Malik-Shah I

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Malik-Shah I
Sultan of the Seljuq Empire
Büyük Selçuklu Sultanı Melikşah.jpg
Miniature of Malik-Shah I
Reign 1072 – 1092
Predecessor Alp Arslan
Successor Mahmud I
Spouse Terken Khatun
Zubayda Khatun
Taj al-Din Khatun
Issue Barkiyaruq
Muhammad Tapar
Mahmud I
Mah-i Mulk Khatun
Sitara Khatun
Gawhar Khatun
Ismah Khatun
House House of Seljuq
Father Alp Arslan
Born 8 August 1055
Died 19 November 1092 (aged 37)
Burial Isfahan
Religion Islam

Jalāl al-Dawla Mu'izz al-Dunyā Wa'l-Din Abu'l-Fatḥ ibn Alp Arslān (8 August 1055 – 19 November 1092), better known by his regnal name of Malik-Shah I (Turkish: I. Melikşah; Persian: ملکشاه‎‎), was sultan of the Seljuq Empire from 1072 to 1092.

During his youth, he spent his time participating in the campaigns of his father Alp Arslan, along the latters vizier Nizam al-Mulk. During one of Alp Arslan's campaigns in 1072, the latter was fatally wounded and died only a few days later. After that, Malik-Shah was crowned as the new sultan of the empire, however, Malik-Shah did not access the throne peacefully, and had to fight his uncle Qavurt, who claimed the throne. Although Malik-Shah was the nominal head of the Seljuq state, the vizier Nizam al-Mulk held near absolute power during his reign.[1] Malik-Shah spent the rest of rest waging war against the Karakhanids on the eastern side, and establishing order in the Caucasus.

Malik-Shah's death to this day remains under dispute; according to some scholars, he was poisoned by the Caliph, while others say that he was poisoned by the supporters of Nizam al-Mulk.


Although he was known by several names, he was mostly known as "Malik-Shah", a combination of the Arabic word malik (king) and the Persian word shah (which also means king).

Early life[edit]

Malik-Shah was born on 16 August 1055 and spent his youth in Isfahan. According to the 12th-century Persian historian Muhammad bin Ali Rawandi, Malik-Shah had fair skin, was tall and somewhat bulky.[2] In 1064, Malik-Shah, only 9 years old by then, along with Nizam al-Mulk, the Persian vizier of the Empire,[3] took part Alp Arslan’s campaign in the Caucasus. The same year, Malik-Shah was married to Terken Khatun, the daughter of the Karakhanid khan Ibrahim Tamghach-Khan.[2] In 1066, Alp Arslan arranged a ceremony near Merv, where he appointed Malik-Shah as his heir and also granted him Isfahan as a fief.[4][2]

In 1071, Malik-Shah took part in the Syrian campaign of his father, and stayed in Aleppo when his father fought the Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes at Manzikert.[2] In 1072, Malik-Shah and Nizam al-Mulk accompanied Alp-Arslan during his campaign in Transoxiana against the Karakhanids. However, Alp-Arslan was badly wounded during his expedition, and Malik-Shah shortly took over the army. Alp-Arslan died some days later, and Malik-Shah was declared as the new sultan of the empire.


However, right after Malik-Shah accession, his uncle Qavurt claimed the throne for himself and sent Malik-Shah a message which said: "I am the eldest brother, and you are a youthful son; I have the greater right to my brother Alp-Arslan's inheritance." Malik-Shah then replied by sending the following message: "A brother does not inherit when there is a son.".[5] This message enraged Qavurt, who thereafter occupied Isfahan. In 1073 a battle took place near Hamadan, which lasted three days. Qavurt was accompanied by his seven sons, and his army consisted of Turkmens, while the army of Malik-Shah consisted of ghulams ("military slaves") and contingents of Kurdish and Arab troops.[5]

During the battle, the Turks of Malik-Shah's army mutinied against him, but he nevertheless managed to defeat and capture Qavurt.[2][6] Qavurt then begged for mercy and in return promised to retire to Oman. However, Nizam al-Mulk declined the offer, claiming that sparing him was an indication of weakness. After some time, Qavurt was strangled to death with a bowstring, while two of his sons were blinded. After having dealt with that problem, Malik-Shah appointed Qutlugh-Tegin as the governor of Fars and Sav-Tegin as the governor of Kerman.[7] Malik-Shah then turned his attention towards the Karakhanids, who had after the death of Alp-Arslan invaded Tukharistan, which was ruled by Malik-Shah's brother Ayaz, who was unable to repel the Karakhanids and was killed by them. Malik-Shah eventually managed to repel the Karakhanids and captured Tirmidh, giving Sav-Tegin the key of the city. Malik-Shah then appointed his other brother Shihab al-Din Tekish as the ruler of Tukharistan and Balkh.[8] During the same period, the Ghaznavid ruler Ibrahim was seizing Seljuq territory in northern Khorasan, but was defeated by Malik-Shah, who then made peace with the latter and gave his daughter Gawhar Khatun in marriage to Ibrahim's son Mas'ud III.[9][2][10]

