Alp Arslan, the lion of Manzikert

Updated 18 June 2015
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Alp Arslan, the lion of Manzikert

Battle of Manzikert is one of the top ten battles that changed the face of the world’s history. Mohammed bin Dawood, the Seljuq ruler, who had earned the Turkish title, Alp Arslan (courageous lion), was the figure behind that. He carved out a kingdom from Hindu Kush in the east to the Anatolia in the west and from Central Asia to the Arabian Gulf in the south. He opened the gates of Anatolia for the Muslim conquest and paved the way for the Ottomans to subdue eastern Europe. He was the first Muslim warrior who defeated a large enemy and arrested the ruling Byzantine emperor.
What Alp Arslan achieved in his short age of 44 years is a long story of valor, courage and firm faith in divine help. Mohammed bin Dawood was the second Sultan of the Seljuq empire and the great-grandson of the founder of the dynasty. His ancestors migrated to Khwarezm where they embraced Islam.
The Seljuq empire was a medieval Turko Persian Sunni Muslim empire founded by Tughril Beg in 1037. It controlled a vast area stretching from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and from Central Asia to the Arabian Gulf. They united the fractured political scene of the eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades.
Tughril was the uncle of Alp Arslan. After the death of Tughril Beg, Alp Arslan ascended the throne on April 27, 1064 A.D. as Sultan of Great Seljuq, thus becoming the sole monarch of Persia from river Oxus to the Tigris.
The dominion of Alp Arslan now extended over the fairest part of Asia; 1,200 princes or sons of princes surrounded his throne and 200,000 warriors were at his command. To expand the influence of Islam in the neighboring territory, he marched into Armenia and Georgia, and finally subdued them in 1064 AD. Alp Arslan invaded the Roman empire in 1068 AD. During the first three campaigns, the Turks were defeated in 1070 and driven across the Euphrates.
Alp Arslan learned that the Byzantine emperor Romanos IV, with a large army of 30,000, was planning to attack his rear army in Armenia. Arslan marched quickly with about 15,000 soldiers and reached Manzikert (modern Malazgirt in the eastern province of Mus in Turkey) on the Murat river, north of Lake Van. The sultan proposed terms of peace, which were scornfully rejected by Romanos, and the two forces waged the Battle of Manzikert.
On August 26, 1071, Romanos deployed his army for battle, with himself commanding the troops. After attending the Friday prayer, Alp Arslan delivered a speech. He told his troops: “We are all equal in the service of Islam. I desire martyrdom.” He donned white dress and said, “If I die in the battle, bury me at the same place and continue jihad under the leadership of my son, Malik Shah.”
Commanding from a nearby hill, Alp Arslan directed his army to form a crescent-shaped line and began a series of heavy assaults on the Byzantine flanks and shattered the rear wing. The Byzantine army, powerful in numbers but weak in morale, fell before the dedicated Turks. By evening the Byzantine army was defeated, Romanos was taken prisoner. For the first time in history, a Byzantine emperor had become the prisoner of a Muslim commander.
Alp Arslan asked Romanos: “What would you do if I was brought before you as a prisoner?”
Romanos replied: “Perhaps I’d kill you or exhibit you in the streets of Constantinople.”
Alp Arslan: “My punishment is far more severe. I forgive you, and set you free.”
Romanos was moved with these words. Further Alp Arslan treated him with generosity, discussed the terms of peace, gave him royal presents and kept him in a tent near him respectfully, attended by military guards. A ransom of 1,500,000 gold coins was agreed but when Romanos returned to his capital he was deposed.
He wrote to Arslan, “As emperor, I promised you a ransom of a million and a half. Dethroned, and about to become dependent upon others, I send you all I possess as proof of my gratitude.”He could collect only 300,000 coins, which he sent to Alp Arslan with a humble request to accept it. King Alp Arslan pardoned the rest with his symbolic generosity. When Emperor Romanos returned to his territory with the good sense of Islam, his courtiers deposed him, cruelly blinded him on June 29, 1072, and exiled him to Prote where he died of his wounds.
Sultan Alp Arslan met with an accident. It so happened that about 11 months after the battle, he arrested a hostile chief named Yousuf. When he was brought to be executed, he suddenly attacked Alp Arslan with his dagger.
Sultan was seriously wounded and died after a few hours on Nov. 25, 1072 at the young age of 44. He was buried at Merv next to his father Dawood Chaghri Beg. He was succeeded by his 17-year-old son Malik Shah.