The Role of the Seljuk Turks in Triggering the First Crusade

Episode 22: The Turks in Anatolia and India

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

This lecture covers the conquest of the Anatolia peninsula by Seljuk Turks and the conquest of northern India by the Ghaznavid Turks.

After the Seljuk Turks took control of Baghdad (see 9th Century AD: Mass Migration of Uighur Turks to China Lead to Rise of Seljuk Turks on the Steppes), their biggest political/military challenge was the Shi’a caliphs operating out Cairo. Following the withdrawal of the Seljuk army from Baghdad in 1057, opponents to Seljuk rule sought support from the Fatimid (Shi’ar)my in Cairo. The latter occupied Baghdad for 40 days before being expelled by the Seljuk army. To suppress the Fatimid regime, the Seljuks subsequently invaded Cairo, the Byzantine Empire (allied with the Fatimid regime), Syria, Medina and Mecca.

This ongoing conflict caused major disruption in the Christian pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem (agreed between the Byzantines and the Abassid Caliphate), inspiring Pope Urban II to launch the first Crusade in 1095, nominally to restore Christian access to Jerusalem.

This is the time line Harl presents:

1071 Seljuks open up the eastern Anatolia peninsula to Turkish settlers, cutting the area controlled by the Byzantine Empire in half.

1081 Byzantine Emperor calls on western Europe to send mercenaries to help liberate eastern Anatolia. Pope Urban II “mistakenly” interprets this as a call to “liberate” Jerusalem and mobilizes 50,000 European mercenaries to join the first Crusade. Totally unprepared to confront European cavalry, the Turks suffer initially suffer stunning defeat. Nevertheless the Crusaders are ultimately unsuccessful in driving the Turks, who created a Turkish homeland in eastern Anatolia, from the Anatolian plateau. Christian farmers Initially pay tribute to Seljuk Turk rulers, but ultimately most of eastern Anatolia reverts to grasslands and nomadic pastoralism.

1204 Europeans Crusaders respond by sacking Constantinople. This backfires, shifting the balance of power in Anatolia to the Seljuk Turks.

On the southeaster steppes, Ghaznavad Turks repeatedly invade India during the 12th century. Beginning in 1101, they gradually brring first Lahore, Peshawar and other Indian cities under Turkish (Muslim) control. By 1192, the Turks have conquered Dehli.

Unlike the Seljuk conquest of eastern Anatolia, the Turkish occupation of India is purely military. With no grasslands to support pastoral nomadic tribes, northern India never attracted Turkish settlers.

The film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680 – 1018 AD)

Episode 16: Avars, Bulgars and Constantinople

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

The main focus of this lecture is the shifting alliances between the steppes nomads and the Byzantine Empire between the 6th and 10th century AD. During the reign of the emperor Justinian (527-565 AD), the Avar Khan formed an alliance with Constantinople against the western Gökturk Khanate. The latter sought to annex them as a colony. However by 575 AD, the Avars, having migrated to the Hungarian plains, had abandoned this alliance and were conducting periodic raids on the Balkan provinces of the Byzantine empire.

In a constant state of war, Byzantine forces simultaneously fought to reclaim provinces of the former eastern Roman empire (in Italy, North Africa, Armenia, Syria and the Middle East) and to repel repeated attacks by the Sassanid Khanate (Persia). In 591 AD, there was a temporary halt to the Persian-Byzantines war after the Sassanid shah was deposed and Emperor Maurice lent him troops to help him regain his throne.

Between 602-626 AD, Persia and the Avars formed an alliance and came close to conquering the Byzantine Empire. However this time the Byzantines formed an alliance with the Göturks, whose rout of the Sassanid Khanate enabled the Byzantine empire to assimilate Asia Minor, the Balkans and Italy.

The Lombards* eventually allied with the Avars to reclaim the Balkans, opening the territory to Slav settlement.**

In 790 AD, the Franks reunited western Europe under Charlemagne, who conquered the Avars in 796 and ended their presence as an organized political entity.

In the 9th and 10 century, a Turkic tribe called the Bulgars combined a Slavic infantry and a nomad cavalry to repeatedly sack the western Byzantine province and became a major power in the Balkans.

In 864 AD, the Bulgar ruler Khan Boris converted to Christianity after two monks created the Cyrillic script and translated the scriptures into the Bulgar language. He became known as Czar Boris following his conversion.

His son Vladimir raided Constantinople to pressure the emperor to offer him a royal princess in marriage. In the ensuring war, the Balkans were re-taken by the Byzantine Empire.

*The Lombands were a Germanic people originating near the Elbe River who ruled most of the Italian peninsula from 568-774 AD.

**At which point the Balkan provinces ceased to be Latin and Greek speaking.