Post-classical history

Myriokephalon, Battle (1176)

A defeat of a Byzantine army under Emperor Manuel I Komnenos by the Turks of the Saljûq sultanate of Rûm on 17 September 1176.

Although the battle has generally been named after the fortress of Myriokephalon, it actually took place in the pass of Tzivritze, north of Lake Egirdir (mod. Egirdir Golü, Turkey) in western Asia Minor. In 1176 Manuel Komnenos marched eastward from Byzantine territory, intending to capture the city of Ikonion (mod. Konya) from the Saljûqs of Rūm and reopen the land route to Jerusalem. The Saljūq sultan, Qilij Arslān II, offered peace. However, Manuel rejected this offer and pressed on with an army of around 35,000 men and a large, slow-moving baggage train, by this time suffering from shortages of food and water. Passing the deserted fortress of Myriokephalon, they entered the pass of Tzivritze. Inadequate scouting had failed to report that the Turks already controlled it. The vanguard successfully broke through and set up camp.

The most serious Turkish attack fell upon the right wing, commanded by Baldwin of Antioch, Manuel’s brother-in- law. The Byzantine right turned and fled; Baldwin himself was killed. The emperor and his bodyguard, trapped behind the baggage train, could neither get information from the vanguard nor send orders forward. A violent sandstorm further confused the situation. Qilij Arslāncircled around behind the rear of the army, blocking any retreat. The historian Niketas Choniates reported that Manuel contemplated flight but instead, abandoning the baggage train, fought his way through to the vanguard. He was eventually joined by elements of the rear guard.

According to Choniates, half the Byzantine army was lost, and he criticized the “foreigners” on the right wing for cowardice. The Byzantine defeat was caused by poor discipline and communication. Many divisions were allowed to march into the pass in open order without waiting for following groups and were thus defeated piecemeal. Having escaped the battle, Manuel made peace with the Saljūqs, promising to dismantle the fortifications of Soublaion and Dorylaion, an agreement that he subsequently broke. Manuel himself compared the defeat to that of Mantzikert (1071); in reality, matters in Asia Minor were little changed.

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