The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
History of the Anatolian Seljuks
Although this website is focused on the Seljuks of Anatolia, or the Seljuks of Rum (Eastern Rome) as they were known by their contemporaries, it is necessary to first trace their origins back in time and farther east in place. The Anatolian Seljuks are an offshoot tribal faction of a larger group of Turks, the Great Seljuks of Iran. The entire "Seljuk Age" spans three hundred years, from the 11th century through the 13th century.
As compared to the profusion of historical texts describing the Arab and Iranian spheres of the 13th century, few writings of the chroniclers of the Anatolian Seljuk era have come down to us. There are no biographical dictionaries, primary sources, panegyric poetry collections, or epics relating the exploits of the era. Numismatic evidence is scarce. Anatolia features rarely in histories and geographies produced in Iraq, Syria or Egypt. However, a rich source of information can be found in Christian texts, notably those left by the Crusaders. The paucity of prime resource material on the Seljuks has proven to be a challenge for those seeking to reconstruct the events of the era. For a list of the major historical primary sources for the Anatolian Seljuks, please consult the Historians page.
INTRODUCTION: THE SELJUKS, TURKS ON
The Seljuk tribe was but one of the many Turkic peoples who had been migrating progressively westward from the Central Asian steppes for thousands of years. The Seljuks were a subdivision of the Kiniq clan of the Oğuz Turks, originating on the steppe north of the Aral Sea. By the middle of the 11th century, the Seljuk tribe was the first group to become a significant political entity. Under their remarkable leader, Tuğrul Bey, who led them from one victory to another between the years 1038-1063, they vanquished the Caliphate in Baghdad, and eventually, under his successors, much of western Asia. The Seljuk and Sunni Muslim mission was to restore orthodoxy to the central Islamic lands. By the early 12th century, the Seljuks were masters of most of Afghanistan, Persia and the Middle East as far west as Egypt. Further conquests followed, creating an empire that was geographically vast, diverse, and difficult to control. As a result, the Seljuk state began to break up into divisions beginning in the early 12th century. One group was the Seljuks who controlled Syria and Iran, and another were those in the eastern lands of Iran and Central Asia. This latter group became known as the "Great Seljuks" and their capital was located at Isfahan. Yet another subdivision came to be known as the "Seljuks of Rum". The term Rum comes from the Arabic word for the Roman Empire. The Seljuks called the lands of their sultanate Rum because it was established on territory traditionally known as Roman, meaning Byzantine, by Muslim armies. Later on, these Seljuks of Rum were affected by the Mongol invasions from Iran and Iraq which considerably weakened their centralized power base at Konya. They disappeared in the early 14th century when the state fragmented into independent principalities.
The Seljuks adopted Persian culture along with the Islamic faith on their way
they chose the Sunni Hanefite sect instead of the Persian Shiite sect. Their culture
was an amalgam of many languages and traditions. While Arabic retained its
supremacy in the spheres of law, theology and science, the Persian language and
customs dominated the culture of the court. Secular literature was largely based in Persian
traditions. This can be seen in the
practice of the Seljuk sultans of adopting the names of the epic heroes of the Persian
culture (such as
Giyaseddin, Kubad and Kay Khusraw) and in the literary production of the time,
such as seen in Firdowsi's Shah-name (Book of Kings).
THE ISLAMIC WORLD AT THE END OF THE 10TH CENTURY
The Turks on the move westward encountered Islamic and Christian realms already established in the Middle East. The Islamic world at the end of the 10th century was dominated by the Abbasid empire, ruling from Baghdad. The Abbasid empire knew true grandeur only at its beginnings, after which it became so vast that it fell prey to division into fiefdoms ruled by local emirs. In addition to this decentralization of rule, another major disruptive element appeared at this time: the religious division of the Islamic faith into the Sunnite and Shiite sects. At the end of the 10th century, the sole Sunnite ruler was the Abbasid caliph, with Shiism triumphing everywhere else in the region. The Abbasid court even fell into the hands of the Shiite Buyid emirs in 945.
At the end of the 10th century, the Near East was thus in political chaos, with small, scattered emirates reigning independently. Syria had no central government since the end of the Umayyad Empire in the 8th century, and the Shiite Fatimids of Egypt were dealing with their own interior struggles.
The Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, was strong and centralized, with the
Macedonian Dynasty in power since 867. The Byzantine Empire enjoyed commercial
prosperity, an intellectual renaissance and a government led by strong emperors.
Constantinople was its capital city, with important satellite centers in Venice,
southern Italy and the Slavic countries. However, the Turks had already made
inroads into the Byzantine Empire, which employed them as mercenary troops.
For the most part, the army of the Byzantine Empire consisted of private troops
the state, and these mercenary troops included Turks, Scandinavians and Normans.
THE GREAT SELJUKS OF IRAN
The Turkish tribe of the Seljuks takes its name from one of its chiefs, Seljuk. This family of the Oghuz Turks from Central Asia lived in the area east of the Caspian Sea near the Aral Sea. These Turkish nomads became known in Islamic terminology as the "Turkmens" or "Turkomans". As tent (yurt) dwellers, they lived a pastoral life based on transhumance. By the end of the 10th century, the clan chieftain, Seljuk, always searching for greener pastures for their animals, settled his family on the left bank of the lower Syr-Darya River. From here they moved into Transoxiana (the region around present-day Samarkand). It was at approximately at this time that the Seljuk tribe converted from Shamanism to Sunnite Islam, although they maintained many of their shamanistic customs and beliefs. They were contenders for this area, along with other dynasties such as the Karahanids, Ghaznevids and the Samanids. This area "beyond the Oxus", fed by the waters of both the Syr Darya and Amu Darya Rivers, was a lush, green prize, and offered the only fertile lands in the area. The Seljuks managed to create a vast empire, stretching from the Marmara Sea to Central Asia, and from the Caucasus to India and Yemen. Its borders were so vast that it was called the Great Seljuk state. It is reported that the famous warrior Seljuk was over 100 years old when he died in 1007.
