The Battle of Manzikert: Military Disaster or Political Failure?

In this 15th-century French miniature depicting the Battle of Manzikert, the combatants are clad in contemporary Western European armour.
In this 15th-century French miniature depicting the Battle of Manzikert, the combatants are clad in contemporary Western European armour.

The Battle of Manzikert: Military Disaster or Political Failure?

By Paul Markham

On the 26th of August 1071, an army under the command of the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogenes (1068-1071AD) was defeated on the borders of Armenia by the army of the Seljuk Turkish Sultan, Alp Arslan (1063-1072AD).  Since that time, historians have identified the Battle of Manzikert as the mortal blow that led to the inevitable collapse of the Byzantine Empire.  How accurate is this interpretation?  Was the loss of Anatolia the result of Romanus IV Diogenes’ failed military campaign against the Seljuk’s or was it a political failure of his predecessors or successors?   This paper examines Romanus’ Manzikert campaign and the significance of his defeat, and assesses whether the Byzantine position in Anatolia was recoverable, and if so, why that recovery failed?

Before Manzikert: The Byzantine Empire in the eleventh century

The mid-eleventh century was the high water mark of the Byzantine Empire.  The successive reigns of the military emperors of the Macedonian dynasty had pushed the boundaries of the Empire to their furthest geographical extent since Justinian the Great had reconquered Italy and North Africa in the sixth century.  The Empire now stretched from Dalmatia in the west, incorporating the whole of the Balkans, to Antioch in Syria in the south, and all of Anatolia to Armenia in the east.

The Byzantine recovery had been a long time coming.  The seventh century had seen the drastic dismemberment of the Empire.  In the west, the Balkans and most of Greece had been lost to the Slavs; the Byzantines maintaining a toehold only in eastern Thrace, Thessalonica and scattered outposts on the Dalmatian coast.  In the east, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Africa had been permanently lost to the Arabs.  The loss of these valuable provinces triggered the rampant inflation that caused the virtual collapse of the monetary economy during the reign of Constans II (630- 662AD).[1]    This crisis led to two permanent changes within the Empire; the old Roman provinces were restructured into smaller administrative units called thema, under the administration of a military governor (strategos), and the assignment land grants to the soldiery in place of paying wages.[2]

The Empire also faced an energetic and expansionist challenger in the Umayyad Caliphate.  Larger and far more prosperous than the rump Byzantine Empire, the Umayyad Caliphate had sufficient resources to envisage the complete conquest of the Empire.[3]  The Umayyad’s made two serious attempts to conquer the Empire, laying siege to Constantinople in 674-8AD and again in 717AD.   Fortunately for Byzantium, the Umayyad Caliphate was overthrown in 750AD by the Abbasids, who gave up such ambitious plans, opting instead for regular military campaigns that sometimes penetrated right into the heart of Byzantine Anatolia.[4]  These raids culminated in Caliph Mu’tasim’s (833-842AD) destruction of Amorium in central western Anatolia in 838AD.[5]

By the end of the eighth century however, Byzantium’s situation began to improve. With inflation checked and the currency stabilized the Byzantine economy slowly began recover, and after the empress Irene (780- 802AD) secured a longstanding peace with the Abbasid Caliphate in 782AD, trade between the two empires resumed, much to Byzantium’s advantage.[6]  Peace in the east allowed Irene to turn her attention to the west. There, the Slavic tribes of the interior had become increasingly integrated with the Byzantine enclaves along the coast and a short military campaign in 784AD was sufficient to recover the land route between Constantinople and Thessalonica, which until that time had been accessible only by sea.

By the reign of Michael III (842-867AD) the balance of power between the Byzantines and the Abbasid Caliphate had shifted significantly.  The Abbasid economy was in decline and the government paralysed by religious and political factionalism.  The Byzantines exploited Abbasid disunity to take the offensive and over the course of two centuries recovered their lost provinces of Illyricum, Greece, Bulgaria,[7] Northern Syria, Cilicia, and Armenia.   Byzantine expansionism reached its peak with Constantine IX Monomachus’ annexation of the Armenian city of Ani in 1045AD.  Yet, at the same time as Constantine was celebrating Ani’s annexation, a new player in international affairs arrived on the scene – the Seljuk Turks. 

The Seljuk Turks

For centuries, the Caliphate had been a bulwark against the southwesterly migration of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.  Progressive waves of nomads were diverted northwards across the Russian steppes and around the Caspian and Black Seas, before emerging in the Danube basin.  Nomadic migrations were monitored and reported by the Byzantine outpost in Cherson in the Crimea, which usually gave Constantinople sufficient notice to bring its powers of diplomacy to bear.  As Constantine VII’s De Administrando Imperio makes clear, there was no shortage of tribes around the Black Sea who could be encouraged or bribed to deny passage to the nomads.[8]  However, with the Caliphate in disarray there was no effective force to stop the migration of Central Asian nomads.  In 1040AD, the first Seljuk horsemen penetrated the Caliphate’s eastern border and, without encountering any effective Abbasid opposition, began plundering their way across Iran and Iraq.  They soon crossed into Armenian and drove deep into Anatolia, reaching the Byzantine port city of Trebizond on the Black Sea coast in 1054AD.   The following year the Abbasids bowed to the inevitable and conceded political and military authority to Tughrul, Beg of the Great Seljuks.  Tughrul (1056-1067AD) was granted the title of Sultan and took Baghdad as his capital.[9]  Suddenly the Seljuks were elevated from nomadic raiders to masters of a vast and sophisticated empire.

The Byzantine Response

The annexation of Armenia was a strategic disaster for the Byzantines.  In 1022AD, the emperor Basil II had forced the Armenian king, John Smbat III, to cede Ani to Basil if he died without direct heirs.  When he died in 1040AD there were still plenty of claimants to the throne and Armenia quickly degenerated into chaos.  John Smbat’s nephew, Gagik II seized the city in 1040AD and held it against all challengers.   The Armenian historian, Vardapet Aristakes Lastivertc’i relates with copious tears, “In these days Byzantine armies entered the land of Armenia four times in succession until they had rendered the whole country uninhabited through sword, fire, and captive taking.”[10]  In an attempt to destabilise the Armenians, Constantine IX secretly encouraged the Seljuks to attack Ani in 1044AD. Gagik eventually agreed to abdicate and was rewarded with titles, honours and lands in Cappadocia.  Unfortunately he would not have long to enjoy them.  Although fractious, the Armenian princes provided a secure buffer zone on the Byzantine’s eastern border.  Now the Byzantines came into direct contact with the Seljuks, whose fighting style of mobile horse archery they were unfamiliar with.  Nor could the Byzantines rely on the Armenians for support.  One of Constantine’s first acts after the fall of Ani was to instigate a purge of the Monophysite clergy of Armenian Church.  Fleeing war and persecution, a mass exodus began, including the Armenian troops the Byzantines relied on to garrison the border fortresses.  Many now sought their fortune elsewhere, “some in Persia, some in Greece, some in Georgia.”[11]  Some Armenian troops joined the Seljuk bands that now began raiding across the Armenian border.

Constantine IX made no attempt to stop the Seljuk raids before he died in 1055AD.  Constantine’s successor, Michael VI Bringas (1056-1057AD), although portrayed as weak and elderly, attempted to rally the defence. Michael was clearly unhappy with the chaos ensuing on the Armenian frontier and during the Easter Holy Week celebrations when the empire’s leading generals and public servants attended an audience with the Emperor, he berated them, saying “Either go forth in war against the Persians and prevent the land from being ruined, or else I shall pay the Persians your stipends and thus keep the land in peace.”[12]  The two leading generals of the east, Catacalon Kecaumenus and Isaac Comnenus were singled out for particular criticism. Michael’s stinging rebuke did little to resolve the crisis on the Armenian front as within a month the army of the east had risen in rebellion and proclaimed Isaac Comnenus emperor.

The rebellion of the army of the east against Michael VI is often portrayed as a conflict between the military and civil factions within the Byzantine government.  In fact it reveals a deeper, east versus west division within the Empire.  The army of the west remained loyal to Michael and fought hard in his defence outside Nicea on 20 August 1057AD.[13]  Contemporary historians claim the slaughter was considerable and although Michael’s army was forced to withdraw, Isaac could not claim victory with certainty.  Michael however, was overthrown in a palace coup and abdicated in favour of Isaac Comnenus. [14]  Although Michael’s reign is portrayed as little more than a by-line in Byzantine history, understanding why the western armies remained loyal to him is important to explaining what happened after Manzikert.

Irene’s reconquest of Hellas and Thrace in 784AD had been a simple affair largely because the bubonic plague and the Slavic invasion of the seventh century had left the provinces largely depopulated.[15]  Nicephorus I (802-808AD), attempted to solidify the Byzantine hold on these territories by offering subsidies and tax incentives to encourage their resettlement.[16]  The military aristocracy’s financial interests were centred on Anatolia and showed little interest in Rumelia.[17]  The newly ascendant civil bureaucracy, however, were largely excluded from investing in Anatolia, and began buying up estates in the west, effectively splitting the Empire into an ‘old money’, Anatolian party and a ‘new money’, western bureaucratic party.  As a career civil servant it is likely that Michael Bringas was amongst the many courtly investors who established estates in the west, which may explain both the reason the courtier faction selected Michael as their candidate, and for the support he seems to have enjoyed in the west.

The unravelling of the Byzantine’s eastern policy

The Byzantine civil war was a disaster.  “[As] soon as the [Seljuks] realized that [the Byzantine nobles] were fighting and opposing one another, they boldly arose and came against us, ceaselessly raiding, destructively ravaging.”[18]  Although an energetic general, Isaac Comnenus proved equally unable to stop the Seljuk raiders who, in 1075AD, destroyed city of Melitene on the Mesopotamian frontier.  Isaac realised that a complete overhaul of both the army and the administration was required, but he had few allies in Constantinople and his attempts at reform came to nothing.[19]  When Isaac died in 1059AD, the courtier faction secured the election of their candidate, Constantine X Ducas.  Although a member of the Anatolian military aristocracy, Constantine dedicated his reign to internal legal reform while neglecting the defence of the Empire.  As the Byzantine economy began to flounder, Constantine cut costs by cashiering thousands of native troops, which only accelerated the Byzantine collapse in the east.  In 1064AD the Seljuk’s captured and sacked Ani.

