Seljuk Turks
1137 - 1194 AD

By Gareth Harding

The Turks, or Turkomans as they were known in the Middle east, had a particularly fearsome reputation in their early days and were said to be small slant eyed people who crouched in the saddles of their agile steppe ponies bringing nothing but death to their enemies. As such they are formidable foes, hard hitting but quick to disperse should things not go their way. They certainly lived in the saddle, and roamed the steppes, like the Huns who came before them, and the Mongols after, but they also swept into the fractured Moslem world at a time when the Abbasid Caliphate was weak and the myriad autonomous princedoms of the middle east had been busy fighting each other.  They had adopted a strongly orthodox version of the Sunni faith on giving up their pagan ancestry and in the mid 11th Century became overlords of a great empire similar to that of the Sassanids, stretching from India to the Mediterranean.

This list covers the armies of the Seljuk Turks from the time of their wars against nominal Ghaznavid rule in north eastern Persia until their power was finally broken by the Ilkhanid Mongols. It therefore covers both the Greater Seljuk Empire, which lasted from 1037 to 1194, and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum (Rome), which was established in former Byzantine Territories in Anatolia and lasted from 1077 to 1307.

The Seljuk name was derived from the Grandfather of Togrul Bey who along with Chagri wrested eastern provinces of Persia from the Ghaznavid rulers of the area. They defeated them and sacked the capital Ghazni, in 1037 and decisively defeated Mas’ud and his army at the battle of Dandanaqan in 1039. The Seljuks then established themselves in Persia and were invited by the Abbasids to capture Bagdad from the Shi’a advisors who controlled the Caliph’s court. The Shi’a Moslems were in control in Africa, Egypt and Syria and Sunni influence was waning. The next fifty years saw the establishment of Turkic power in the middle east and a flourishing of art and culture in the developing Turko-Persian world.

Turko-Persian culture was spread throughout the middle east by the Seljuks who occupied many senior posts in Governments and armies. The Seljuk Sultanate of Rum had its origins the natural tendency of these pastoral nomadic raiders to scout and plunder. Alp Arslan led a large raid into Byzantine Anatolia and eventually the Empire responded. The Byzantines were weak at this time and had even moved settlers out of their Eastern Themes leaving the areas south east of the Black Sea under populated and poorly defended. The Emperor Romanus Diogenes decided to campaign against them. He led the best of the Byzantine forces into a trap at the battle of Manzikert in 1071.This broke the power of the indigenous Byzantine army forever and the subsequent loss of territories, including Jerusalem, and ports on the black sea and Mediterranean led to the Crusades.

The Seljuks moved into upland Asia Minor and profited as elsewhere from the trade routes, which they protected and defended by building many caravanserai.

Suleyman had been a Great Seljuk Commander and declared himself Sultan of Rum following his capture of Byzantine Territory close to Constantinople. He was a distant cousin of the Great Seljuk Leader, Malik Shah. And thus founded the Rum dynasty.

The Rum Seljuks lasted for many years, attacked or absorbed neighbours , bore the brunt of the Crusades, beat a huge Byzantine mercenary army at Myriocephalon in 1176 and lost their capital at Konya to the German Crusaders of Frederick Barbarossa for fifteen years! The Mongols finally broke their power in 1243 at the Battle of Kose Dag. The Rum Seljuks had rallied support from amongst Christian Armenians, Georgians, Trabzon Byzantines and employed Franks (knights fighting in the western style)but the alliance was all to no avail. The army was routed and the Seljuks became Mongol vassals. The Mongols then “lent” troops to the Seljuks replacing the former allies.