The Battle Of Manzikert, August 26th 1071. The Muslims Bring Down The Byzantines.

by Daniel Russ on February 20, 2010

Battle Of Manzikert, August 26th 1071

Battle of Manzikert, French Painting

A Byzantine Army to 50,000 to 70,000 men under Romanus the Byzantine Empire, crossed the Bosporous. Romanus was ruling over a nation teetering on the edge of collapse. He was facing a ruthless and efficient warrior leader, Alp Arslan commanding 40,000 mounted troops and infantry in what’s now Armenia.

Tension had been mounting betweem the Anatolian Muslims and the Byzantine Christians. Internal politics and incompetence was bringing down the great Byzantine Empire and as if often the antidote to internal decay is to start a war. Alp Arslan, the Seljuk leader had been making forays into Anatolia and successfully grabbing one outpost after another. In 1071, his forces invaded and grabbed two township castles, Khelat and Manzikert.

Romanus had assembled a force of perhaps 50K but possibly 70K mostly mercenary troops, Franks, Normans, Bulgarians, Turkish Armenian and Varangian fighters. Romanus forced a pitched battle and displaced Turkish inhabitants of Manzikert. However, Seljuk Turkish cavalry played a cat and mouse hit and run guerrilla engagement with the Byzantines. In face-to-face pitched battles, the Byzantines won. But Alp Arslan was able to bait the Byzantine formations into the field and then harass them with an endless stream of arrows from mounted archers; avoiding obvious grinding attrition battles; splitting up so Romanus’s formations had no sitting static target to go after; all these tactics wore down the Byzantines, already worn down by hours of standing in formation, after carrying heavy body armor and linen tunics over that.

The Byzantine cavalry was far outmatched by the Seljuks. The Byzantines carried heavier armor, their horses weren’t as robust, while the Turkish mounted soldiers were lightly armored, carried bows and long spears, trained for guerrilla warfare and they were familiar with fighting on that terrain.

Sultan Arslan And His Son Majik

Finally the Byzantines made a mistake, after days of formations and swatting at disappearing Turkish cavalry, Byzantine troops were ordered back into the township walls, but only half the force went in. The left and right wings of the Byzantine army deployed back into their lines. The Seljuks were just minutes away in the hill surrounding Manzikert and through the night routed the confused and outnumbered Byzantines. The Anatolian levies that populated much of the Turkish mercenary force didn’t really have a dog in this fight other than payday, had left in droves and basically surrendered the heavy Byzantine infantry to the Turks. Romanus was captured.

Alp Arslan was the Seljuk Turk commander who used his massive and well-disciplined cavalry to defeat the Byzantines. He had also tamed Georgia Armenia and Anatolia. When Romanus was taken prisoner, the Sultan Arslan treated him with much dignity and respect. He provided every comfort to Romanus, received land concessions from him and set him free. Arslan lived from 1030 to 1072.

He was killed by a prisoner on a campaign in Persia just one year after Manzikert.

Source: Battle. R.G. Grant, 2008, Covent Garden Books; Wikipedia

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Louis August 28, 2017 at 6:23 am

Looks like this should read Byzantine instead of Turkish:
The Anatolian levies that populated much of the Turkish mercenary force didn’t really have a dog in this fight other than payday, had left in droves and basically surrendered the heavy Byzantine infantry to the Turks.

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