Byzantine Defensive Strategy

Ani was critical to the Byzantine’s eastern defence strategy.  Byzantine defensive strategy was based on the possession of key fortified positions, which, in the event of invasion were expected to hold out until relieved, or the enemy withdrew.  It was a strategy of calculated risk; sometimes with disastrous results.  After the Arab victory at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636AD, the emperor Heraclius ordered what remained of the Byzantine forces in Syria to withdraw to fortified positions and hold until relieved.  The promised relief never eventuated however, and the isolated garrisons were progressively forced to surrender.  The Byzantines defence of Syria and Egypt had been hamstrung by overextended lines of supply and communication and a lack of defensible fallback positions.  Within the Anatolian plateau however, the situation was quite different as the Byzantines had a network of carefully prepared defensive positions, and because the cold, windswept steppes of the plateau were largely unsuitable for settled agriculture it was very difficult for an invading army, which relied on plunder for its supply, to sustain itself in the field.[20]  Nevertheless, while static defence may have been effective against the Abbasid field armies of the eighth century, it was ineffectual against mobile Turkish raiders who, finding Anatolia’s steppe almost indistinguishable from their Central Asian homeland, were able to rove at will and live off the meagre resources of the land.[21]

Romanus IV and the legacy of Basil II

Constantine X died in 1067AD leaving the administration in the hands of his wife Eudocia as regent for their son, Michael Ducas.  Eudocia Makrembolitissa was a strong and intelligent woman and in stark contrast to her husband, she recognised the loss of Ani a massive gap had opened up in the chain of fortifications running from Kars to Edessa[22] through which Seljuk raiders could penetrate right into the heart of Anatolia. Decisive military action was required.  Eudocia’s ability to direct government policy however, was severely restricted by the influence of the powerful Ducas clan, dominated by Constantine’s brother, John Ducas. Discretely, Eudocia cast about for an ally to counterbalance the Ducas and eventually settled on Romanus Diogenes.  Romanus was in his mid thirties, a member of a Cappadocian military family, and currently under sentence of death for his part in a rebellion against Constantine X.  His lack of connections in Constantinople was probably a factor in Eudocia choice, for it ensured that Romanus had no independent constituency to threaten Eudocia’s interests.[23]  Romanus for his part swore to be her servant in all things and uphold the rights of the legitimate heir, Michael Ducas.  To the horror of the Ducas faction, Eudocia and Romanus were married and Romanus immediately set about revitalizing an army largely neglected since the death of Basil II in 1025AD.[24]

Romanus’ immediate predecessors cannot be held entirely to blame for the mediocre state of the Byzantine army in the mid-eleventh century; the policies of the military emperors of the tenth century were also a contributing factor in Byzantium’s military decline. Historically, Byzantium had relied on defence in depth, rather than stationing large garrisons of troops along Byzantium’s borders.  Three professional armies, calledtagmata, were stationed in western Anatolia, Constantinople and Thrace where they could be quickly mobilised in response to an invasion.[25]  Every city in the Empire also had a garrison of local troops for defence and policing actions.  These thematic troops were not full time soldiers, but were farmer-soldiers who received a grant of land in return for periodic service.

In order to meet the needs of Byzantium’s aggressive foreign policy, Nicephorus II, John Tzimisces and Basil II changed the tagmata from a rapid response, primarily defensive, citizen army into a professional, campaigning army, increasingly manned by mercenaries.  Mercenaries however, were expensive and as the threat of invasion receded in the tenth century, so did the need for maintaining large garrisons and expensive fortifications.  In order save money to finance his Syrian campaigns, Nicephorus II Phocas (963-969AD) cashiered many thousands of garrison troops and allowed the fortifications of many Anatolian cities to fall into disrepair.[26]  All Nicephorus’ successors, up to Constantine X continued this policy.

Basil II’s spent most of his 50-year reign on campaign and conquered a massive amount of territory, and although he left a burgeoning treasury upon his death, he did so at the expense of neglecting domestic affairs and ignoring the cost of incorporating his conquests into the Byzantine eokoimene.[27]  He also failed to plan for his succession and left the Empire to his worthless brother and co-emperor, Constantine VIII.   None of Basil’s immediate successors had any particular military or political talent and the governing of the Empire increasingly fell into the hands of the civil service.  Their efforts to spend the Byzantine economy back into prosperity only resulted in burgeoning inflation and a debased gold coinage.[28]  In an effort to balance the increasingly unstable budget, Basil’s large standing army was seen as both an unnecessary expense and a political threat, as under employed troops became the focus of sedition.  Native troops were cashiered and replaced by foreign mercenaries on specific contract.

The Manzikert Campaign

Romanus did not immediately confront the Turks in Armenia, choosing instead to personally lead the army on a campaign in Syria in 1068AD.  The next year he led a campaign into Armenia, but the Turkish forces were simply too illusive to be drawn into a pitched battle.  The historian and courtier, Michael Psellus, whose plotting on behalf of the Ducas clan led to his being forced to join the campaign, unfairly slanders Romanus by accusing him of “not knowing where he was marching nor what he was going to do.” Nevertheless this campaign provided a valuable opportunity to improve the operational efficiency of the army. [29] 

Romanus’ failure to crush the Turks led to open plotting by the Ducas faction and by 1070AD Romanus’ position in Constantinople was so precarious that he was unable to leave the capital.   Romanus entrusted that year’s campaign to Manuel Comnenus, elder brother of the future emperor, Alexius Comnenus. Unfortunately, the campaign ended in a debacle when Manuel was defeated and captured by a band of Turks. Surprisingly, Manuel convinced his captors to release him and defect to the Byzantines.  Romanus rewarded the Turks with honours and titles and enlisted into his army. [30]  Manuel’s coup allowed Romanus to regain some political capital, but it wasn’t enough.  Romanus needed a decisive victory not only to protect Armenia but also his throne.

In the summer of 1071AD, Romanus decided to gamble everything on a massive eastern campaign that would draw the Seljuk’s into a general engagement with the Byzantine army.  All contemporary historians commented on the size of the army; Matthew of Edessa absurdly claims the Byzantine army exceeded one million men,[31] while Vadarpet describes a “countless host.”  The army itself consisted of the eastern and western tagmatas, mercenary units, Armenian conscripts and the private levies of the Anatolian landholders, along with the siege engines, sappers, engineers and Romanus would need to recover the Armenian fortresses recently lost to the Turks.  All told, the army probably amounted to about forty thousand effective fighting men; however, with the presence of the thousands of non-combatants, servants, baggage handlers and camp followers that always travelled with medieval armies the army would undoubtedly have appeared larger.[32]

Despite the failure of Manuel Comnenus’ 1069AD campaign, the Sultan of the Great Seljuks Alp Arslan had been quick to seek a peace treaty with the Byzantines.  Alp Arslan had inherited the Abbasid’s wary respect for Byzantium’s military power and at any rate regarded the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt as his main enemy; he had no desire to engage the Byzantines in unnecessary hostilities.  Under the terms of the treaty, Alp Arslan had committed to preventing Seljuk raiding on Byzantine territory.  Unfortunately, despite his grand title, Alp Arslan was in no position to control the Seljuk raiders.  Most of the Seljuk clans still lived according to their Central Asian nomadic traditions and tended to acknowledge the Sultan’s authority only when they were forced to, or it suited their interests.  Their raiding and constant feuding made them as much a nuisance to the Great Seljuks as to their neighbours, so to preserve order the most unruly Turcoman clans were pushed to the borders of the Sultanate where they could be encouraged to raid and plunder infidel territory.[33] Consequently Seljuk raiding into Anatolia continued unabated.

In February 1071AD, Romanus sent an embassy to Alp Arslan to renew the treaty of 1069AD.  Romanus’ envoys reached the Sultan outside Edessa, which he was besieging.[34]  Keen to secure his northern flank against Byzantine attack, Alp Arslan happily agreed to the terms, abandoned the siege and immediately led his army south to attack Aleppo in Fatimid Syria.  The offer to renew the peace treaty was a key element of Romanus plan, distracting the Sultan long enough to allow Romanus to lead an army into Armenia and recover the lost fortresses before the Seljuks had time to respond.  Then, with his eastern border secure and his rear protected, Romanus would be in a perfect position to either attack the Seljuk army if it attempted enter Anatolia through the Taurus Mountains to intercept him, or strike deep into the heartland of the Sultanate down the Euphrates river valley, as the emperor Heraclius had done in the seventh century.[35]  Either way, Romanus would hold the tactical advantage while Alp Arslan would be out of position and vulnerable.  By our standards, Romanus’ offer to renew the treaty while at the same time preparing for a war was deceptive, but the use of deception in warfare was a skill the Byzantines prized very highly.  Byzantine tactical manuals regularly recommended using ploys, deception and negotiation and to either avoid battle or gain advantage.[36] Romanus’ envoys would undoubtedly have been charged to assess the strength of the Sultan’s army, the mood of the camp and the Sultan’s enthusiasm for war.

Satisfied that his ploy was successful, Romanus mustered his army outside Constantinople in March 1071. Romanus’ army included contingents of Normans, Cumans, Turks, Bulgarians, Germans, Pechenegs, Byzantines, Armenians, Syrians, Varangians, Uz, and Russians.  There was nothing unusual in the heterogenous composition of the army.  The Byzantine army was a prestige service and drew professional soldiers from all around the medieval world.[37]  As the army marched east it continued to gather recruits, bands of Turks who were happy enough to contract their services to the Byzantines.  Unfortunately, it was not with the soldiery that the problems within Romanus’ army lay.  The loyalty of many of Romanus’ officers was highly questionable, especially as there were members of the Ducas clan and their allies occupying key positions within the army.[38]  There appear to have been incidences of sabotage during the march, such as the destruction of his personal baggage train, which led Romanus to camp separately from the main army.  By the time the army reached Armenia, tensions were running high.

The Battle of Manzikert

When the Byzantine army reached Theodosiopoulis in July, Romanus received reports that the news of his campaign had led the Sultan to abandon the siege of Aleppo and was withdrawing in some disorder towards the Euphrates.  It appeared many of the Sultan’s troops had deserted and he was now commanding a much-reduced army of between ten and fifteen thousand men.  Romanus rejected the advice of some his generals to await the Seljuks at Theodosiopoulis and ordered the army to advance on Manzikert in Seljuk held territory. Romanus expected the Seljuks would advance from the south, so when he reached Lake Van in late August, Romanus split his army, sending the tagmata under general Joseph Tarchaneiotes to secure the southern road to Khilat and protect against a Seljuk attack, while he headed east to besiege Manzikert.[39]  At the sight of the Byzantine army, Manzikert’s Turkish garrison immediately surrendered and the Romanus settled down to await news from Tarchaneiotes.