In 1074, Malik-Shah ordered the Turkic warlord Arghar to restore what he had destroyed during his raids in the territory of the Shirvanshah Fariburz I.[11] During the same year, he appointed Qavurt's son Rukn al-Dawla Sultan-Shah as the ruler of Kerman.[7] One year later, Malik-Shah sent an army under Sav-Tegin to Arran, which was ruled by the Shaddadid ruler Fadlun III. Sav-Tegin managed to easily conquer the region, thus ending Shaddadid rule. Malik-Shah then gave Gorgan to Fadlun III as a fief.[12] Throughout Malik's reign new institutions of learning were established[13] and it was during this time that the Jalali calendar was reformed[14] In 1089, Malik-Shah captured Samarkand with the support of the local clergy, and imprisoned its Karakhanid ruler Ahmad Khan ibn Khizr, who was the nephew of Terken Khatun. He then marched to Semirechye, and made the Karakhanid Harun Khan ibn Sulayman, who was the ruler of Kashgar and Khotan, acknowledge him as his suzerain.[2]

In 1092 Nizam al-Mulk was assassinated near Sihna, on the road to Baghdad, by a man disguised as a Sufi.[15] As the assassin was immediately cut down by Nizam's bodyguard, it became impossible to establish with certainty who had sent him. One theory had it that he was an Is'maili fanatic, since these regularly made attempts on the lives of Seljuq officials and rulers during the 11th century. Another theory had it that the attack had been instigated by Malik-Shah, who may have grown tired of his overmighty vizier.[16] After Nizam al-Mulk's death, Malik-Shah appointed another Persian named Taj al-Mulk Abu'l Ghana'im as his vizier.[2] Malik-Shah then went to Baghdad and decided to depose al-Muqtadir and sent him the following message: "You must relinquish Baghdad to me, and depart to any land you choose." This was because Malik-Shah wanted to appoint his grandson (or nephew) Ja'far as the new Caliph.[2][17]

Death and aftermath[edit]

Malik-Shah died on 19 November 1092 while he was hunting. He was most likely poisoned by the Caliph or the supporters of Nizam al-Mulk. Under the orders of Terken Khatun, Malik-Shah's body was taken back to Isfahan, where it was buried in a madrasa.[2][18]

Upon his death, the Seljuq Empire fell into chaos, as rival successors and regional governors carved up their empire and waged war against each other. The situation within the Seljuq lands was further complicated by the arrival of the First Crusade, which detached large portions of Syria and Palestine from Muslim control in 1098 and 1099. The success of the First Crusade is at least in part attributable to the political confusion which resulted from Malik-Shah's death.[19]


The 18th century English historian Edward Gibbon wrote of him:

On his father's death the inheritance was disputed by an uncle, a cousin, and a brother: they drew their cimeters, and assembled their followers; and the triple victory of Malek Shah established his own reputation and the right of primogeniture. In every age, and more especially in Asia, the thirst of power has inspired the same passions, and occasioned the same disorders; but, from the long series of civil war, it would not be easy to extract a sentiment more pure and magnanimous than is contained in the saying of the Turkish prince. On the eve of the battle, he performed his devotions at Thous, before the tomb of the Imam Riza. As the sultan rose from the ground, he asked his vizier Nizam, who had knelt beside him, what had been the object of his secret petition: "That your arms may be crowned with victory," was the prudent, and most probably the sincere, answer of the minister. "For my part," replied the generous Malek, "I implored the Lord of Hosts that he would take from me my life and crown, if my brother be more worthy than myself to reign over the Moslems." The favourable judgment of heaven was ratified by the caliph; and for the first time, the sacred title of Commander of the Faithful was communicated to a Barbarian. But this Barbarian, by his personal merit, and the extent of his empire, was the greatest prince of his age.[20]


  1. ^ Gibb, H. A. R. (1960–1985). The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 8. Leiden: Brill. p. 70. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Durand-Guédy 2012.
  3. ^ Luther 1985, pp. 895–898.
  4. ^ Bosworth 1968, p. 61.
  5. ^ a b Bosworth 1968, p. 88.
  6. ^ Bosworth 1968, pp. 88-89.
  7. ^ a b Bosworth 1968, p. 89.
  8. ^ Bosworth 1968, pp. 90-91.
  9. ^ Bosworth 2002, p. 179.
  10. ^ Bosworth 1968, p. 94.
  11. ^ Minorsky 1958, p. 40.
  12. ^ Bosworth 1968, p. 95.
  13. ^ Gibb, H. A. R. (1960–1985). The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 8. Leiden: Brill. p. 71. 
  14. ^ Djalali, S. H. Taqizadeh, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 2 , Ed. B. Lewis, C. Pellat and J. Schacht, (E. J. Brill, 1991), 397-398.
  15. ^ Gibb, H. A. R. (1960–1985). The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 8. Leiden: Brill. pp. 69–72. 
  16. ^ Gibb, H. A. R. (1960–1985). The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 8. Leiden: Brill. p. 72. 
  17. ^ Bosworth 1968, p. 101.
  18. ^ Gibb, H. A. R. (1960–1985). The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 7. Leiden: Brill. p. 275. 
  19. ^ Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Oxford History of the Crusades, (Oxford University Press, 2002), 213.
  20. ^ Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, New York: The Modern Library, n.d. v. 3, p. 406.


Malik-Shah I
Born: 1055 Died: 19 November 1092
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alp Arslan
Sultan of the Seljuq Empire
Succeeded by
Mahmud I