Seljuk Turkish Dynasty - Medieval Islamic History
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Seljuks

men on horses fighting, arabic writing
The Seljuks defeat the Persians (1040 AD)

December 2016 - The Seljuks were Turkic nomads from Turkmenistan, related to the Uighurs, who entered the Abbasid empire around 950 AD and gradually converted to Sunni Islam. By 1030 AD the Seljuks were beginning to try to get power for themselves, and they soon conquered the Ghaznavids (who were also Turkic) and controlled most of Persia (modern Iran). Their capital was at Isfahan. Like the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks spoke Persian and encouraged Persian culture. And, like the Ghaznavids, they made and sold high quality crucible steel to Viking traders, and to China.

By 1055, the Seljuk king Togrul Beg had conquered Iraq too, and although there was still an Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, the caliph pretty much had to do whatever the Seljuk sultan Togrul Beg wanted him to do. When Togrul Beg died in 1063, he was succeeded by his nephew Alp Arslan (Alp Arslan means "the hero lion" in Turkish, and it's where C.S. Lewis got the name of Aslan for the Narnia books ).

Iranian plate
Pottery from Iran (about 1100 AD)

In the west, Alp Arslan fought to take Syria from the Fatimids and Armenia from the Byzantine empire. In 1070, the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogenes decided to try to push the Seljuks out of Armenia. At first the Byzantines (with some Norman allies) won. Then there was a great battle at Manzikert in 1071, just east of the Euphrates river, but the Byzantines lost. The Seljuks not only won the battle, they also captured the Byzantine emperor Diogenes!

In the end, Alp Arslan let Diogenes go in exchange for a lot of gold and the promise that he could have Armenia and a lot of other Byzantine land too. Then they were at peace.

Alp Arslan died the next year and his son Malik Shah became sultan. A small group of Saxon refugees from England seem to have taken advantage of Alp Arslan's death to conquer some land in Crimea, north of the Black Sea, and settle there. After Malik Shah died in 1092, the Seljuks got less powerful, and by 1192 their dynasty ended. The Seljuk empire broke up into many small kingdoms.

Alanya
A Seljuk fort near Istanbul at Alanya, built in 1226 AD

When the Mongol invasions came to West Asia, the Byzantines and the Seljuks fought together against the Mongols. But they lost, and in 1243 the Mongols took over both Iran and Anatolia (modern Turkey), and, with the help of the Crusaders, began to push southward into Syria (where the Mamluks defeated them).

After the Mongol Empire collapsed, however, it was one of these Seljuk kings, Osman, who founded the new Ottoman Empire.

Learn by doing: Archery contests
More about the Ottoman Empire

Bibliography and further reading about the Seljuk Dynasty:

More about the Ottoman Empire
More about the Islamic EMpire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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