Romanus’ intelligence about Arslan’s flight from Aleppo had been correct.  The Sultan had learned of Romanus’ campaign from Romanus’ own envoys and the news had its desired effect.[40]  The Sultan immediately recognised the danger, raised the siege and hurried towards Armenia.  Because Aleppo was a wealthy city offering attractive opportunities for plunder the Sultan had been able to raise a large army, but a campaign against the Byzantine army in Armenia offered no such incentive, and as he advanced towards Armenia his army began to melt away.  By the time he reached the Euphrates River he was left with only about ten thousand men.  By forced marches, Arslan reached Armenia in late August.  He had managed to recruit additional troops on the way but his army was probably only half the size of Romanus’.  The Seljuks did have one advantage over the Byzantines though – they had good intelligence.  Roving Seljuk horsemen fed the Sultan a constant stream of reports of the Byzantine army’s progress.  Unlike Romanus, Arslan knew exactly where his enemy was and he planned his response accordingly.

While Romanus was busy besieging Manzikert, Tarchaneiotes’ army encountered a strong Seljuk force advancing from the south.  Without advising Romanus, Tarchaneiotes chose not to engage and withdrew his forces to the west.  His troops took no part in the subsequent battle and returned to Constantinople.  Unaware of the desertion of half his army, Romanus encountered the main Seljuk army on 24 August 1071 and immediately joined battle.  The battle was to last two days.  The first day involved a hard fought battle between Seljuk forces and a column of the western tagmata under Nicephorus Bryennius.  Bryennius managed to extricate his forces and withdraw in order, but a relief column under the Doux of Theodosiopoulis, Nicephorus Basilakes was ambushed and Basilakes was captured.  Determined to draw the Seljuk’s into a general engagement, Romanus drew up all his forces for battle on the second day.  Romanus followed textbook strategic planning; he commanded the centre with the Varangian guard and a large body of mercenaries. Bryennius commanded the left wing; Theodore Alyates commanded the right wing.  Turkish and Uz auxiliaries provided a light cavalry screened on each wing.  A reserve force under Andronicus Ducas followed a discrete distance behind the main column.

The Seljuk army formed a broad crescent in front of the Byzantine position.  Alp Arlsan commanded from a nearby hilltop where he could survey the field of battle.

Romanus initiated the battle by beginning a slow advance.  The Seljuks poured arrows into the Byzantine ranks and retired as they advanced.  Skirmishing occurred between the wings of both armies but neither side gained any advantage.  Towards dusk, Romanus called a halt to the advance and began an orderly withdrawal back to the camp.  As the Byzantines began to reverse direction the Seljuks launched a fierce attack against the wings.  The Byzantine right wing, which had been particularly hard pressed during the advance, broke in confusion.  At this point the reserve force, under Andronicus Ducas, should have come to the aid of the emperor but instead turned and withdrew from the field, sparking a general rout.  The left wing under Nicephorus Bryennius fought its way clear, but the centre, including Romanus was overwhelmed and captured.

Byzantine troop losses

Later historians, such as Alfred Friendly, Edward Foord, and John Norwich have left us with the impression that the Byzantine army was annihilated at Manzikert. [41]  Although it was a momentous battle, contemporary Byzantine and Armenian narratives indicate that most of the army was either not present, deserted, or withdrew before the final collapse.  It is notoriously difficult to assess casualties from medieval sources, who tend to use exaggerated death tolls as a moral device; nevertheless, we are able to make a general assessment of Byzantine losses at Manzikert based on historical troop sizes and what we know of the fate of the various participants.

1.      Tarchaneiotes’ army of approximately 20,000 troops, including the most of the tagmata did not engage the Turks at all and had withdrawn towards Constantinople before the battle;

2.      Roussel de Bailliou’s 500 strong Norman contingent, which were scouting the road to Khilat, escaped virtually intact ahead of the main battle;

3.      A contingent of approximately one thousand Turkish Uz mercenaries defected on 25 August 1071, before the final battle;

4.      Andronicus Ducas’ reserve force of approximately 5,000, including most of the Anatolian levies, deserted the battle ahead of the collapse;

5.      The 5,000 troops of the left wing under Nicephorus Bryennius’ managed to fight their way clear of the battle after the collapse.  It would be reasonable to assume approximately one thousand casualties, including losses from the first day’s battle.[42]

6.      Romanus Diogenes’ and the Varangian Guard were defeated and captured.  We must assume that most of the Varangians were killed as Alp Arslan provided Romanus with a new escort of troops (although such a gesture was customary).  Even so, no more than 500 Varangians can have present at Manzikert as there was still a Varangian contingent at Constantinople to acclaim Michael VIII Ducas.

7.      A contingent of 2 – 3,000 Turkish mercenaries in the centre remained loyal to Romanus and was virtually annihilated.

8.      The right wing, which mainly consisted of Armenian troops, was hard-pressed throughout the battle and was the first to break so we must assume they bore most of losses.  We also know a contingent of Armenia troops on the wing deserted during the battle.  After casualties and desertions probably only a thousand troops escape to Manzikert.

9.      Romanus had left the camp, the baggage and the non-combatants with only a token guarded.  We know from Michael Attaleiates, who was a secretary on Romanus’ staff, that survivors from both the right wing and the reserve warned the camp of Romanus’ defeat, which was immediately abandoned to the enemy.  Because the battle was fought in the late afternoon it was dusk by the time the Turks reached the camp, allowing the survivors to escape under the cover of darkness to the safety of nearby Manzikert.

The Byzantines probably suffered no more than about 8,000 casualties at Manzikert.  If we factor in the permanent desertion of the Armenian and Uz auxiliaries, approximately 30,000 troops survived the battle. Based on the assumption that the Byzantine army had a total military strength of some 100,000 men in 1071AD and that approximately 50,000 garrison and thematic troops remained at their stations around the Empire,[43] then Manzikert cost the Byzantines about 20% of their total military strength.  This was not a significant loss and would quickly be made up by the recruitment of native soldiers from the military estates, while service with the Byzantine army would continue to draw professional recruits from around the medieval world.  The defeat at Manzikert however, cut off the Byzantines from their supply of Armenian manpower, a critical source of recruitment for the army.[44]  Initially it would be the Turks themselves how would make up this loss, but this had its own complications.

After Manzikert

Although Manzikert was a serious blow to Byzantine prestige, Romanus’ position was in no way irrecoverable.  Alp Arslan treated Romanus with the respect due to his position and imposed no harsh terms on the Byzantines.  Although he had long campaigned on the Byzantine periphery, he had no intention of embarking on a full-scale invasion of the Empire.  He also recognised that his victory at Manzikert had been a narrow run thing; if Andronicus Ducas’ reserve force had not deserted the battle would very likely have had a different result.  In a fictional speech written by a later Arab historian, Romanus underlines the threat Alp Arslan faced, “Tell the sultan to return me to the capital of my kingdom before the Rum agree on another emperor and he openly declares battle and war…”[45] If Arslan was to fulfil his ambition of conquering Fatimid Egypt he could not afford the risk of a war with Byzantium, so it served his interests to have a grateful and subdued Romanus restored to the throne and his Byzantine border secure.  Romanus and Arslan negotiated a new peace treaty in which both sides agreed to a return to the status quo ante; in exchange for a ransom of one million solidii and marriage alliance between Arslan’s son and Romanus’ daughter, Armenia would be restored to the Byzantines and, after the exchange of several disputed border fortresses, Arslan would endeavour to prevent further Seljuk incursions into Byzantine territory.

Romanus remained at Arslan’s his camp for a week and was entertained as an honoured guest.  The Sultan released his prisoners and provided Romanus was gifts suitable to his rank, supplies, and an armed escort. News of his defeat would undoubtedly have reached the capital so it was imperative Romanus take steps to calm the situation.  He hurriedly sent a report of his engagement to the Senate and, gathering what troops he encountered on the way, rushed back to Constantinople.

In Constantinople however, the Ducas faction used news of Romanus’ defeat to stage a coup in favour of Michael Ducas.  Although Michael was now 20 years old he showed no capacity for governing and left affairs of state in the hands of his mother, who continued to act as regent on his behalf.  The Empress Eudocia, however, remained aligned with Romanus.  While the court debated what action to take, John Ducas rushed to Constantinople from exile in Bithynia and ordered the immediate arrest of the Empress.   Romanus was declared deposed and Michael VII Ducas (1071- 1078AD) proclaimed sole emperor.  John reinforced his own position by claiming the title Caesar and effectively became the power behind the throne.

After learning of his deposition Romanus gathered his forces and marched on Constantinople.  In late September or October, Romanus was defeated outside Amasia by an army under the command of Caesar John’s youngest son, Constantine Ducas, forcing him to withdraw towards his native Cappadocia, where he hoped to winter and regroup his forces.  But the following spring his new army was engaged and defeated by troops under his erstwhile reserve commander, Andronicus Ducas.  Realising that his position was hopeless, Romanus agreed to surrender in return for a promise of safe conduct into exile.  John, however, had him savagely blinded and he died shortly afterwards.[46]

Political Disaster

Manzikert was less an invitation for the Turks to invade than for the Byzantine’s to begin a civil war.  The emperor Michael inspired neither confidence nor loyalty and Caesar John proved as incapable of securing Anatolia against the Turks as his predecessors, which encouraged the Anatolian magnates to turn their back on the central government and see to their own defence.  In northeast Anatolia, Theodore Gabras seized the area around Theodosiopoulis and Trebizond; while in the southeast the Armenian general, Philaretos Brachamius, seized Byzantine Cilicia all the way from Edessa in the east, to Antioch in the west.[47]  Theodore and Philaretos used the troops at their disposal to put up a stubborn defence and pushed the Turks back, but their efforts were uncoordinated and the frontier between their territories remained wide open.

