Seljuq empire

For the ruling dynasty of the empire, see Seljuq dynasty.
Not to be confused with Seleucid Empire.
Büyük Selçuklu Devleti
دولت سلجوقیان
Dawlat-i Saljūqiān
Great Seljuq Empire
Malik Shah I
Capital Nishapur
Hamadan, Western capital (1118–1194)
Merv, Eastern capital (1118–1153)
Government Monarchy
Sultan or Shah
 -  1037–1063 Toghrul I (first)
 -  1174–1194 Toghrul III (last)[5][6]
 -  Tughril formed the state system 1037
 -  Replaced by the Khwarezmian Empire[7] 1194
 -  1080 est. 3,900,000 km² (1,505,798 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Ghaznavid Empire
Buyid dynasty
Sallarid dynasty
Byzantine Empire
Ghurid Dynasty
Khwarezmian Empire
Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm
Ayyubid dynasty
Atabegs of Azerbaijan
Burid dynasty
Zengid dynasty
Artuqid dynasty
Today part of

History of Greater Iran
Until the rise of modern nation-states

The Great Seljuq Empire (Modern Turkish: Büyük Selçuklu Devleti; Persian: دولت سلجوقیان‎) was a medieval Turko-Persian[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] Sunni Muslim empire, originating from the Qynyq branch of Oghuz Turks.[16] The Seljuq Empire controlled a vast area stretching from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf. From their homelands near the Aral sea, the Seljuqs advanced first into Khorasan and then into mainland Persia before eventually conquering eastern Anatolia.

The Seljuq empire was founded by Tughril Beg in 1037 after the efforts by the founder of the Seljuq dynasty, Seljuq Beg, in the first quarter of the 11th century. Seljuq Beg's father was in a higher position in the Oghuz Yabgu State, and he gave his name to both the state and the dynasty. The Seljuqs united the fractured political scene of the Eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades. Highly Persianized[10][11][12][13] in culture[17][18][19] and language,[10][20][21][22][23] the Seljuqs also played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition,[24] even exporting Persian culture to Anatolia.[25][26] The settlement of Turkic tribes in the northwestern peripheral parts of the empire, for the strategic military purpose of fending off invasions from neighboring states, led to the progressive turkicization of those areas.[27]

Founder of the Dynasty

Main article: Seljuk

The apical ancestor of the Seljuqs was their beg, Seljuq, who was reputed to have served in the Khazar army, under whom, circa 950, they migrated to Khwarezm, near the city of Jend, where they converted to Islam.[28]

Expansion of the Empire

The Seljuqs were allied with the Persian Samanid Shahs against the Qarakhanids. The Samanids fell to the Qarakhanids in Transoxania (992/999), however, whereafter the Ghaznavids arose. The Seljuqs became involved in this power struggle in the region before establishing their own independent base.

Tugrul and Chagri Beg

Main article: Tughril

Tughril was the grandson of Seljuq and brother of Chaghri, under whom the Seljuks wrested an empire from the Ghaznavids. Initially the Seljuqs were repulsed by Mahmud and retired to Khwarezm, but Tughril and Chaghri led them to capture Merv and Nishapur (1037).[29] Later they repeatedly raided and traded territory with his successors across Khorasan and Balkh and even sacked Ghazni in 1037.[30] In 1040 at the Battle of Dandanaqan, they decisively defeated Mas'ud I of the Ghaznavids, forcing him to abandon most of his western territories to the Seljuqs. In 1055, Tughril captured Baghdad from the Shi'a Buyids under a commission from the Abbassids.

Alp Arslan

Main article: Alp Arslan

Alp Arslan, the son of Chaghri Beg, expanded significantly upon Tughril's holdings by adding Armenia and Georgia in 1064 and invading the Byzantine Empire in 1068, from which he annexed almost all of Anatolia. Arslan's decisive victory at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 effectively neutralized the Byzantine threat.[31] He authorized his Turkmen generals to carve their own principalities out of formerly Byzantine Anatolia, as atabegs loyal to him. Within two years the Turkmens had established control as far as the Aegean Sea under numerous "beghliks" (modern Turkish beyliks): the Saltukids in Northeastern Anatolia, Mengujekids in Eastern Anatolia, Artuqids in Southeastern Anatolia, Danishmendis in Central Anatolia, Rum Seljuqs (Beghlik of Suleyman, which later moved to Central Anatolia) in Western Anatolia, and the Beylik of Tzachas of Smyrna in İzmir (Smyrna).

