contact with their Seljuk relatives and deserted. Romanos then rejected a Seljuk peace embassy as he wanted to settle the eastern question and the Turkic persistent incursions and settlements with a decisive military victory and understood that raising another army would be both difficult and expensive. The Emperor attempted to recall Tarchaneiotes, who was no longer in the area. There were no engagements that day, but on August 26 the Byzantine army gathered itself into a proper battle formation and began to march on the Turkish positions, with the left wing under Bryennios, the right wing under Theodore Alyates, and the centre under the emperor. At that moment, when a Turkish soldier said to Alp Arslan "My Sultan, the enemy army is approaching", Alp Arslan is told to have said "Then we are also approaching them". Andronikos Doukas led the reserve forces in the rear—a foolish mistake, considering the loyalties of the Doukids. The Seljuks were organized into a crescent formation about four kilometres away.[15] Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they drew closer; the centre of their crescent continually moved backwards while the wings moved to surround the Byzantine troops.

The Byzantines held off the arrow attacks and captured Arslan's camp by the end of the afternoon. However, the right and left wings, where the arrows did most of their damage, almost broke up when individual units tried to force the Seljuks into a pitched battle; the Seljuk cavalry simply fled when challenged, the classic hit and run tactics of steppe warriors. With the Seljuks avoiding battle, Romanos was forced to order a withdrawal by the time night fell. However, the right wing misunderstood the order, and Doukas, as an enemy of Romanos, deliberately ignored the emperor and marched back to the camp outside Manzikert, rather than covering the emperor's retreat. With the Byzantines thoroughly confused, the Seljuks seized their opportunity and attacked.[5] The Byzantine right wing was almost immediately routed, thinking they were betrayed either by the Armenians or the army's Turkish auxiliaries. In fact the Armenians were the first to flee and they all managed to get away, while by contrast the Turkish auxiliaries remained loyal to the end.[16] The left wing under Bryennios held out a little longer, but was also soon routed.[7] The remnants of the Byzantine centre, including the Emperor and the Varangian Guard, were encircled by the Seljuks. Romanos was injured, and taken prisoner by the Seljuks. The survivors were the many who fled the field and were pursued throughout the night, but not beyond that; by dawn, the professional core of the Byzantine army had been destroyed whilst many of the peasant troops and levies who had been under the command of Andronikus had fled.[7]

Captivity of Romanos Diogenes

Alp Arslan humiliating Emperor Romanos IV. From a 15th-century illustrated French translation of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium.

When the Emperor Romanos IV was conducted into the presence of Alp Arslan, he refused to believe that the bloodied and tattered man covered in dirt was the mighty Emperor of the Romans. After discovering the identity of the Emperor, he placed his boot on the Emperor's neck and forced him to kiss the ground.[7] A famous conversation is also reported to have taken place[17]:

Alp Arslan: "What would you do if I were brought before you as a prisoner?"
Romanos: "Perhaps I'd kill you, or exhibit you in the streets of Constantinople."
Alp Arslan: "My punishment is far heavier. I forgive you, and set you free."

Alp Arslan treated Romanos with considerable kindness[18] and again offered the terms of peace which he had offered previous to the battle.

Romanos remained a captive of the Sultan for a week. During this time, the Sultan allowed Romanos to eat at his table whilst concessions were agreed; Antioch, Edessa, Hierapolis and Manzikert were to be surrendered.[8] This would have left the vital core of Anatolia untouched. A payment of 10 million gold pieces demanded by the Sultan as a ransom for Romanos was deemed as too high by the latter so the Sultan reduced its short-term expense by instead asking for 1.5 million gold pieces as an initial payment followed by an annual sum of 360,000 gold pieces.[8] Plus, a marriage alliance was prepared between Arslan’s son and Romanos’ daughter.[3] The Sultan then gave Romanos many presents and an escort of two emirs and one hundred Mamelukes on his route to Constantinople.

