Battle of Manzikert

Introduction: Transforming the map of Byzantium

The Battle of Manzikert took place in 1071, and the Romans would never be the same after it. My take is that the battle did not necessarily have to result in the fall of Anatolia to the Seljuk Turks, but that is what happened. One needs only to look at the two maps below to see how important the battle was.

The Roman Empire in 1025AD at the Basil II. Some areas are not truly fully imperial territory such as the Adriatic coast, but are more like vassal states. This is close to the shape of the Roman Empire when the Battle of Manzikert broke out. Source: Map by

Now look at this nightmare scenario…this is what Alexios Komnenos had to deal with to try to restore the Roman position in 1081.

This is the Byzantine Empire a decade after Manzikert. It is nearly impossible to believe that Anatolia fell that fast, but it did. This why the battle is so crucial to understanding Byzantine history. Map by Ichthyovenator Source:

The Strategic Background:

The mosaic depicting Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and the Empress Zoe in Hagia Sophia. Source:
Credit to Brother_Judas from reddit for this amazing map. This map is 21 years after Manzikert, but it shows that the Seljuks were a serious threat. The Byzantines were not the only group to fall victim to the Steppe riders conquests. Source:

Anatolia was being raided in force by the Seljuks in the years leading up to Manzikert, forcing the confrontation between the Empires. Source: Map by Tourskin

Map of the two armies approaches to the battle Source: Map by Bakayna

For on August 26, the Emperor had been betrayed by some factions in his own army and suffered a terrible defeat at the battle of Manzikert. Basil II is held in high esteem for his competent reign, but he left the Empire without a true heir in 1025. This void in leadership was actually desired by the greedy aristocratic families who wanted weak and exploitable Emperors. This came at a bad time as in the 1040’s Seljuk Turks appeared on the horizon, and began raiding into imperial territory. The raids worsened over time. After decades of weak rule one Emperor decided he would do something, Romanos IV. He put the army first, and was the son of one of Basil II’s generals. He wanted to make a stand and fight the Turks in Armenia, despite some generals advocating for the proven strategy of defending Anatolia and abandoning Armenia. Romanos felt a huge victory would legitimize his rule and end Turkish raids. He marched a massive army of 40,000 men east to show the power of the Romans. The Turks did not want a full war with Byzantium, and were focused elsewhere and offered a favorable peace treaty to Romanos. Romanos refused, he felt he could win a huge victory. The Turkish army of 20-30,000 arrived. However Romanos was betrayed by rival treacherous factions. Andronikos Doukas spread a lie that Romanos died and half of the Byzantine army did not even fight. The horse archer Turkish army was extremely hard to fight without superior numbers. Romanos was defeated, but valiantly fought to the end until capture.

Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes put up an admirable fight. Source: Artist Unknown

On August 27, 1071 the Roman Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes would have woken up in the camp of the Seljuk Turks. The Sultan treated Romanos well, let him eat at his table, and offered terms that would have left Anatolia in Byzantine hands in exchange for Armenia and Syrian holdings and gold. The reason the Sultan made this offer was that despite what many say, Manzikert was bad a disaster as it seems in hindsight. Most of the Roman army escaped. The battle is often portrayed as a disaster, but in actuality it was a small defeat all things considered. The real disaster was the Byzantine response. They betrayed Romanos in battle, then in the next decade hired Turks to fight civil wars, and lost and gave away Anatolia until Alexios Komnenos started the restoration of Byzantium.