Seljuk Battles with the Crusaders & the Mongols

Seljuk Battles with the Crusaders & the Mongols
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  • 0:08 The Seljuk Empire
  • 1:34 Seljuk & the Crusades
  • 4:03 Seljuk & the Mongols
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the history of the powerful Seljuk Turks as they battled Crusaders and Mongols for the fate of the Anatolian Peninsula. Then, you can test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Seljuk Empire

Throughout the Medieval world, there were wars in the West around Europe. There were wars throughout the East in Asia. But what about the area where the West meets the East? At the crossroads of the world, around the area called the Anatolian Peninsula, mighty empires rose and fell and fought for power against invaders from every direction. One of these great powers was the Seljuk Empire.

The Seljuk Empire was a vast military state that stretched for over one million square miles across modern-day Turkey, the Middle East, and much of Western Asia. The empire lasted from 1037-1194, although Seljuk culture really began around 950, when the leader Seljuq broke from another tribe of Turkish people and settled south of the Aral Sea, in modern-day Turkmenistan. Most importantly, he converted his kingdom to the religion Islam and quickly became one of the dominant Islamic powers in the region. His heirs expanded the kingdom into a mighty empire that dominated the territory between the Aral Sea and the Mediterranean, with strongest power in Anatolia. Throughout the next several centuries, the Seljuk Empire found itself at the crossroads of international conflicts as Western armies marched east and Eastern armies marched west. They became central figures in both the Holy Crusades, as well as the expansion of the Mongol Empire.

Seljuk & the Crusades

The First Crusade was a holy war incited by the Roman Catholic kings of Europe to reclaim the Holy Lands from Muslim forces. The First Crusade lasted from 1096-1099. Although the primary objective of the Crusades was to recapture Jerusalem, the Seljuk Turks were an additional target, since the pope was worried that this powerful Muslim empire in Anatolia could mobilize at any moment and lay siege to the Holy Lands.

Overall, there was relatively little direct interaction between the Seljuk Turks and the European Crusaders during the First Crusade. Just before the Crusades, the Seljuk Empire was less centralized and essentially a series of different Islamic states ruled loosely by a Seljuk leader who, by the time of the Crusades, was starting to reunite all his people under his rule. There were several minor skirmishes as small groups of Crusaders attempted to penetrate the Anatolian region, which mostly resulted in decisive victories for the Seljuk. As their power grew again, the Seljuk Turks managed to even capture Jerusalem, although they were not able to hold it. In the resulting Battle of Ascalon, Seljuk forces united with the powerful Fatimids to amass a huge force, but an early attack by the Crusaders caught them unaware and led to a quick defeat.

After the First Crusade, Catholic kings established a series of kingdoms around the Holy Lands. Seljuk power was growing, and in 1144, a Seljuk army in Syria toppled one of the Catholic territories, Edessa. The loss of Edessa prompted a new fervor in Europe and launched the Second Crusade, which lasted from 1145-1149. The kings of France and Germany each amassed massive armies that marched across Europe and into modern-day Turkey and Syria. Both were defeated by the Seljuk Turks. The Second Crusade was a disaster for the European Catholics and resulted in major victories for Muslim armies, including the eventual recapture of Jerusalem. Throughout these battles, armies of Seljuk Turks played major roles.

Unfortunately, the rise of various factions of Seljuk Turks led to lots of fighting between various Muslim states for power, severely weakening the Seljuk Empire. Seljuk territories became divided amongst various local Seljuk leaders, some of whom formed their own empires, and the Seljuk Empire completely collapsed after Anatolia was captured by competing Muslim empires in 1194. The Seljuk people remained as advisors and scholars in the Muslim courts, founding universities and funding the arts.

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