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Seljuk Turks

The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages

Seljuk Turks 

Turkic dynasty which, from 1040 to 1194, ruled the Islamic world from Transoxania in the east to Anatolia, Persia, and the Arabian Peninsula in the west. The Seljuk sultans originally had been warlords of the Oghuz tribes living east of the Aral Sea. They arrived in *Baghdad, seat of the (Sunni) Abbasid *caliphate, in 1055, a few decades after caliphal authority reached its lowest ebb under the Shiite *Buyid dynasty and with the increasing threat of the Ismaili Shiite caliphate in North Africa, the Fatimids. Seljuk military victories ended the march of political Shiism, re-establishing Sunni authority over the central Islamic lands. The defeat of *Byzantium at the battle of Manzikert and the capture of its emperor, Romanos IV Diogenes, in 1072 by the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan signalled the beginning of the Turkification of Anatolia. Under Sultan Malik-Shah (r. 1073–92) the Seljuks oversaw an ideological effort to restate the ancient principles of Iranian kingship in Islamic terms. In response to this emerging Perso-Islamic autocracy, a new (and to become classic) definition of caliphal authority was elaborated (though it took some time for jurists to formalize it in Islamic constitutional theory); viz. that the (Abbasid) caliph functioned as the religious head of Sunnism, while the (Seljuk) sultan, as its secular authority, enforced public order. This notion of separation of powers influenced political thought and practice throughout the central and eastern Islamic lands until the end of the 15th century. While the Seljuks themselves belonged to the Hanafi school of law, they, through their famous vizier Nizam al-Mulk, established a wide network of *madrasahs (colleges) and *mosques which promoted Sunnism, mainly in the form of the Shafii school of law and Asharite theology. While it appears that Asharite theology, through the efforts of Abu Hamid al- *Ghazali, triumphed over other speculative forms of thought during the Seljuk period, *Avicennan philosophy also flourished, with many works written on Peripatetic logic and *philosophy, besides *mathematics and *astronomy.

Ahmed H. al-Rahim


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    G. Leiser, ‘Seljuks’, MedIsl, vol. 2, 718–9.Find this resource:

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