Battle of Manzikert II

Battle of Manzikert II

The Battle of Manzikert (on August 19, 1071), which took place near Lake Van in eastern Anatolia, occurred during the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Ottomans and opened the way for Seljuk domination of Anatolia.

In 1055 Muslim Seljuk leader Tughril Beg captured Baghdad and brought an end to the Buyid dynasty. Initially they did not seek war with the Christian Byzantine Empire, but such a clash became more likely as Seljuk power expanded into the dissident Byzantine border province of Christian Armenia. From Armenia, marauding Turkish forces penetrated central Anatolia and even reached the eastern Aegean Sea.

The Byzantine Empire was already under assault on several fronts. The Normans threatened its control of southern Italy, and Byzantine possessions in the Balkans were also under attack. More ominously, feuds among the noble families of the empire and rebellions frequently forced the emperor to recall forces from the periphery of his empire. When Emperor Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059–1067) died in 1067, the aristocracy insisted that his widow, Eudokia Makrembolitissa (Eudocia Macrembolitissa), take as her new husband and emperor the successful General Romanos. He became Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (Romanus IV Diogenese, r. 1067–1071).

After rebuilding the Byzantine Army, during 1068–1069 Romanos conducted a series of successful campaigns against Seljuk sultan of Baghdad Alp Arslan (the “Brave Lion”), forcing him back into Armenia and Mesopotamia. Romanos then campaigned in Syria, which had taken advantage of Seljuk successes to rise against Byzantium, but returned to eastern Anatolia to defeat the Ottomans in the Battle of Heraclea (Eregli) in 1069. Alp then withdrew to Aleppo. Romanos again controlled Armenia except for a few Seljuk fortresses.

In 1070 Romanos shifted his efforts to Italy. He enjoyed some success against the Normans, but a renewed Turkish threat against eastern Anatolia forced him to withdraw, and in 1071 the Normans conquered southern Italy completely. The Anatolian threat took the form of two Turkish armies under Alp and his brother-inlaw Arisiaghi. Alp took the Byzantine fortress city of Manzikert but was repulsed at Edessa (Urfa). Arisiaghi meanwhile defeated the principal Byzantine force under Manuel Comnenus near Sebastia.

In the spring of 1071 Romanos departed Constantinople to deal with the Seljuks, moving east from Sebastia via Theodosiopolis (Erzerum). Estimates of the size of his army vary from 35,000 to 50,000 men. The army was clearly a polyglot force and included some elite units, especially the emperor’s own Varangian Guard, but also a number of pressed Armenian and Syrian forces of dubious quality and loyalty. There were also many mercenaries: Frankish, German, and Norman heavy cavalry and Turkish light cavalry.

Arriving in eastern Anatolia, Romanos dispatched an advance force under General Basilacius to the vicinity of Seljuk-held Akhlat to ravage that area and serve as a screen for his own force. Romanos laid siege to and took Manzikert, then moved to besiege Akhlat. He sent Basilacius toward Khoi, in Media, where Alp was reported to be assembling a large army.

In late July or early August, Alp’s army of 50,000 or more men brushed aside Basilacius’s covering force of perhaps 10,000–15,000 men. Basilacius then withdrew his men to the southeast without informing Romanos. The reasons for this are obscure but are believed to have been prompted by a treachery including Basilacius; Romanos’s second-in-command, Andronicus Ducas; and Empress Eudokia.

In any event, Alp’s more powerful force came on Romanos’s army unawares. Almost all of the Ottomans were mounted, and the bulk were horse archers. Had Romanos been prepared, his heavy cavalry (cataphracts), which combined missile and shock tactics, would undoubtedly have been more than a match for the Turkish light cavalry. With his forces disorganized, Romanos ordered an immediate withdrawal toward Manzikert to regroup. His mercenary light cavalry, believing that the emperor had been defeated, promptly deserted, leaving Romanos with fewer than 35,000 men.

On August 19, 1071, Romanos formed his remaining men in two lines. He commanded the first line in person, while Andronicus commanded the second line. While the Ottomans were forming for battle, Alp sent a messenger requesting terms, probably a ruse to gain time. In any case, Romanos demanded a full Turkish withdrawal from Byzantine territory.

The battle began shortly thereafter with Turkish arrow attacks, which Romanos met effectively with his own archers and heavy cavalry. By late afternoon Romanos had driven the Ottomans back far enough to take their camp. By dusk, with no decision gained and being some seven miles from his own lightly guarded camp, Romanos decided to withdraw. The Ottomans then harassed the Byzantine withdrawal. With confusion growing in his own force, Romanos decided to turn and counterattack with his first line. Despite the order to halt, Andronicus continued to withdraw his second line, abandoning Romanos. The far more numerous Ottomans easily enveloped Romanos’s line and killed or took as prisoner all of the Byzantines, Romanos among the latter.

The Battle of Manzikert, remembered thereafter by the Greeks as the Dreadful Day, had tremendous consequences. Although Alp freed Romanos in return for tribute and the dismantling of some Byzantine fortresses, Romanos’s enemies back in Constantinople had seized power. When Romanos attempted to regain his throne, he was captured. Blinded by Andronicus Daccus, Romanos died soon thereafter.

The Byzantine Empire then fell into a series of civil wars and rebellions. Frequently the warring factions called in the Turks, opening the way for these warlords to ravage Anatolia. The Seljuks razed the Byzantine cities there and killed or sold into slavery hundreds of thousands of people. Anatolia never recovered. This state of affairs finally prompted an appeal from Constantinople to Rome that led in 1095 to the First Crusade. The Battle of Manzikert also carried the immense longer-term consequence of the expansion of Muslim power into Eastern Europe.


Friendly, Alfred. The Dreadful Day: The Battle of Manzikert, 1071. London: Hutchinson, 1981.

Kaegi, Walter E. Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Treadgold, Warren. Byzantium and Its Army, 284–1081. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.