A brief look at the battle of Mantzikert (August 19, 1071)
By afternoon Romanus' cavalry were flagging. Determined to force a
decision before sundown, he ordered his entire command to advance.
At first their solid weight drove the Seljuks back. The tide seemed to be
turning. But the manoeuvre was leading only to a repetition, in slower
time, of the frustrations of the day. Farther and farther the Seljuks
retreated, drawing their opponents on, watching for the moment to
counter-attack. Among the Byzantines, the heat of the long August day
was telling on heavily accoutred men and mounts nearing exhaustion.
Before nightfall water in large quantities would be essential. But in
the country ahead every well and watercourse was in Seljuk hands. The
only certain supply lay to the rear, in the Byzantine camp. There was
no alternative: Romanus ordered a retirement.
Cool and steady still, his regiments began their retreat. But there was
still light enough for the Seljuks to observe the movement. Their great
crescent stopped, turned, and followed. Then, black clouds swirling in
the twilight, they gathered way and charged. This time they did not wheel
away. As the Byzantine rearguard swung round to fight, their yelling
droves hurled themselves upon it.
All now hung on the reserves of heavy cavalry. Romanus ordered them in.
But no forward movement among their ranks answered his command. They
remained immobile: then turned, and headed for the westward hills. It was
the moment of ultimate treachery. Andronicus Ducas was exacting his
revenge. In the field, he believed, the battle was already lost: but in
Constantinople he might now win a throne. The vital squadrons melted
away into the dusk.
As the centre of the Seljuk crescent lunged into Romanus' rear its horns
encircled the whole of his army, locking it in a pincer grip. A terrible
hand-to-hand affray ensued. Romanus himself, wounded, and with his horse
sinking beneath him, fought on to the end. But as the darkness deepened
panic flared out at last. Broken and desperate, the survivors fled; and
the imperial bodyguard, leaping over the corpses of their comrades,
Next morning the Byzantine emperor, weak, dishevelled, and only identified
with difficulty, appeared before Alp Arslan his captor.
[From "The Barbarians of Asia: the peoples of the steppes from 1600 B.C.",
by Stuart Legg (Dorset Press, 1970), p. 207-8]
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