Shortly after his return to his subjects, Romanos found his rule in serious trouble. Despite attempts to raise loyal troops, he was defeated three times in battle against the Doukas family and was deposed, blinded and exiled to the island of Proti; soon after, he died as a result of an infection caused by an injury during his brutal blinding. Romanos' last time in the Anatolian heartland, that he worked so hard to defend, was a public humiliation on a donkey with a rotten face.[8]


The Turks did not move into Anatolia until after Alp Arslan’s death in 1072. However, the Byzantine Empire was still in a chaotic civil war and offered no effective resistance

Despite being a long-term strategic catastrophe for Byzantium, Manzikert was by no means the massacre that earlier historians presumed. Modern scholars estimate that Byzantine losses were relatively low,[19][20] considering that many units survived the battle intact and were fighting elsewhere within a few months. Most of Byzantian prisoners of war were later released.[20] Certainly, all the commanders in the Byzantine side (Doukas, Tarchaneiotes, Bryennios, de Bailleul, and, above all, the Emperor) survived and took part in later events.[21] The battle did not directly change the balance of power between Byzantians and Seljuks, however the ensuing civil war within the Byzantian Empire did so to the advantage of Seljuks.[20]

Doukas had escaped with no casualties, and quickly marched back to Constantinople where he led the coup against Romanos and proclaimed Michael VII as basileus.[8] Bryennios also lost a few men in the rout of his wing. The Seljuks did not pursue the fleeing Byzantines, nor did they recapture Manzikert itself at this point. The Byzantine army regrouped and marched to Dokeia, where they were joined by Romanos when he was released a week later. The most serious loss materially seems to have been the emperor's extravagant baggage train.

The result of this disastrous defeat was, in simplest terms, the loss of the Eastern Roman Empire's Anatolian heartland. John Julius Norwich says in his trilogy on the Byzantine Empire that the defeat was "its death blow, though centuries remained before the remnant fell. The themes in Anatolia were literally the heart of the empire, and within decades after Manzikert, they were gone." In his smaller book, "A Short History of Byzantium", Norwich describes the battle as "the greatest disaster suffered by the Empire in its seven and a half centuries of existence".[22] Sir Steven Runciman in Chapter 5 of Volume One of his "History of the Crusades" noted that "The Battle of Manzikert was the most decisive disaster in Byzantine history. The Byzantines themselves had no illusions about it. Again and again their historians refer to that dreadful day"

Anna Komnene, writing a few decades after the actual battle, wrote:

...the fortunes of the Roman Empire had sunk to their lowest ebb. For the armies of the East were dispersed in all directions, because the Turks had over-spread, and gained command of, countries between the Euxine Sea [Black Sea] and the Hellespont, and the Aegean Sea and Syrian Seas [Mediterranean Sea], and the various bays, especially those which wash Pamphylia, Cilicia, and empty themselves into the Egyptian Sea [Mediterranean Sea].[23]

Years and decades later, Manzikert came to be seen as a disaster for the Empire; later sources therefore greatly exaggerate the numbers of troops and the number of casualties. Byzantine historians would often look back and lament the "disaster" of that day, pinpointing it as the moment the decline of the Empire began. It was not an immediate disaster, but the defeat showed the Seljuks that the Byzantines were not invincible—they were not the unconquerable, millennium-old Roman Empire (as both the Byzantines and Seljuks still called it). The usurpation of Andronikos Doukas also politically destabilized the empire and it was difficult to organize resistance to the Turkish migrations that followed the battle. Within a decade almost all of Asia Minor was overrun.[22] That process was in part facilitated by the "central plains of Anatolia (having been) emptied and turned into sheep farms by the Byzantine magnates themselves" (Runciman). Finally, while intrigue and deposing of Emperors had taken place before, the fate of Romanos was particularly horrific, and the destabilization caused by it also rippled through the centuries.

What followed the battle was a chain of events—of which the battle was the first link—that undermined the Empire in the years to come. They included intrigues for the throne, the horrific fate of Romanos and Roussel de Bailleul attempting to carve himself an independent kingdom in Galatia with his 3,000 Frankish, Norman and German mercenaries.[24] He defeated the Emperor's uncle John Doukas who had come to suppress him, advancing toward the capital to destroy Chrysopolis (Üsküdar) on the Asian coast of the Bosphorus. The Empire finally turned to the spreading Seljuks to crush de Bailleul (which they did). However the Turks ransomed him back to his wife, and it was not before the young general Alexios Komnenos pursued him that he was captured. These events all interacted to create a vacuum that the Turks filled. Their choice in establishing their capital in Nikaea (Iznik) in 1077 could possibly be explained by a desire to see if the Empire's struggles could present new opportunities.

In hindsight, both Byzantine and contemporary historians are unanimous in dating the decline of Byzantine fortunes to this battle. As Paul K. Davis writes, "Byzantine defeat severely limited the power of the Byzantines by denying them control over Anatolia, the major recruiting ground for soldiers. Henceforth, the Muslims controlled the region. The Byzantine Empire was limited to the area immediately around Constantinople, and the Byzantines were never again a serious military force."[25] It is also interpreted as one of the root causes for the later Crusades, in that the First Crusade of 1095 was originally a western response to the Byzantine emperor's call for military assistance after the loss of Anatolia.[26] From another perspective, the West saw Manzikert as a signal that Byzantium was no longer capable of being the protector of Eastern Christianity or Christian pilgrims to the Holy Places in the Middle East.