After several defeats at the hands of the Seljuks, the Ghaznevids, another powerful Turkish dynasty located in northern India, the Khorasan and Iran, ceded the arid Khorasan region (northwestern Iran) in 1035 to the Seljuk prince Chağribey, son of Seljuk. His brother, Tuğrul Beg, is the true creator of the Seljuk power, founding the important cities of Nishapur in 1038 and Khwarezm in 1042. He entered Iran and seized Hamadan and Isfahan, and founded his capital at Isfahan in 1051. In 1055, the caliph of Baghdad, after several serious incidents and revolts, appealed to Tuğrul for help. Tuğrul entered the city, and took the city as his protectorate, and was awarded the title of Sultan by the Abassid caliph.
Upon the death of Tuğrul in 1063, his nephew Alp-Arslan ("Alp" = warrior hero, "arslan" = lion) assumed leadership. He led expeditions against the Byzantines, occupying territory as he advanced westwards. Eastern Anatolia was fairly unpopulated at this time, as the Byzantine emperor Basil II (965-1025) had displaced some 40,000 Armenians living there to Sivas and Kayseri. Alp-Arslan invaded Armenia in 1064, entered Anatolia, and took control of Aleppo in 1070. In 1071 he took Jerusalem, which spurred Christian Europe to react, this setting the stage for the Crusades. In 1071, the Byzantine Emperor Romain Diogenes decided to reconquer Armenia, but he was soundly defeated by Alp Arslan at the battle of Manzikert, a strategic fortress about 25 miles north of Lake Van. This Seljuk victory firmly established Turkish rule in Anatolia. Alp-Arslan was murdered in his tent in 1072. With his death, the Great Seljuks of Persia lost their influence in the area and began to recede from the eastern Anatolian lands, leaving the area to the Anatolian branch of the Seljuks.
Melik Shah, son and successor of Alp Arslan in 1072, and was one of the most powerful and brilliant rulers of the Great Seljuks. He seized Transoxiana and Kirman in 1079. During his reign, the Great Seljuk empire extended from Asia Minor to Turkestan. However, upon his death in 1092, the empire collapsed, with family members splitting up the territories, thereby weakening the centralized power. The empire included the local states run by the Syrian Seljuks, the Iraq and Khorasan Seljuks, the Kirman Seljuks and the Anatolian Seljuks. The Great Seljuks were able to maintain their power for another 100 years or so, but due to the conflicts with the Ismalian Shiites (Turkish tribes coming from Central Asia), the Crusaders, and other Turkish tribes migrating from Central Asia, the Great Seljuk Empire definitively ended with the death of Tuğrul III in 1194.
During the reign of Sultan Melik Shah, the Great Seljuk State experienced its most
successful period in the fields of military, science, politics and literature.
One of the keys to the success of this empire was a strong centralized
government, the result of the administrative genius of the grand vizier Nizam
al-Mulk, the right-hand man of Melik Shah. He wrote his theories of government in
a treatise called the Siyaset-Name, which defined the roles of the army,
taxation, education, justice, finances, civil servants and the power structure.
In addition, the age of Great Seljuk supremacy was one of the most glorious in all of
Persian history, with an outstanding building program comprising some 50 monuments, such as the Masjid-i Jami
of Isfahan. They were famous as builders of medreses (institutions of higher learning), such as the Nizamiye
Medrese. Their ceramic art was prolific (Amol, Gabri, Lakabi, Kashan blue and
black wares and the Rayy minai lusterwares) and they were master metalworkers.
The art and architecture of the Great Seljuks is one of the most refined of the
entire Islamic canon.
THE TURKS IN ANATOLIA and the NEAR EAST
The Seljuk branch of the Great Seljuks was not the only group of Turks on the scene. At the same time the Great Seljuks were gaining power, other tribes of Turks were carving out small principalities in the Near East: these included the Saltukids in Erzurum, the Danishmendids in northwest Anatolia (Tokat, Niksar and Sivas), the Mengujukids on the Upper Euphrates (Erzincan and Divriği), the Artuqids in Central Anatolia, the Kharazem Shahs of the lower Oxus, and the Zangids and the Kurdish Ayyubids in Syria. These dynasties were more or less ephemeral, never lasting more than 75 years or so; in the end absorbed by the Anatolian Seljuks or, later, by the Mongols. By far the most brilliant leader of this group of small principalities was Salah ad-Din, known to the West as Saladin of the Crusades, who founded the dynasty of the Ayyubids, at one point master of all Syria and Egypt (end 12th century).
Of all the minor break-away dynasties founded by the members of the Seljuk tribes (the Syrian, Khorasan, Iraq, Kirman Seljuk states), only one managed to organize a solid and lasting state: the Anatolian Seljuks of Asia Minor, otherwise known as the Seljuks of Rum.
SELJUKS OF RUM: 1077-1308
The Anatolian Seljuks were the founders of the first true Turkish state in Anatolia (today's Turkey). The Seljuks of Anatolia were responsible for one of the richest and most inventive periods in Turkish culture. They ruled over most of Turkey for almost two centuries, between the 11-13th centuries, from their capital in Konya. During that time, their refined and enlightened culture flourished throughout most of the land.
Anatolia, or Asia Minor as it was known in ancient times, has been inhabited for 30,000 years. A land bridge due to its location, it possesses an abundance of natural resources, water, good soil, and a fairly suitable climate. It has always been attractive to settlers from many civilizations since the beginning of time, such as the Hittites, Urartians, Phrygians and the Greeks, and, lastly, the Turks from the East. After the Battle of Manzikert of 1071, the Anatolian Seljuks entered and occupied the central part of Anatolia. A scant 30 years, or two generations, separated the first Seljuk state of Tuğrul Bey with that of the Seljuks of Rum in 1071. It was the Seljuks who brought the Islamic faith to Turkey.
