The following is based on a long-winded post I sent on Mon, 20 Nov 2000 to the now essentially moribund al-jisr e-mail list, which was an SCA list oriented to Near and Middle Eastern personae, dancers, and musicians. My message was inspired by the many posts in which people just write "the Turks", as if there is only one kind.
But in the Medieval Near East there were at least two important groups of Turks. So, when we say "The Turks", which ones do we mean? because the Ottomans aren't the only important Turks in relation to most of the rest of the cultures within the SCA.
Naturally, in their Central Asian homeland, there are numerous subgroups/ tribes among the Turkoman people (various spellings: Turkmen, Turcmen, etc.). But in relation to Medieval and Renaissance European history there are TWO important groups, the Seljuks and the Ottomans.
Ottoman Turks, I
Mamluks - a non-Turkish interlude
Ottoman Turks, II
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The people who became the Seljuk Turks came from among the Turkoman peoples of Central Asia, principally the Oguz Turks, down into Persia in the 10th century, where they remained for 150 years, primarily as mercenary warriors hired by the Persian Empire.
By the late 10th century they began to rally around a leader named Seljuk and took his name to indicate their affiliation. By about 1040 two of his grandsons, Toghril Beg and Chaghri Beg, established the beginning of the Seljuk Empire in Persia. Toghril Beg (c. 990-1063) is considered one of the three greatest leaders of the Seljuks and the founder of the Seljuk dynasty.
The next important leader was Alp-Arslan (1030-1072), son of Chaghri Beg, Toghril's brother, and second sultan of the Seljuk Turks (reigned 1063-72). He inherited the Seljuk territories of Khorasan from Chaghri and western Iran from Toghril, then went on to conquer Georgia and Armenia. He was primarily a warrior and not particularly interested in other aspects of culture, but his reign is important for several reasons.
For one, in 1071 he took Jerusalem, setting the stage for the Crusades. Additionally, he went into Anatolia and defeated the Byzantine emperor who had been harrying his army from the rear, marking the beginning of Turkish rule in Anatolia, although he did not attack the chief centers of the Byzantine Empire. After this, the Seljuk Turks were often employed as mercenaries by various Byzantine generals who were vying for political power, and at later times the Seljuk Empire even allied with the Byzantine Empire to fight common enemies.
The Seljuk Turks are the first people to fully invade Anatolia, although they didn't all arrive at once, but rather migrated in waves. While the Persians and the Romans had conquered Anatolia, they had only kept it under political and economic control with garrisons and governors rather than settling significant number of their own people there.
The third and most famous Seljuk ruler was Alp's son Malik-Shah (1055-1092; reigned 1072-1092). He consolidated and expanded the empire more through diplomacy than war, and displayed a great interest in literature, science, and the arts. It was under his reign that the absolutely exquisite multi-colored tiled mosques of his capital at Isphahan in Persia were built. The Persian poet and astronomer 'Umar al-Khayyam (1044-1123 AD), whose Rubayat became so famous in Edward FitzGerald's 19th century English translation, was known in Malik-Shah's court.
An important innovation of the Seljuks was their development of a network of caravansarai, protected stopping places for caravans along the trade routes. In addition, the Seljuks created state insurance to cover the losses of tradesmen. This indicates their understanding of the importance of transit trade for which they adjusted their military and economic policies.
During the height of the Seljuk Empire, Arabic was the language of scholars, Persian was the language of state, and Turkish was the language of business and daily life. Seljuk art blended styles and motifs from Central Asia, the Islamic Middle East, and Anatolia. The Seljuk Empire was the home of the famous Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (1207-1273), who is the founder of the Mawlawiyah/Mevlavi Sufi order, called the Whirling Dervishes, and well known for his devotional poetry.
The aspect of the Seljuk Turkish Empire of greatest significance to the SCA is the Crusades. Those Christian military expeditions were undertaken ostensibly and in part to recapture the Holy Land from the Seljuk Turks, who had captured Jerusalem in 1071.
