Battle of Didgori

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Battle of Didgori
Part of Georgian-Seljuk wars
Didgori Memorial.jpg
Monument at the Didgori field, Georgia
Date August 12, 1121
Location Didgori, Georgia
Result Decisive Georgian victory
Georgians recapture Tbilisi from the Seljuqs and make it their capital. Several regions controlled by the Seljuqs are being liberated or captured.
Seljuqs Eagle.svg Great Seljuq Empire KingDavidtheBuilderFlag.svg Kingdom of Georgia
Commanders and leaders
Ilghazi David IV
  • 100,000-250,000 according to modern Georgian estimates.
  • Other studies put the numbers at 200,000 to 250,000 [1]
    or approximately 300.000.[2]
  • 400,000-600,000 according to Muslim, Christian chronicles from around that period.[3][4][5]
Casualties and losses
Majority of the coalition army destroyed or routed, large number of prisoners taken Probably much fewer losses

The Battle of Didgori (Georgian: დიდგორის ბრძოლა) was fought between the armies of the Kingdom of Georgia and the declining Great Seljuq Empire at the place of Didgori, 40 km west of Tbilisi, (the modern-day capital of Georgia), on August 12, 1121. The battle resulted in King David IV of Georgia’s decisive victory over a Seljuk invasion army under Ilghazi and the subsequent reconquest of a Muslim-held Tbilisi, which became the royal capital. The victory at Didgori inaugurated the medieval Georgian Golden Age and is celebrated in the Georgian chronicles as a "miraculous victory" (ძლევაჲ საკვირველი, dzlevay sakvirveli). Modern Georgians continue to remember the event as an annual September festival known as Didgoroba ("[the day] of Didgori").[7][8]


The Kingdom of Georgia had been a tributary to the Great Seljuq Empire since the 1080s. However, in the 1090s, the energetic Georgian king David IV was able to exploit internal unrest in the Seljuq state and the success of the Western European First Crusade against Muslim control of the Holy Land, and established a relatively strong monarchy, reorganizing his army and recruiting Kipchak, Alan, and even "Frankish" mercenaries to lead them to the reconquest of lost lands and the expulsion of Turkish raiders. David renounced the tribute to the Seljuqs in 1096/7, put an end to the seasonal migrations of the Turks into Georgia, and recovered several key fortresses in a series of campaigns from 1103 to 1118. His major goal being the reconquest of Tbilisi, an ancient Georgian city which had been under Muslim rule for over four centuries, David launched his military activities outside Georgia, penetrating as far as the Araxes river basin and the Caspian littoral, and terrorizing Muslim traders throughout the South Caucasus. By June 1121, Tbilisi had actually been under a Georgian siege, with its Muslim élite being forced into paying a heavy tribute to David IV.[9]

The resurgence of Georgians’ military energies brought about a coordinated Muslim response. Both Georgian and Islamic sources testify that, on the complaints of the Muslims of Tbilisi, Sultan Mahmud II b. Muhammad (r. 1118-1131) sent an expedition into Georgia in which the Artuqid Ilghazi of Mardin, the Mazyadid Dubays II b. Sadaqa of Al Hillah and the sultan’s brother Tughrul, lord of Arran and Nakhichevan, with his atabeg Kun-toghdi all took part. This combined army under the overall command of Ilghazi entered the valley of Trialeti in eastern Georgia and encamped in the vicinities of Didgori and Manglisi in mid-August 1121.[9]

Deployment and order of battle[edit]

The Seljuq army[edit]

Little is knows of Ilghazi's exact battle plan or course of action and order of battle other than the commonly suggested deployment of large numbers of light missile troops particularly archers and light cavalry in the vanguard to harass the enemy lines while the bulk of the army remained behind them in orderly battle formation. It is being suggested that Ilghazis vanguard approached David's army and reported back about a much smaller force than expected which might have raised Ilghazi confidence enough to not expect any surprise. It is also claimed that the Seljuq light cavalry rode in front of the Georgians and started to shoot and taunt them which was received with little to no effect on their morale. There is no evidence of heavy cavalry present on Ilghazi's side or any type of cavalry which could have matched the Georgian counterpart.

The Georgian army[edit]

On the other side the Georgians were facing a numerically significantly superior foe but had the strategic as well as tactical advantage. King David's decisive reforms turned the Georgian army into a well organised and structured military force which saw little analogue in that period. The smallest formations would be equivalents of nowadays platoons, then a "group of 100" and so forth all led by servants of higher status and different rank. The most crucial and core component was the Monaspa guard or royal guard which consisted of 5,000 well trained and heavily armed mounted warriors which would be used as shock cavalry together with the nobility. In this particular engagement they were further reinforced with hundreds of crusaders sent by Baldwin II of Jerusalem.[10][11] The Crusaders, the Kipchak cavalry and a small portion of infantry were deployed in the center of the Georgian army around the king's banner while the rest were equally split in two major wings initially out of sight for the Seljuqs. Each formation was headed by a great and dense line of horsemen. The heavy cavalry would smash into the enemy ranks with their lances joined by the infantry which would entangle the Seljuq main body in fights while the cavalry was to regroup and carry out repeated attacks till the enemy broke. At the sign of collapse David would then send forward his Kipchak cavalry. Initially the king and all his entourage stayed in the center but would immediately switch to their respective positions when the battle commenced.

