Turks is a name that refers to any group speaking a language from the Turkic subfamily of the Ural-Altaic language family. The original home of these groups was in Central Asia, where there was a Turkic empire during the sixth century. During the period of the crusades, large areas of the Muslim world were under Turkish rule, and the period of the later crusades saw the unification of the region under the Ottoman Turkish dynasty.
When the crusades began, the Saljūqs represented the most important Turkish dynasty in the Near and Middle East. They were a family of Ghuzz (or Oghuz) Turks who had filtered into the Islamic world in the tenth century; by the eleventh they had come to rule an empire covering most of the region from Syria and Anatolia in the west to Khurasan in the east. However, the division of territory among different princes led to the break-up of the Saljūq domains, and by the thirteenth century only one branch of the family held power, in the sultanate of Rūm, with its capital at Ikonion (mod. Konya, Turkey).
Several smaller Turkish dynasties rose to fill the power vacuum left by the Saljūq decline. One of these, the Dānish- mendids, ruled central and northeastern Anatolia in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Artūqids ruled in northern Iraq and Syria during much of the same period, and prevented the Franks from taking Aleppo in 1119. They were in part superseded by the Zangids, who conquered Egypt before both they and some of the remaining Artūqids lost power to the Ayyūbids, a dynasty that was Kurdish in origin but that nonetheless retained Turkish features. TheKhwārazm-Shahs ruled in Central Asia and Persia from the late eleventh until the early thirteenth century, when they were defeated by the Mongols.
In addition, nomadic Turkic groups, usually called Turcomans (Türkmen), inhabited much of the Middle and Near East. Some of these groups followed regional urban rulers, while others paid allegiance only to their own chiefs. Different groups fought for both Muslim and Christian powers. At the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099), the Kipchak confederation occupied the steppes of southern Russia (i.e., mod. Ukraine), and large numbers of the Mamlūks were originally slaves taken from their numbers. Some Kipchaks also fought for the Franks or Byzantines. During the fourteenth century, two large Turcoman confederations, the Kara Koyunlu (Black Sheep) and Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep), fought for preeminence in Iraq and Persia.
The age of the later crusades saw the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Dispute rages on the ultimate origin of the Ottomans, but during the thirteenth century they emerged as a leading ghāzī(warriors for Islam) state in the vicinity of Bursa in northwestern Anatolia. By the sixteenth century the Ottomans had united the Balkans, the Near East, and North Africa in an empire with its capital at Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey). Crusades called against the Ottomans, such as the Nikopolis Crusade (1396) and the Varna Crusade (1444), were unsuccessful, and the empire lasted for several centuries.