Malik Shah I

Main article: Malik Shah I

Under Alp Arslan's successor, Malik Shah, and his two Persian viziers,[32] Nizām al-Mulk and Tāj al-Mulk, the Seljuq state expanded in various directions, to the former Iranian border of the days before the Arab invasion, so that it soon bordered China in the East and the Byzantines in the West. Malikshāh moved the capital from Rey to Isfahan. The Iqta military system and the Nizāmīyyah University at Baghdad were established by Nizām al-Mulk, and the reign of Malikshāh was reckoned the golden age of "Great Seljuq". The Abbasid Caliph titled him "The Sultan of the East and West" in 1087. The Assassins (Hashshashin) of Hassan-i Sabāh started to become a force during his era, however, and they assassinated many leading figures in his administration; according to many sources these victims included Nizām al-Mulk.


The Seljuq power was at its zenith under Malikshāh I, and both the Qarakhanids and Ghaznavids had to acknowledge the overlordship of the Seljuqs.[33] The Seljuq dominion was established over the ancient Sasanian domains, in Iran and Iraq, and included Anatolia as well as parts of Central Asia and modern Afghanistan.[33] The Seljuk rule was modelled after the tribal organization common in Turkic and Mongol nomads and resembled a 'family federation' or 'appanage state'.[33] Under this organization the leading member of the paramount family assigned family members portions of his domains as autonomous appanages.[33]

Division of empire

See also: Sultanate of Rum, Atabegs

When Malikshāh I died in 1092, the empire split as his brother and four sons quarrelled over the apportioning of the empire among themselves. Malikshāh I was succeeded in Anatolia by Kilij Arslan I, who founded the Sultanate of Rum, and in Syria by his brother Tutush I. In Persia he was succeeded by his son Mahmud I, whose reign was contested by his other three brothers Barkiyaruq in Iraq, Muhammad I in Baghdad, and Ahmad Sanjar in Khorasan. When Tutush I died, his sons Radwan and Duqaq inherited Aleppo and Damascus respectively and contested with each other as well, further dividing Syria amongst emirs antagonistic towards each other.

In 1118, the third son Ahmad Sanjar took over the empire. His nephew, the son of Muhammad I, did not recognize his claim to the throne, and Mahmud II proclaimed himself Sultan and established a capital in Baghdad, until 1131 when he was finally officially deposed by Ahmad Sanjar.

Elsewhere in nominal Seljuq territory were the Artuqids in northeastern Syria and northern Mesopotamia; they controlled Jerusalem until 1098. The Dānišmand dynasty founded a state in eastern Anatolia and northern Syria and contested land with the Sultanate of Rum, and Kerbogha exercised independence as the atabeg of Mosul.

The First Crusade

Main article: First Crusade

During the First Crusade, the fractured states of the Seljuqs were generally more concerned with consolidating their own territories and gaining control of their neighbours than with cooperating against the crusaders. The Seljuqs easily defeated the untrained People's Crusade arriving in 1096, but they could not stop the progress of the army of the subsequent Princes' Crusade, which took important cities such as Nicaea (İznik), Iconium (Konya), Caesarea Mazaca (Kayseri), and Antioch (Antakya) on its march to Jerusalem (Al-Quds). In 1099 the crusaders finally captured the Holy Land and set up the first Crusader States. The Seljuqs had already lost Palestine to the Fatimids, who had recaptured it just before its capture by the crusaders.

The Second Crusade

See also: Second Crusade, Zengi, Nur ad-Din Zangi

During this time conflict with the Crusader States was also intermittent, and after the First Crusade increasingly independent atabegs would frequently ally with the crusader states against other atabegs as they vied with each other for territory. At Mosul, Zengi succeeded Kerbogha as atabeg and successfully began the process of consolidating the atabegs of Syria. In 1144 Zengi captured Edessa, as the County of Edessa had allied itself with the Ortoqids against him. This event triggered the launch of the Second Crusade. Nur ad-Din, one of Zengi's sons who succeeded him as atabeg of Aleppo, created an alliance in the region to oppose the Second Crusade, which landed in 1147.


