The Seljuks were a group of nomadic Turkish warrior leaders from Central Asia who established themselves in the Middle East during the 11th century as guardians of the declining Abbasid caliphate, and after 1055 founded the Great Seljuk sultanate, an empire centered in Baghdad and including Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They helped to prevent the Fatimids of Egypt from making Shiite Islam dominant throughout the Middle East and, in the 12th century, blocked inland expansion by the Crusader states on the Syrian coast. Their defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert (1071) opened the way for the Turkish occupation of Anatolia.
Seljuk power was at its zenith during the reigns of sultans Alp-Arslan (1063-72) and Malik Shah (1072-92), who with their vizier Nizam al-Mulk, revived Sunnite Islamic administrative and religious institutions. They developed armies of slaves (Mamelukes) to replace the nomad warriors, as well as an elaborate bureaucratic hierarchy that provided the foundation for governmental administration in the Middle East until modern times. The Seljuks revived and reinvigorated the classical Islamic educational system, developing universities (madrasahs) to train bureaucrats and religious officials.
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A branch of the Seljuks established their own state in Anatolia (the sultanate of Konya or Rum, survived until it was conquered by the Mongols in 1243.
Stanford J. Shaw
Bibliography: Boyle, J. A., ed., Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5: The Saljuq and Mongol Periods (1968); Cahen, Claude, Pre-Ottoman Turkey, trans. by J. Jones-Williams (1968); Grousset, Rene, Empire of the Steppes, trans. by Naomi Walford (1970); Klausner, Carla L., The Seljuk Vezirate: A Study of Civil Administration, 1055-1194 (1973); Leiser, Gary, ed. and tr., A History of the Seljuks (1988); Setton, Kenneth, ed., History of the Crusades, vol. 1, 2d ed. (1969).
Seljuks, Turkish dynasty prominent in the Middle East during the 11th and 12th centuries. Originally a clan belonging to the Oghuz, a Turkmen tribe of Central Asia, they were converted to Islam in the 10th century and established themselves in the Iranian province of Khorâsân in the early 11th century. In the period between 1040 and 1055, their chief, Togrul Beg, conquered most of Iran and Iraq and made himself protector of the caliph of Baghdâd, spiritual leader of the Sunni (orthodox) Muslims. Togrul was given the title sultan by the caliph and made war on the Shia Muslims, who rejected the caliph's authority.
Under Togrul's successors, Alp Arslan and Malik Shah, the empire of the Seljuks was further extended into Syria, Palestine, and Anatolia. Alp Arslan's victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert (1071) alarmed the Christian world, and Seljuk aggressiveness was a major reason for launching the First Crusade (1095). The main enemy of the Seljuks, however, was the Shia Fatimid dynasty of Egypt.
Ruling from their capital at Eºfahân (Isfahan) in Iran, the Seljuk sultans used the Persian language in their administration and were patrons of Persian literature. They founded madrasahs (colleges) to train future administrators in accordance with Sunni doctrine. After the death of Malik Shah and his vizier, Nizam-al-Mulk, the empire was divided among Malik Shah's sons, and Seljuk power gradually declined.
A branch of the dynasty, the sultanate of Rûm with a capital at Konya, survived in Anatolia until subjugated by the Mongols in 1243.
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