Alp Arslan

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Alp Arslan
آلپ ارسلان
  • Al-Sultan al-Mu'azzam[1]
    (The Exalted Sultan)
  • Malik al-Islam[1]
    (King of Islam)
  • Shahanshah[1]
    (King of Kings)
Alp Arslan on throne Majma al-Tawarikh by Hafiz Abru (cropped).png
Miniature from the Majma al-Tawarikh by Hafiz Abru; which depicts accession to the throne by Alp Arslan
Sultan of the Great Seljuk Empire
Reign4 September 1063 – 15 December 1072
SuccessorMalik-Shah I
Born20 January 1029
Died24 November 1072(1072-11-24) (aged 43)
Barzam Fortress, near Amu Darya, Khwarezm
  • Safariyya Khatun
  • Akka Khatun
  • Shah Khatun
HouseHouse of Seljuk
FatherChaghri Beg
ReligionSunni Islam

Alp Arslan[a] was the second Sultan of the Seljuk Empire and great-grandson of Seljuk, the eponymous founder of the dynasty. He greatly expanded the Seljuk territory and consolidated his power, defeating rivals to south and northwest and his victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert, in 1071, ushered in the Turkoman settlement of Anatolia.[2] For his military prowess and fighting skills, he obtained the name Alp Arslan, which means "Heroic Lion" in Turkish.

Early life[edit]

Alp Arslan was the son of Chaghri and nephew of Tughril, the founding Sultans of the Seljuk Empire. His grandfather was Mikail, who in turn was the son of the warlord Seljuk. He was the father of numerous children, including Malik-Shah I and Tutush I.[3] It is unclear who the mother or mothers of his children were. He was known to have been married at least twice. His wives included the widow of his uncle Tughril, a Kara-Khanid princess known as Aka Khatun, and the daughter or niece of Bagrat IV of Georgia (who would later marry his vizier, Nizam al-Mulk).[4] One of Seljuk's other sons was the Turkic chieftain Arslan Isra'il, whose son, Kutalmish, contested his nephew's succession to the sultanate. Alp Arslan's younger brothers Suleiman ibn Chaghri and Qavurt were his rivals. Kilij Arslan, the son and successor of Suleiman ibn Kutalmish (Kutalmish's son, who would later become Sultan of Rûm), was a major opponent of the Franks during the First Crusade and the Crusade of 1101.[5]

Early career[edit]

Coin minted in the name of Alp Arslan with the title Shahanshah.
A miniature depicting Alp Arslan, located in Topkapı Palace Museum (TSMK).

Alp Arslan accompanied his uncle Tughril on campaigns in the south against the Fatimids while his father Chaghri remained in Khorasan. Upon Alp Arslan's return to Khorasan, he began his work in administration at his father's suggestion. While there, his father introduced him to Nizam al-Mulk, one of the most eminent statesmen in early Muslim history and Alp Arslan's future vizier.[6]

After the death of his father, Alp Arslan succeeded him as governor of Khorasan in 1059. His uncle Tughril died in 1063 and had designated his successor as Suleiman, Arslan's infant brother. Arslan and his uncle Kutalmish both contested this succession which was resolved at the battle of Damghan in 1063. Arslan defeated Kutalmish for the throne and succeeded on 27 April 1064 as sultan of the Seljuk Empire, thus becoming sole monarch of Persia from the river Oxus to the Tigris. In 1064 he led a campaign in Georgia during which he captured the regions between Tbilisi and the Çoruh river, Akhalkalaki and Alaverdi.[7] Bagrat IV submitted to paying jizya to the Seljuks but the Georgians broke the agreement in 1065.[8] Alp Arslan invaded Georgia again in 1068, he captured Tbilisi after a short battle and obtained the submission of Bagrat IV, however the Georgians freed themselves from Seljuk rule around 1073–1074.[8][9]