Delbruck considers that the importance of the battle has been exaggerated; but it is clear from the evidence that as a result of it, the Empire was unable to put an effective army into the field for many years to come.

The Battle of Myriokephalon, also known as the Myriocephalum, has been compared to the Battle of Manzikert as a pivotal point in the decline of the Byzantine Empire.[citation needed] In both battles, separated by over a hundred years, an expensive Byzantine army finds itself ambushed by a more elusive Seljuk opponent. However, Myriocephalum's implications were initially limited, thanks to Manuel I Komnenos' holding on to power. The same could not be said of Romanos, whose enemies "martyred a courageous and upright man", and as a result "the Empire ... would never recover".[24]


  1. ^ Pechenegs and Cumans went to the Seljuq side when the war began.


  1. ^ a b Haldon 2001, p. 173
  2. ^ Norwich 1991, p. 238.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Markham, Paul. "Battle of Manzikert: Military Disaster or Political Failure?". 
  4. ^ a b c d Haldon 2001, p. 180.
  5. ^ a b c d Grant, R.G. (2005). Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 77. ISBN 1740335937. 
  6. ^ Holt, Peter Malcolm; Lambton, Ann Katharine Swynford & Lewis, Bernard (1977). The Cambridge History of Islam. pp. 231–232 
  7. ^ a b c d Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 240. ISBN 0679450882. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 241. ISBN 0679450882. 
  9. ^ Thomas S. Asbridge The Crusades (2010) p 27
  10. ^ a b Konstam, Angus (2004). The Crusades. London: Mercury Books. pp. 40. ISBN 081604919X. 
  11. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 236. ISBN 0679450882. 
  12. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 237. ISBN 0679450882.  — "The fate of Caesarea was well known."
  13. ^ a b c Norwich 1991, p. 238.
  14. ^ Konstam, Angus (2004). The Crusades. London: Mercury Books. pp. 41. ISBN 081604919X. 
  15. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 239. ISBN 0679450882. 
  16. ^ Byzantine armies, 886–1118, Ian Heath,Angus McBride, 1979, p.27
  17. ^ Peoples, R. Scott Crusade of Kings Wildside Press LLC, 2008. p. 13. ISBN 0809572214, 9780809572212
  18. ^ Knight, Charles. The English cyclopædia Bradbury & Evans, 1857
  19. ^ Haldon, John (2000). Byzantium at War 600–1453. New York: Osprey. pp. 46. ISBN 0415968615. 
  20. ^ a b c Mikaberidze, Alexander (2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 563. ISBN 1598843362. 
  21. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 240–3. ISBN 0679450882.  — Andronikus returned to the capital, Tarchaneiotes did not take part, Bryennios and all others, including Romanos, took part in the ensuing civil war.
  22. ^ a b Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 242. ISBN 0679450882. 
  23. ^ "Medieval Sourcebook: Anna Comnena: The Alexiad: Book I". Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  24. ^ a b Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 243. ISBN 0679450882. 
  25. ^ Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present: The World’s Major Battles and How They Shaped History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 118.
  26. ^ Madden, Thomas (2005). Crusades The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor: University of Michiga P. pp. 35. ISBN 0847694291. 

Further reading

  • Haldon, John (2001). The Byzantine Wars: Battles and Campaigns of the Byzantine Era. Stroud: Tempus. ISBN 0752417959 
  • Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804724210 
  • Runciman, Steven (1951). A History of the Crusades. Vol. One. New York: Harper & Row 
  • Norwich, John Julius (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. London: Viking. ISBN 0670802522 
  • Carey, Brian Todd; Allfree, Joshua B. & Cairns, John (2006). Warfare in the Medieval World. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 1844153398 
  • Konstam, Angus (2004). Historical Atlas of The Crusades. London: Mercury. ISBN 1904668003 
  • Madden, Thomas (2005). Crusades The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472031279 
  • Konus, Fazli (2006). Selçuklular Bibliyografyası. Konya: Çizgi Kitabevi. ISBN 9758867881 

External links

Coordinates: 39°08′41″N 42°32′21″E / 39.14472°N 42.53917°E / 39.14472; 42.53917

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