Despite the disorder in Anatolia, there was no Seljuk invasion.  Alp Arslan had respected his treaty with Romanus, and at any rate died the year after his victory at Manzikert.  His son and successor, Malik Shah (1072-1092AD) was too busy solidifying his rule in Iran to consider invading the Byzantine Empire, and, like his father had designed on Fatimid Egypt.  What neither state could do at this time was prevent the Turcoman raiders, who recognised no authority, from penetrating the Seljuk-Byzantine border and raiding at will.  The Turcomen were raiders of opportunity and simply bypassed areas of stiff resistance and pushed further and further west.  One emir named Kutalamis raided Kayseri and Niksar in central Anatolia and penetrated as far west as Amorium without encountering Byzantine resistance.[48]

With the east in rebellion and virtually no loyal troops available to it, the Ducas government was forced to turn to Norman and Turkish mercenaries.  Norman heavy cavalry proved surprisingly effective against the Turks, but they were expensive and often hard to control; having observed the Empire’s weakness first hand many harboured their own imperial ambitions.  Roussel de Balliou, after a successful campaign against the Seljuks, rebelled against the Ducas and carved a dukedom for himself in eastern Armenia,[49] while in the west, the Norman duke of Apulia and Calabria, Robert Guiscard, seized Byzantium’s last Italian possession, Bari.[50] The Norman contribution to the Byzantine army was relatively small however and confined to service in crack regiments, such as “The Immortals.”[51]  The majority of mercenary troops in the Byzantine army were Turks.  The abundance of Turkish manpower, their fighting prowess, and their availability as troops for hire made them indispensable to both the central government and the Anatolian rebels.  Caesar John used both Turkish and Norman troops in his campaign against Roussel de Balliou in 1072AD, but his Normans mutinied and handed him over to Roussel, who then proclaimed John Emperor and led their combined force against Constantinople.  In response, Michael Ducas commissioned the young and talented Alexius Comnenus to lead an army of Turkish auxiliaries against the rebels.  Through guile and bribery Alexius convinced John and Roussel’s Turks to arrest their erstwhile leaders and defect to Michael.[52]

In 1078AD, the governor of the Anatolic theme,[53] Nicephorus Botaniates led a revolt against Michael Ducas.  Lacking sufficient native troops for an assault against Constantinople, Botaniates sought the support of the Seljuk emir, Suleyman ibn Kutalamis.  As Botaniates advanced on Constantinople at the head of a Turkish army, Nicephorus Bryennius and Nicephorus Basiliacius launched separate and simultaneous revolts in the west.  Michael Ducas realised his position was hopeless and abdicated, becoming a monk.  Botaniates reached Constantinople first and was duly proclaimed emperor.  Botaniates then sent Alexius Comnenus with another army of Turks to defeat Bryennius and Basiliacius, however, when his own kinsman, Nicephorus Melissenus, revolted against Botaniates in 1081AD, Alexius refused to fight and instead usurped the throne himself.

The Byzantine civil war had continued for ten years and completely exhausted Byzantine resources in Anatolia.  While the Byzantines had been busy fighting each other the Turks had advanced into a power vacuum, initially as raiders, later as mercenaries and finally as settlers.  They had successfully exploited Byzantine factionalism by supporting various usurpers as their interests dictated and had profited immensely. By 1081AD the Seljuk’s occupied virtually the entire Anatolian plateau from Armenia in the east to Bithynia in the west and Suleyman occupied Nicea as his nominal capital.

Consolidation and neglect under Alexius Comnenus

Alexius displayed an ambivalent attitude towards the collapse of the Byzantine position in Anatolia.  It is true that Robert Guiscard posed the most immediate threat to his throne, but even after the Norman’s were defeated in 1084AD, Alexius made no serious attempt to recover Anatolia.  One of his first acts as emperor had been to write to those magnates still holding territory against the Turks confirming them in their possessions and bidding them to continue their resistance with all the resources at their disposal.[54]   It was a purely political act; Alexius could not forget that the Anatolian magnates were potential rivals who needed to be placated while he faced Robert Guiscard.  He then embarked on a brief campaign to clear the Bithynian coast of roving Turkish nomads before signing a peace treaty with Sultan Suleyman, by which the Sultan agreed to prevent further Turkish raiding west of the de facto border between their states.[55]   Alexius had very effectively redirected Turkish pressure away from his territory and against that of his Anatolian rivals.  Relentless Turkish pressure would eventually make Philaretos’ defence of Cilicia untenable and in 1086AD he was overthrown by his son, who surrendered Antioch to Suleyman and became a Muslim.  Similarly Theodore Gabras would lose all the territory from Kastamouni in western Paphlagonia to Sinope in the east, retaining only Trebizond as a vassal of the Georgians.

With his eastern frontier secure, Alexius turned to the west.  As father-in-law to the legitimate heir to the throne, Constantine Ducas, Robert Guiscard had his own designs on the Byzantine throne and he rightly regarded Alexius as a usurper.  To protect his rights, in June 1081AD he landed an army on the Greek mainland and began besieging the city of Dyrrachium.[56]  The imbalance between the Norman and Byzantine forces was marked.  Guiscard was able to call on the substantial resources of Norman Italy and Sicily, as well call on the services of dissatisfied Byzantines and defectors, while Alexius was forever desperately short of cash and manpower.  Alexius turned to Suleyman for assistance, who willingly supplied him with troops.[57] In fact, Alexius’ dependence on a constant supply of Turkish manpower was underlined by his creation of two new units in the Byzantine army: the elite Vardariots (Christianised Turks resettled to Rumelia) and the Turcopouloi (‘sons of the Turks’).[58]

Alexius suffered three serious defeats at the hands of Robert Guiscard and his son, Bohemond, but Norman enthusiasm for the war was slowly worn down by a storm that sank their fleet in 1081AD, and an epidemic which swept through the army outside Dyrrachium in 1082AD, killing up to 10,000 men.  When Robert Guiscard died in 1084AD, Bohemond agreed a peace with Alexius and withdrew to Italy.  Alexius victory however, did not bring him much political capital.  He was still an usurper and he had funded his war with unpopular measures such as the confiscation of church plate and the devaluation of the gold coinage.[59] Alexius was forced by necessity to turn his attention to domestic affairs, so securing peace in Anatolia was essential.  As part of a settlement with the new Sultan, Kilij Arslan (1092-1109AD), Alexius evacuated Byzantine refugees from Rum Seljuk territory and resettled them into western Anatolia.  He created a zone of devastated no mans land along the border between the states and established military settlements in key locations.  Given Byzantium’s economic and demographic situation, Alexius’ decision makes sense; the emperor Heraclius had done the same thing in the seventh century when he evacuated Syria.  But it was also an admission that Byzantium had lost the Anatolian plateau.

Anatolia as the Byzantine Heartland – the interests of the landed elite

For almost two centuries since the near collapse of the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century, Anatolia had been the Byzantine heartland.  However, this was less through choice than through necessity.  Anatolia was a defensible bastion behind which the Byzantines were able to defend themselves against Arab invasion but outside of the western coastal hinterland Anatolia was not particularly fertile.  After the creation of the thema system in the seventh century military necessity meant access to good land in Anatolia was restricted to the soldiery.  Over time, the officers, who were assigned larger estates, came to take on the character of a military aristocracy.  After the economic upturn of the eighth century these aristocrats began buying up the lands of the small-hold soldier farmers.[60]

By the tenth century the military aristocracy and had grown so powerful they were able challenge the powers of the emperor.  The emperors Romanus I (920-944AD) and Basil II sought to break the power of the magnates by enacting laws that banned the alienation of military lands.  Basil II went so far as to reverse without compensation all land transfers that had occurred in Anatolia since the reign of Romanus I.  Basil’s compulsory requisitions effectively broke the power of several great families, such as the Phocai and Sclerii, while others simply withdrew from politics and retired to their pastoral estates.[61]  Basil’s land reforms, while noble in the sense they aimed to protect the small-holder against the greed of the magnates, did little to actually improve the security of the Empire.  Small-hold farmer soldiers were both militarily and economically ineffective, while his land confiscations so alienated the Anatolian aristocracy that many would throw off their allegiance to the state the moment he died.[62]

In contrast to Anatolia, Rumelia was rich and fertile and because it was not subject to the same rigorous military settlement or land holding structures there was a diversity of investment.  It was not long before an obvious economic imbalance between the east and west began to develop, leading the emperors to ignore the interests of the isolationist Anatolian magnates and devote more and more attention to the west.  Although the Comneni were themselves members of the Anatolian aristocracy, once they were in power they were quick to realise that their real economic interest lay in the west.[63]  The protection of the Empire’s western interests is a consistent policy that runs through the reigns of Alexius, John II and Manuel.[64]  By contrast, Andronicus Comnenus spent his life in Anatolia in either Byzantine and Seljuk service, so his antipathy towards his predecessors’ western orientated policies are perhaps easier to understand.

The system of land use in Byzantine Anatolia was also a key factor assisting the Turkish conquest.  As horse and sheep herding required less manpower than small-hold farming, the creation of great pastoral estates led to the displacement of the peasantry and general depopulation of the plateau.  To the original Turkoman raiders, the virtually undefended great estates and their immense herds of livestock were targets too tempting to ignore. As they plundered their way across Anatolia the scattered population fled westwards or to the cities and coasts,virtually abandoning the plateau to the Turks.[65]  The economic impact of this loss was not as great as might have been expected as the central government had long lost its ability to collect taxes from, and enforce its authority over, the Anatolian magnates.  The areas of real agricultural prosperity – the coastal districts and the rich farmland of Bithynia and the Meander valley – remained in Byzantine hands.