In consolidating his empire and subduing contending factions, Arslan was ably assisted by Nizam al-Mulk, and the two are credited with helping to stabilize the empire after the death of Tughril. With peace and security established in his dominions, Arslan convoked an assembly of the states and in 1066, he declared his son Malik Shah I his heir and successor.[10] With the hope of capturing Caesarea Mazaca, the capital of Cappadocia, he placed himself at the head of the Turkoman[11] cavalry, crossed the Euphrates, and entered and invaded the city. Along with Nizam al-Mulk, he then marched into Armenia and Georgia, which he conquered in 1064.[12] After a siege of 25 days, the Seljuks captured Ani, the capital city of Armenia.[13] An account of the sack and massacres in Ani is given by the historian Sibt ibn al-Jawzi, who quotes an eyewitness saying:

Putting the Persian sword to work, they spared no one... One could see there the grief and calamity of every age of human kind. For children were ravished from the embraces of their mothers and mercilessly hurled against rocks, while the mothers drenched them with tears and blood... The city became filled from one end to the other with bodies of the slain and [the bodies of the slain] became a road. [...] The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive...The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses; but that was impossible.[14]

Byzantine struggle[edit]

In route to fight the Fatimids in Syria in 1068, Alp Arslan invaded the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, assuming command in person, met the invaders in Cilicia. In three arduous campaigns, the Turks were defeated in detail and driven across the Euphrates in 1070. The first two campaigns were conducted by the emperor himself, while the third was directed by Manuel Comnenos, great-uncle of Emperor Manuel Comnenos. During this time, Arslan gained the allegiance of Rashid al-Dawla Mahmud, the Mirdasid emir of Aleppo.

In 1071, Romanos again took the field and advanced into Armenia with possibly 30,000 men, including a contingent of Cuman Turks as well as contingents of Franks and Normans, under Ursel de Baieul. Alp Arslan, who had moved his troops south to fight the Fatimids, quickly reversed to meet the Byzantines. At Manzikert, on the Murat River, north of Lake Van, the two forces waged the Battle of Manzikert. The Cuman mercenaries among the Byzantine forces immediately defected to the Turkic side. Seeing this, "the Western mercenaries rode off and took no part in the battle."[15] To be exact, Romanos was betrayed by general Andronikos Doukas, son of the Caesar (Romanos's stepson), who pronounced him dead and rode off with a large part of the Byzantine forces at a critical moment.[16] The Byzantines were totally routed.

Byzantine territory (purple), Byzantine campaigns (red) and Seljuk campaigns (green)

Emperor Romanos IV was himself taken prisoner and conducted into the presence of Alp Arslan. After a ritual humiliation, Arslan treated him with generosity. After peace terms were agreed to, Arslan dismissed the Emperor, loaded with presents and respectfully attended by a military guard. The following conversation is said to have taken place after Romanos was brought as a prisoner before the Sultan:[17]

Alp Arslan humiliating Emperor Romanos IV after the Battle of Manzikert. From a 15th-century illustrated French translation of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium.[18]

Alp Arslan: "What would you do if I was brought before you as a prisoner?"
Romanos: "Perhaps I'd kill you, or exhibit you in the streets of Constantinople."
Alp Arslan: "My punishment is far heavier. I forgive you, and set you free."

Alp Arslan's victories changed the balance in near Asia completely in favour of the Seljuq Turks and Sunni Muslims. While the Byzantine Empire was to continue for nearly four more centuries, the victory at Manzikert signalled the beginning of Turkmen[2] ascendancy in Anatolia. The victory at Manzikert became so popular among the Turks that later every noble family in Anatolia claimed to have had an ancestor who had fought on that day.[19]

Most historians, including Edward Gibbon, date the defeat at Manzikert as the beginning of the end of the Eastern Roman Empire.[dubious ]

State organization[edit]

Alp Arslan's strength lay in the military realm. Domestic affairs were handled by his able vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, the founder of the administrative organization that characterized and strengthened the sultanate during the reigns of Alp Arslan and his son, Malik Shah. Military fiefs, governed by Seljuq princes, were established to provide support for the soldiery and to accommodate the nomadic Turks to the established Anatolian agricultural scene. This type of military fiefdom enabled the nomadic Turks to draw on the resources of the sedentary Persians, Turks, and other established cultures within the Seljuq realm, and allowed Alp Arslan to field a huge standing army without depending on tribute from conquest to pay his soldiers. He not only had enough food from his subjects to maintain his military, but the taxes collected from traders and merchants added to his coffers sufficiently to fund his continuous wars.

