Malazgirt, Turkey (1071 AD)
The Battle of Manzikert was one of the definitive conflicts between the Muslim east and the Christian west during the Middle Ages. Fought between the centuries-old Byzantine empire and the decades old Seljuk sultanate, the Muslim victory was both a military triumph as well as a cultural one, and of immense strategic importance to the balance of power in the Middle East. Manzikert effectively marked the end of the Byzantine Empire in Asia, and set the stage for the Crusades. The Field of Manzikert, while out of the way, is arguably eastern Turkey’s premier military site.
Following the rapid expansion of the Islamic caliphate into Syria in the 7th century, the frontier between the Muslim world and the Byzantine empire roughly stabilized for four hundred years or so. Throughout this time, most of Asia Minor and other territories in the Eastern Mediterranean remained under European/Christian control. However, with the rise of the Seljuk Turks in the early 11th century, the Byzantines were forced to face the threat of renewed encroachments of Muslim power.
Fighting broke out in the 1060s, with a brief peace established in 1069. Hostilities were renewed in 1071, when the Byzantines launched an ill-advised campaign to retake their lost possessions in central and eastern Anatolia. The imperial army was numerically strong, but bolstered with large numbers of unreliable mercenary troops from Europe. The Byzantines, led by the emperor Romanus Diogenes, marched across the length of Asia Minor, with the strategic goal of capturing Edessa.
Unbeknownst the Byzantines, the Seljuks under their sultan Alp Arslan had much larger forces at their disposal than was known, with large numbers of cavalry available. In addition, the Byzantine forces were split and sent towards several objectives. As a result the main imperial army was no match for the superior Turkish forces. Several skirmishes took place on August 23-25, with some minor and temporary successes for the Byzantines.
The main battle was joined on August 26. The imperial army essentially walked into a trap. Drawn in by supposedly withdrawing enemy forces, the Byzantines were ultimately surrounded. Many of the mercenary forces fled, and the main body of professional soldiers were either killed or captured. The defeat of the empire at Manzikert opened the way to the Turkish conquest of Anatolia. By 1077, the whole of Asia Minor was under Seljuk control. This in turn marked the end, after over a thousand years, of the Roman Empire in Asia.
The Field of Manzikert is a pristine site. It is essentially a vast, uneven plain ringed by distant mountains, including the range which boasts the Biblical Mount Ararat some distance to the east. There is virtually nothing to mark the sites of the battle or commemorate the fallen of either side; but it is otherwise untainted by development of any sort, making it something of a mysterious and tantalizing military destination.
The Manzikert Battlefield is located just outside of modern day Malazgirt, Turkey, approcimately 650 miles eas of the capital of Ankara. It is an open site. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.goturkey.com (official tourism website of Turkey)