The lack of a clearly defensible border made it difficult for the Byzantines to defend their remaining territory during the early years of Turkish conquest; however, the bandits and cattle rustlers who made up the first wave of Turkish raiders had neither the resources nor inclination to besiege cities and limited their activities to ravaging the countryside.  The Turkish elite, such as the Kutalami, who entered Anatolia after Manzikert however, fully understood the economic value of towns and cities but they also lacked the resources to undertake a fully-fledged campaign of conquest.  The cities that did fall to the Turks by conquest were the consequence of neglected defence and poor leadership.  In most cases however, once it became clear that the Turks were in control of the countryside, cities voluntarily switched their allegiance to the Turks, usually with the city administration remaining intact.  It was common practice for individual cities to change their allegiance this way during war; it had happened during both the Persian invasion of 615AD and the Arab conquest of 637AD.  What is surprising in this instance is that the Byzantine government itself assigned several cities to the Turks to administer on their behalf.  In 1078AD when Nicephorus Botaniates left his base in Nicea to claim the throne, he assigned the city along with Cyzicus, Nicomedia, Chalcedon and Chrysopolis to Suleyman to garrison and administer as his vassal.[66]  The generally peaceful transfer of power that occurred in western Anatolia prevented a recurrence of the physical and economic devastation that had occurred in Armenia, and ensured an alignment of interest between the Byzantine and Turkish elites.  There was surprisingly little disruption to the normal patterns of Anatolian trade.  The production of the plateau, now in Turkish hands, still travelled to markets on the Byzantine coast.  Byzantine coinage remained official tender and the Seljuk economy remained closely integrated with Byzantium.  Only during the reign of Ma’sud I (1116-1156AD) did the Seljuk’s begin striking bronze coins for local use.  Gold and silver coinage did not appear until the thirteenth century.[67]

The Byzantine-Turkish Condominium

The 1081AD peace treaty between Alexius and Suleyman was of far greater import than simply establishing a Byzantine – Seljuk border and normalising trade relations, for it actually established a place for the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum within the Byzantine eokoimene.  All Byzantine emperors from Michael Ducas to Nicephorus Botaniates to Alexius Comnenus were to some degree in debt to him for his support and rewarded him with money, lands and titles.[68]  It was natural therefore that Suleyman found it in his interest to align with the Byzantines rather than with the Great Seljuks of Iran, who increasingly regarded him as a threat.[69] It is possible Suleyman was influenced by the many Byzantine officials who occupied positions in his court, who would have undoubtedly stressed the benefits of maintaining good relations with the emperor.  At any rate it seems certain that Suleyman accepted protectorate status from the Byzantines.  In return for his fealty, Alexius conferred on Suleyman the title of Sultan, a title he may have adopted unofficially but had no legitimate claim to.  Malik Shah certainly did not recognise Suleyman as a Sultan and would have regarded such a claim as treasonous.  Suleyman’s official title was beglerbegi, or chief of chiefs, a rank akin to first amongst equals.[70]

In 1086AD, Suleyman’s ambition turned against the Great Seljuks and he led an expedition into Syria but was defeated and killed.  Alexius exploited the chaos that followed Suleyman’s death to recover some border fortresses and solidify his hold on western Anatolia, but he did not have the resources to embark on a campaign of reconquest.  The Great Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah was not unhappy with the apparent disintegration of the Rum Sultanate.  He still felt that suzerainty over all Seljuks was his by right and in 1090AD he made Alexius an extraordinary offer.  In exchange for a peace treaty and a marriage alliance[71] the Sultan would withdraw all Seljuk forces from Anatolia and restore all Byzantine lands lost since Manzikert.  It may have been a tempting offer but Alexius refused.  Publicly Alexius could not consent to a marriage between his Christian daughter and a Moslem; while politically, the Seljuks of Rum were a useful buffer between Byzantium and the much more powerful Great Seljuks.  It was important therefore that Alexius maintained his alliance with the Rum Seljuks, whilst continuing to exploit their disorder to his own advantage.  He must also have realised Malik Shah’s authority did not extend to the Turks of Anatolia and few if any would have obeyed his call to withdraw; and even if they did they would simply leave a gaping power vacuum in their wake.  Most importantly, Alexius was dependent on Turkish military manpower and without them he would have little to contribute to the alliance.  Malik Shah repeated the offer again in 1092AD but died before he received Alexius’ second refusal.  The same year, Suleyman’s thirteen-year-old son, Kilij Arslan escaped from exile in Isfahan and made his way to Nicea.  Alexius came out in support of Kilij Arslan’s claim to the Sultanate.  They signed a peace treaty and campaigned together against the emir of Smyrna, Tzachas, who had proclaimed himself emperor.[72]

Whatever hopes Alexius had of maintaining his influence over Kilij Arslan were quickly dashed.  The young Sultan proved to be a strong and capable leader and quickly reasserted his authority over his rebellious emirs. He then led his army against the Byzantines and soon recovered the fortresses that Alexius had recently recaptured.  Threatened with the potential collapse of the Byzantine position in western Anatolia, Alexius turned to the Normans for assistance.  What he ended up with however was a Crusade.  The Byzantines had been battling with Muslims for centuries but concept of ‘Crusade’ or Holy War, was completely alien to them. Nevertheless, Alexius used the Crusaders to recover Nicea, Kilij Arslan’s erstwhile capital, from the Turks and clear a passage to Antalya.  Alexius’ treatment of the Turkish garrison of Nicea is revealing; offering them a choice to leave with all of their moveable possessions or to stay and accept a commission into Byzantine service.[73]  Kilij Arslan resettled in Iconium and despite his defeat soon restored good relations with Byzantium.  Both the Byzantines and the Seljuks of Rum remained aloof from the Crusading phenomenon; the Rum Seljuks never offered assistance to their Syrian cousins; while the Byzantines often aligned with the Seljuks against the Crusaders.[74]

Alexius’ policy of maintaining cordial Byzantine-Rum Seljuk relations seemed to have finally paid off when Kilij Arslan’s son and successor, Shahanshah (1109-1116AD)[75] formally accepted Byzantine federate status in 1116AD.[76]  Unfortunately, it proved short-lived as Shahanshah was overthrown and assassinated shortly afterwards.   But even though Shahanshah’s brother, Ma’sud I was determined to exercise Seljuk independence, Byzantine-Seljuk affairs continued to remain aligned.  Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1185AD) allied with Ma’sud against the transiting armies of the Second Crusade in 1146AD and later intervened in the succession crisis that followed Ma’sud’s death, accepting the fealty of his son and successor, Kilij Arslan II (1156-1192AD).  Like his namesake, Kilij Arslan proved to be a dangerous and unreliable vassal.  He regularly broke his arrangements with Manuel whenever it seemed advantageous to do so.  A military demonstration by Manuel was usually sufficient to draw Kilij Arslan back to the negotiating table.  Kilij Arslan even attended Manuel in Constantinople and was treated as an honoured guest.  Nevertheless, in 1175AD, after continued breaches of their treaty Manuel decided led an army against Iconium but overreached himself and was defeated at Myriocephalum.  Even though Manuel’s defeat significantly undermined the Byzantines position in Anatolia, Kilij Arslan imposed no harsh terms and Byzantine-Seljuk affairs quickly returned to normal.  Even a decade later, Eustathios, the Archbishop of Thessalonica, could still write of the Seljuk Sultan, Kilij Arslan as an ally of the Byzantines and defender of the interests of the young Emperor, Alexius II (1180AD).[77]

Sovereignty and Identity in the Byzantine Eokoimene

The Byzantines were a deeply spiritual people.  In their worldview the imperium romanorum or eokoimene was the centre of a Cosmic Empire, eternal and indivisible.  The Empires fortunes rose or fell upon the will of God; God chose to chastise the Byzantine with wars and defeats or crown them with victories according to His will.  This cosmology allowed the Byzantines to constantly adjust their worldview to accommodate the loss or reacquisition of territory.  Control of territory was therefore less important than the recognition of the emperor’s place in the Divine order.  In the Byzantine universe the emperor was God’s vice regent on Earth and protector of the eokoimene, or civilised world.  Those outside the eokoimene, were either barbarians or rebels against the Divine order.  So, while the Seljuks may have defeated the Byzantines in battle and seized their territories in Anatolia, Suleyman’s recognition of the emperor’s authority allowed Byzantines to incorporate the Seljuks within the eokoimene, or at least maintain the fiction that Anatolia had been restored to the Romans.  The fact of the Seljuks incorporation into the Empire is highlighted by the descriptive clarification appended to Suleyman’s title of Sultan.

Ethnicity was irrelevant in the multi-ethnic Empire that was Byzantium.  Anna Comnena might call the Turks barbarians, but it was a term she also used to describe the Normans, Italians and Franks.  To be considered a Byzantine one needed accept Orthodox Christianity and have an appreciation for civilised culture, that is, classical literature, order, rule of law and other such amenities of civilisation.  Accepting the Turks as foederatiwas the first step in a longer process aimed at transforming them from barbarians into Byzantines, much as the Byzantines had transformed the pagan Slavs, Bulgarians and Russians before them.[78]  Even the Turks’ Islamic faith was not considered an insurmountable obstacle to their hoped for integration as the Turks in the eleventh century did not distinguish greatly between Islam and Christianity.  The Rum Seljuks placed no restrictions on the Christians within their territories.  This was significant as many Byzantine officials occupied key posts at Seljuk court.  Some, such as Philaretos’ son converted to Islam, but this was not a requirement. Many Byzantines stayed true to their Christian faith and this does not seem to have hindered their career. Indeed, the Rum Seljuks recognised the right of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to exercise full ecclesiastic authority over the Orthodox Christians within their territories, despite having a rival Patriarchate under their control at Antioch.[79]

Islam was however an obstacle for advancement for those Turks who entered Byzantine service and many regularly converted to Christianity, at least nominally.[80]  While the Orthodox authorities remained suspicious of Turkish converts, Manuel Comnenus took a pragmatic approach and attempted to encourage conversion by making the process as simple as possible.[81]  Unfortunately, clerical opposition thwarted his plans and, as the twelfth century drew to a close, the Seljuks began to realign themselves with the Islamic ulema.  Although incorporating significant Byzantine and Persian influences, in the end, Turkish culture proved its resilience. Both Christian and Islamic travellers were to comment on the distinctively Turkish culture of Turchia, as Anatolia came to be called.

The mythologizing of Manzikert

History is rarely about what actually happened but more about how events are interpreted.  For Michael Attaleiates and the Armenian cleric Vardapet, Manzikert was a disaster and they described it as such.  For Michael Psellus, Manzikert was a convenient misfortune and he described it as such.[82]  By the time Anna Comnena wrote her history in 1148AD, Manzikert was recognized as an important key historical event, but it had not become the disaster of later legend.[83]  The Byzantines themselves seemed not to have imbued Manzikert with any great significance.  For them their defeat and decline were simply God’s punishment for their sins.  It was later, with the rise of modern secular history that people began searching for an identifiable event that would mark the beginning of the decline.  Thanks to Michael Attaleiates mythologising of Romanus and his ‘doomed’ campaign and the triumphalism of later Arab historians, Manzikert had taken on the necessary romantic qualities to become ‘that terrible day.’  None of this was necessarily true.  The real causes of the loss of Anatolia were far more diverse and had little to do with battles and conquests, although these did occur and were in their own way significant.

