Post-classical history


Turcopoles or Turcoples (Gr. Tourkopouloi, Lat. Turcopoli or Turcopolieri) were Christianized mercenaries of Turkish origin in the service of Byzantine and Frankish armies in the Balkans and the Near and Middle East in the period of the crusades, especially from the late eleventh century onward.

Turcopoles were found fighting for the Franks of Outremer against the Muslims (twelfth-thirteenth centuries), for Byzantium against the Catalan invaders in Greece, on the latter’s side against the eastern empire (fourteenth century), as well as in Cyprus and Rhodes in the course of the Latin dominations there (late twelfth to early sixteenth centuries). Western sources such as Raymond of Aguilers and Albert of Aachen present them mainly as offspring of mixed marriages between Turkish (either Saljûq or Turcoman) fathers (archaically referred to as Persians by the Byzantines) and Christian (Anatolian Greek) mothers.

Initially encountered in late eleventh-century Byzantine sources as Tourkopouloi, they were active in imperial service chiefly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, according to the Byzantine historians Pachymeres and Gregoras. They played a significant role in the Byzantine-Frankish war of 1263-1264 in the Peloponnese, while in the late thirteenth century the Turcopole descendants of Kay-Kāwūs II, Saljûq sultan of Rūm (1246-1257), were installed in imperial lands in central and northwest Macedonia, in the area of the river Axios (Vardar). In the early fourteenth century, several of them were settled in western Thrace, following their participation in Catalan raids against Byzantium.

In Frankish states of Outremer, Cyprus, and Greece, Tur- copoles were employed in imitation of the Byzantine Tourkopouloi. Several twelfth- and thirteenth-century Western sources mention them as troops in the service of various Frankish rulers or of the military orders. After 1204 the Latin Empire of Constantinople received Turcopole reinforcements against the Bulgarian Asenids. In Cyprus, from 1192 the Lusignan rulers distributed fiefs among Turcopole mounted troops under the command of an officer known as the Grand Turcopolier, and from that time Latin sources refer to them mainly as light-armed archers who served in the capacity of police forces. The Hospitaller Knights effected the conquest of Rhodes (1306-1309/1310) with the help of light-armed horsemen called Turcopolieri or Turcupelleri, who were then used extensively by the order to patrol the island’s coasts.

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