The Seljuk Turkish incursions into Anatolia prior to the Battle of Manzikert consisted of
a series of adventure-seeking destructive raids, aimed at plundering for booty. These raids used the previously unseen warfare style of mounted archers. The Turks
sought to seize livestock, to secure space to graze their
herds, and to take captives for ransom. Acting on behalf of, or
independently of the sultan, they carried out these raids and returned east to
their northern Iranian bases, for they had no desire to remain in the country once
their plundering was accomplished. After the Battle of Manzikert, however, the situation changed, as
they could now settle there and establish a homeland for themselves. As these nomadic tribes advanced to the north and
the west, they found a profitable livelihood in the region by becoming sedentary farmers and livestock
After the Battle of Manzikert, there were two notable Turkish powers in the region: the Seljuks in the southern areas and the Danishmendid tribe (the Learned Men") to the north in the region of Tokat. These two rival Turkish groups would interact for many years to come, alternately as adversaries and allies. These two groups operated amidst the complex political and ethnic makeup of Anatolia at that time: Latin strongholds, the Byzantines, the colonies of Venetian and Genoese merchants, the Knights of St. John in the Mediterranean, the Greeks in the west, and the Armenians and Georgians to the east. In the end, however, the Seljuks of Rum prevailed and created an Empire which laid the bases for the country now known as Turkey.
For its short period of existence,
the Seljuks of Anatolia created a kingdom based on military might, commerce,
education and culture. Under the Anatolian
Seljuks, Konya in the 13th century was the site of one of the creation of the crowning glories
of Persian classical literature: the Mesnevi by Jalal al-Din Rumi,
known to the Turks as Mevlana ("Our Master") written in 1258-1273. Although Arabic was spoken in the Mosque, and Persian at
the court, the Turkish language was used in everyday
speech on the streets and in the army. Later, it made its appearance in literature, notably with the folk poetry of Yunus Emre
(1240?-1321?). The Seljuks of Rum were a cosmopolitan group, for they
were in contact with the traditions of the Byzantine and Christian populations living
in Anatolia at this time (Greeks, Byzantines, Latins and Armenians). The Seljuks
signed trade agreements with the Genoese and the Venetians, and several sultans
spent time during their youth at the Byzantine courts in Constantinople (notably
Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev, together with his sons, Izzeddin Keykavüs and
Alaeddin Keykubad). Political marriages with Byzantine
and Arabic princesses were frequent. The Seljuks thus widened their world view by contact with the
Christian West, in addition to the traditions inherited from the Arabs and the
The world of the Seljuks was suddenly overwhelmed in 1243 by the devastating invasion of the Mongols. The Anatolian Seljuks became the vassals of the Mongols, with the empire finally collapsing in 1308 into a series of local principalities that would rule for another hundred years or so, before the arrival of the Ottomans.
The leaders, or Sultans, of the Anatolian Seljuks, are listed below along
with a brief description of the events of their reign:
Süleyman ibn Kutalmış (1077-1086): The founder of the Seljuk power in Anatolia; capital at Iznik
After an unsuccessful rebellion against the Great Seljuk leader Alp Arslan in 1064, the Seljuk chief Süleyman ibn Kutalmış was deflected from the settled lands of Persia into Anatolia, where he found ample opportunity for seizing land by warring against the Byzantines. He and his sons were soon recognized at the leaders of the Turkish tribes in Eastern Anatolia. Pushing westwards, they conquered Antioch (1086) and Konya. They also placed themselves at the service of the different candidates for the throne of the Byzantine empire. They went from one candidate to another, pledging military support against the concession of cities and provinces. When the Byzantine Alexius Comnena I gained power in 1081, he signed a treaty with Süuleyman, stating that he could establish his capital at Iznik, not far from the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Iznik thus became the first capital of the Anatolian Seljuks. At the same time, the Danishmendids Turks firmly established themselves in the region of Sivas, Tokat and Niksar, and the Armenians, previously vassals to the Byzantines, took advantage of the unstable situation to declare their independence to set up a separate state in Cilicia in southeastern Anatolia.
Süleyman ibn Kutalmış was responsible for the installation of the Seljuks in Anatolia, as he declared himself independent from the Great Seljuks of Iran. He struggled to capture Aleppo, dying in battle during one of the attempts. His son Izzeddin Kılıç Arslan was taken back to Iraq as a prisoner of war by the Great Seljuk ruler Melik Shah.
Ebu'l Kasim (1086-1092) First ruler established at the capital of Iznik
This Sultan ruled the Anatolian state for a short period of six years after the death of Süleyman ibn Kutalmış, the founder of the dynasty.
Izzeddin Kılıç Arslan I (1092-1107?): the crushing defeat of the Seljuks by the Crusaders at Dorylaeum; the arrival of the armies of the First Crusade in Anatolia; a brilliant commander against the Crusaders; a new capital at Konya
In 1092 the young Kılıç Arslan I was freed by Melik Shah and returned to Anatolia. He took back the capital of Iznik, but was unable to make inroads against the Danishmendids, who continued to remain a perpetual rival thorn in the Seljuk side, except when the two joined forces against the Crusaders.
In 1096, the First Crusade arrived to western Anatolia on their march to Jerusalem. Kılıç was away, battling in the eastern province of Malatya, and was not able to arrive back in time to impede the seizure of his capital of Iznik by the Crusaders, who were fighting for the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnena. Kılıç Arslan I persuaded the Danishmendids to join forces with him against the Crusaders. Despite this solidified army, a scant month later (June, 1097) the Seljuks suffered a resounding defeat at the Battle of Dorylaeum (near Eskişehir). Routed from Iznik, the Turks retreated eastwards and established a new capital at Konya.
