Back To CourseHistory 112: World History I
30 chapters | 246 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Are you ready? I'm about to drop some knowledge on you. The country of Turkey is not named after the main dish we eat during Thanksgiving. Mind-blowing, right?
Turkey is named after the ethnic group who came to dominate the region during the Medieval Era, a people called the Turks. Around the 12th century, Europeans were referring to the Anatolian Peninsula, which is the area between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, as the land of the Turks, or Turkey. The Turks were part of a powerful military empire that unified the region under a Middle Eastern religion called Islam, playing a major role in the spread of Muslim culture leading up to the international religious wars called the Crusades.
The ancient Turks were nomadic peoples who lived near the Altai Mountains bordering modern-day Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan in the sixth century. By the eighth century, Muslim forces from the Arabian Peninsula had formed a massive empire and were pushing steadily into the region. By 751, Arab Muslims controlled the Anatolian Peninsula and most of Central Asia. The Turkic people were first incorporated as servants, and eventually as soldiers, even becoming the favored troops of the Caliph, the political and religious leader of a Muslim state. By the end of the ninth century, Turkic leaders were gaining significant military and political power and started forming their own empires.
The rise of Turkic empires introduced a new power into the region, based originally around their capital south of the Aral Sea. This became very important after they officially adopted Islam as their religion in the tenth century. One group in particular, the Seljuk Turks quickly grew in power, establishing their own empire by 1037. The Seljuk Empire first captured the major city Baghdad in 1055, and around 1071, managed to take control of the Anatolian Peninsula. The Seljuk Empire covered over a million square miles across parts of the Middle East and Central Asia and lasted until 1194, when it fell due to internal factions that formed their own empires.
The rise of the Seljuk Empire turned out to be crucial for the Islamic world. Anatolia was not empty before the Seljuk Turks captured it. In fact, it was part of the Byzantine Empire, the major Christian power east of Rome. When the Seljuk Turks moved in, they brought the Islamic religion, as well as Persian culture, which the Turks had largely adopted after becoming part of the Muslim Empire. Thus began the contentious transition of the Anatolian region from European to Persian in terms of culture, religion, politics, and identity.
As the Seljuk Empire continued to expand, reaching its height around 1092, they incorporated several smaller Muslim kingdoms. They quickly became one of the most powerful Muslim empires in the region and were tied to other Muslim Empires like the Fatimids through religion. This doesn't mean that they didn't fight with these other empires; there were dozens of battles for power within the Muslim world. But when the Byzantine Empire asked the Pope for support against the rise of Islam, the Seljuk were a major factor in uniting the Muslim states against invading Catholic armies.
The result was an era of wars between Catholic and Muslim armies for control of the Holy Lands around Jerusalem, called the Crusades. Because they were located right at the crossroads of the Christian and Muslim worlds, the Seljuk Turks were key figures in the Holy Wars. During the First Crusade, the Seljuk easily defeated the first invasion of the Pope's armies in 1096, although the Catholic armies soon returned and were able to make it all the way into Palestine, capturing Jerusalem. In the Second Crusade, after new Catholic kingdoms in the region fell back under Muslim control, the Seljuk were again amongst the first to see action and defeated powerful armies from France and Germany. Throughout the Second Crusade, the Seljuk Turks remained integral members of the Muslim armies and were involved in several battles that resulted in decisive victories over the Catholic armies.
Catholic armies returned several more times in later Crusades, and the Turkic people remained central figures in the combat between the east and the west. Even as the Seljuk Empire declined, other Islamic Turkish kingdoms arose, such as the very powerful Sultanate of Rum. The Turkic people held Anatolia in some form or another, and the Islamic religion maintained an influential presence. When Anatolia became incorporated into the massive Mongol Empire in the 13th century, Turkic people were partly responsible for the important role that Islam played after the conversion of Mongol rulers.
In 1299, one branch of Turkic people formed the Ottoman Empire, which grew to become one of the most powerful Muslim Empires in history. It lasted from 1299-1923, when it was reorganized into the modern nation of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was a major force for Islam in between Europe and Asia. In fact, it was the Ottoman Empire that finally toppled the Byzantine Empire in 1453, transforming Constantinople into Istanbul and eliminating the last true Christian power in that region. From that point, Anatolia was undisputedly Islamic.
The Turkic people had a major influence on world history, particularly in the spread of the Middle Eastern religion Islam. Although not originally Muslims, the nomadic Turkic people converted to Islam after being conquered by the powerful Muslim Empire from modern-day Iran. As they rose within the ranks of the Muslim armies, the Turks eventually formed their own power base and began the Seljuk Empire. This empire consolidated the many fractured Islamic kingdoms of Anatolia, the region between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and forced the Christian Byzantine Empire from most of the region. This resulted in a series of religious wars to control the Holy Lands called the Crusades.
The Seljuk Empire was a major force in the Crusades, often being amongst the first powers to see battle, and was especially instrumental in Muslim victories of the Second Crusade. After the Seljuk Empire fell to internal factions, other Turkic kingdoms arose to control Anatolia and preserve Islam in the region. Eventually, one of these groups formed the Ottoman Empire, which became one of the most powerful Islamic Empires in history and formally pushed Christianity out of Anatolia. Since the original rise of the Turks to power, they remained a powerful force in world history and helped shape the crossroads where the east and west collide.
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Back To CourseHistory 112: World History I
30 chapters | 246 lessons