Ahmad Sanjar had to contend with the revolts of Qarakhanids in Transoxiana, Ghorids in Afghanistan and Qarluks in modern Kyrghyzstan, as well as the nomadic Kara-Khitais who invaded the East and captured the Eastern Qarakhanid state. The Kara-Khitais then defeated the Western Qarakhanids, a vassal of the Seljuqs at Khujand. The Qarakhanids turned to their overlord the Seljuqs for help, but at the Battle of Qatwan in 1141, Sanjar was decisively defeated. The Seljuq army suffered great losses and Sanjar barely escaped with his life. The prestige of the Seljuqs became greatly diminished, and they lost all his eastern provinces up to the Syr Darya, with the vassalage of Western Kara-Khanid taken by the Kara-Khitan.[34]

Conquest by Khwarezm and the Ayyubids

See also:Saladin, Ayyubid, Khwarezmid Empire

In 1153, the Oghuz Turks rebelled and captured Sanjar. He managed to escape three years later but died a year later. Despite several attempts to reunite the Seljuks by his successors, the Crusades prevented them from regaining their former empire. The atabegs, such as Zengids and Artuqids, were only nominally under the Seljuk Sultan, and generally controlled Syria independently. When Ahmed Sanjar died in 1156, it fractured the empire even further and rendered the atabegs effectively independent.

  1. Khorasani Seljuqs in Khorasan and Transoxiana. Capital: Merv
  2. Kermani Seljuqs
  3. Sultanate of Rum. (or Seljuqs of Turkey) Capital: Iznik (Nicaea), later Konya (Iconium)
  4. Atabeghlik of Salgur in Iran
  5. Atabeghlik of Ildeniz in Iraq and Azerbaijan. Capital Hamadan
  6. Atabeghlik of Bori in Syria. Capital: Damascus
  7. Atabeghlik of Zangi in Al Jazira (Northern Mesopotamia). Capital: Mosul
  8. Turcoman Beghliks: Danishmendis, Artuqids, Saltuqids and Mengujekids in Asia Minor
  9. Khwarezmshahs in Transoxiana, Khwarezm. Capital: Urganch

After the Second Crusade, Nur ad-Din's general Shirkuh, who had established himself in Egypt on Fatimid land, was succeeded by Saladin. In time, Saladin rebelled against Nur ad-Din, and, upon his death, Saladin married his widow and captured most of Syria and created the Ayyubid dynasty.

On other fronts, the Kingdom of Georgia began to become a regional power and extended its borders at the expense of Great Seljuk. The same was true during the revival of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia under Leo II of Armenia in Anatolia. The Abbassid caliph An-Nasir also began to reassert the authority of the caliph and allied himself with the Khwarezmshah Takash.

For a brief period, Togrul III was the Sultan of all Seljuq except for Anatolia. In 1194, however, Togrul was defeated by Takash, the Shah of Khwarezmid Empire, and the Seljuq finally collapsed. Of the former Seljuq Empire, only the Sultanate of Rûm in Anatolia remained. As the dynasty declined in the middle of the thirteenth century, the Mongols invaded Anatolia in the 1260s and divided it into small emirates called the Anatolian beyliks. Eventually one of these, the Ottoman, would rise to power and conquer the rest.


The Seljuqs were educated in the service of Muslim courts as slaves or mercenaries. The dynasty brought revival, energy, and reunion to the Islamic civilization hitherto dominated by Arabs and Persians. According to the Seljuqs, they brought to the Muslims "fighting spirit and fanatical aggression".[35]

The Seljuqs founded universities[36] and were also patrons of art and literature. Their reign is characterized by Persian astronomers such as Omar Khayyám, and the Persian philosopher al-Ghazali. Under the Seljuqs, New Persian became the language for historical recording, while Arabic language culture shifted from Baghdad to Cairo.[37]

