The Seljuk Empire

  Category: Islamic Civilizations
Author: Ihsan

Origin of the Seljuks and Their Foundation (9th Century - 1035):

The Imperial family of the Seljuk Empire, the House of Seljuk, was a member of the Kinik Oghuz Tribe. The Kinik tribe was living north of the Aral Sea in the 9th century, when it was ruled by the Oghuz Yabgu Kaghanate. Under the ledarship of Seljuk (originially Selchuk), their leader, they migrated to Jend, a town located near the border, and became Muslim in the mid-10th century. The Seljuks helped the Samanids in their struggle against the Western Qarakhanids, but the Samanid capital Bukhara fell and the Samanid lands were overrun by the Qarakhanids and Gaznavids. Tughrul Begh, grandson of Seljuk, struggled with both powers but the newly-formed Seljuk state soon fell to the Gaznawids.

Rise of the Seljuks (1035 - 1063):                        

 Tughrul Be
Tughrul (Toghrul), together with the help of his brother Chaghri (Cagri), migrated to Khorasan with some of the Oghuz tribes and started their struggle against the Gazhawids. The united Oghuz forces defeated a large Gaznawid army at the Nesa Plains in 1035, which was the first Seljuk victory over the Gaznawids. The Seljuks demanded more lands, and their raidings resulted with the Battle of Serahs in 1038. After this victory, Tughrul Begh entered Nishapur and declared his independence. Two years later, 20.000 Seljuk light riders crushed a large Gaznawid army composed of 300 war elephants and 50.000 troops (mainly heavy cavalries and infantries) at the Battle of Dandanaqan; the battle was won with the hit-and-run attacks of the Seljuks. The Seljuks withdrew to the desert, the Gaznawids followed them, but their forces were left without food and water, and the weakened Gaznawids broke in a single charge. This victory marked the foundation of the Seljuk Empire, which was now rapidly expanding towards West.
 Seljuk ceramic plate with lustru - painted decoration from Ray, Iran

ughrul Begh's generals soon conquered Kerman, Sistan and Bust in Persia, Maqran on the Indian Ocean coast and Kharezm. During the campaign against the Gaznawids, important Khorasani towns like Balkh and Jurjan were captured. A peace treaty was signed between the Seljuks and Gaznavids, and the Hindikush Mountains became the border between the two empires. Cagri Begh died in Serahs in 1060, at the age of 70, and was buried in Merv. After Cagri Begh's death, the Seljuks continued to expand: Towns like Kazven, Isfahan, Ray (modern Tahran) and Hamadan; and areas like Azerbaijan were brought under the Seljuk rule.
The Seljuks now planned to conquer Asia Minor, which was rich in resources. The Oghuz (now called as Turcomans) tribes needed extra space to live, since the Central Asian steppes were too dry. Tughrul Begh send his Turcoman raiders to raid the Eastern parts of Asia Minor, and these Turcomans won a victory over the Byzantine-Georgian forces at Pasinler in 1048. While these raids were happening, a revolt was started by Ibrahim Yinal, but was put down quickly. A new campaign was made on the Shi'a Buyids, and the Buyid lands (which were consisted of some parts of Iraq, Fars, Ahwaz, Khuzistan and Al-Jazira) were invaded. In 1055, Tughrul Begh entered Baghdad and freed the Abbasid caliph from Buyid pressure. He earned the title "Ruler of the Lands of East and West" from the caliph and became the protector of the Caliphate.
Ibrahim Yinal revolted again, but was defeated near Ray and killed. While Tughrul Begh was dealing with him, the last remnants of the Buyids re-captured Baghdad and sent the Abbasid caliph into exile. Tughrul Begh returned quickly and expelled the Buyids. He died in 1063 in Ray and was buried there

Alp Arslan's Reign (1064 - 1072)
Tughrul Begh didn't have a child, and he was succeded by Cagri Begh's son Alp Arslan. However, the Grand Vizier Qunduri and some generals like Qutalmish supported Amir Suleiman to become the sultan. Alp Arslan crushed the rebel forces near Ray and began planning a new conquest of Asia Minor. He besieged the fort of Ani and captured it after a succesful siege. He returned to his capital and marched on the Oghuz tribes living north of the Aral Sea. Those tribes accepted Alp Arslan's rule and entered the Seljuk protectorate. While he was touring the Eastern provinces, his generals like Afshin, Sunduq, Ahmet Shah, Dilmach, Mehmed, Sav Tegin, Ay Tegin and Gumush Te

