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Manzikert 1071: The breaking of Byzantium (Campaign) [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

David Nicolle , Christa Hook

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20. August 2013 Campaign (Buch 262)
On 26 August 1071 a large Byzantine army under Emperor Romanus IV met the Saljuq Turk forces of Sultan Alp Arslan near the town of Manzikert to the far east of the Byzantine Empire. The battle ended in a decisive defeat for the Byzantine forces, with the wings of the army routing following withering Turkish arrow fire, and the centre overwhelmed, with the Byzantine emperor captured and much of his fabled Varangian guard killed. This battle is justifiably regarded as a turning point in Middle Eastern, European and to some extent even world history. It is seen as the primary trigger of the Crusades, and as the moment when the power of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire was irreparably broken. The Saljuq victory opened up Anatolia to Turkish-Islamic conquest, which was eventually followed by the establishment of the Ottoman state which went on the conquer south-eastern and much of central Europe, the entire Middle East and most of North Africa. Nevertheless the battle itself was the culmination of a Christian Byzantine offensive, intended to strengthen the eastern frontiers of the empire and re-establish Byzantine domination over Armenia and northern Mesopotamia. Turkish Saljuq victory was in no sense inevitable and might, in fact, have come as something of a surprise to those who achieved it - at least in proving to be so complete. It was not only the battle of Manzikert that had such profound and far-reaching consequences, many of these stemmed from the debilitating Byzantine civil war which followed and was a direct consequence of the defeat.

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Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

David Nicolle, born in 1944, worked in the BBC's Arabic service for a number of years before gaining an MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and a doctorate from Edinburgh University. He has written numerous books and articles on medieval and Islamic warfare, and has been a prolific author of Osprey titles for many years.

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2.0 von 5 Sternen At last...but also a pity... 8. September 2013
Von JPS - Veröffentlicht auf
At last Osprey had published as part of its Campaign series a volume on the battle of Mantzikert in 1071. This had been a rather significant gap in the series for a long time since this battle, or rather its consequences, were disastrous for Byzantium which was raked by civil wars for a decade and lost for ever its Anatolian inlands as a result.

The defeat also played a significant role in ushering in the major upheaval of the First Crusade which was at least partly a belated response to the Byzantine Emperors "inability" to be the defender of Christian faith that they had been portrayed to be for so long. This, at least, was how the defeat of Mantzikert and the subsequent loss of territory and anarchy in the Byzantine Empire and looked like in the West. It was laos the way it was by the popes themselves (Gregory VII and Urban II, in particular). All this to say that I had rather high expectations about this book's and its author's ability to present a clear and concise narrative of what really happened and how important this battle really turned out to be.

Even nowadays, to quote the author, Mantzikert "is widely regarded as one of the most significant turning points in medieval history" although it was neither "the breaking of Byzantium" nor the "cataclysm" that this author portrays it to be with hindsight. This is where I started having problems with this presentation of the event and its consequences, and with the author's attitude and stance more generally.

The military importance of the Byzantine defeat of Mantzikert had been largely overestimated, as even the author had to admit, drawing on a comprehensive study published by a French historian in 1980. Mantzikert was, without any doubt, a very serious military defeat, but it was not in itself the military disaster or the military triumph that it has been portrayed to be in most of the sources for, respectively, the Byzantine and the Seljuk Turks. What was disastrous, however, were the political consequences stemming from the capture of the Emperor - something that had not happened for centuries. As an aside, I was rather surprised to discover that David Nicolle believes (without mentioning his sources) Romanus III Argyros to have been captured briefly by the Fatimids during his brief reign (1028-1034).

This brings me to one of the main flaws in this volume: the author's over-fondness for Islamic sources and its consequences. While he is quite correct to use such sources, contrary to what was done for a long time (until Paul Cahen and others Islamicist historians started using them from the 1940s onwards) he generally does so in a rather uncritical and unbalanced way, giving them much too much importance in some cases and downgrading the importance of the Christian sources in general, and of Attaliates (the only direct eye-witness) in particular. One rather unfortunate manifestation of this is the way he gets side-tracked and devotes significant amounts of valuable space in this thin book to quoting verbatim Islamic sources with all their late "embellishments" and semi-legendary accounts. Moreover, these quotes are neither analysed nor really discussed.

