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1071 Battle of Manzikert  (Malazgirt) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Outcome: Decisive victory of the Seljuk Turks with disastrous consequences 19 August 1071
War  &  Enemy: Enemy:
Seljuk Turks
Seljuk Wars
Battle Type:
Pitched Battle
The Battlefield Manzikert Location:
Modern Malazgirt, north of Lake Van in eastern Asia Minor
Modern Country:
  The Byzantines(emperor:  Romanos IV Diogenes) The Enemies
Commander: Emperor Romanos IV Alp Arslan
Forces: 35,000 30,000
Losses: 4000 to 8000, 4000 prisoners
Background story: The Byzantines first came into contact with the Seljuk Turks during the reign of Constantine IX, in 1046, when the Seljuks invaded Armenia. Constantine IX secured a truce which lasted until 1064, when Seljuks conquered Ani, the Armenian capital. In 1067 they took Caesarea, an event that woke the Byzantine empire to the threat of the Seljuk Turks and led to the ascension of Romanos IV Diogenes -a seasoned military commander- to the throne.
Romanos, after a few speedy military reforms, campaigned against the Seljuks in 1068-1069, with limited success. In the spring of 1071, he campaigned again in Anatolia. Accompanying Romanos was Andronikos Doukas, a political rival. The army was a mosaic and included a part of the Varangian Guard and a number of Georgian, Armenian and Syrian forces of dubious quality and loyalty. Also many mercenaries: Frankish, and Norman heavy cavalry and Turkish light cavalry. The total force was 40,000 to 70,000. Only 10,000 of them were Byzantine regular army.
Romanos marched towards Lake Van aiming to recapture Manzikert and the nearby fortress of Khliat. Sultan Alp Arslan was in the area with 30,000 cavalry, but Romanos had no idea, as he did not bother to send out scouts.
Romanos split his army and sent a large unit (possibly around 20,000) to take Khliat, while the rest of the army marched to Manzikert. It is a mystery what happened to that detachment. It was either destroyed or retreated without notice to Romanos, in an act of deliberate betrayal.
Romanos took Manzikert but then his forces met the Seljuk army. The unexpected contact and the ensuing skirmishes disorganized the Byzantines and Romanos ordered an immediate withdrawal toward Manzikert to regroup. His mercenary light cavalry (mostly Turkic), believing that the emperor had been defeated, promptly deserted, leaving Romanos with fewer than 35,000 men for the final battle
The Battle:
Alp Arslan humiliating Emperor Romanos IV
On what the Greeks would later call “the dreadful day,” the Seljuk army was in a crescent formation, while the Byzantine army arrayed in squared phalanx. Romanos was at the center of the front line, while Andronikos Doukas led the reserve forces in the rear. Almost all Seljuks were mounted, and most were horse archers. Contrary to their enemy, the Seljuks were an homogenous group, devoted to their leader.
Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they approached; the center of their crescent continually moved backwards while the wings moved to surround the enemy. In the beginning, the Byzantines made progress. They held off the arrow attacks and captured Arslan's camp by the end of the afternoon. However, with the Seljuks avoiding battle, by dusk, Romanos ordered a retreat. The Seljuks began to harass the withdrawal and Romanos decided to turn back and counterattack. But his army was already disarrayed. Doukas, being his antagonist, deliberately ignored the emperor and left instead of covering the emperor's retreat. With the Byzantines thoroughly confused, the Seljuks seized the opportunity and attacked with a fresh force. The right wing collapsed and the remnants of the Byzantine center, including the Varangian Guard, were encircled and destroyed. Romanos was injured and taken prisoner.
Noteworthy: Romanos was brought before Alp Arslan, who could not believe that the covered in dirt and blood man was the Emperor. In a symbolic act, the Sultan put his boot on the emperor’s neck but he was otherwise gentle and released him within a week.
Aftermath: Although not a massacre, it was the most decisive disaster in Byzantine history. A chain of events followed which led to the loss of Empire's Anatolian heartland and to the gradual Turkification of it. Byzantine authority in the East never recovered.