Post-classical history

Mantzikert, Battle of (1071)

A battle in which Byzantine forces under Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes were defeated by a Saljûq army under the sultan Alp Arslān, fought near the fortress of Mantzikert (mod. Malazgirt, Turkey) on 26 August 1071.

Byzantine historians of the event were partisan: Michael Attaleiates (an eyewitness) and John Zonaras supported Emperor Romanos; Michael Psellos and Nikephoros Bryen- nios (whose grandfather fought in the battle) were critical of his actions. Muslim historiography, none of it contemporary, emphasized the heroic Islamic credentials of the Saljûqs. Armenian historians saw the defeat as divine punishment for Byzantium’s persecution of non-Chalcedonian Christians.

In the summer of 1071, Emperor Romanos led a large force (possibly some 100,000 men) to secure fortresses near Lake Van (mod. Van Golü) in Armenia against the threat of the Saljûqs. A considerable number, under Joseph Tarcha- neiotes, was dispatched to besiege Khliat (mod. Ahlat). Romanos approached from Theodousiopolis (mod. Erzurum) with around 60,000 men. They included provincial troops, contingents of Oghuz Turks, Rus mercenaries, and Armenian foot soldiers. The fortress of Mantzikert had been successfully recaptured when Romanos learned of the proximity of a large Saljûq force commanded by Alp Arslān. Outnumbered, the sultan made an offer of peace, which was rejected. Tarchaneiotes, however, hearing of the Saljûq advance, fled toward Mesopotamia.

The battle began on the evening of 26 August. After inconclusive skirmishing during the day, and not wishing to remain outside the undefended camp at nightfall, the emperor gave the order to withdraw. According to Attaleiates, the general Andronikos Doukas, hostile to Romanos, then betrayed him by spreading panic in the army. Bryennios, in contrast, relates that by this time the Turks had encircled the Byzantine army, putting the right wing (under Alytes) and then the left wing (under Nikephoros Bryennios the Elder) to flight. Both Doukas and Bryennios escaped capture, but Romanos, with the imperial bodyguard and the troops from Asia Minor commanded by Alytes, was left to face the Turks. Although many escaped, Romanos was captured and held as a prisoner for eight days. After his release, he took refuge in Cilicia, where he was defeated by forces loyal to Doukas. He was then blinded and forced to become a monk.

Byzantine losses at Mantzikert were low: Attaleiates names only three high-ranking officers who were killed. Half the Byzantine army did not fight in the battle, and most of those captured were later released. The battle did not change the balance of power between Byzantines and Turks in Asia Minor; far more damaging were the ten years of civil war that followed the deposition of Romanos IV.

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