The battle[edit]

Section of the Didgori monument with swords stuck in the ground
Site of the battle
section of Mount Didgori

The course of the battle is differently related in the contemporaneous historical records. According to the Arab chronicler Ibn al-Athir, David sent a small detachment of his men in order to simulate negotiation. Other accounts speak of a hundred supposed deserters requesting an audience with the Seljuq commander. Meanwhile, the Georgians successfully managed to deploy a large portion of their force where they would almost encircle the enemy in a pincer movement. Their opponents remained unaware of such activities. Upon approaching the Seljuq leaders, the deserters or diplomatic group unveiled their real intentions by suddenly attacking and killing every Seljuq commander in sight and others who were attending the meeting. While this was going on David ordered a frontal attack on the enemy vanguard with his crusader cavalry which didn't only devastate the enemy's forward lines but also entangling the Seljuq archers in close combat effectively taking out a crucial component of Ilghazi's force. The Georgians then began to quickly advance on the flanks in full formation. Najm ad-Din Ilghazi ibn Artuq and his son both survived the attack on the vanguard but were severely injured during the fight and left the battlefield leaving the Seljuq army virtually leaderless. The majority of his commanders were either injured or killed wich caused confusion and likely resulted in no adequate response to the chaotic situation. King David didn't hesitate and personally led the Georgian right flank ordering his heavy cavalry to ride straight into the seemingly unorganised Seljuk left flank trying to reinforce the vanguard. Having the advantige of moving his troops down slope the charge of the Georgian cavalry proved very effective. Almost simultaneously the left wing under the command of his son Demetrius struck the Seljuk right flank also with heavy cavalry. When the Georgian infantry joined the fight the Seljuq troops started to panic and retreated emmasse through the huge gap in their army's rear which wasn't engaged in the battle. This provoked big parts of uninvolved Seljuq troops to flee as well causing a massive rout while their vanguard got completely annihilated. David then sent forward his 15,000 Kipchak cavalrymen to run down the fleeing enemy so that they wouldn't have time or a chance to regroup or commence any other move. With the Kipchaks joining in the final remaints of Seljuq resistance crumbled and joined the rout. The battle was decided within three hours with the Seljuq army overrun leaving a very large number of dead, injured, prisoners and booty. Fleeing remaints were constantly pursued and run down for several days. The captured Seljuqs would serve for David's ambitions to rebuild his kingdom.[12] Aside from those accounts, it has also been suggested that confronted by a vanguard of the large invading force, David had to rely on the advantages the nearby terrain offered to disguise his troop movements. The Seljuk cavalry was provoked or tricked into a relatively narrow pass where they likely had not much room to maneuver. As they were cut off from the rest of Ilghazi's army the Georgians were easily able to take them out with spears, pikes and light infantry using bows and javelins. The rest of the coalition army was probably forced to climb slopes to attack the Georgian army's main body, while being constantly struck at the flanks by heavy cavalry. After a while, those tactics broke the fighting will of the Muslim army, which was soon routed. Ilghazi reportedly received an injury to his head when a hundred crusaders managed to break through his lines rushing towards the Seljuq command banner.[13] King David ordered his Kipchak light cavalry to keep pursuing the retreating Seljuqs to prevent further conflict. The amount of men fleeing the field must have been so huge, that the Georgian cavalry was taking large numbers of prisoners for several days. As a result, the Georgians were able to liberate the entire region from Muslim influence and even contest territories within the Seljuq Empire which at that point was left almost defenceless.

Capture of Tbilisi[edit]

Following the victory, David moved relentlessly against the remaining pockets of Muslim resistance and next year, in 1122, he stormed Tbilisi, so that the city might become, according to a Georgian chronicler, "for ever an arsenal and capital for his sons." The medieval sources emphasize David’s acts of revenge against the Muslims of Tbilisi. However, the Arab historian al-'Ayni (1360–1451), who utilizes sources, some of which have not survived, admits that the city was pillaged but says that the Georgian king eventually showed patience and "respected the feelings of the Muslims more than Muslim rulers had done."[9][12]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Alexander Mikaberidze, Miraculous Victory:’ Battle of Didgori, 1121, Published: May 14, 2008;"The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate with numbers ranging from a fantastic 800,000 men (“Bella Antiochena”, Galterii Cancelarii), 600,000 Turks (Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Smbat Sparapet’s Chronicle) while the estimates of modern Georgian historians vary between 100,000-250,000 men." [1]
  5. ^ a b Nomads in the Sedentary World, p. 47, at Google Books
  6. ^ id=jBBYD2J2oE4C&pg=PA44&dq=baldwin+II+of+Jerusalem+Didgori&hl=de&sa=X&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAGoVChMIzNParJffxgIVCtVyCh1bEQRi#v=onepage&q=didgori&f=false
  7. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994). The Making of the Georgian Nation. Indiana University Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-253-20915-3. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c Minorsky, Vladimir (1993). "Tiflis". In Houtsma, M. Th.; van Donzel, E. E. J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936. Brill. p. 755. ISBN 90-04-08265-4. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b (Georgian) Javakhishvili, Ivane (1982), k'art'veli eris istoria (The History of the Georgian Nation), vol. 2, pp. 184-187. Tbilisi State University Press.
  13. ^

Further reading[edit]