The Great Seljuq Empire was a medieval Sunni Muslim empire established by the Qynyq branch of Oghuz Turks that once controlled a vast area stretching from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf. From their homelands near the Aral sea, the Seljuqs advanced first into Khorasan and then into mainland Persia before eventually conquering eastern Anatolia. Their advance marked the beginning of Turkic power in the Middle East.
The Seljuq empire was founded by Tugrul Beg in 1037 after the efforts by the founder of the Seljuq dynasty, Seljuq Beg, back in the first quarter of the 11th century. Seljuq Beg's father was in a higher position in the Oghuz Yabgu State, and gave his name both to the state and the dynasty. The Seljuqs united the fractured political scene of the Eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades. Highly Persianized in culture and language, the Seljuqs also played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition.
Founder of the Dynasty
The apical ancestor of the Seljuqs was their Beg, Seljuq, who was reputed to have served in the Khazar army, under whom, circa 950 they migrated to Khwarezm, near the city of Jend also called Khujand, where they converted to Islam.
The Seljuqs were allied with the Persian Samanid Shahs
against the Qarakhanids
. The Samanids
however fell to the Qarakhanids
and the emergence of the Ghaznavids
and were involved in the power struggle in the region before establishing their own independent base.
Tugrul and Chagri Beg
Beg was the grandson of Seljuk and Çagrı (Chagri) was his brother, under whom the Seljuks wrested an empire from the Ghaznavids
. Initially the Seljuks were repulsed by Mahmud
and retired to Khwarezm
but Togrül and Çagrı led them to capture Merv
(1028-1029). Later they repeatedly raided and traded territory with his successors across Khorasan
and even sacked Ghazni
in 1037. In 1039 at the Battle of Dandanaqan
, they decisively defeated Mas'ud I of the Ghaznavids
resulting in him abandoning most of his western territories to the Seljuks. In 1055, Togrül captured Baghdad
from the Shi'a Buyids
under a commission from the Abbassids
Alp Arslan was the son of Chagri Beg and expanded significantly upon Togrül's holdings by adding Armenia
in 1064 and invading the Byzantine Empire
, from which he annexed almost all of Anatolia
; Arslan's decisive victory at the Battle of Manzikert
) effectively neutralized the Byzantine threat. He authorized his Turcoman generals to carve their own principalities out of formerly Byzantine Anatolia, as atabegs
loyal to him. Within two years the Turcomans had established control as far as the Aegean Sea
under numerous "beghliks" (modern Turkish beyliks
): the Saltuqis
in Northeastern Anatolia, Mengujeqs
in Eastern Anatolia, Artuqids
in Southeastern Anatolia, Danishmendis
in Central Anatolia, Rum Seljuks
(Beghlik of Suleyman
, which later moved to Central Anatolia) in Western Anatolia and the Beghlik of Çaka Beg
Malik Shah I
Under Alp Arslan
's successor Malik Shah and his two Persian viziers Nizām al-Mulk
and Tāj al-Mulk
, the Seljuk state expanded in various directions, to former Iranian border before Arab invasion, so that it bordered China
in the East and the Byzantines
in the West.
He moved the capital from Rayy
. The Iqta military system and the Nizāmīyyah University at Baghdad were established by Nizām al-Mulk, and the reign of Malikshāh was reckoned the golden age of "Great Seljuk". The Abbasid Caliph titled him "The Sultan of the East and West" in 1087. The Assassins
) of Hassan-e Sabāh
however started to become a force during his era and assassinated many leading figures in his administration.
The Seljuk power was at its zenith under Malikshāh I, and both the Qarakhanids and Ghaznavids had to acknowledge the overlordship of the Seljuks.. The Seljuk dominion was established over the ancient Sassanid domains, in Iran and Iraq, and included Anatolia as well as parts of Central Asia and modern Afghanistan. The Seljuk rule was modelled after the tribal organization brought in by the nomadic conquerors and resembled a 'family federation' or 'appanage state'. Under this organization the leading member of the paramount family assigned family members portions of his domains as autonomous appanages.
The First Crusade
The fractured states of the Seljuks were on the whole more concerned with consolidating their own territories and gaining control of their neighbours than with cooperating against the crusaders during the First Crusade
. The Seljuks easily defeated the untrained People's Crusade
arriving in 1096
, but could not stop the progress of the army of the subsequent Princes' Crusade
, which took important cities such as Nicaea
, and Antioch
on its march to Jerusalem
, and in 1099
finally successfully captured the Holy Land
, setting up the first Crusader States
. The Seljuks had already lost Palestine
to the Fatimids
, who had recaptured it just before its capture by the crusaders.
