Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Byzantine defeats - Part V - Battle of Myriokephalon

Battle of Myriokephalon (1176)

A century after the battle of Manzikert, Byzantines suffered another heavy defeat by the Seljuks. This time the main actors were the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (ruled from 1143-1180) and Iconium’s sultan Kilij Arslan II (ruled from1156-1192).

During his reign, the Byzantine emperor was able to slightly improve the relationships between the Empire and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm. Kilij Arslan visited Istanbul in 1161 as a guest of the Byzantine emperor, and his host organized a magnificent reception for him. He even pledged to Manuel Komnenos that he would send military support and return him some of the cities in the border zone. However, due to emperors many obligations and commitment to Western politics, the sultan "forgot" his obligations and, furthermore, encouraged by the support of the German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (ruled from 1152-1190), he took hostile attitude towards Byzantium. 

At the head of a huge army, in the summer of 1176, Manuel Komnenos headed towards the Seljuk border. Emperor firmly refused Sultan's peace offer and continued the march.

Kilij Arslan was trying to avoid conflict in the open field, so he only occupied long and narrow Tzibritze pass near the city Myriokephalon in Asia Minor area of Phrygia. In addition, he sent his supporting troops to disturb the progress of emperor’s army. They burned the grass to make it difficult to feed Byzantine horses and poisoned wells by throwing bodies and dirt in them. And indeed, during this campaign a great number of Romans died from stomach diseases.

On September 17, 1176, in Tzibritze pass, the Seljuks surrounded and attacked the Byzantine army, and completely defeated it. The Byzantines were as trapped, powerless to resist properly. In addition, it was not possible to establish any type of connection between the individual Roman troops.

The battle lasted all day. A large number of Byzantine soldiers and several prominent military leaders were killed while Manuel Komnenos, in a moment of despondency, was thinking to leave his army and run for his life. Later, the Byzantine soldiers openly blamed the emperor for the defeat. 

The state and the mood of the Roman army didn’t change even when the darkness of the night surrounded them. Byzantine historian, who lived in those times, Niketas Choniates, wrote that those who managed to escape spent the next few long sleepless hours filled with horror and suspense.

Since the Turkish losses were also significant, in the evening hours Kilij Arslan accepted Manuel’s proposal for the conclusion of peace. According to concluded agreement, the Byzantines were required to destroy their two fortress in the border area.

After two days, the remaining Roman army began to retreat. Manuel Komnenos, himself, compared this loss to the disaster in Manzikert 150 years earlier. 

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