Turkish Syria

Countdown to the First Crusade:

In 1055, Seljuk Turks took over governance of Baghdad. The Abbasid Caliphate was utterly gone. Seljuk rulers spoke Persian and sometimes Arabic, and often they used Arabic names like Mohammed. However, the old Arabic titles of office shifted to Persian and Turkish. (The common people never stopped speaking Seljuk-dialect Turkish, which is the direct ancestor of modern Turkish.) From this point, we hear of Sultans, Shahs, Beys, and Atabegs, in addition to the old Emirs and Caliphs.

The first Seljuk Sultan was named Toghril Bey, a colorful guy. His foster brother seized power until Toghril not only defeated his army, but also strangled him personally with a bowstring. Then Toghril settled the legality of rule by marrying the last Abbasid princess. After his death, his sons and nephews began to murder each other until “Alp Arslan” (Heroic Lion) became Sultan in 1063.

Alp Arslan went to war against the Byzantine Emperor; both men led their own armies into Armenia, to the Battle of Manzikert (1071). In this battle, the Turks used the tactic of constantly falling back to draw the Byzantine Army into a long ragged line in a valley, then encircling it and attacking.

The Greek Emperor became a personal captive of Sultan Arslan. The story goes that the Sultan asked, “What would you do to me if I were your captive,” and the Emperor replied truthfully, “I’d kill you, or parade you through the streets.” Sultan Arslan humiliated the Emperor by promptly freeing him without harm. From this time, Seljuk Turks owned more and more of Anatolia: it *began* to become “Turkey.” It wasn’t their homeland yet, though; Alp Arslan was buried in Turkmenistan, and Anatolian farmers still spoke Greek.

Alp’s son became Sultan Malik Shah I; at this time, the Turkish Muslims consolidated power over all of the eastern and northern Muslim lands, pushing out some Egyptian rulers from the Holy Land. Malik’s brother Tutush ruled in Damascus; a warlord named Artuk became governor of Jerusalem. The Turkish Beys appointed to govern Aleppo, Jerusalem, Antioch and Damascus fought against each other. Chiefs with names like Radwan, Daquq, Ilghazi and Sokmen staged internecine battles in farm fields around these cities.

When a little boy, Malik’s baby son, became Sultan in Baghdad in 1092, there was a free-for-all power grab. A second Arslan declared independence for Turkish Anatolia, while Tutush (the baby’s uncle) did the same in Damascus.

The Muslim Empire, the Ummah, had fallen into near anarchy. Islam had been based on central rule by Mohammed; now it had broken into at least 3 pieces that might not ever get back together. The Fatimids in Egypt were still sending out secret preachers/spies into the Persian and Turkish region. Sunni fundamentalists were ruling much of Africa and Spain.

During this whole period, pilgrims from Europe continued to attempt to visit and kiss holy relics in Jerusalem. At times, the city was besieged or sacked by some Turkish warlord; in 1096, a Fatimid Sultan swung north to conquer it. It was extremely dangerous to live in, or travel to, Jerusalem.

Now the stage is set for the First Crusade; that’s the land they’ll be invading: Syria devoured by Turkish invaders. Next, the characters and the plot motive. I have to swing the camera back to Europe for a bit, to catch up with the Popes and kings.



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