During the First and most successful Crusade (1096-1099 AD), the main army, mostly French and Norman knights, assembled at Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, and proceeded on a long, arduous march through Anatolia to the Levant. They captured Antioch in Syria and eventually Jerusalem in Palestine in savage battles. Crusader domination was largely limited to the coast, and contact between Muslims and the crusading representatives of Christianity was largely limited to military matters and trade.
The Seljuk Turks were famed warriors, but unfortunately within 100 years of its establishment, their empire was weak, and numerous Turkoman leaders established their own principalities, Beyliks, along the edges of the Seljuk Empire, which gradually began to fragment.
The last of the Iranian Seljuks died on the battlefield in 1194, which is considered the beginning of the end of the Seljuk Empire. Within a short time the Seljuk Empire broke into numerous principalities. By 1200 Seljuk power existed only in Anatolia. Some historians date the end to 1243 when part of the Empire fell to the Mongols. Certainly by 1300 the Seljuk Empire was no more, picked apart from inside and outside.
The European part of Byzantium, including Constantinople, still survived undominated, if in a greatly reduced condition. It was never incorporated into the Seljuk Empire, and, in fact, had suffered more damage at the hands of the brutal Fourth Crusade of the European Christians than it would had if it had been conquered by Turkic Muslims.
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With the fragmentation of the Seljuk Empire, there was an intermediate period known as The Beyliks, meaning principalities. As political unity in Anatolia was disrupted from the mid-13th century until the beginning of the 14th century, some regions fell under the domination of the Beyliks. Others remained as separate fragments until the beginning of the 16th century. The Ottoman Empire grew out of one of these many principalities.
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Around the same time the Oguz Turks arrived in Persia, a second wave of various Muslim Turkic tribes moved south and west, driven from their homeland in the steppes of Central Asia by the Mongols. They were brought into the Seljuk Empire as mercenary soldiers in the 11th century. They settled in Anatolia in the 12th century. They remained disunited tribes until the early 14th century when some tribal groups united under the leadership of a minor chieftain named Othman/Osman into the Ottoman confederation. Following custom, they took the name of their leader, calling themselves Osmanli, and represented a tribal union.
In the 1380s and 1390s they took control of much of what is now Asian Turkey, Greece and Albania by war. At this point the Ottoman Principality was established. In 1397 they attacked Constantinople and the remains of the Byzantine Empire, but failed to conquer them.
Even this early, the Ottoman rulers began a method of administration they were to continue and expand. In European areas, conquered Christian princes were restored to their lands as vassals, while their subjects were free to follow their own religions in return for loyalty to the Ottomans. Everywhere, the Ottomans accepted submissive local nobility and military commanders into their service, along with their troops, instead of killing them.
But in 1402 Timur the Lame/Tamerlane led his Mongols to defeat the Ottomans at Ankara, and the Mongols overran Anatolia, temporarily crushing Ottoman power. As the Mongols weakened, the Ottoman Turks rebuilt their power in Anatolia and by 1421 they began to expand again. In the 2nd quarter of the century, under the leadership of sultan Murad II, they besieged Constantinople a second time, and were again repulsed. So by 1444 they advanced into Greece and Albania, leaving Constantinople unconquered but isolated, and then swept through the Balkans.
Murad II established the system known as devsirme (dev-sir-may) in which Christian boys were recruited for conversion to Islam and service in the Ottoman army and the administration. The (former) Christians in the army were organized into the elite infantry corps called Janissaries. For poor families, it was a great chance for their sons to get an education and improve their future prospects. Urban families with particular skills vital to the local economy and families with only one son were excluded from this system.
The next sultan, Mehmed II, was called "The Conqueror" because on May 29, 1453 his artillery finally breached Constantinople's massive walls and the city fell, finally ending the Byzantine Empire. He then established Constantinople as the fourth and final capital of the Ottoman empire, now known as Istanbul.
Selim I spent his reign expanding the Empire further. In 1517, he added the title of Caliph to that of Sultan when he captured Cairo, ending the rule of the second Mamluk dynasty.
