Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Byzantine defeats - Part IV - Battle of Manzikert

Battle of Manzikert (1071)

Throughout its history, Byzantium had misfortune to, roughly speaking, constantly fight wars on two fronts, east and west. In the East, the enemies of the Empire were at first the Persians, then Arabs and finally the Turks, Seljuks and Ottomans.

In the 11th century, Byzantium was dangerously threatened by an invasion of Seljuks who easily broke the Arabian forces in Asia, conquered a number of areas, penetrated through Mesopotamia and conquered caliph’s capital Baghdad. Soon, the whole part of Asia to the borders of the Byzantine Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, belonged to the Seljuk. They penetrated Armenia, ravaged Cilicia and with invasion of Cappadocia, they made it clear that they have intensions to occupy Asia Minor.

Precisely at that time, the Emperor Constantine X Doukas (ruled from 1059-1067) died, and his widow Eudokia, under the pressure of one part of the public, married the Roman general Diogenes who was the only one capable to take action against invasive Seljuks.

The new emperor, Romanos IV Diogenes (ruled from 1068-1071) was skilled military leader and he immediately went to the East. His campaigns in 1068 and 1069 could be called relatively successful, but his third campaign ended with heavy defeat.

In the summer of 1071, two armies collided, the Byzantine - which consisted and of many foreigners (Frankish, Russians, Pechenegs, Uz, Normans) - and Seljuk led by sultan Alp Arslan (ruled from 1064-1072). The battle was fought in Armenia, near the town Manzikert, which is near Lake Van. It was thought previously that the battle occurred on August 19, 1071, but based on the data of the Byzantine Short chronicles, the event was placed a whole week back, on August 26, 1071.

The facts from preserved sources - Byzantine, Eastern and Western - are considerable contradictory so it is not easy to discern what has happened. There is no doubt that the Byzantine army was numerically stronger than the Seljuk, but it was also diverse and less disciplined.

The impression is that the Byzantine emperor clearly underestimated the opponents and that he split his army so that one part of it - the Normans, led by Commander Roussel de Bailleul - did not participate in the battle, and were directed on the other side. Furthermore, when the battle began, they have retreated to the west.

In the first phase, the Byzantine cavalry attacked and the Seljuks retreated, pretending to flee, but then they unexpectedly turned and caught their enemies into a trap. However, the majority of the Byzantine army attacked those Turkish detachments, forcing them to retreat, and safely returned to their camp.

The next day, sultan Alp Arslan managed to draw on his side a number of Uz units, a tribe related to the Seljuks, but that was still far from victory. Therefore, he proposed a truce, but the terms offered by the Romanos IV Diogenes were unacceptable.

When the battle began anew, the Byzantine army, under the command of the emperor, struck at the center. Just then, Andronikos Doukas, Emperor's old rival, spread the word that emperor is defeated. He immediately left the battlefield and caused general chaos and retreat. Romanos IV Diogenes found himself surrounded by Seljuks and desperately fought until he was captured.

Today, researchers believe that one of the reasons for Turkey's victory was and the fact that they used their archers more cleverly.

In the beginning, the defeat was not that heavy. Byzantine losses were relatively small, and Alp Arslan treated the captured Byzantine emperor like a true knight and signed an honorable peace with him. However, the Roman disputes turned this event into a disaster with unforeseeable consequences. Opposing party at Constantinople, led by John Doukas, a father of Manzikert’s traitor, and Michael Psellos, performed a sort of coup, and placed Michael VII Doukas (ruled from 1071-1078) on the throne.

Upon his return from Turkish captivity, Romanos IV Diogenes reached out for the protection of his royal rights. This initiated a civil war. Eventually, his opponents captured and blinded him on fraud by not keeping their word.

On news of Romanos blindness and death, in 1072 the Seljuks began to penetrate Asia Minor because the contract that they signed several months ago, was no longer valid. Byzantium didn’t have enough strength to stop the Turkish invasion and, in just few years, they conquered most of Asia Minor. They won even Nicaea, a town not far from Constantinople. The participants of the First Crusade returned it to Byzantium only in 1097.

Battle of Manzikert was a significant turning point in Byzantine history and an event of global historical significance.  It marked the arrival of the Turks in Asia Minor, and the foundation of their Sultanate of Iconium state (Rûm), on one side, and gradual turn of focus of Byzantium on the European area, on the other side.

In 1971, the modern Turkey celebrated this event in a special way, with a great public holiday. They celebrated their ninth centenary.

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