Timeline: Seljuk of Rum (Anatolia) {1081-1307}

The Turkish dynasty of the Great Seljuqs (1038 - 1194), that originated in central Asia, spread its authority over Persia and Irak, and from 1055 proclaimed itself the protector of the Abbassid caliphate, whose power had been compromised by the establishment of the rival Fatimid caliphate, of Shiite confession.

The Great Seljuqs waged a few campaigns in Anatolia, on the eastern limits of the Byzantine Empire, in order to prevent an alliance between the Byzantines and the Fatimids. The battle won by the sultan Alp Arslan at Manzikert, in 1071, was decisive for the settling of the Turks in Anatolia.

Prior to that, Kutalmish, a Seljuq tribal chieftain, had rebelled against Alp Arslan in 1064; his descendants would found the sultanate of Rûm, this latter term referring to the Anatolian part of the Byzantine Empire’s Greek territories.

Kilij Arslan Ier (r. 1092 - 1107) first chose Iznik (ancient Nicaea) as his capital, later transferring it to Konya. Emperor Frederic Barbarossa and the troops of the Third Crusade laid waste Konya in 1099; in 1204 the capture of Constantinople by the forces of the Fourth Crusade reduced Byzantine control in Anatolia to the region of Iznik and the principality of Trebizond. The Seljuq sultans of Rûm also subjugated rival Turkish emirates, such as the Danishmends and the Saltuqids, established in the east of the Anatolian plateau. The dynasty thrived during the first four decades of the thirteenth century, particularly in the reigns of Kaykaus I (r. 1210 - 1219) and Kayqubad I (r. 1219 - 1237). The former signed a peace accord with Emperor Theodore Laskaris, while the latter formed an alliance with the Syrian Ayyubids to foil the Khwarezm Shahs who had curtailed the reign of the Great Seljuqs and attempted to overthrow the Abbassid caliphate. The effects of the Mongol thrust were felt in Anatolia towards the middle of the 13th century; Kaykhusraw II (r. 1237 - 1246) and his army, composed of Armenians, Greeks and Franks were defeated near Sivas in 1243. From then on, though the sultan was kept on the throne at Konya, he nevertheless became a vassal of the Mongol Khans and paid them tribute. In the quarrels between Kaykhusraw II’s sons the Seljuq territory was carved up, becoming an Ilkhanid province upon the death of Masud II in 1307.

Over the course of the two centuries of Seljuq power, different ethnic groups– Turkmens, Greeks, Armenians – and faiths existed side by side on relatively good terms. The Islamization of the territory was gradual, with churches and monasteries being spared. The convergence of faiths contributed to the emergence of mystic orders, including the brotherhood of the Mawlawi centred around the tomb of Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (d. 1275) in Konya. A form of intermarriage between populations was practised too; the sultans, for their part, did not balk at marrying Greek or Georgian princesses. The rulers squeezed their resources from agricultural revenue and international trade, as Anatolia once again became a crossroads – by land and by sea - and a north (Crimea)-south (Syria, Egypt) exchange route (construction-timber and slaves), not to mention its dealings with the Venetian merchant-cities, the enemies of Byzantium. Numerous infrastructures relating to this trade still survive. A web of khâns spaced at distances of one day’s march (roughly 25 km) from each other and linking the Sultanate’s main towns, were founded by the Sultans, their wives, viziers or other persons of note, often according to waqf endowment-law. They looked like fortresses, with corner-towers and buttresses; the decor, when present, was focused on the entrance porches – on the courtyard and/or the great hall – or even on the booths that served as mosques, as in the case of the two Sultan Hans near Aksaray and Kayseri (1229). The bridges, distinguishable by their grand pointed arches crowned with a triangular-profile parapet, give an idea of the importance accorded to the communications network, beyond the fact that they enabled the collection of taxes. The sole trace of naval architecture in the Arabo-Muslim world from this period is the anchorages in the port of Alanya (1228) on the Mediterranean.

Continuing with the civil domain, the restoration or construction of town-fortifications, of which that of Erzurum (after 1230) is a fine example, is worthy of note; of the palaces, however, all that remains are foundations and fragments of decor: ceramic coatings, paneling and stucco. The palace of Kubadabad on Lake Beysehir consisted of a cour d’honneur with four îwâns, a mosque, baths and an arsenal, as well as a playing field area, notably for horseriding exercises.


In the field of religious architecture abound a host of monuments, erected for the most part after 1150, in which the influence of Seljuq Iran, fused with local Greek and Armenian influences, is apparent as much in the typology of the buildings – mosques and madrasahs, mausolea (gumbat) – as in their structure: an open courtyard with one, two or four îwâns guarded by a gate, which in the case of the former is magnified and flanked by minarets, and in the case of the latter by circular- or polygonal-section towers with a conical or pyramidal roof. The reusing of materials, especially for the bicolour marble facing, enabled numerous constructions to be erected in a short time, as was the practise in Syria in the same period. The entrance porches give these buildings their character: on the simplest of structures, an arcature inscribed in a rectangle, a rich decor, sometimes bordering on exuberance, is superposed, with epigraphic rims, interlaced design and knots, vegetal and animal motifs, and muqarnas: Ince Minaret Medrese in Konya (1258), Gök Medrese in Sivas (1271), Ulu Cami Mosque in Divirgi (1229). This latter, joined with a hospital, is an example of the type of complex, fulfilling various functions, that spread through Syria and Egypt from the thirteenth century.

Aside from elements found sculpted in stone, the Seljuqs’ distinctive profuse decoration is found in wood-, bronze-, and stuccowork. One should also note their ceramic coating, whether in the form of mosaic used for the dome and pendentives of the Karatay Madrasa in Konya (1252) or of overlapping tiles in star or cross shapes found in the ruins of the palaces (Konya, Antalya, Diyarbakir). Painted beneath a glaze, lustred, sgraffiato, or made with the minaï technique, the decors made use of a characteristic repertoire: round-faced people with almond-shaped eyes, real and imaginary animals, signs of the zodiac, all in near-heraldic compositions. There is an evident influence from central Asia with its shamanic traditions. The Seljuq mosques have also yielded the most ancient fragments of Islamic rugs to have come down to us; their stylised motifs are sometimes combined with Kufic inscriptions. A silk fabric decorated with facing lions in medallions (Lyon, historical Textile Museum) features an inscription in the name of Kayqubad – I or III – while a dish of enamelled gold-plated glass, a technique that appeared in twelfth century Syria, displays that of Kaykhusraw II (Konya, Karatay Museum).

SourceQantara-med –Institut du monde arabe

Additional Readings:

Gürpınar, Doğan. 2012. “Anatolia’s Eternal Destiny Was Sealed: Seljuks of Rum in the Turkish National(IST) Imagination from the Late Ottoman Empire to the Republican Era.” European Journal of Turkish Studies, May, 106–34. 10.1057/9781137334213_4.

Koç, Ecehan. “English abstract of 'The Social and Economic Outlook of Ottoman Cities till the Eighteenth Century'". Translated by Ecehan Koç. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 156. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

Necipoglu, Gulru and David Roxburgh. “The Seljuks and New Frontiers in Anatolia and India.” Lesson 10/22 presentation developed for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Education Programme, 2019.

Yalman, Suzan. "'Ala al-Din Kayqubad Illuminated: A Rum Seljuq Sultan as Cosmic Ruler." Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World 29 (2012): 151-186.

Yavuz, Aysil Tükel. 1997. The Concepts that Shape Anatolian Seljuq Caravanserais. In Muqarnas XIV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World. Gülru Necipoglu (ed). Leiden: E.J. Brill, 80-95.

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