Suleiman ibn Qutalmish was the son of the contender for Arslan's throne; he was appointed governor of the north-western provinces and assigned to completing the invasion of Anatolia. An explanation for this choice can only be conjectured from Ibn al-Athir's account of the battle between Alp-Arslan and Kutalmish, in which he writes that Alp-Arslan wept for the latter's death and greatly mourned the loss of his kinsman.


After Manzikert, the dominion of Alp Arslan extended over much of western Asia. He soon prepared to march for the conquest of Turkestan, the original seat of his ancestors. With a powerful army he advanced to the banks of the Oxus. Before he could pass the river with safety, however, it was necessary to subdue certain fortresses, one of which was for several days vigorously defended by the Kurdish rebel, Yusuf al-Kharezmi or Yusuf al-Harani. Perhaps over-eager to press on against his Qarakhanid enemy, Alp Arslan gained the governor's submission by promising the rebel 'perpetual ownership of his lands'. When Yusuf al-Harani was brought before him, the Sultan ordered that he be shot, but before the archers could raise their bows Yusuf seized a knife and threw himself at Alp Arslan, striking three blows before being slain. Four days later on 24 November 1072, Alp Arslan died and was buried at Merv, having designated his 18-year-old son Malik Shah as his successor.[20]


One of his wives was Safariyya Khatun. She had a daughter,[21] Sifri Khatun,[22] who in 1071–72, married Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadi.[23][21] Safariyya died in Isfahan in 1073–4.[23] Another of his wives was Akka Khatun. She had been formerly the wife of Sultan Tughril. Alp Arslan married her after Tughril's death in 1063.[23] Another of his wives was Shah Khatun. She was the daughter of Qadir Khan Yusuf, and had been formerly married to Ghaznavid Mas'ud.[21][23][24] Another of his wives was the daughter of the Georgian king Bagrat. They married in 1067–68. He divorced her soon after, and married her to Fadlun.[21] His sons were Malik-Shah I, Tutush I, Tekish, and Arslan Arghun.[25] One of his daughters, married the son of Kurd Surkhab, son of Bard in 1068.[23] Another daughter, Zulaikha Khatun, was married to Muslim, son of Quraish in 1086–7.[23] Another daughter, Aisha Khatun married Shams al-Mulk Nasr, son of Ibrahim Khan Tamghach.[23]


Statue of Alp Arslan

Alp Arslan's conquest of Anatolia from the Byzantines is also seen as one of the pivotal precursors to the launch of the Crusades.

From 2002 to July 2008 under Turkmen calendar reform, the month of August was named after Alp Arslan.

The 2nd Training Motorized Rifle Division of the Turkmen Ground Forces is named in his honour.


  1. ^ (honorific in Turkic meaning "Heroic or Great Lion"; in Persian: آلپ ارسلان; Arabic epithet: Diyā ad-Dunyā wa ad-Dīn Adud ad-Dawlah Abu Shujā' Muhammad Ālp Ārslan ibn Dawūd, Persian: ضياء الدنيا و الدين عضد الدولة ابو شجاع محمد آلپ ارسلان ابن داود;‎ 20 January 1029 – 24 November 1072), real name: Muhammad bin Dawud Chaghri


