Battle of Manzikert - The Battle

The Battle

Romanos was unaware of the loss of Tarchaneiotes and continued to Manzikert, which he easily captured on August 23; the Seljuks responded with heavy incursions by bowmen. The next day some foraging parties under Bryennios discovered the Seljuk army and were forced to retreat back to Manzikert. The Armenian general Basilakes was sent out with some cavalry, as Romanos did not believe this was Arslan's full army; the cavalry was destroyed and Basilakes taken prisoner. Romanos drew up his troops into formation and sent the left wing out under Bryennios, who was almost surrounded by the quickly approaching Turks and was forced to retreat once more. The Seljuk forces hid among the nearby hills for the night, making it nearly impossible for Romanos to send a counterattack.

On August 25, some of Romanos' Turkic mercenaries came into contact with their Seljuk kin and deserted. Romanos then rejected a Seljuk peace embassy as he wanted to settle the eastern question and the Turkic persistent incursions and settlements with a decisive military victory and understood that raising another army would be both difficult and expensive. The Emperor attempted to recall Tarchaneiotes, who was no longer in the area. There were no engagements that day, but on August 26 the Byzantine army gathered itself into a proper battle formation and began to march on the Turkish positions, with the left wing under Bryennios, the right wing under Theodore Alyates, and the centre under the emperor. At that moment, when a Turkish soldier said to Alp Arslan "My Sultan, the enemy army is approaching", Alp Arslan is told to have said "Then we are also approaching them". Andronikos Doukas led the reserve forces in the rear—a foolish mistake, considering the loyalties of the Doukids. The Seljuks were organized into a crescent formation about four kilometres away. Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they drew closer; the centre of their crescent continually moved backwards while the wings moved to surround the Byzantine troops.

The Byzantines held off the arrow attacks and captured Arslan's camp by the end of the afternoon. However, the right and left wings, where the arrows did most of their damage, almost broke up when individual units tried to force the Seljuks into a pitched battle; the Seljuk cavalry simply disengaged when challenged, the classic hit and run tactics of steppe warriors. With the Seljuks avoiding battle, Romanos was forced to order a withdrawal by the time night fell. However, the right wing misunderstood the order, and Doukas, as an enemy of Romanos, deliberately ignored the emperor and marched back to the camp outside Manzikert, rather than covering the emperor's retreat. With the Byzantines thoroughly confused, the Seljuks seized their opportunity and attacked. The Byzantine right wing was almost immediately routed, thinking they were betrayed either by the Armenians or the army's Turkish auxiliaries. In fact the Turks were the first to flee and they all managed to get away, while by contrast the Armenians auxiliaries remained loyal to the end, fighting for their occupied homeland. The left wing under Bryennios held out a little longer, but was also soon routed. The remnants of the Byzantine centre, including the Emperor and the Varangian Guard, were encircled by the Seljuks. Romanos was injured, and taken prisoner by the Seljuks. The survivors were the many who fled the field and were pursued throughout the night, but not beyond that; by dawn, the professional core of the Byzantine army had been destroyed whilst many of the peasant troops and levies who had been under the command of Andronikus had fled.

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