Nothing could now stop the advance of the Crusaders. They captured Konya
in 1097, then Ereğli and Kayseri, as well as all of the Aegean lands. One-third
of Anatolia returned to Byzantine power. Intent on reaching Jerusalem, the Crusaders crossed
through Anatolia but had no desire to
remain there, and were largely ignored by the Turks. However, the Crusaders killed and
plundered, and disrupted the plans of the Seljuks for expansion, driving them back from the
coast into the central plains. The Crusaders also affected
the relationship of the Seljuks with their rivals the Danishmendids, who joined forces with the Seljuks
to combat the Crusaders, but turned antagonistic once again after they were gone.
However, all was not bleak for the Seljuks, as they soon rallied. Retrenched in their central Anatolian plateau, they garnered forces to do battle against the Lombard Crusaders at Amasya (1101), where the hot August sun and the lack of water proved disastrous to the Crusaders. Another major success against the Crusaders was won at Ereğli. Other victories in less than one month put them back in control of their Central Anatolian lands. At the same time, the Danishmendid threat abated, providing the Seljuks an opening to expand to the east towards Malatya (1106) and then onto the Great Seljuk city of Mosul in Iraq (1107). However, this expansion effort proved futile and Kılıç Arslan drowned upon his retreat, effectively ending any aspiration of the Seljuks of Rum to conquer the southeastern realms. Rather, they understood that they needed to centralize their political power in the middle of the great Anatolian plateau, with Konya as their capital.
Melik Shah I (1107?-1116): the Byzantines and Danishmendids become powerful threats
Melik Shah I, the successor of Kılıç Arslan, tried in vain to battle against the Byzantines. During his reign there was much conflict in Anatolia, as the Byzantines began to retake lands in the western areas. During this time as well, the Danishmendids became the strongest Turkish state in Anatolia by taking advantage of the weakness of the Anatolian Seljuks.
Mesud I (1116-1156): Longest reign; Victory over the Second Crusade; the Seljuk Empire is strengthened
Melik Shah I was chased from the throne in 1116 by his brother Mesud I, who had aligned himself with the Danishmendids (even taking a Danishmendid princess for a bride). At the death of the Danishmendid ruler in 1134, Mesud I took advantage of the situation to reconquer cities and to rebuild the dominance of the Seljuks. He also battled the armies of the Second Crusade at Eskişehir, Denizli, and Antalya (1147-1148). The Second Crusade failed largely for the Europeans because of the Seljuk war effort. Mesud I left a secure and prosperous kingdom, enlarged by fiefs which were breaking apart from the crumbling Great Seljuk Empire of Iran and the Danishmendids.
His reign saw the construction of the Alaeddin Mosque at Konya (1153), one of the most powerful monuments of Seljuk architecture (contemporary with the Cathedral of Chartres). It is during his reign that Western sources mention the name of "Turkey" in their writings for the first time.
Izzeddin Kılıç Arslan II (1156-1192): A prince of exceptional ability and father of 9 sons; preparation of the glorious period to come; defeat of the Danishmendids and the Byzantines; major victory of Myriocephalum; Konya lost to the Third Crusade
Kılıç Arslan II, ruling from Konya, continued to battle against the Crusaders, the Byzantines ruled by Emperor Manuel Comnena and the Danishmendids and even against his own brother Shahin Shah, who aligned himself with the Danishmendids and their leader Yaği Basan.
Kılıç Arslan II set out to defeat both of them, and managed to
do so at the battle of Myriocephalum in November, 1176, in the pass above Eğidir near
Mount Sultan Dağ, where his two rivals had joined forces in a
last-ditch effort against him. As a result, the Danishmendids came under Seljuk rule, ceding their cities
to them and effectively ceasing as a political force. The booty of the battle was used to
embellish the capital of Konya. The Battle of Myriocephalum, a replay
of Manzikert almost 100 years earlier, signified the end of the Byzantine hold on
Anatolia. Europe began to refer to Anatolia as "Turkey", and the Seljuks were now
considered a state of importance. A period of economic and social development
resulted from this new political unity. Trade
flourished and construction activities accelerated. Hans were built along the
trade roads that crossed the Empire, shipyards were constructed, medreses (learning centers for
theology and science) were opened and important
scientific developments were achieved.
The end of his reign was not so fortunate, as the soldiers of the Third Crusade captured Konya in 1190. Now over 70 years old and tired, Kılıç Arslan II abdicated in favor of his 9 sons, a brother and a nephew. Each was given the command of a region, with Kılıç Arslan II remaining in charge at Konya. Much infighting ensued, and the sons of Kiliç Arslan II began to act as independent princes, even to the point of striking their own coinage. After Kiliç Arslans death at the age of 77 in 1192, a 12-year period of fraternal battles followed. This dynastic struggle of the heirs of Kiliç Arslan proved unfortunate for the unity of the kingdom.
The German Emperor Frederic Barbarossa and his army asked Kılıç Arslan II for free passage to cross Anatolia to reach the Holy Land during the Third Crusade. This permission was granted to him by the Seljuk sultan, but by the time the German crossed southern Turkey, Kılıç II had abdicated, and his sons made Frederics passage difficult. Frederic tragically drowned in the Gök River near Silifke in June, 1190, which dealt a severe moral blow to his troops and to the Third Crusade.
Kılıç Arslan II was responsible for building the first hans in Anatolia, notably the Alay Han in 1192. He is buried in the Tomb of the Seljuk Sultans situated next to the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya.
Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I (1192-1196, first reign), Rükneddin II Suleyman Shah (1196-1204) and Izzeddin Kılıç Arslan III (1203-1204): Three short-lived sultanates; sac of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade
The first successor to the throne after the death of Kılıç Arslan II and the ensuing fraternal struggles was his son, Gıyaseddin Keyhusrev I. However, his brother Rükneddin II soon displaced him and seized the throne. Rükneddin II banished Gıyaseddin Keyhusrev, together with his sons Izzeddin Keykavüs and Alaeddin Keykubad, to a Byzantine palace in Constantinople - but they would soon be back on the scene.
Rükneddin II then conquered Malatya and the Artuqids of Harput. He also brought the Saltukid principality of Erzurum under Seljuk rule. Ironically, after struggling so hard to gain the throne, Rükneddin II died a mere 4 days later in 1204 without managing to reconstitute the unity of the state.
At his death in 1204, he was replaced by his toddler son, Izzeddin Kılıç Arslan III, three years old at the time, but he was soon disposed (r. 1204-5) by his uncle Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I, who took back the throne once again.
Two significant events occurred at this time which disrupted the stability created by the Seljuks: the terrible sac of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the first raids into Anatolia of the Mongol Genghis Khan in 1203.
Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I (1204-1211 second reign): The Seljuk Empire is solidly set; conquest of Antalya; establishment of maritime and land trade routes; commercial development
Returning from exile, Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I ascended to the throne for a second time, and this time he made his mark. The Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 gave the opportunity for the Seljuks to reestablish their power in the central region of Anatolia. Now that the Seljuk state was becoming more powerful and better organized, it became imperative to find commercial outlets to the two seas that bordered it, and Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I set this as an important goal. The strategic Mediterranean port city of Antalya was brilliantly captured in 1207. The conquest of Antalya from the Aldobrandini Venetians was an important stimulus for an economic boom, and the Seljuks now drew much trade interest from the West. He also encouraged merchants through tax breaks and promised to indemnify any merchant in case of robbery. After the conquest of Antalya, a treaty was signed which established the first commercial relationship between the Venetians and the Seljuks.
Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I died in 1211 during a battle
fought to capture Alaşehir from
Theodore Lascaris I, the Byzantine Emperor of Nicaea (Iznik). He left the power
to his son Izzeddin Keykavüs I. His other son, Alaeddin Keykubad, contested the right
of his brother Keykavüs to the throne, but was defeated by him and imprisoned.
This period saw the construction of some of the most notable architectural glories of the Seljuk period. Gıyaseddin Keyhüsrev I built the impressive hospital complex, the Çifte Medrese in Kayseri, in memory of his sister Gevher Nesibi Hatun, in 1206. Giyaseddin was also responsible for the construction of numerous hans in response to the burgeoning economic boom, notably the Kuruçesme, Dokuzun and Kizilören Hans.
Izzeddin Keykavüs I (1211-1219): A decade towards the solidification of the Empire; Sinop secured
The son continued in the same political direction as his father Gıyaseddin Keyhüsrev I: expansion of territory and the development of commercial trade. The first 40 years of the 13th century saw the apogee of the Seljuk state, largely due to the Sultans Izzedin Keykavüs and his brother Alaeddin Keykubad.
Izzeddin Keykavüs needed to defeat his brother, Alaeddin Keykubad, who had
rebelled against him, in order to take the throne. Fearing his power would be usurped by his restive brother Alaeddin Keykubad I, Izzeddin Keykavüs
I kept him locked up in the Ankara fortress during his reign. He then gave all
his attention to the development of trade. He continued
the commercial policies of his father, by signing important trade
agreements with the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus to establish free trade between
the two countries, and with the Venetians about the rights of merchants, freedom
of movement and tax reductions, in order to lure European merchants away from
the ports of Cyprus. Izzeddin Keykavüs
I permanently secured the important Black Sea port city of Sinop in 1214, which
allowed the Seljuks to develop maritime trade with China, India and Persia, as well as
with the Crimean region
and the West. Antalya, which had fallen back into the hands of the Crusaders, was
retaken by the Sultan. The Seljuks now controlled the coasts of both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and
were able to develop an important
bicoastal transit trade.
Although his reign lasted only a decade, Izzeddin Keykavüs left his state solidly positioned for success: Konya was architecturally glorified, his army was built up and well-disciplined, his administration ran efficiently, trade flourished and architecture became highly developed.
A poet himself, Izzeddin Keykavüs was an important patron of the arts, and encouraged the development of literature (in Persian) and was interested in Sufism. It is believed that he died of tuberculosis, and he is buried in a tomb inside the magnificent hospital complex he built in Sivas before his death. Seljuk architecture began to assume its monumental form at this time. The Hekim and Evdir hans were built under his reign.
Alaeddin Keykubad I (1219-1237): the shining glory period of the Seljuks of Rum; capture of Alanya; era of architectural monuments
It was this sultan who created glory for the Empire through his economic and political power.
Upon Izzeddin Keykavüs's death, Alaeddin Keykubad was freed from prison, and, abetted by powerful emirs, he succeeded his brother as sultan in 1219. His reign was the most brilliant of the entire Seljuk dynasty: it witnessed the greatest territorial expansion, commercial enterprise and building activity. In a mere 20 years he forged a period of unsurpassed glory, in military, cultural and economic growth.
This self-assured and versatile leader was an excellent calligrapher, athlete,
draughtsman and carpenter, as well as a wise administrator and a strong military
His armies knew nothing but success for over 15 years, with incorporation of all
the regions of
Anatolia (with the exception of the area of Diyarbakir), into Seljuk hands.
He encouraged agriculture and built sugar refineries, and developed Sivas into
one of the most important trading centers of the entire Levant.
His first major victory was the capture of the Mediterranean port of Kalonoros (Alanya) from the rulers of the Cilician Kingdom of Lesser Armenia. He renamed it Alaiye and turned it into a naval base as well as his winter residence. Later, he mounted campaigns to take the fortresses of Kahta (1222), Erzincan (1230), Erzurum (1230) and Çemişkezek, as well as Harput, Urfa and Ahlat. He understood the potential danger of the Mongols, and reinforced the city walls of the cities of the realm and strengthened the eastern borders.