 Alp Arslan

gin raided the Eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. After returning from the East, Alp Arslan marched on the Fatimids of Egypt and captured Aleppo. He returned to Eastern Anatolia because the Byzantines had already sent an army to expel the Turcoman raiders.
  Drawing showing a Turcoman leader, a Seljuk Ghulam and a drummer

Alp Arslan united his forces with the raiders of his generals and crushed the Byzantines at the Battle of Malazgirt (Manzikert) in 1071. This victory caused the Byzantines to lose their Anatolian provinces, a place they had recruited many men. This resulted in the decline of the Byzantine army, which was already weakened due to the abolishment of the Theme System. Alp Arslan didn't enter Anatolia himself and ordered his Turcoman generals to conquer all the Byzantine lands. He also allowed them to create small principalities of their own, but also ordered them to be loyal to him. The Turcomans overran Asia Minor in two years and went as far as the Aegean Sea. Many small Turcoman "beghliks" were founded throughout Asia Minor: Saltuqis in Northeastern Anatolia, Mengujeqs in Eastern Anatolia, Artuqis in Southeastern Anatolia, Danishmendis in Central Anatolia, Rum Seljuks (Beghlik of Suleiman Shah, which later moved to Central Anatolia) in Western Anatolia and the Beghlik of Chaka Begh in Izmir (Smyrna). These beghliks form a very different topic, so I'll not write about them much.

After his Anatolian Campaign, war broke out between the Seljuk governor of Kharezm and the Qarakhanids. Alp Arslan marched on the Eastern border to end the war, besieged the Fort Barzam but was assasinated by Yusuf Kharezmi, commander of the fort.Yusuf was cut down by Alp Arslan's ghulams (guards) but Alp Arslan died after a short time.
The Golden Age: Maliq Shah's Reign (1072 - 1092):

After Alp Arslan's assasination in 1072, Maliq Shah (shown in picture: below left)became the new Seljuk sultan but spent some of his years in defeating his uncle Qawurd, who had been trying to become the sultan. After this revolt was put down and Qawurt killed, Malik Shah marched on the rebellious Qarakhanids and Gaznawids to ensure the Seljuk rule. Both vassals were defeated and forced to make peace. He moved the Seljuk capital from Ray to Isfahan and also organised three campaigns against Georgia and advanced as far as the Black Sea.

The Seljuk Empire now stretched from the shores of Mediterrenean up to the Central Asian mountains to the East. Armenians, Georgians, Abbasids, Qarakhanids and Gaznawids were now the vassals of the Seljuk sultans. Nizam Al Mulq, a Sunni Persian, was a great administrator, who stayed as the Seljuk Grand Vizier during both Alp Arslan's and Maliq Shah's reign. He was later assasianted by Hassan Sabbah's Shi'a Assasins. Nizam Al Mulq is credited with being the re-organiser of the Iqta military system (similar to the Byzantine Theme and Sui Chinese Fu systems); he was also the founder of the famous Nizamiyah Madrasah (Muslim University) in Baghdad
Maliq Shah visited Baghdad twice: first in 1087 (in which he was declared "The Sultan of East and West" by the Abbasid Caliph) and in 1091. He marched on the rebellious Qarakhanids in 1090 and brought them under Seljuk rule. By 1091, his generals had completed the conquests of Syria, Hejaz, Yemen and Aden.

During his reign, the Assassins of Hassan Sabbah became a major problem, who went as far asassasinating Nizam Al Mulq and some famous Turcoman generals like Al Porsuq. Even tough Maliq Shah sent some forces to besiege Alamut, the Assasin HQ, the siege was abandoned due to the Maliq Shah's death in 1092. If Maliq Shah had lived longer, he might have destroyed the Assasins and conquered Egypt, which was ruled by the Shi'a Fatimids.

