Episode 23: The Sultans of Rum
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
This lecture explores how Seljuk Turk victories on the Anatolian peninsula (which Harl refers to as Asia Minor) ultimately led to an independent Turkish Muslim civilization with Kanya as its capital
In the early 13th century, the Anatolian peninsula was ruled by numerous competing Turkish tribes. In 1237, Sultan Kaykhusraw II unified the entire peninsula under a single Seljuk regime. Unlike many Turkish rulers, he refused to submit to Mongol rule until the Mongols invaded Anatolia and crushed the Sejuk army. According to Harl, Genghis Khan allowed him to continue his rule as a Mongol vassal.
Although Anatolia had reverted to rival Turkish states by the early 14th century, Kanya would remain the religious and cultural enter of Turkish civilization. Having thrown off their nomad identity, Kanya sultans employed Persian administrators and used Persian as their official language. Their embrace of Islam linked them closely to the caravan trade, as more an more Muslims flocked to the Anatolian cities, bringing their skills as architects, engineers, mystics, scholars and poets. Muslim migration to Anatolia increase substantially as Mongol warriors pushed westward and drove the Turkish families out of Transoxiana* and Persia.
An independent Turkish architectural style developed during this period with the building of mosques, madrassas,** mausoleums and camel rest stops. The latter were unique complexes providing secure storage for caravans – as well as heavily taxing them. The revenue they produced enabled the Seljuk sultans to issue silver coins replacing Byzantine currency.
The most interesting part of this lecture concerns the wholesale conversion of Byzantine Christians to Islam, largely thanks to the charismatic influence of Sufi mystics who also migrated to Anatolia to escape the Mongols.
The family of the famous Persian poet and Islamic scholar Rumi fled Central Asia for Kanya some time between 1215 and 1220. In 1244, he became an ascetic. He and his followers (known as dervishes) incorporated poetry, dancing, whirling and miracles into their practice.
By 1350 AD, the vast majority of Anatolia had converted to Islam.
*Transoxiana is the Roman name for the central steppes region roughly corresponding to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and southern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.