He also advanced his political position by a series of diplomatic marriages to improve
relations with rival groups: Alaeddin Keykubad I married the Armenian princess Mahperi Huand
in 1221 and the Ayyubid queen Melike Hatun in 1227.
Yet, his building program remains his most lasting testament. He ramped up his fathers indemnification policy and introduced a kind of commercial insurance for merchants. He improved roads, and built very large-sized hans. He consolidated the city walls of Kayseri and Sivas. He developed the city of Konya by constructing the city walls, thermal baths, and the Palace on the Citadel Hill. His Red Tower and Arsenal at Alanya, built in 1221, are outstanding examples of military architecture. He also charged his emirs with the task of participating in his ambitious building projects, resulting in such monuments as the Alaeddin Mosque at Niğde. Alaeddin ordered the construction of the Sultan Han between Konya and Aksaray in 1229, the Karatay Han, the Sultan Han on the Sivas-Kayseri road in 1232, the Alara Han near Antalya, the Zazadin Han, the Çardak Han, the Kadin Han, the Ertokuş Han, the Eğridir Han, the Eshab-i Keyf Han and the Ağzikara Han (covered section). He also built numerous bridges, still standing today, as well as the Palaces of Keykubadiyye near Kayseri and the luxurious Kubadabad Palace on Lake Beyşehir.
He died at the age of 45, most certainly by intentional poisoning, on the third day of the holiday following the end of Ramadan, on May 30 1237. He died during a feast held for the envoys of the Great Mongol Khan, with whom he sought to broker a non-aggression agreement. He died at the height of glory, and was spared witnessing the destruction of his kingdom by the Mongol raiders from the east already gathering storm to surge forth to invade Anatolia.
Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II (1237-1246): The decline of the Seljuk Empire starts with the revolt of the dervish Baba Işak and the arrival of the Mongols; the dreadful day of Kösedağ
Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II, the eldest son of Alaeddin Keykubad, installed a short period of peace. He inherited from his father control of most all of the lands of Asia Minor, except for some areas of Lesser Armenia and the Comnena Kingdom of Trabzon. He began his reign by capturing the region around Diyarbakir, but soon all spiraled downwards towards disaster. His dissolute character and fondness for pleasure left him prey to the manipulations of the vizier Sadettin Köpek, who did irreparable harm to the Empire as a result. Many fingers point to this psychopathic character as the murderer of Alaeddin Keykubad, as he wished to take all the power for himself
In 1241, a revolt led by Baba Ishak, a popular
Turkmen preacher, lead to internal chaos throughout the land. It became a
social, political, religious and anti-establishment movement that was finally
put to an end with the hanging of Baba Ishak. This dervish rebellion was a sign
of serious internal discontent.
Yet a far greater menace appeared from outside the Seljuk borders: the Mongols were primed to invade Anatolia. The Mongols, led by their fearless commander Baiju, seized Erzurum in 1241. Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II organized a joint army combining Byzantine, Armenian and Frankish mercenaries to do battle against them, but the Seljuk forces met with a resounding defeat on June 26, 1243, at the battle of Kösedağ near a mountain on the Sivas-Erzincan Road. Afterwards, the cities of Sivas and Kayseri were seized and plundered by the Mongols, and there was widespread anarchy, and further destruction of Anatolian cities. The Seljuk Sultanate managed to negotiate with the Mongols to retain their independence, but they had to pay a substantial tribute to them. The Seljuks now became vassals of the Mongols, and this era of Mongol rule over the Seljuks is known as the Ilkhanid Period.
Gıyaseddin Keyhüsrev II died in 1246 while on a campaign at in the region of Alaiye (Alanya), a mere three years after his defeat at Kösedağ. Despite the turmoil seen during his reign, he was an important patron for the arts, responsible for building numerous hans. The Ağzikara (courtyard), Incir, Kirkgöz, Pazar, Cimcimli, Çekereksu, Ibipse, Incir, Çiftlik, Kargı, Susuz, Çakallı, Ezinepazar and Şarafsa hans all rose during his reign.
The triumvirate of the 3 sons: Izzeddin Keykavüs II, Kılıç Arslan IV and Alaeddin Keykubad II (1246-1265): the Seljuk state comes under Mongol rule; the intrigues of the vizier Muineddin Suleyman Pervane
Upon his death, Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II left three
young sons by different mothers and no solid governmental structure to assume
the Seljuk Empire.
After the death of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II, the Seljuk state gradually came under Ilkhanid
Mongol rule. The squabbles among the three young sons of Keyhüsrev II further weakened
the Seljuks. The three sons divided the kingdom among themselves and ruled as a
In 1249, the wise Vizier Celaddin Karatay
managed to broker an agreement between the brothers and the Mongols to share the
administrative duties of the Seljuk Empire. From this point on, for a period of
8 years, the three
brother sultans ruled jointly by
a decree of the Mongol Khans, who established independent
sultanates for each son: Konya
and the lands west of the Kizilirmak River went to the eldest son Izzeddin Keykavüs II,
Rükneddin Kılıç Arslan IV ruled at Sivas over the lands east of the Kizilirmak,
and Alaeddin Keykubad II ruled the area near Malatya. Each brother had a different
approach to the Mongol question, either favoring submission or defiance. This
ambiguous situation was further complicated by the death of the Vizier Karatay
in 1254. With his death, all hopes for a strong Seljuk Empire were lost.
