Episode 250 – Retaking Anatolia

The Battle of Myriokephalon (from weaponsandwarfare.com)

We talk about why the Romans didn’t have more success in fighting the Turks. Was there a better way to fight the nomads? Or was it not really about tactics but strategy?

Period: 1070-1180

Stream: Retaking Anatolia

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Categories: Uncategorized | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Episode 250 – Retaking Anatolia

  1. Connor M

    Great episode! I have a couple requests for the next series of listener questions (they have to due with events closer to 1204). First, can you discuss the collapse of the Seljuk Empire and eventual rise of the Zengids, the Khwarazmians, the Ayyubids, and the Ghurids from their own perspective. Second, I have run across a theory that the tribal system in Mongolia was really a scheme of military organization by the decimal system that the rulers of each realm had varying levels of control over. This video explains it better than I could: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNMTbhIVCow. Do you think this applies to the Turkish tribes of Anatolia or is another system a better explanation? Finally, can you give a lay of the lands outside the “empire” in 1204 before the Mongol conquests begin?

    • George

      Ditto. It’s really hard to find any information on how these nomadic ‘tribes’ actually functioned.

  2. Flavio

    Great episode. It makes the Roman lack of action against the Turks when they were clearly an existential threat to Empire make more sense; it was still a big mistake, but a more understandable one.

  3. Brent

    Interesting. Much of Byzantine literature I have read has criticized the supposed feudalization of Byzantium as a negative trend that hastened the fall of The Empire. This is still to be found on the wikipedia entry on Byzantium as well.

    But you present an argument for the opposite…that a feudal structure might have saved Byzantium. What was once a strength; the centralization of authority, money, and power, had become a weakness.

    I wonder what lessons this has for our own times.

    • Hey, good point. Two things about this:
      1) The feudalisation idea was a theory popular among Byzantinists in the early 20th century that has been heavily criticised by modern historians. But since it’s in all the most famous Byzantine history books of that era it hangs around today.
      2) I am not suggesting that feudalisation would have saved Byzantium. Though I can see now why it might seem like I was saying that. As you mentioned – feudalisation would have weakened central authority. Had that happened then the Empire would have been far more vulnerable to attack from organised states like the Normans or Hungarians. It would not necessarily have worked against the Turks either since the plateau was not rich enough land to be worth fighting over. The point Prof Whittow was making was that the Byzantines were not structurally organised to effectively combat the nomads. Given time they might have figured out a different response as conditions changed.

      • George

        Would the Normans really have an easier time fighting against a more feudal empire? It feels like local magnates might be better at defending their localities than a centralised government always waiting for the emperor’s response. That’s why the Normans found the empire an easy picking in the first place, no?

    • There are quite a lot of imponderables going on there. What would Byzantine feudalism have looked like? It wouldn’t necessarily have been the same as in the West. Then you have different eras of Norman attacks. Yes the initial aggression in Italy would have been more easily defended if local aristocrats were more militarised. But then why would those aristocrats have gone on accepting instructions from Constantinople? That becomes a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
      Later on when the Normans invade the Balkans they were doing so with a traditional field army. The Romans beat them every time they invaded which suggests a central field army was best for dealing with those attacks.

  4. Francesco

    These past few episodes (including all of the episodes where Manuel goes off on adventures) have been eye opening and very interesting. Maybe its too late for “nomads on the plateau” questions but I have another two:
    1) Do we have evidence that nomads _ever_ occupied the plateau before Manzikert? The terrain and environment seems very hospitable for that way of life and it seems an enormous “disequilibrium” that only in the 11th century did it become home to people with that culture.
    2) What did the Romans do with the plateau before it became a battle ground? I think I remember an earlier episode saying that it was used as pasture for goats, but I can’t seem to find it now.

    • Great questions. In reverse order: 2) yes the Romans used the plateau to breed animals. Both ordinary people and the government had huge herds here. The government had stud farms to develop horses for the army. 1) Yes! The Cimmerians, tribes of steppe archers, defeated the Assyrians in 705 BC and moved onto the plateau. They were crushed by the growing power of the Medes about a century later.

  5. CJ

    I do not know if this has been answered in the podcasts as I am around episode 75 in 750s so please forgive me if it has.

    My questions for the next end of century roundup videos is this: Why did the Turks have success conquering Anatolia compared to the Arab invasions?

  6. Martinmartinus

    The Romans should not have brought Franks to Anatolia to fight for them: They should have gone to Frankia and watch the strategy of castling that the Franks had used to subjugate their own peasants. Or they could have built a time machine and studied how the British invaded and subjugated the Boers with block houses and ethnic cleansing.
    Small stone forts that can signal one another and that are placed to hem in and harm the economy of the nomads. 20 men can hold a stone fort bult in defensive location against an army.

    • Martinmartinus

      Or rather, to harm pastoral nomads, you need to control the water source of their herds.

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