More generally, quoting these sources and the various embellishments that they introduced as part of their narrative of the battle (but without explicitly acknowledging these as historically worthless) fails to mask two other flaws in this volume. One is to lack of any structured discussion on the respective reliability of the sources, whether Byzantine, Armenian or Islamic. At most, all you find are a number of comments dismissing off-hand some sources (such as Michael Attaliates) but without providing any explanation. The other flaw is that there is no discussion with regards to the differences in structure and equipment of the two respective armies, as if the author was somehow expecting the reader to know these already and would therefore know that the strength of the Byzantine was their heavy cavalry and infantry and that of the Turks lied in their horse archery and superior mobility. Neither is explicitly mentioned, although this is hinted at several times, for instance when mentioning that the Byzantines and the Emperor were confident of victory because they knew they would prevail in hand-to-hand fighting.

A related point is the way David Nicolle selects and over-emphasizes relatively minor points drawn from such sources, such as how the Emperor was captured (was he fighting heroically to the last? Did he surrender? Was he hiding beneath a chariot on the battlefield?), who exactly captured him and even whether the warrior who captured him was adequately praised and rewarded by his masters or not. Needless to say, none of this is critical to modern historians and readers. It may even be of little interest to them although it obviously was highly important for the Islamic sources and their public at the time. Another similar features are the liberal quotes from the sources about the (obviously made up and moralizing) speeches of the Seljuk Sultan and his lecturing dialogue with the captive Emperor.

Partly as a result, other far more significant points are not properly explained, not discussed in-depth or not discussed at all. In addition to those mentioned above (reliability of sources and differences in equipment between the two armies, with their associated implications), one missing element is an explanation of the importance of Mantzikert, Akhlat and the surroundings around Lake Van. The author merely states that these had "strategic importance", briefly describes the geography, but fails to explain why this area was so strategic.

Another missing point is when the author discusses the Byzantine objectives of the whole campaign and its political context. He does mention the rather delicate political situation that Romanus faced at home. He also mentions that Romanus had been crowned Emperor essentially because of his assumed ability to deal with the Turkish inroads in the East once and for all. However, he fails to link this with the rather mixed imperial record of the three past years: campaigns in 1068, 1069 and 1070 had little to show for them. Despite some successes, there were also some significant and rather humiliating reverses. In no way could the Emperor claim to have managed to end the raids, been successful and therefore a legitimate ruler favoured by God and doing his Work, a key component of Byzantine imperial ideology.

Added to this, of course, the Doukas family was lurking in the wings, waiting and hoping for the Emperor to fail in order to replace him by one of their own and recover the throne which had previously been held by a Doukas. It is even possible that, short of overt treason, they did everything they could to hinder his efforts. In other words, the Emperor was playing for very high stakes: his political (and perhaps even his physical) survival. He was condemned to success and it is this pressure that would make him take a rather dangerous gamble and seek battle under unfavourable conditions, despite the contrary advice of some of his generals. In much the same way and under similar political circumstances (the need to build his legitimacy on military victory), Alexis I Comnene would make a similar choice in 1081 against the Normans of Robert Guiscard which would also end in disaster.

A further pervasive flaw of this volume, and another consequence of the author's choice to quote sources extensively rather than provide a comprehensive analysis and explanations, is that it the narrative is often unclear and sometimes even confusing. In some cases, bits and pieces from points made in other references have been left out. There are also cases where there appears to be "missing links" in the reasoning, with the reader being left to somehow connect the dots.

One extreme case of the later is the capture of Romanus IV, with David Nicolle quoting Attaliates about the Emperor making a "heroic last stand." It is this capture which turned a serious military defeat into a political disaster for Byzantium, as for Romanus in particular, of course. Accordingly, since Romanus was far from a being a fool and very probably a rather good general and given the importance of this event, I would have expected the author to explain what happened and try to make sense of it, especially since he provides the various elements. The most likely explanation is that the Emperor did not intend at all to be captured, of course. Neither did he intend to make a last stand. Rather, when the two wings of his army started to break up and his rear-guard failed to support him and his centre, he tried to break through and escape the encirclement. As David Nicolle mentions, many of the troops in the centre did manage to get away, especially those on horseback. What David Nicolle does not expressily mention, however, is that the Emperor's failure to break through was because his horse was killed under him. It is this which forced him into the so-called "heroic last stand" that Attaliates presents somewhat misleadingly (but quite understandingly) as intentional.