This triumvirate lasted until 1257 and was supervised by a common vizier, Chems ad-din Isfahani, a former vizier serving under their father, Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II. He was the true master of the government, but his excesses soon led to his arrest and assassination in 1249. Alaeddin Keykubad II was assassinated in Erzurum by his emirs in 1257 when he was preparing to surrender control of his land to the Mongol Khan Möngke. This assassination left the empire in the hands of the remaining 2 brothers, Izzeddin Keykavüs II and Rukneddin Kiliç Arslan IV. They took opposite stances on the Mongol question: Izzeddin's mother was Greek, and he turned to the Byzantines for help to stand against the Mongols, whereas his stepbrother Rukneddin chose to submit entirely to the Mongols. The Mongols split the empire in two, between western Anatolia with Kılıç Arslan IV ruling from Sivas, and the capital of Konya going to Izzeddin Keykavüs II, who chose Sahip Ata Fahrettin Ali as his vizier.
However, an influential figure now entered upon the political scene: Kılıç Arslan IV's wily Prime Minister, the vizier Muineddin Suleyman, an ambitious and manipulative self-promoter who sought all political power and set up for himself a quasi-independent fiefdom in Tokat. In order to advance his career and to better control the sultanate, Pervane married Gıyaseddin Keyhüsrev II's widow, who had been acting as regent for her small son Alaeddin Keykubad II.
The Mongols soon after ordered both princes to assist them with their Syrian campaign, which culminated in the disastrous capture of Baghdad by the Mongol khan Hülegü and the end of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258. Both prices returned to their courts in 1260 but tension between them was strong.
Another unfortunate incident for the worse occurred soon after, in July, 1261, when Michael Palaeologos became the Byzantine emperor after the recapture of Constantinople. Encouraged by the intrigues of Muineddin Suleyman, Izzeddin II fled to the Crimea to seek the aid of the Byzantine Paleologos Dynasty against the Mongols. His plan backfired when Michael Palaeologus decided to side with the Mongols. Izzeddin II was imprisoned, eventually dying in Crimea in exile in 1278. As a result, Rukneddin Kılıç Arslan IV became the sole ruler of the Seljuk Empire and his Vizier Muineddin Suleyman was promoted to the position of "Pervane", the Sultans official spokesperson and head vizier. However, Rukneddin Kiliç Arslan IV was a mere puppet of the Mongols. Izzeddin Keykavus IIs vizier, Sahip Ata, managed to retain his position, but was now completely subservient to the Pervane.
The Pervane by this time had reconquered Sinop from the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond and founded his own small dynasty there, and was even seeking to place his own 3 year-old son on the throne as Sultan. Rukneddin Kılıç Arslan IV became angered by the granting of Sinop to Pervane, who then felt that he no longer had his backing. They met at Aksaray in 1265 to settle their differences, but Pervane had Kılıç Arslan IV assassinated while attending a banquet there. The throne then passed to Giyaseddin Keyhusrev III, the young son of Kılıç Arslan IV, with Pervane serving as regent.
The quarter century that began with the reign of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II and continued through the first fifteen years of the reigns of his sons were disastrous for the Seljuk Empire, which never recovered from the victory of the Mongols at Kösedag. Nevertheless, the Seljuk Empire of Rum continued through the first quarter of the fourteenth century, though only a shadow of its glory under Alaeddin Keykubad, and would soon vanish from the face of the earth.
It is hard to imagine that during this period of political upheaval some of the most impressive monuments of the Seljuk era were built in Konya, Kayseri and Antalya, notably under the patronage of the famous ministers Celaleddin Karatay (the Hidirlik Bridge at Tokat and the Karatay Medrese in Konya) and Sahip Ata of Afyon. The construction of hans continued as well, including the Ak, Obruk, Horozlu, Sarı and Sahip Ata Işakli Hans.
Giyaseddın Keyhüsrev III (1264-1283): Puppets in the hands of the Mongols; regency of the Pervane of Tokat; arrival on the scene of the Mameluk Baibars from Egypt
Kılıç Arslan IV's son and successor, Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev
III, was 6 years old upon his succession, making it
all the easier for the true power to remain in the hands of the regent Pervane
Muineddin Suleyman. Keyhüsrev
III claimed direct sovereignty only over the lands around Konya. The
rest pf tje Anatolian Seljuk state was completely under the control of the Mongols.
For the next decade the Pervane managed to maintain a degree of stability and semi-independence under the powerful Mongols. However, at this time, the Mamluk Sultan Baibars of Egypt mounted a great expedition against the Latins, which left Cairo in January, 1265. They took over the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Antioch. Pervane decided to take advantage of the presence of the Mamluks. In 1276, he boldly entered into a plot with Baibars to evict the Mongols from Asia Minor and to make himself Sultan. The Ilkhanids were keen on maintaining a strong hold on Anatolia, as it served as a buffer zone between Iran and the Syrian-Egyptian territories of their political nemesis, the Mamluks and accepted his plan. At the same time, this double agent Pervane continued to reassure the Mongols that they had complete support of the Seljuks
Baibars arrived and defeated the Mongols at Elbistan in 1277 and then temporarily occupied Kayseri. It is known that Baybars set up camp in the Kayseri Sultan Han during his campaign. For some unknown reason, Baibars then lost his nerve and gave up the fight and returned to Egypt, although it may have been simply because he did not believe there were enough supplies in the Konya region to support his army. Pervane fled from Konya with the vizier Sahip Ata Fahrettin Ali and went to his domain in Tokat. Baibars died soon after returning home to Egypt, either succumbing to wounds suffered in Anatolia or from drinking poisoned kumiz, a favored brew of the era made from fermented mare's milk.
The Ilkhanids were quite rattled by the famous foray led by the Mamuks into Anatolia in 1277, where they were defeated at the Battle of Elbistan. They were not used to losing battles. The Mongols reacted to the victory of Elbistan by the Mamluks which led the Mongol khan Abagha to mount an expedition into Anatolia. When Abagha arrived at Elbistan and saw that their were no Seljuk corpses rotting on the field, he understood that Pervane had never sent the Seljuks as promised for the battle. Blaming Pervane for his suspected treason as well as for his participation in the murder of Rukneddin Kiliç Arslan IV, Abagha put him on trial and sentenced him to death in 1277.