The political and ethnic transformation of Anatolia was a much more complex process and can be summarised as follows:

  • Byzantium’s military success during the tenth century eroded both the internal and external defences of the empire.  Allowing the decline of the thematic armies and city fortifications was permissible if the Empire was able to maintain the offensive capabilities of the Byzantine army, but this was neither economically nor politically possible in the long term;
    • The decision to conquer and directly administer territories in Armenia, Mesopotamia and Syria was a strategic error that removed natural buffer states and over-extended the military resources of the Empire.  Given that the central government was demonstrably unable to control the magnates on its own territory, the incorporation of large, non-assimilated populations into the Empire created significant problems of policing and governance that the Byzantines were ill equipped to cope with at that time;
    • Basil II’s failure to adequately plan for the succession invited political disorder after his death, resulting in two key developments detrimental to the state.  Firstly, the Anatolian magnates, who Basil had antagonised during his lifetime, either withdrew entirely from the political process, or else used their influence to restore and extend their privileges.  Secondly, the general political instability of the period encouraged the growth of a strong, but generally corrupt and self-serving civil administration. None of Basil’s immediate successors had either the strength, the ability or the legitimacy to prevent these developments;
  • As the central government’s authority disintegrated during the 1060’s and 70’s it was forced to dramatically reduce its expenditure.  As the largest single expense in the Byzantine budget, the military bore the brunt of the budget cuts.  These cuts proved untenable given the extended borders the military had to police and defend.  And, as the central government proved increasingly unable to secure the interests of the provinces or protect them from raiding, the provinces broke down in rebellion and separatism;
    • Romanus’ Manzikert campaign was tactically sound if he was aiming to strike a blow against the Great Seljuks of Iran, but it completely failed to solve the problem of Turcoman raiding, which could only have been addressed by providing additional resources to the local garrisons.  Nevertheless, having chosen to attack the wrong enemy, Romanus’ fought a textbook action at Manzikert and was only defeated by poor intelligence and treachery.  The majority of the Byzantine army escaped intact however and Romanus managed to secure an equitable peace treaty from the Seljuks;
    • After Manzikert, Byzantine separatism was allowed to run its destructive course.  Had the Empire been better run and the civil war not occurred a coordinated defence against Turkish raiding may have diverted the Seljuk’s back towards Fatimid Egypt;
    • For a variety of reasons the Byzantines did not recognized the Turks as a long-term threat.  The Seljuks who conquered Anatolia had little or no centralized political structure and were undisciplined and fractious, likely as not to attack each other as the Byzantines.  Nor were the Seljuks an unstoppable military force.  After the Manzikert the Georgians expanded their territory at the Seljuks expense, as did many of the Armenian principalities of Cilicia.  The Byzantines, however, were more interesting in fighting challengers to their throne than repelling the Seljuks;
    • As Anatolia broke apart in disorder the Turks began to exercise an increasingly important role in Byzantine politics.  Sultan Suleyman variously assisted the Byzantine central government or rebellious magnates to his advantage and by the time Alexius Comnenus secured the Byzantine throne the Seljuks occupied the entire Anatolian plateau;
    • From the central government’s perspective the economic loss of the Anatolian plateau was not as significant as it might appear, given the amount of territory lost, as it had long ago lost control of those territories.  It was therefore sensible policy to concentrate the government’s limited resources on the defence of western Anatolia and Rumelia;
    • The repopulation of Anatolia and the subsequent revival of several deserted Byzantine cities under the Rum Seljuk provided a stimulus to the Byzantine economy, at least in the short term;
    • Cut off from its traditional Armenian recruiting grounds, the Byzantine army was quick to utilise the Turks as an abundant supply of available military manpower.  By the eleventh century the Byzantine army was completely dependent on Turkish manpower and would remain so until the fourteenth century;
    • To a great extent, the Sultanate of Rum owed its existence to the Byzantines.  Byzantines occupied positions in the Rum court and help guide and structure its administration, at least in the early decades. The Byzantines conferred legitimacy on its rulers and recognised the states borders and possessions.  Sultan Suleyman enjoyed good relations with Michael Ducas, Nicephorus Botaniates, Nicephorus Melissenus and Alexius Comnenus and was generally a good ally to the Byzantines throughout his life.  If Suleyman’s successors were less reliable vassals this was simply because they were in a position put Seljuk interests ahead of their relationship with the Byzantines;
    • Despite occasional conflicts, Byzantium and the Rum Sultanate enjoyed unusually close relations throughout their existence. There was a constant exchange of personnel and personalities between their respective societies, and, surprisingly considering their religious differences, regular intermarriage. Both states provided sanctuary and employment for the others exiles and adventurers, such as the future Emperor Michael Palaeologos, who commanded a Byzantine contingent in Sultan Kay Kuwas’ army in the twelfth century.[84]  This constant exchange of personnel and culture between Byzantium and Seljuk Rum ensured that the interests of their respective elites were, if not always aligned, at least understood.   Nevertheless, Byzantine endeavours to acculturalise the Rum Seljuks, who in the eleventh century at least were only vaguely Islamic, were half hearted and hampered by religious and political arrogance.  The Byzantine’s failure to impress their culture on the Rum Seljuks made it inevitable that they would eventually realign with the Islamic world;
    • Finally, the Seljuks use of Byzantine coinage, while important symbolically, permanently disrupted the Empire’s carefully balanced economic cycle.  The Byzantines had very limited gold reserves and so carefully regulated the circulation of gold nomisma within their economy.  All taxes had to be paid in currency, which guaranteed that most coinage circulated through the economy but ultimately returned to the treasury.[85]  Unless politically sanctioned, gold exports were strictly prohibited.  The Seljuk court however became a significant consumer of coinage, which over time eroded Byzantium’s gold reserve.[86]  This significance of this cannot be overstated and over time was probably more damaging to Byzantium’s long-term viability than any loss of territory.

Paul Markham

1 August 2005

Perth, Western Australia


Primary Sources

  1. Anonymous.  The Georgian Chronicle.  13th century.  Translated by Robert Bedrosian.  Published by Medieval Source Book @ viewed 13 September 2004

2.      Anna Comnena.  Alexiad.  11th century.  Translated by E R A Sewter, 1960.  Published as The Alexiad of Anna Comnena by Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

3.      Basil II.  Epitaph.  11th Century.  Translated by Paul Stephenson.

4.      Constantine Porphyrogenitus.  De Administrando Imperio.  10th century.  Translated by R J H Jenkins, 2002 (revised edition).  Dumbarton Oaks, Washington.

5.      Eustathios of Thessaloniki.  The Capture of Thessalonica.  12th century.  Translated by John Melville-Jones. 1987. Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Canberra.

6.      George of Trebizond.  Letter to Mehmet II.  From G Zoras, George of Trebizond and His Efforts for Greco-Turkish Cooperation (in Greek) [Athens, 1954] as published in Deno John Geanakoplos. Byzantium.  Church, Society, and Civilization Seen through Contempory Eyes (a source history). 1984.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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12.  Michael Psellus.  Chronographia.  11th century.  Translated by E R A Sewter, 1966.  Published asFourteen Byzantine Rulers by Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

13.  Nicephorus Gregoras. Byzantina historia. Ed 1 Bekker and L Schopen [Bonn, 1829] vol. 1, pp 141-42 as published in Deno John Geanakoplos.  Byzantium.  Church, Society, and Civilization Seen through Contempory Eyes (a source history).  1984.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago

14.  Theodoros Skoutariotes: Synopsis Chronika: The Emperors of the 11th Century @ the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Translated for by ©Nikos Koukounas

15.  Vardapet Aristakes Lastivertc’i.  11th century.  Regarding the Sufferings Occasioned by Foreign Peoples Living Around Us.  Translated by Robert Bedrosian.  Published by Medieval Source Book @

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3.      Charles M. Brand.  The Turkish Element in Byzantium, Eleventh-Twelfth Centuries.  Dumbarton Oaks Papers no 43. 1989.  Dumbarton Oaks Publications, Washington.

4.      Katharine Branning.  The History of the Anatolian Seljuks @

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8.      Sirarpie Der Nersessian.  Armenia and the Byzantine Empire. A Brief Study of Armenian Art and Civilization.  1945.  Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

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35.  Vasso Penna.  Byzantine Coinage.  Medium of transaction and manifestation of imperial propaganda. 2002. Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation, Nicosia.

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37.  Rosemary.  That Terrible Day: The Byzantine defeat at Manzikert, AD 1071.  November 1997. Journal of Ancient and Medieval History at Dickson College. (Viewed on 30 July 2004)

38.  Sir Steven Runciman.  A History of the Crusades.  Volume 1.  The First Crusade.  1951.  Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

39.  Ahmad Shboul.  Byzantium and the Arabs: The image of the Byzantines as mirrored in Arabic literature.  Byzantine Papers.  1981.  Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Sydney

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41.  Warren Treadgold.  A History of the Byzantine State and Society.  1997.  Stanford University Press, Stanford.

42.  P D Whiting.  Byzantine Coins.  1973.  Barrie & Jenkins, London

43.  The Battle Of Manzikert.  @ (Viewed 30 July 2004)

44.  The Seljuks. @ (Viewed on 14 September 2004)

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End Notes

[1] The gold coinage retained its value however the bronze coinage of the Empire, which was so essential to local trade and taxation, plunged in size, quality and value, forcing a return to a barter economy.  Heraclius and Constans attempted to address the problem by increasing the number of local mints and coin issues but this only had the effect of devaluing the bronze coinage further.  P D. Whiting.  Byzantine Coins, 1973.  Jenkins & Barrie, London. Pg 119

[2] W H Haussig identifies the origin of the theme system as Diocletian’s (284-305AD) restructure of the Roman Empire’s defences in Mesopotamia and Syria, where the limes system of border fortifications were abandoned in favour of a series of strategically sited fortresses, manned by military settlers. Kulturgeschichte von Byzanz. 1966 Revised edition (translated by J M Hussey). 1971. Thames and Hudson, London).  Pg 91.

[3] The early Caliphs desired Constantinople as the capital of their Islamic Empire. Nadia Maria El Cheikh. Byzantium Viewed by Arabs.  2004.  Harvard University Press, London.  Pg 62.

[4] Ahmad Shboul.  Byzantium and the Arabs: The image of the Byzantines as mirrored in Arabic literatureByzantine Papers.  1981.  Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Sydney. Pgs 52-55

[5] Mu’tasim targeted Amorium specifically because it the native city of the emperor Theophilus (829-842AD).  Theophilus led an army in its defence but suffered a massive defeat and was lucky to escape alive. When his opponents in Constantinople heard of his defeat they attempted to have him deposed.  Only the swift action by his step mother, Euphrosyne, saved his throne.

