The Black Sheep and White Sheep Dynasties

The Black Sheep and White Sheep Dynasties (1378–1508)

In the post-Timurid period, several Turkmen tribal federations divided up northern Iraq, Azerbaijan, and eastern Anatolia; among the most famous were the Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep) and the Kara Koyunlu (Black Sheep) dynasties. They fought over the pasturelands and farmlands of the region from 1378 to 1508. In an era in which legitimacy depended on a strong patron, intermarriage with Byzantine princesses cemented the Turkmens’ hold on regional alliances, as did their canny leadership in times of war.

One of the Ak Koyunlu commanders, Uzun Hassan (r. 1452–78), was even able to rally his tribal armies to capture Baghdad, southern Iraq, and eastern Iran, in the process creating a formidable threat to the Ottomans, who had by then grown from a small Turkish principality founded by Osman I (r. 1281–1326) to an empire centered on Constantinople, the former Byzantine capital. The Ottomans were intent on occupying those same districts conquered by Uzun Hassan, and by 1473, they were able to infl ict a resounding defeat on the Ak Koyunlu tribes.