After the Pervanes death, there were unending dynastic struggles, intrigues and
continual decadence. Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev III was put to
death by the Mongols in 1283.
Astonishing as it may seem in this period of political instability, court decentralization, famine, wars and rebellions, a flourishing building program continued. It included the Kesikköprü Han and bridge (1268), and the hans of Durak, Eğret and Çay; the Sahibiye Medrese in Kayseri (1268), the magnificent Gök Medrese in Sivas (1271), and the Afyon Ulu Cami (1273). The Mongols undertook construction activities as well, building the Çifte Minare Medrese and the Muzzafer Barucirdi Medrese in Sivas, and the Gök Medrese and Torumtay Tomb in Amasya.
Giyaseddin Mesud II and Alaeddin Keykubad III (1283-1308): struggles with the Karamans, decadence; the end of the empire of the Seljuks of Rum, now broken into local principalities
After the death of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev III, the princes Mesud II and Alaeddin Keykubad III continually struggled against each other for control of the throne at Konya in a veritable game of royal ping pong, which weakened the dynasty. Mesud II took the throne four times, and each time he was displaced, he was replaced with Alaeddin Keykubad III each time he was displaced.
Mesud II, eldest son of former Sultan Izzeddin Keykavus II, established himself as sultan in Kayseri in 1283. He ruled over the undivided territory of the Seljuk Sultanate, though with no real power, since he was merely a puppet and vassal of the Mongol khan Arghun. What little power the Seljuks had was held by the Sultan's vizier, Sahip Ata Fahrettin Ali, who died in November, 1288, after a career of more than 40 years in Seljuk government, which never saw his likes again. Although Mesud II married a Mongol princess, the relationship between the Seljuks and the Mongols still remained strained. The Mongols continually pressed the Seljuks to deal with the Karamans, an increasingly powerful local principality. The Mongols were having a series of power struggles in their own ranks, which created a revolving door of ruling khans in Anatolia. Mesud II was exiled to Tabriz in 1298 and was replaced by his nephew, Alaeddin Keykubad III, who had been in hiding in Cilicia since 1280.
Alaeddin Keykubad III went to pay homage to the court of the Mongol khan Ghazan in 1302, but the Ilkhan had him beheaded for apparent insubordination. Ghazan then ordered that Mesut II be restored as sultan of Rum, and in 1303 he returned to Konya to take the throne again.
Years of decline under Mongol hegemony continued, with unending dynastic and administrative squabbles. The Sultanate of the Anatolian Seljuks was now in its final stages of collapse, its power sapped by the Mongol protectorate and its central authority all but destroyed by the rise of independent Turkmen emirates such as the Karamans.
Mesud II was murdered in 1308 in Kayseri, along with his son Mesud III. His death marked the end of the Anatolian Seljuk State. The circumstances of his death are unclear, and it is uncertain as to who, if anyone, succeeded him. Ottoman chroniclers state that it may have been a certain Gazi Çelebi, who was either the son of Mesud II his son or the grandson of Muineddin Pervane. This colorful character ruled in Sinop around 1324, and won fame in his battles on land and sea with the Byzantines of Trebizond. He is described in the Rihla, the travel journals of Ibn Battuta, as having extraordinary talents as a frogman, capable of diving underwater and holding his breath for long periods of time. States Ibn Battuta: "This Gazi Çelebi was a brave and audacious man, endowed by God with a special gift of endurance under water and power of swimming. When the fleets met and everybody was occupied by fighting, he would dive under the water, carrying in his hand an iron tool with which to hole the enemy's galleys, and they would know nothing of what had befallen them until the foundering of their ship took them unaware...He possessed indeed a talent that was unmatched, but they relate that he used to consume an excessive quantity of hashish, and it was because of this that he died."
And so ended the rule of the Seljuks of Rum, far from the days of bravery of Kiliç Arslan and the visions of grandeur of Alaeddin Keykubad I.
At the same time, the stranglehold of Mongol authority began to fade away. The Mongol occupation was for the most part confined to central and eastern Anatolia, and thus it had much less of an effect in the western part of the subcontinent, where the Byzantine Empire was bordered by a number of independent Turkmen emirates which had broken away from the weakened Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. Anatolia was in the hands of both the weakening Mongols who struggled to hold it, and the local emirs (beys) who had appeared over the last several years, breaking away from the centralized government to form their own local fiefdoms. These Turkoman groups, who had settled in Anatolia during the Seljuk period, founded many regional mini-states (beyliks) of varying size, including the Karaman, Germiyan, Eşref, Hamid, Menteşe, Çandar, Pervane, Sahip Ata, Karesi, Saruhan, Aydin, and Osmanoğullari states.
During this period of the 14th century, known as the Beylik Period, all
Anatolia came back under Turkish rule and a new period of
welfare began in these lands which had suffered much destruction by
the Mongols. One of these beyliks, the powerful Karamans of
southern Turkey, became important for a non-military reason: their leader Mehmed
Bey prohibited the use of any language other than Turkish at meetings of the
court. The Beyliks continued the active building program of the Seljuks, with a varied
and highly original aspect. The smallest and least significant of these local
principalities was that
of the Osmanoğullari ("sons of
Osman"), the followers of Osman Gazi, whose tiny emirate was located in the Bithynian
hills just east of the Byzantine cities of Nicomedia (Izmit), Nicea (Iznik) and
Prusa (Bursa). They may have been small at the outset, but these sons of Osman emerged
to become an unimagined and unforeseen force in the world,
destined to become one of the greatest empires in history, eventually ruling
over three continents for six centuries: The Ottomans.
©2001-2019, Katharine Branning; All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written consent from the author.