List of sultans of the Great Seljuq Empire

Main article: List of sultans of the Seljuq Empire
# Laqab Throne name Reign Marriages Succession right
1 Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
رکن الدنیا والدین,
Toghrul-Beg 1037-1063 1) Altun Jan Khatun
(2) Aka
(daughter of Yusuf Qadir Khan, Khagan of Kara-Khanid)
(3) Seyyedeh Fatima
(daughter of Al-Qa'im, Abbasid caliph)
son of Mikail
(grandson of Seljuq)
2 Diya ad-Dunya wa ad-Din Adud ad-Dawlah
Alp Arslan 1063–1072 Aka
(daughter of Yusuf Qadir Khan, Khagan of Kara-Khanid, widow of Toghrul I)
son of Chaghri
3 Muizz ad-Dunya wa ad-Din Jalal ad-Dawlah
معز الدین جلال الدولہ الفتح
Malik-Shah I 1072–1092 1) Turkan Khatun
(daughter of Ibrahim Tamghach Khan, Khagan of Western Kara-Khanid)
(2) Zubeida Khatun
(daughter of Yaquti ibn Chaghri)
son of Alp Arslan
4 Nasir ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
ناصر الدنیا والدین
Mahmud I 1092–1094 son of Malik-Shah I
5 Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
رکن الدنیا والدین
Barkiyaruq 1094-1105 son of Malik-Shah I
6 Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din Jalal ad-Dawlah
رکن الدنیا والدین جلال الدولہ
Malik-Shah II 1105 son of Barkiyaruq
7 Ghiyath ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
غیاث الدنیا والدین
Tapar 1105–1118 Gouhar Khatun son of Malik-Shah I
8 Mughith ad-Dunya wa ad-Din Jalal ad-Dawlah
Mahmud II 1118–1131 1) Mah-i Mulk (died 1130)
(daughter of Sanjar)
(2) Amir Siti Khatun
(daughter of Sanjar)
(3) Ata Khatun
(daughter of Khadija Arslan Khatun bint Chaghri)
son of Muhammad I
9 Muizz ad-Dunya wa ad-Din Adud ad-Dawlah
Sanjar 1118–1153 1) Turkan Khatun
(daughter of Muhammad Arslan Khan, Khagan of Western Kara-Khanid)
(2) Rusudan
(daughter of Demetrius I of Georgia)
son of Malik-Shah I
10 Ghiyath ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
غیاث الدنیا والدین
Dawud 1131–1132 Gouhar Khatun
(daughter of Masud)
son of Mahmud II
11 Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
رکن الدنیا والدین
Toghrul II 1132–1135 Mumine Khatun son of Muhammad I
12 Ghiyath ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
غیاث الدنیا والدین
Masud 1135–1152 1) Gouhar Khatun
(daughter of Sanjar)
(2) Zubeida Khatun
(daughter of Barkiyaruq)
(3) Mustazhiriyya
(daughter of Qawurd)
(4) Sufra
(daughter of Dubais)
(5) Arab-Khatun
son of Muhammad I
13 Muin ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
Malik-Shah III 1152–1153 son of Mahmud II
14 Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
رکن الدنیا والدین
Muhammad 1153–1159 1) Mahd Rafi Khatun
(daughter of Kirman-Shah ibn Arslan-Shah I)
(2) Gouhar Khatun
(daughter of Masud, widow of Dawud)
son of Mahmud II
15 Ghiyath ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
غیاث الدنیا والدین
Suleiman-Shah 1159–1160 Held as a captive by Qutb ad-Din Mawdud until 1160, ruled for six months, but was murdered in 1161.[38] son of Muhammad I
16 Muizz ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
معز الدنیا والدین
Arslan-Shah 1160-1176 Kirmani Khatun son of Toghrul II
17 Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
رکن الدنیا والدین
Toghrul III 1176–1191
1st reign
son of Arslan-Shah
18 Muzaffar ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
مظفر الدنیا والدین
Qizil Arslan 1191 Inanj Khatun
(daughter of Sunqur-Inanj, ruler of Rey, widow of Muhammad ibn Ildeniz)
son of Ildeniz
(stepbrother of Arslan-Shah)
Rukn ad-Dunya wa ad-Din
رکن الدنیا والدین
Toghrul III 1192–1194
2nd reign
son of Arslan-Shah

