Battle of Manzikert, 19 August 1071 (Byzantine Empire)

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One of the greatest disasters to befall the Byzantine army. The Seljouk turks had been threatening the eastern borders of the Byzantine empire for some years, without posing any significant threat, but in 1071 their leader, Alp Arslan, gathered a huge force, perhaps even as large as 100,000 men, and invaded the eastern empire. The Byzantine Emperor, Romanus Diogenes, had gained the throne through marriage, and ruled as joint emperor with his step-son. He had only been on the throne since 1068, and was not yet firmly established. The Turks had crossed the border, and taken the fortresses of Akhlat and Manzikert (now in modern Turkey). Romanus Diogenes gathered a huge army, although he was still outnumbered by the Turks, and advanced to the border, where he recaptured Akhlat and was besieging Manzikert when the Turks arrived. The Byzantine army formed up, and advanced towards the Turks, who refused to stand and fight, instead using the mobility of their horse-archers to harry the advancing Byzantines. Eventually, after several hours, Romanus Diogenes ordered the withdrawal, intending to return to his camp for the night. The withdrawal was not as smooth as the advance, and some gaps opened in the line. The Turks harried the retreating columns, until the Emperor gave the order to turn and fight. At this point treachery played a part in the disaster. The rearguard, commanded by Andronicus Ducas, an enemy of Romanus Diogenes, simply continued back to the camp, ignoring the order to turn, and leaving the main army to its fate. Once the rearguard was gone, the Turks were able to outflank the Byzantines, and eventually surround them. To make things worse, one flank of the Byzantine army was sufficiently detached from the main force for it to be forced to fight separately. The Byzantines held out until dark, but eventually they were overwhelmed. The Emperor himself was captured, and the bulk of the army destroyed.

The main result of the battle was to leave Asia Minor totally at the mercy of the Turks. Their bands were able to devastate what is now modern Turkey almost at will, while what was left of the Byzantine army was involved in the civil wars that followed the defeat. What had been flourishing, fertile, long settled areas in the heart of the Byzantine empire became virtual desert. Within ten years of the battle of Manzikert, the Turks had reached Nicea, within sight of the capital of the Empire. Very few battles had such dramatic and far-reaching effects.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (15 October 2000), Battle of Manzikert, 19 August 1071, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_manzikert.html

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