The Turks in Persia and Egypt
The Turks in Persia and Egypt
As the turn of the first millennium approached, the Abbasid caliphate went into a steep decline, suffering several crushing blows to its political and even its religious authority. The region remained largely Islamic, but with an important change in Persia—an era of Shiite supremacy began that continues to this day.
The Buyids of Persia were rivals to the Abbasids, partly as a matter of political and territorial competition and partly because they were Shiite Muslims. The Buyids captured Baghdad, the Abbasid capital, in 945. Under Buyid rule, the Abbasids remained in their royal place in the hierarchy, but only as puppets of the Shiite scholars who took most of the high political and administrative offices. This placed all the strands of Persian social, political, and legal authority in Shiite hands.
The Oguz Turks, Sunni Muslim converts, invaded the Iranian plateau in 1038 and reached Baghdad in 1055. Their victory ended the reign of the Buyid dynasty and began the reign of the Turkish Seljuks. The Oguz troops went on to defeat the Byzantine army at Manzikert in 1071. This loss is historically important for three reasons. First, it clearly spelled disaster for the Byzantine Empire; warfare between Byzantines and Turks would drag on for a while, but the Byzantines would never recover their supremacy in the region. Second, it inspired the Byzantine emperor to turn to the pope in Rome for assistance; this led to a call to arms from the Church in the West and brought the Crusaders to the East to fight the Turks (see “The Crusades” in this chapter). Third, the Battle of Manzikert marked a turning point in the region. From this time on, Turkish dynasties would replace the Arabian and Western European ones that had ruled supreme until then.
The Seljuk ruler, Malik Shah, found himself in control of a Sunni empire that stretched from the eastern shore of the Bosporus through Persia to the steppes. Malik Shah himself ruled over the central core of this empire, installing other members of the Seljuk family as sultans in the outlying provinces. Malik Shah had a dominant personality; the combination of this and his generosity in rewarding his nobles and commanders allowed him to maintain supreme control over all until his death in 1092. The Seljuk dynasty remained in power for a time, losing control of Syria by 1117, eastern Iran by the 1150s, and western Iran by 1194. However, the family would continue to flourish in Anatolia until the thirteenth century. The Iranian-Turkish Ghurids ruled eastern Iran from about 1150 to 1204, when they were defeated in battle.
The Abbasids also lost Egypt, where the Shiite Fatimids established a dynasty in 909. They founded the city of Cairo as their capital. Many of the Kurdish soldiers in the Egyptian army threw their support to Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty; under his leadership they overthrew the Fatimids in 1171 (see “The Crusades” below). The Ayyubids were Sunni Muslims; therefore this change of dynasty restored Sunni authority in Egypt. Around 1250, the Mamluks—Turkish slave-soldiers and mercenaries who made up the great bulk of the Egyptian army—rose up against the Ayyubids. The Mamluk Turks staged a palace coup in Cairo, thus establishing themselves as the rulers of Egypt. They would remain in power until 1517.
In 1059, the Fatimids took over Baghdad, but their reign over Persia was brief; it had waned by the end of the eleventh century, due to provincial rebel- lions and palace coups.
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