Decline and Collapse of the Seljuk Empire (1092 - 1157):
After Maliq Shah's death in 1091, the Seljuk Empire enter a period of decline and collapse. Imperial Seljuk families in Syria, Asia Minor and Kerman began becoming independent, while the Seljuk princes in Persia began struggling with each other for the control of the Seljuk throne. After Maliq Shah's death, he was succeded by his five-year-aged son Mahmud I, but he was thrown by his brother Berkyaruq in 1092. During Berkyaruq's reign, the Crusades began, Palestine was lost to the Fatimids (who lost there to the Crusaders later) and the Assasins speeded up their harmful acts against the collapsing empire. Berkyaruq dealed with his rebellious brothers, Mohammed Tapar and Sanjar, and died in 1104. Mohammed Tapar ruled the empire until his death in 1118, and his son, Mahmud II, stayed as the sultan until being overthrown by Sanjar in 1131.

During his reign, Sanjar tried to surpress the revolts of Qarakhanids in Transoxiana, Gurids in Afghanistan and Qarluks in modern Kyrghizistan. While he was dealing with those rebels, the nomadic Kara-Khitais invaded from the East and destroyed the Eastern Qarakhanids, who were also important vassals of the Seljuks. Sanjar was defeated by the Kara-Khitai at the Battle of Qatwan in 1141 and lost all the Eastern provinces up to the River Sayhun (Jaxartes). Sanjar's authority was damaged, and he was defeated during the Oghuz Revolts in 1153. The Oghuz rebels prisoned Sanjar and went on to plundering the towns and killing the amirs and governors. Sanjar managed to escape some three years after his humiliating defeat by the Oghuz but died a year later. Just after his death, the Seljuk Empire collapsed completely.

The Iraqi Seljuks tried to re-create the Seljuk Empire after it's collapse, but partly due to the insufficient sultans and rebellious atabeghs, they got weakened and were destroyed by the Khwarezmian Shah Alaeddin Takish.

The Seljuk Empire broke into these succesor states:
Khorasani Seljuks: Location: Khorasan and Transoxiana. Capital: Marv
Iraqi Seljuks: Location: Iraq and Azerbaijan. Capital: Hamadan
Syrian Seljuks: Location: Syria. Capital: Damascus, later Aleppo
Kermani Seljuks: Location: Kerman. Capital: Kerman
Rum (Anatolian) Seljuks: Location: Asia Minor. Capital: Iznik (Nicaea), later Konya (Iconium)
Atabeghlik of Salgur: Location: Persia
Atabeghlik of Ildeniz: Location: Azerbaijan. Capital: Hamadan (not clear)
Atabeghlik of Bori: Location: Syria. Capital: Damascus
Atabeghlik of Zangi: Location: Al Jazira (Northern Mesopotamia). Capital: Mosul
Turcoman Beghliks: Danishmendis, Artuqis, Saltuqis and Mengujegs in Asia Minor
Khwrazemshah Empire: Location: Transoxiana, Khwarzem and Persia. Capital: Urganch
Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia: Location: Cilicia. Capital: Adana
Kingdom of Georgia: Location: Georgia
Crusader States: Kingdom of Jerusalem, Principality of Antioch, County of Edessa, County of Tripoli
Abbasid Caliphate: Location: Iraq. Capital: Baghdad

List of Seljuk Rulers:
Seljuk/Selchuk (? - 1009)
Arslan (1009 - 1032)
Musa (1032 - 1036)
Tughrul (1038/40 - 1063)
Alp Arslan (1064 - 1072)
Maliq Shah (1072 - 1092)
Mahmud I (1092 - 1093)
Berqyaruq (1093 - 1104)
Mohammed Tapar (1105 - 1118)
Mahmud II (1118 - 1131)
Sanjar (1131 - 1157)

List of Important Events:

960: Seljuk Begh migrates to Jend
1040: Battle of Dandanaqan
1040: Battle of Pasinler
1055: Tughrul Begh frees the Abbasid caliph from the Buyids
1071: Battle of Manzikert
1072: Alp Arslan is assasinated
1087: Maliq Shah visits Baghdad
1092: Malik Shah dies, the Seljuk Empire begins to collapse
1092 - 1131: Seljuk princes struggle for the Seljuk throne for several times
1141: Battle of Qatwan and the Kara-Khitai Invasion
1153: Sanjar is defeated by the Oghuz, who imprison him
1157: Sanjar dies, the Seljuk Empire collapses