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The Mamluks (from Arabic for slave, from a root meaning "owned") were slaves converted to Islam and trained in the military because the Islamic rulers thought they'd be unerringly loyal. They were influential for over 700 years, beginning under the Abbasids.
The Mamluk period is usually divided into two dynasties: the Bahri (1250-1382), chiefly Turks and Mongols, who ruled Egypt and the Levant; and the Burji (1382-1517), chiefly Circassians from the northwest Caucasus near the Black Sea who were chosen from the garrison of Cairo. Neither dynasty was able to exercise more than a limited amount of power over the tumultuous Mamluk soldiers. Mamluk rulers reigned an the average of less than seven years and usually met violent ends. Some lasted only a few days. Poisoning was a common method for Mamluk emirs to depose a Mamluk sultan.
When the Ottomans invaded, the Mamluks, who favored the cavalry and personal combat with sword and shield, were no match for the Ottomans' skillful use of artillery and their own slave infantry, the Janissaries. Although Selim I ended the Mamluk sultanate and established a small Ottoman garrison in Egypt, he did not destroy the Mamluks as a class. As the Ottomans had done in other places, they allowed the local leaders to keep their lands, and Mamluk governors remained in control of the provinces and were even allowed to keep private armies.
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The Ottoman Turks
The Ottoman Empire reached its peak under sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1520 to 1566. He expanded the empire through North Africa, conquered Hungary, and staged the first unsuccessful Siege of Vienna. Later he sent an expedition into Iraq and Iran. Because of the extent of the Ottoman Empire at this time, some writers called the Mediterranean Sea "the Turkish lake".
This period, from the mid-15th century through 1580, marks the rise in the Ottoman Empire. During this time the Ottoman Turks evolved the centralized administrative framework by which the sultans maintained effective control over the extraordinarily diverse peoples in their vast empire. This is also the period in Ottoman history of chief significance to the SCA, when the Ottomans took the Balkans and the remains of the Byzantine Empire and began to spread beyond the boundaries of the Seljuk Empire. So their greatest influence in relation to Europe is in the last 150 years of the approximately 1,000 years the SCA covers.
But at the end of Suleyman's reign, the empire began to decline, losing territory both to internal weakness and external attack. Gradually the office of the Grand Vizier (sometimes written "wizir") assumed more power and indifferent sultans neglected administration, further weakening the position of sultan. In addition, the Janissaries became too strong for the sultans to control. And the sultans were weakened even more by the custom of bringing them up and educating them in isolation, without the skills necessary to rule effectively, which kept the Viziers as the effective rulers of the Empire.
The decline of the empire was caused by many interdependent factors, among which were the flight of the Turco-Islamic aristocracy and degeneration of the ability and honesty both of the sultans and of their ruling class. The devsirme divided into many political parties and fought for power, manipulated sultans, and used the government for their own benefit. Corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and misrule spread.
Approximately one hundred years later, when Europe found a new route to India in the mid-17th century, eliminating the traditional transshipment of goods through the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire, revenues began to fall triggering inflation, and further corruption, administrative inefficiency, and fragmentation of authority. The Ottoman Empire doddered in this state of decline from the 17th century onward.
In the 18th century, the Mamluks increasingly won back self-rule. Gradually the Ottoman Turks conceded more and more autonomy to the Mamluks, and appointed a number of them as governors of Egypt, waiting to assert control over them by deciding to crush them in the early 19th century.
In addition, European governments chipped away at Ottoman territory from the outside by force of arms beginning in the late 17th century. By the 19th century the Ottoman Turkish Empire was known as "the Sick Old Man."
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So, when we Near Easterners in the SCA say "the Turks", do we mean the Turks behind Door Number One or Door Number Two?
After all, there are TWO significant groups of Turks in relation to Europe in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, each of which lasted about the same length of time - 150 years - within the SCA time frame.
Or do we mean a group from among the Central Asian Turkmen people?
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