Family tree

See also


  1. Bosworth, C. E. (2001). Notes on Some Turkish Names in Abu 'l-Fadl Bayhaqi's Tarikh-i Mas'udi. Oriens, Vol. 36, 2001 (2001), pp. 299-313.
  2. Dani, A. H., Masson, V. M. (Eds), Asimova, M. S. (Eds), Litvinsky, B. A. (Eds), Boaworth, C. E. (Eds). (1999). History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Pvt. Ltd).
  3. Hancock, I. (2006). ON ROMANI ORIGINS AND IDENTITY. The Romani Archives and Documentation Center. The University of Texas at Austin.
  4. Asimov, M. S., Bosworth, C. E. (eds.). (1998). History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. IV: The Age of Achievement: AD 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century, Part One: The Historical, Social and Economic Setting. Multiple History Series. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
  5. Dani, A. H., Masson, V. M. (Eds), Asimova, M. S. (Eds), Litvinsky, B. A. (Eds), Boaworth, C. E. (Eds). (1999). History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Pvt. Ltd).
  6. “ "Turkic penetration probably began in the Hunnic era and its aftermath. Steady pressure from Turkic nomads was typical of the Khazar era, although there are no unambiguous references to permanent settlements. These most certainly occurred with the arrival of the Oguz in the 11th century. The Turkicization of much of Azarbayjan, according to Soviet scholars, was completed largely during the Ilxanid period if not by late Seljuk times. Sumer, placing a slightly different emphasis on the data (more correct in my view), posts three periods which Turkicization took place: Seljuk, Mongol and Post-Mongol (Qara Qoyunlu, Aq Qoyunlu and Safavid). In the first two, Oguz Turkic tribes advanced or were driven to the western frontiers (Anatolia) and Northern Azarbaijan (Arran, the Mugan steppe). In the last period, the Turkic elements in Iran (derived from Oguz, with lesser admixture of Uygur, Qipchaq, Qaluq and other Turks brought to Iran during the Chinggisid era, as well as Turkicized Mongols) were joined now by Anatolian Turks migrating back to Iran. This marked the final stage of Turkicization. Although there is some evidence for the presence of Qipchaqs among the Turkic tribes coming to this region, there is little doubt that the critical mass which brought about this linguistic shift was provided by the same Oguz-Turkmen tribes that had come to Anatolia. The Azeris of today are an overwhelmingly sedentary, detribalized people. Anthropologically, they are little distinguished from the Iranian neighbors." ”
    • John Perry:
    “ “We should distinguish two complementary ways in which the advent of the Turks affected the language map of Iran. First, since the Turkish-speaking rulers of most Iranian polities from the Ghaznavids and Seljuks onward were already iranized and patronized Persian literature in their domains, the expansion of Turk-ruled empires served to expand the territorial domain of written Persian into the conquered areas, notably Anatolia and Central and South Asia. Secondly, the influx of massive Turkish-speaking populations (culminating with the rank and file of the Mongol armies) and their settlement in large areas of Iran (particularly in Azerbaijan and the northwest), progressively turkicized local speakers of Persian, Kurdish and other Iranian languages ” (John Perry. Iran & the Caucasus, Vol. 5, (2001), pp. 193-200. THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF TURKISH IN RELATION TO PERSIAN OF IRAN)
    • According to C.E. Bosworth
    “ The eastern Caucasus came under Saljuq control in the middle years of the 5th/11th century, and in ca. 468/1075-56 Sultan Alp Arslān sent his slave commander ʿEmād-al-dīn Savtigin as governor of Azerbaijan and Arrān, displacing the last Shaddadids. From this period begins the increasing Turkicization of Arrān, under the Saljuqs and then under the line of Eldigüzid or Ildeñizid Atabegs, who had to defend eastern Transcaucasia against the attacks of the resurgent Georgian kings. The influx of Oghuz and other Türkmens was accentuated by the Mongol invasions. Bardaʿa had never revived fully after the Rūs sacking, and is little mentioned in the sources. ” (C.E. Bsowrth, Arran in Encyclopedia Iranica)
    • According to Fridrik Thordarson:
    “ Iranian influence on Caucasian languages. There is general agreement that Iranian languages predominated in Azerbaijan from the 1st millennium b.c. until the advent of the Turks in a.d. the 11th century (see Menges, pp. 41-42; Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 226-28, and VI, pp. 950-52). The process of Turkicization was essentially complete by the beginning of the 16th century, and today Iranian languages are spoken in only a few scattered settlements in the area. ”

Further reading

ceb:Dinastiyang Seldyuk de:Seldschuken es:Imperio Selyúcida fr:Seldjoukides ky:Селжуктар мамлекети lt:Seldžiukai hu:Szeldzsuk törökök nl:Seltsjoeken ru:Сельджуки tl:Dinastiyang Selyusida war:Dinastiya Seljuq

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