Additional elements also make the narrative confusing at times. I have already mentioned the reference to the "breaking of Byzantium" and the "cataclysm" of Mantzikert with the core text showing that this defeat was not a military disaster. Another point where the author seems unable to make up his mind is when estimating the numbers of the respective armies in the field and establishing whether the Byzantines really outnumbered the Seljuk Turks at all. While the number estimates (largely draws from Haldon, for the Byzantines at least) make sense and show that two armies on the battlefield were roughly even in number, Nicolle still manages to suggest that the Turks were outnumbered. In fact, since the rear-guard abandoned the Emperor in the field and the size of such rear-guards should typically be one-third of the total according to Byzantine treaties, when both the wings of the main battle line broke and/or retreated, it was the Emperor and the centre which were heavily outnumbered and left facing the brunt of the Seljuk Turks attack.

Finally, there are the maps the plates and the bibliography. Even these are problematic. One of the maps contains a mistake: Edessa was not conquered by the Empire in 1052 but twenty years before. More generally, the maps are somewhat difficult to read because to much has been crammed into them. Regarding the plates, there are only three of them and the last one, depicting the Emperor's supposed last stand, is somewhat problematic: there is not a single Varangian guard around Romanus although, if I remember correctly, a number of them were killed defending him as the fierce bodyguards that they were. With regards the bibliography, I was surprised to find out that Michel Attaliates was not mentioned. Neither was John Skylitzes. Although Michael Psellos makes it to the bibliography, he somehow does not make it to the main text. One again, here as elsewhere in the book, these typos are demonstrations of rather poor editing.

So, to conclude this long review, and despite some good points such as outlining the Byzantines' and the Emperor's major failure in terms of gathering intelligence and information on the whereabouts and numbers of his enemies, I was rather disappointed with this volume. What makes even worse, in my view, is that I cannot even recommend this volume as an introduction or an overview to someone who might know little or next to nothing about the battle since it is quite confusing. This is a real pity because it could have been much better. Two stars.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Acceptable overview of the Manzikert campaign. 27. August 2013
Von JAG 2.0 - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
"Manzikert 1071: The Breaking of Byzantium", Osprey Campaign book 262, by David Nicolle serves as an acceptable overview of the campaign that marked the beginning of a very long slide for the Byzantines. As in any Osprey book, you get a lot of high-quality photos, maps and color artwork.

The book sets the stage, giving the situation on the ground before the campaign begins. The author does a decent job of introducing the reader to the main players in the region as well as cover the opposing armies and forces at their command, the opposing commanders (Emperor Romanos IV and Sultan Alp Arslan). The author hits the highlights of the armies' movements to contact as well as the battles with his terse narrative even if he doesn't make it very interesting. He covers the immediate aftermath as well as a brief description of the long-term effects.

My problem with the book is that the author doesn't always do a good job of giving the reader information they need. For instance, when he covers the Byzantine forces marshaled for the campaign, he doesn't even give the reader the proportion of cavalry to infantry. It's obvious that the Turks were mounted warriors and, although they fielded infantry, it was their horsemen that were the core of their army. About the Byzantines, we are left in the dark as to their mounted forces in comparison. Did the Turks have an advantage in tactical mobility as a result of an advantage in cavalry?

The author seems to want to absolve Roussel de Bailleul and Joseph Tarchaniotes of wrongdoing in neither rejoining the main army nor sending word of the presence of large Turkish forces in the vicinity to the main army and the Emperor. To do so, he creates a hypothetical situation in which they were prevented from assisting the main army in any way. It seemed to this reader merely wishful thinking. These Byzantine commanders had "some of the best cavalry" according to the author (again, no numbers or percentages) and, quite frankly their presence was sorely missed by the main army in the Manzikert battle. The after-battle actions of Bailleul and Terchaniotes certainly don't make them look any better.