[6] Arab sources are complimentary of Irene and her decision to maintain peaceful relations with the Caliphate.  By contrast, her son Constantine VI (780-797AD) was seen as an irresponsible leader and his subsequent deposition by Irene was regarded a logical act of statesmanship on her part. El Cheikh.  Ibid.  Pg 91.

[7] In the west the Byzantines defeated and crushed the resurgent Bulgarian Empire.

[8] The De Administrando Imperio devotes significant space to Byzantium’s relations with the Danubian tribes.

[9] The Seljuks proclaimed themselves protectors of Sunni Orthodoxy in the name of the Abbasid Caliphate against the rival Shi’a Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt.   It is interesting to note the parallels to the career of the Normans in Italy.  After invading Italy at about the same time, the formerly pagan Norman Vikings set themselves up as protectors of Papal authority.

[10] Vardapet Aristakes Lastivertc’i.  11th century.  Regarding the Sufferings Occasioned by Foreign Peoples Living Around Us.  Translated by Robert Bedrosian.  Published by Medieval Source Book @ pg 3.  Successive Byzantine emperors from Michael IV (1034-1041AD) through to Constantine IX sent troops into Armenia but failed to take it.

[11] Lastivertc’i, ibid pg 3

[12] In this context, the Persians are the Turks.  Lastivertc’i, ibid,( pg 5).

Michael Psellus relates the whole incident without any context (a certain indication he is hiding something), saying Michael “started by finding fault with them en bloc – a mean thing to do.  Then, having made their leader stand forth in the centre of the group, together with his second-in-command – Isaac Comnenus…he poured out a torrent of abuse on Isaac.” (Michael Psellus.  Chronographia.  11th century.  Translated by E R A Sewter, 1966.  Published as Fourteen Byzantine Rulers by Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, pg 276). Theodore Skoutariotes however, describes the scene differently.  He states that Isaac was “very well received by the Emperor himself” but was abused and ignored by those advising the emperor.  Michael, being rather powerless, was unable to prevent his courtiers offending the powerful Isaac and the incident sparked the civil war.  (Theodoros Skoutariotes: Synopsis Chronika: The Emperors of the 11th Century @ the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Translated for by ©Nikos Koukounas  Lastivertc’i, provides the background that explains the cause of Michael’s outburst.  It is likely he received this information from someone in one of the many embassies sent by the Armenian princelings (who had retired to estates in Cappodocia) that would have travelled to Constantinople to do homage to Michael as his vassals after his accession.

[13] Michael VI was at least able to raise an army to fight in his defence.  His predecessor, Constantine IX Monomachus had been forced to face the rebellions of George Maniacus and Leo Tornikes with a scratch force enlisted from the palace guard, local mercenaries and prisoners.

[14] “There was so much blood shed that people said that such carnage in one place had not occurred before in Byzantium.”  Lastivertc’i, Ibid, ( page 3).  The army of Michael VI suffered the greater loss but remained intact.

[15] Justinian II (685-695AD) had also forcibly relocated tens of thousands of Slavs from the Balkans to western Anatolia in 689AD.

[16] Nicephorus I set about repopulating Thrace and Hellas with Byzantine settlers in 805AD, first through voluntarily resettlement programs, and then forcibly in 809AD when it became apparent insufficient settlers were migrating.  Thrace and Hellas recovered quickly and soon became peaceful and prosperous. Treadgold.Revival. Pgs 136-7 & 157-8

[17] Rumelia is a later term to describe the western provinces of the late Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.  It is used here as a collective description of all Byzantium’s western provinces.

[18] Lastivertc’i uses the archaic term Persians when he in fact means Turks.  @ 1.

[19] Isaac seems to have been an unpopular emperor.  Soon after his elevation he deposed the powerful and popular patriarch, Michael Celularius, resulting in riots.  His first coin issue featuring his portrait standing with an unsheathed sword was extremely unpopular, resulting in the issue being withdrawn and replaced with new portrait with the sword sheathed.  Whiting. Ibid, pg 198.

[20] During the Manzikert campaign, Romanus would reject the advice of several of his generals to wait for the Seljuk’s at Theodosiopolis (Erzerum in modern Turkey) specifically because he knew he could not sustain his large army in the region for an extended period

[21] The loss of Anatolia to the Turks has clear parallels to the loss of Syria, Palestine and Egypt to the Arabs. Both the Arabs and Turks were nomads with no need for complex military apparatus and extended supply lines.  On both occasions the Byzantines did not initially recognise the threat, expecting the invaders to plunder the countryside, bypass the cities and then move on.  Once the Turks and the Arabs gained possession of the countryside however, the Byzantines found their position untenable.  Walter E. Kaegi. (Byzantium and the early Islamic conquests.  1992. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

[22] A chain of fortified cities comprised the Empire’s eastern and southeastern border.  They included (north to south) Kars, Ani, Manzikert, Khilat, Edessa and Antioch.  Ani was the easternmost city in the chain.

[23] The empress’ Zoe and Theodora, the last of the Macedonian line, had both lost control of their respective consorts (Romanus III, Michael IV and Constantine IX) and found themselves sidelined from positions of power.  Eudocia was careful in her choice to ensure she retained control of political affairs, leaving Romanus to concentrate on military matters.  Barbara Hill.  Imperial Women in Byzantium.  1025-1204. Power, Patronage and Ideology. 1999.  Pearson Education limited, Harlow. Pgs 63-64.

[24] The historian Michael Attaleiates served with Romanus on his campaign and has left us a grim account of his experiences.  We should not necessarily take Attaleiates account at face value though, as Attaleiates’ was seeking to place the blame for Byzantium decline on Romanus’ effete predecessors and therefore emphasized the difficulties Romanus’ faced.  Paul Magadalino.  The Byzantine Background to the First Crusade.  1996. Canadian Institute of Balkan Studies, Toronto.  @

[25] W H. Haussig. Ibid, pg 91.

[26] Warren Treadgold.  A History of the Byzantine State and Society.  1997.  Stanford University Press, Stanford. Pgs 548-49.

[27] Eokoimene, meaning community (of believers).  Catherine Holmes argues that the administrations of Nicephorus II and Basil II took care to ensure the trade of Syria was preserved by encouraging Muslims to remain resident in the provinces and leaving the indigenous administration intact (‘How the east was won’ in the reign of Basil II, from Eastern Approaches to Byzantium @www.deremilitari/RESOURCES/PDFs/HOLMES.pdf.)   P D Whiting (Ibid, pg 173) supports this analysis with speculation that the gold tetarteron introduced by Nicephorus II was intended to replace the Fatimid dinar.  Haussig, however, points out that the failure to integrate the new conquests into the Byzantineeokoimene meant the central government was left to bear the costs but was unable to secure the benefits, which accrued to the Anatolian magnates (ibid, pgs 304-05).  Also see Haussig, pg 59 for a discussion of the causes of the 3rd century inflation in the Roman Empire.

[28] Vasso Penna.  Byzantine Coinage.  Medium of transaction and manifestation of imperial propaganda. 2002. Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation, Nicosia. Pgs 96 & 116.

[29] Psellus skips over this incident embarrassedly with the statement “The fact is, he put such overwhelming compulsion on me to join him on the campaign that I could not possibly refuse.  I would rather not say anything at the moment of the reason why he was so insistent that I should accompany him, because I am abridging most of this story, but I will speak of it when I write the history of these events. I am still under an obligation in the matter.” (Michael Psellus.  Chronographia.  11th century.  Translated by E R A Sewter, 1966.  Published as Fourteen Byzantine Rulers by Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, pg 352 & 353).

[30] Anna Comnena.  Alexiad.  11th century.  Translated by E R A Sewter, 1960. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, pg 31.  The emir’s name was Chrysoskoulos.  He was given the rank of proedros and would remain a loyal to the Byzantines, even after the disaster at Manzikert.  Charles M. Brand.  The Turkish Element in Byzantium, Eleventh-Twelfth Centuries.  Dumbarton Oaks Papers no 43. 1989.  Dumbarton Oaks Publications, Washington. Pg 2.

[31] Lord John Julius Norwich.  Byzantium.  The Apogee.  1991.  Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, pg 346

[32] Haldon. Byzantine Wars, pg 115.

[33] Justin McCarthy.  The Ottoman Turks. An Introductory History to 1923.  1997. Longman Books, London.  Pg 12

[34] Edessa had only been brought within the Byzantine sphere in 1032AD, when George Maniaces captured the city after Romanus III’s (1028-1034AD) disastrous Syrian campaign.  Alp Arslan’s sought to restore the city to Abbasid control.

[35] The emperor Julian II (360-363AD) attempted a similar manoeuvre in his Persian campaign of 363AD.

[36] “..battles are decided… by strategy and skill.  Strategy makes use of times and places, surprises and various tricks to outwit the enemy with the idea of achieving its objectives without actual fighting.”  Maurice Tiberius.  Strategikon.  6th century.  Translated by George T Dennis, 1984.  University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. Pg 23.

[37] Amongst some of the more famous mercenaries who served with the Byzantines were the Norwegian king, Harald Hardrada (then in exile), Edward the Confessor’s natural son (and dispossessed heir) Edward Aethling, as well as numerous other Saxon nobles, exiled from Britain following the Norman Conquest of 1066AD.

[38] Romanus had left behind the experienced general, Nicephorus Botaniates, as he did not trust his loyalty. Nicephorus would later make his own challenge for the throne, usurping Romanus’ successor, Michael VII. Romanus’ most dangerous rival, Constantine X’s brother, John Ducas, to his estates in Bithynia.  John’s son, Andronicus Ducas, was with the army as a commander of the reserve force and potential hostage.

[39] Manzikert was a key fortress on the Armenian frontier and had been held by the Turks for several years.  Psellus and Lastivertc’i are highly critical of Romanus’ decision to split his army, attributing his decision to engage the Turks with only half his forces to arrogance. Psellus. Ibid, pg 355 & Lastivertc’i, pg 2.

[40] Maurice’s Strategikon recommends the use of envoys to sow dissention in an enemy camp. Ibid, pg 65.