  1. ^ a b c "THE SELJUKS AND THEIR SUCCESSORS: IRAN AND CENTRAL ASIA, C.1040-1250 Coin no. 3 of 14". This coin was struck at the mint of al-Ahwaz, the capital town of Khuzistan, which, together with al-Basra, was the main trading city at the head of the Arabian Gulf. On it, Alp Arslan clearly states his power and prestige as "the Exalted Sultan, King of Kings, King of Islam." In the inscription on his coins his name appears as Alb because Arabic lacks the letter "p", but to Persian and Turkish speakers his name is pronounced "Alp".
  2. ^ a b Cahen, Claude. "Alp-Arslan". Encyclopedia Britannica. "But the Battle of Manzikert opened Asia Minor to Turkmen conquest"
  3. ^ K. A. Luther, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume I, Fascicle 8, pgs. 895–898. "ALP ARSLAN".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Bosworth, C. E., Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. I, Fasc. 6, pp. 642–643. "AḤMAD B. NEẒĀM-AL-MOLK".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Peacock, A.C,S., Great Seljuk Empire, Edinburgh University Press, 2015, pgs. 179, 183
  6. ^ Magill, Frank Northen (1998). Dictionary of World Biography: The Middle Ages, Volume 2. Routledge. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-57958-041-4.
  7. ^ 1018-1071 Yılları Arasında Selçuklu Bizans İlişkileri ve Ermeniler A Toksoy. Yeni Türkiye S. 60 CI Ermeni Meselesi Özel Sayısı. 2014.
  8. ^ a b Orta Çağ'da Türk-Gürcü münasebetlerini şekillendiren faktörler. İ Tellioğlu. 2009.
  9. ^ Şenol, F. "Ortaçağ Gürcistanının Meşhur Şehri: Tiflis". Oğuz-Türkmen Araştırmaları Dergisi 4 (2020 ): 9-100
  10. ^ Magill, Frank Northen (1998). Dictionary of World Biography: The Middle Ages, Volume 2. Routledge. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-57958-041-4.
  11. ^ Cauhen, Claude. "Alp-Arslan". Encyclopedia Britannica."On the other hand, he was aware of the necessity of keeping his influence over the Oğuz Turkic tribes (sometimes called Turkmens), which was essential to his military strength."
  12. ^ Bosworth 1968, p. 62-65.
  13. ^ "Anni" , Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. II, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878, p. 72.
  14. ^ Quoted in Norwich, John Julius (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Viking. pp. 342–343. ISBN 978-0-394-53779-5.
  15. ^ Runciman, Steve (1992). The First Crusade. Cambridge University Press.
  16. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1993). Byzantium The Apogee. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-011448-3.
  17. ^ R. Scott Peoples (2007). Crusade of Kings. Wildside Press LLC. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-8095-7221-2.
  18. ^ Çoban, R. V. (2020). The Manzikert Battle and Sultan Alp Arslan with European Perspective in the 15st Century in the Miniatures of Giovanni Boccaccio's "De Casibus Virorum Illustrium"s 226 and 232. French Manuscripts in Bibliothèque Nationale de France. S. Karakaya ve V. Baydar (Ed.), in 2nd International Muş Symposium Articles Book (pp. 48-64). Muş: Muş Alparslan University. Source
  19. ^ Cahen, Claude. "Alp-Arslan". Encyclopedia Britannica. "Later, every princely family in Asia Minor was to claim an ancestor who had fought on that prestigious day."
  20. ^ David Nicolle, Manzikert 1071: The breaking of Byzantium.
  21. ^ a b c d Richards, D.S. (2014). The Annals of the Saljuq Turks: Selections from al-Kamil fi'l-Ta'rikh of Ibn al-Athir. Routledge Studies in the History of Iran and Turkey. Taylor & Francis. pp. 155, 163 n. 1, 174. ISBN 978-1-317-83255-3.
  22. ^ El-Hibri, T. (2021). The Abbasid Caliphate: A History. Cambridge University Press. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-107-18324-7.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g Lambton, A.K.S. (1988). Continuity and Change in Medieval Persia. Bibliotheca Persica. Bibliotheca Persica. pp. 259, 261, 262–63, 267, 269 n. 74. ISBN 978-0-88706-133-2.
  24. ^ Massignon, L.; Mason, H. (2019). The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Mystic and Martyr of Islam, Volume 2: The Survival of Al-Hallaj. Online access with JISC subscription agreement: ACLS Humanities E-Books. Princeton University Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-691-65721-9.
  25. ^ Fisher, William Bayne; Boyle, John Andrew; Gershevitch, Ilya; Yarshater, Ehsan; Frye, Richard Nelson (1968). The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge histories online. Cambridge University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-521-06936-6.


Alp Arslan
Born: 20 January 1029 Died: 15 December 1072
Regnal titles
Preceded by Sultan of the Seljuq Empire
4 September 1063– 15 December 1072
Succeeded by