In conclusion, I thought this volume had some flaws that prevented it from being any better than just okay and I only give it three stars.
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2.0 von 5 Sternen Wrong title, wrong conclusions 20. Dezember 2013
Von Nick - Veröffentlicht auf
For anyone who knows about Byzantine military history and for anyone who wants to learn about that I cannot racommend this book because it misses out on the fact that the Byzantine loss was to the largest part due to treason from the Doukas part of the army. Both the northern part of the total Byzantine force, that did not show up for battle at all and the uncalled for retreat of the reserves were more critical to the outcome than anything done by the Seljuks.
The author also does not mention that a "shattered" Byzantium in the 100 years that followed Manzikert, during the so-called Komnenian restauration managed to retake almost all territory captured by the Seljuks exept the eastern part of the Anatolian plateau
and once more become the strongest military power in eastern europe and the middle east. So much for being "shattered"...
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Meticulously researched, breaks many popularly held views regarding this battle 29. August 2013
Von Yoda - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
Any review of this book would have to start by pointing out that is part of the Osprey "Campaign" series and what this entails. Books in this series are relatively short in length, about 95 pages in length, about a third of which consists of illustration of one type or another (i.e., maps, photographs of contemporaneous art such as plates and paintings illustrating battle dress, leaders, etc.). Hence if one is looking for a very in-depth academic discussion of the topic this is not the book. The relevant question to ask regarding this book is how really how good of a job does it do considering the limitation inherent in the Osprey format? The answer is very good.

There are a number of reasons for this reason. The most important, by far, is the author's formidable knowledge of this battle and the research he did for it. Dr. Nicolle is a Professor of Medieval history and has written dozens of books on medieval warfare in both the Western and Islamic worlds. In this book he examines the many, many chroniclers of this time and what they said not only about the history of the battle in aggregate but also on its various micro aspects. For example, he cites the views of numerous chroniclers with respect to who captured the Byzantine Emperor Romanos and who he was captured. The same applies to how the battle formations formed up, etc. This is the truly great strength of the book. The research is truly impressive, as can be seen in the extremely prolific bibliography in the back of the book.

The book also does an excellent job at showing that many of the popularly held views regarding the battle are incorrect. For example, it is popularly held that Manzikert was a giant intentional clash between an expanding Islam and the Byzantine state. The reality was that this battle, at least to Alp Arslan (the leader of the Islamic forces), was a diversion he was doing his best to avoid. He was primarily interested in using his resources to decide the intercine conflict in the Islamic world between the Shiite and Sunnis. However, the Byzantine Emperor Romanos decided not to accept Arslan's peace overture and tried to defeat him. Another popularly held view was that the Byzantine army was fatally damaged in this battle. The reality is that even though it was a defeat Byzantine forces were not devastated. The bulk of the Byzantine army escaped and was, eventually, able to regroup. It was the civil war in the Byzantine state and the distress it lead to that was more important to the weakening of the Byzantine state's Eastern defenses (and eventual loss to Islamic forces) than the direct troop losses incurred in the battle.

Despite these great strengths the book does have numerous weaknesses that prevent this reviewer from giving it a five star rating. One is that the two-dimensional maps that follow the strategic movements of forces are very confusing. One cannot follow how troops and armies moved using these. This is a shame as the 3-D maps concentrating on the immediate battlefield are quite good and show how Arslan's forces were able to use maneuver, in the form of tactical retreat followed by envelopment, to win this battle. In addition, many of the illustrations included are off the topic directly. For example, there are pictures of monasteries and religious scenes. In a longer book these tangents would have been fine but in a short book like this the author should have concentrated, instead, more on illustrations with a military theme (i.e., types of weapons used, etc.). In addition and related to this there are no color plates or other illustrations showing how various types of troops (i.e,. light infantry, skirmishers, light and heavy cavalry, etc.) looked and were armed. The book is also written in a quite dry fashion but considering the author is an academic this is no surprise.

Despite these weaknesses this book still provides a very good and succinct analysis to this battle, more than would be expected from its short and limiting format. Highly recommended, even for the reader with an intermediate knowledge (as opposed to novices) on the times and the battle itself. This reader has read numerous accounts of this battle contained in significant academic works such as Vasiliev's two volume History of the Byzantine State and still learned new facts.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Nicolle Forgets his Intended Audience 27. Dezember 2013
Von Marco Antonio Abarca - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
I think I am typical of the people who read Osprey books. I have a college degree and have been reading military history for many years. I am interested in Byzantine history but by no means am I an academic familiar with the Byzantine and Saljuk politics of the Eleventh Century. To tell that story for an Osprey audience a great deal of explanation is needed. The greatest problem with "Manzikert 1071" is that Nicolle loses track of his intended audience. He predisposes that his audience has more knowledge than we do. In turn, I found Nicolle's book to be obscure and not especially enjoyable to read. If this were not bad enough, Christa Hook's illustrations are not up to the usual high Osprey standards. Not recommended.
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