[41] Alfred Friendly, Manzikert: The Terrible Day, Lord Norwich, Byzantium.  The Apogee; and Edward Foord, The Byzantine Empire.   A more modern example is: That Terrible Day: The Byzantine defeat at Manzikert, AD 1071. Published @ Journal of Ancient and Medieval History at Dickson College.  November 1997

[42] Given that Bryennius was reported wounded with two arrows in his back and spear thrust in his side on the first day of battle, one thousand casualties might even be a little excessive.

[43] Western troops were carrying out a campaign in Bulgaria and at the same time, while the garrisons at Dyrrachium and Corfu were on alert against Norman aggression.

[44] Sirarpie Der Nersessian.  Armenia and the Byzantine Empire. A Brief Study of Armenian Art and Civilization.  1945.  Harvard University Press, Cambridge. Pgs 22-23.

[45] El Cheikh.  Ibid, pg 178

[46] Edward Foord reports that after his defeat Romanus sent his entire fortune to Alp Arslan as part payment for his ransom.  The story is likely to be an apocryphal later invention, like much of the Manzikert legend. Foord. Ibid, pg 328.

[47] Philaretos did not seize Antioch until the beginning of Nicephorus Botaniates reign in 1081AD.

[48] Niki Gamm. ‘Celebrating the Beginning of the Beginning.’  Turkish Daily News. 29 August 1999.  @ viewed 14 September 2004.

[49] The young Alexius Comnenus defeated Roussel would later be captured by the young Alexius Comnenus in his first military campaign, in 1073AD.  Anna Comnena. Ibid, pgs 31-37.

[50] In an attempt to neutralise Guiscard and retain Calabria within the Byzantine sphere of influence, Michael Ducas offered him a marriage alliance between his son and heir, Constantine, and Guiscard’s daughter.  The marriage never eventuated as Michael abdicated before the marriage could go ahead.

[51] The Immortals were established by Michael Ducas to replace the tagmata of the east.  Anna Comnena. Ibid, pg 38.

[52] John prudently became a monk and retired once more to his estates in Bithynia.  In gratitude to his earlier loyal service, Roussel escaped blinding and was rehabilitated to the emperor’s service.

[53] The Anatolic theme was situated in the north central Anatolia, directly north of the Cappadocian theme.

[54] Anna Comnena, ibid, pg 125.  Alexius assigned them the right to collect and spend taxes on behalf of the central government (known by the term pronoia).  Anna names Dabatanus, governor of Pontic Heracleia and Paphlagonia and Burtzes, governor of Cappadocia and “other officers” but does not mention Theodore Gabras and Philaretos.

[55] Anna Comnena, ibid, pg 130.  “The River Drakon was now made the border between them, with the proviso that the Turks were absolutely forbidden to cross it and under no circumstances to invade the frontiers of Bithynia.” [My emphasis].

[56] Now Durres in Albania.  Dyrrachium was a strategically important city as it marked the start of the Via Egnatia, the military highway leading to Constantinople.

[57] Anna Comnena, ibid, pg 137.  Anna is very reluctant to stress the importance of Alexius’ Turkish allies. She initially devotes only two bare sentences to Alexius’ decision to obtain troops from Suleyman and does not even mention the Sultan by name.  In contrast, she goes into great detail over the negotiations between Alexius and the Venetians and the German emperor, Henry IV.  Later, on page 167 she adds that Suleyman supplied an additional 7000 troops, including officers for Alexius’ second campaign against Guiscard.

[58] Ian Heath.  Byzantine Armies. 886-1118.  1979.  Osprey Books, London. Pg 30.  The Turcopouloi would be a fixture of the Byzantine army right through to the Palaeologian period.

[59] Alexius instigated a major overhaul of the taxation system and a complete reform the coinage, which stabilised the economy and restored government solvency.

[60] Many small-hold farmers simply abandoned their allotments for reasons of safety (due to raiding) or economic pressure.  Their neighbours, who were collectively responsible for payment of the taxes, were often forced to absorb abandoned allotments in order to meet tax obligations.

[61] The attitude of Anatolian aristocracy can be summed up by the writings of Kekaumenos, who was a contempory of Romanus IV.  As far as possible, the Anatolian landowners sought to secure their own advantage and avoid the authority of the central government. N. Kekaumenos.  Logos Nouthetetikos orOration of Admonition to an Emperor. 11th century. Translated by W North, 1972.  It has been speculated that Kekaumenos was either the same Kekaumenos who was abused by Michael VI Bringas in 1057AD, or his son.

[62] It is interesting to note that Basil II refused to be buried amongst his predecessors in the funerary Church of the Holy Apostles but outside the walls of Constantinople near the palace of the Hebdomon.  In this way he ensured that even in death he would not party to the pomp and ritual that he so despised in life.  Epitaph.of Basil II.  11th Century.  Translated by Paul Stephenson. @

[63] The Comneni family held estates in Kastamouni in Paphalgonia, although they apparently originated from a village near Adrianople in Thrace. Suleyman took Kastamouni from Theodore Gabras in the mid 1080’s.

[64] John Haldon.  Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World. 565-1204. 1999.  UCL Press, London. Pg 95.

[65]  Claude Cahen.  The Formation of Turkey.  The Seljukid Sultanate of Rum: Eleventh to Fourteenth Century.  1988. Translated from the French by P M Holt, 2001.  Pearson Education Limited, Harlow pg 100.

[66] Sir Steven Runciman.  A History of the Crusades.  Volume 1.  The First Crusade.  1951.  Penguin Books, Harmondsworth. Pg 68.

[67] Cahen. Ibid, pg 97.

[68] Amin Maalouf.  The Crusades Through Arab Eyes.  1984.  Al Saqi Books, London. Pg 4.

[69] In 1072AD, the Great Seljuk Sultan, Malik Shah had granted Suleyman ibn Kutalamis nominal authority over the Seljuks of Anatolia.  This was less of an honour than it might appear however, as Malik Shah’s aim was to keep the rebellious Kutalamis clan at a safe distance while he consolidated his power over the Great Seljuk Sultanate.  Once securely in power, Malik Shah sent an army against Suleyman’s authority.

[70] Cahen. Ibid, pg 136.  Alexius himself had no right to confer the title of Sultan, which in theory could only be granted by the Caliph, but the Byzantines often used titles and administered oaths in forms that were familiar to their recipients.

[71] The Seljuks appear to have put great stock in political marriages.

[72] It is interesting that Tzaches proclaimed himself emperor, rather than Sultan.  He had served in Constantinople for many years and his choice of title clearly indicates he felt himself a naturalised Byzantine.

[73] “..the next day all those Turks who were eager to serve him received numerous benefits; those who desired to go home were permitted to follow their inclination – and they too departed with not a few gifts.” Anna Comnena.  Ibid, pg 339-340.  It is also notable that Boutoumites, the Byzantine general Alexius sent to accompany the Crusaders was a converted Turk.  His troops were primarily Turkish mercenaries.

[74] Cahen. Ibid, pg 22.  Manuel Comnenus aligned with Ma’sud to drive the troops of the Second Crusade quickly through Byzantine and Rum Seljuk territory.

[75] His real name was Malik Shah, Shahanshah being a Persian title meaning King of Kings.

[76] Anna Comnena explains the treaty terms in speech she attributes to her father.  “’If you are willing,’ he said, ‘to yield to the authority of Rome and put an end to your raids on the Christians, you will enjoy favours and honours, living in freedom for the rest of your lives on lands set aside for you.  I refer to the lands where you used to dwell before Romanus Diogenes became emperor and before in met the sultan in battle….. ‘” Ibid, pg 488.  The claim to lands set aside outside of Roman territory is likely an invention of Anna.   It is worthwhile comparing these terms with treaty between Kilij Arslan II and Manuel from 1161AD, as reported by John Kinnamos.  Kilij Arslan promised “throughout his life to be hostile to those who cherished enmity against the emperor, but to be friendly to those who on the contrary, were settled in his favour.  Of the cities which he had won, he would give the greater or more notable to the emperor.  It was not allowed for him to make peace with any enemy unless the emperor directed.  He would fight as ally with the Romans on request, and come with his entire force whether the conflict was an eastern or western one.  Nor would he allow those who lay beneath his authority…to do any harm whatsoever to the Roman’s land, unpunished.”  John Kinnamos.  Epitome.  12th century.  Translated by Charles M Brand, 1976.  Published as The Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenos.  Columbia University Press, New York pg 158. These appear to be standard terms of a Byzantine federate state.

[77] Eustathios of Thessaloniki.  The Capture of Thessalonica.  12th century.  Translated by John Melville-Jones. 1987. Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Canberra. Pg 57

[78] Dimitri Obolensky.  The Byzantine Commonwealth.  Eastern Europe 500 – 1453. 1971. Cardinal Books (1974 edition), London.

[79] Cahen. Ibid, pgs 124-130.  Aristeides Papadakis reports constant pressure from the political and religious hierarchy in Constantinople to force those bishops and priests who had fled during the conquest to return their diocese. The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy.  The Church in History volume IV.  1994.  SVS Press, New York. Pg 186.

[80] An example might be the emir Tzachas of Smyrna, who served for a period at court of Alexius Comnenus.   Claiming the title of emperor for himself implied he was Orthodox, as opposed to using the Islamic title of sultan.

[81] Brand. Ibid, Pg 22.

[82] After his cursory ‘I told you so’ description of Romanus’ downfall after Manzikert, Psellus moves directly on to a panegyric of the Ducas family and paints a picture of the empire at peace with itself and its neighbours. Psellus, Ibid, pg 355 on.

[83] “The barbarians had gone unchecked, from the time when they invaded the Empire soon after Diogenes’ elevation to the throne and his eastern campaign (which was ill-starred from the very beginning) right down to my father’s reign.”  (Anna Comnena, Ibid, pg 504-05).  The implication being that Alexius had checked the Turks.  Anna’s assessment was somewhat optimistic as the Turks were now a permanent fixture in Anatolia. That she did not use  John II’s inability to dislodge the Turks as opportunity to slander her hated brother suggests she  failure of Alexius’ eastern policy.

[84] Amongst those who moved between the two societies were Manuel Comnenus’ brother, Isaac Comnenus and several of his children, Andronicus Comnenus, Alexius III Angelus, Michael Palaeologus and Kay Khusraw.

[85] Penna. Ibid, pg 103-108.

[86] On must also factor in the trading concessions Alexius granted the Venetians.  Both actions were economically disastrous in the long-term.


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