The Second Crusade
- See also: Second Crusade, Zengi, Nur ad-Din
had to contend with the revolts of Qarakhanids
in modern Kyrghyzstan
, even as the nomadic Kara-Khitais
invaded the East, destroying the Seljuk vassal state of the Eastern Qarakhanids. At the Battle of Qatwan in 1141, Sanjar lost all his eastern provinces up to the Syr Darya
During this time conflict with the Crusader States was also intermittent, and after the First Crusade increasingly independent atabegs would frequently ally with the crusader states against other atabegs as they vied with each other for territory. At Mosul, Zengi succeeded Kerbogha as atabeg and successfully began the process of consolidating the atabegs of Syria. In 1144 Zengi captured Edessa, as the County of Edessa had allied itself with the Ortoqids against him. This event triggered the launch of the Second Crusade. Nur ad-Din, one of Zengi's sons who succeeded him as atabeg of Aleppo, created an alliance in the region to oppose the Second Crusade, which landed in 1147.
Division of empire
- See also: Sultanate of Rum, Atabegs
When Malikshāh I died in 1092
, the empire split as his brother and four sons quarrelled over the apportioning of the empire among themselves. In Anatolia, Malikshāh I was succeeded by Kilij Arslan I
who founded the Sultanate of Rum
and in Syria
by his brother Tutush I
. In Persia
he was succeeded by his son Mahmud I
whose reign was contested by his other three brothers Barkiyaruq
, Muhammad I
and Ahmad Sanjar
When Tutush I died his sons Radwan and Duqaq inherited Aleppo and Damascus respectively and contested with each other as well further dividing Syria amongst emirs antagonistic towards each other.
In 1118, the third son Ahmad Sanjar took over the empire. His nephew, the son of Muhammad I did not recognize his claim to the throne and Mahmud II proclaimed himself Sultan and established a capital in Baghdad, until 1131 when he was finally officially deposed by Ahmad Sanjar.
Elsewhere in nominal Seljuk territory were the Artuqids in northeastern Syria and northern Mesopotamia. They controlled Jerusalem until 1098. In eastern Anatolia and northern Syria a state was founded by the Dānišmand dynasty, and contested land with the Sultanate of Rum and Kerbogha exercised greeted independence as the atabeg of Mosul.
The Seljuks were educated in the service of Muslim courts as slaves or mercenaries. The dynasty brought revival, energy, and reunion to the Islamic civilization hitherto dominated by Arabs and Persians. According to the Seljuks, they brought to the Muslims "fighting spirit and fanatical aggression".
The Seljuks were also patrons of art and literature. Under the Seljuks universities were founded. Their reign is characterized by astronomers such as Omar Khayyám, and the philosopher al-Ghazali.
List of Emperors of the Great Seljuq Empire
Conquest by Khwarezm and the Ayyubids
- See also:Saladin, Ayyubid, Khwarezmid Empire
In 1153, the Oghuz Turks rebelled and captured Sanjar. He managed to escape three years later but died a year later. Despite several attempts to reunite the Seljuks by his successors, the Crusades
prevented them from regaining their former empire. The atabegs, such as Zengids
, were only nominally under the Seljuk Sultan, and generally controlled Syria independently. When Ahmed Sanjar died in 1156, it fractured the empire even further and rendered the atabegs effectively independent.
- Khorasani Seljuks in Khorasan and Transoxiana. Capital: Merv
- Kermani Seljuks
- Sultanate of Rum. Capital: Iznik (Nicaea), later Konya (Iconium)
- Atabeghlik of Salgur in Iran
- Atabeghlik of Ildeniz in Iraq and Azerbaijan. Capital Hamadan
- Atabeghlik of Bori in Syria. Capital: Damascus
- Atabeghlik of Zangi in Al Jazira (Northern Mesopotamia). Capital: Mosul
- Turcoman Beghliks: Danishmendis, Artuqids, Saltuqis and Mengujegs in Asia Minor
- Khwarezmshahs in Transoxiana, Khwarezm. Capital: Urganch
After the Second Crusade, Nur ad-Din's general Shirkuh, who had established himself in Egypt on Fatimid land, was succeeded by Saladin. In time, Saladin rebelled against Nur ad-Din, and, upon his death, Saladin married his widow and captured most of Syria and created the Ayyubid dynasty.
On other fronts, the Kingdom of Georgia began to become a regional power and extended its borders at the expense of Great Seljuk. The same was true during the revival of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia under Leo II of Armenia in Anatolia. The Abbassid caliph An-Nasir also began to reassert the authority of the caliph and allied himself with the Khwarezmshah Ala ad-Din Tekish.
For a brief period, Togrul III was the Sultan of all Seljuk except for Anatolia. In 1194, however, Togrul was defeated by Ala ad-Din Tekish, the Shah of Khwarezmid Empire, and the Seljuk finally collapsed. Of the former Seljuk Empire, only the Sultanate of Rüm in Anatolia remained. As the dynasty declined in the middle of the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Anatolia in the 1260s and divided it into small emirates called the Anatolian beyliks. Eventually one of these, the Ottoman, would rise to power and conquer the rest.
16 Fazli Konus, "Selcuklular Bibliyografyası", Konya, 2006, p. 410
- Previte-Orton, C. W (1971). The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- G. E. Tetley The Ghaznavid and Seljuk Turks: Poetry as a Source for Iranian History, Abingdon 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-43119-4