Alp Arslan,[d] born Muhammad bin Dawud Chaghri,[3] was the second sultan of the Seljuk Empire and great-grandson of Seljuk, the eponymous founder of the dynasty. He greatly expanded the Seljuk territory and consolidated his power, defeating rivals to the south and northwest, and his victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert, in 1071, ushered in the Turkmen settlement of Anatolia.[4]

Alp Arslan
Miniature from the Majma al-Tawarikh by Hafiz Abru circa 1425; which depicts accession to the throne by Alp Arslan
Sultan of the Seljuk Empire
Reign4 October 1063 – 15 December 1072
SuccessorMalik-Shah I
Born20 January 1029
(1 Muharram 420 AH)[2]
Died24 November 1072(1072-11-24) (aged 43)
(10 Rabiʻ I 465 AH)
Barzam Fortress, near Amu Darya, Khwarezm
  • Safariyya Khatun
  • Akka Khatun
  • Shah Khatun
  • Ummu Hifchaq
HouseHouse of Seljuk
FatherChaghri Beg
ReligionSunni Islam

Muhammad bin Dawud Chaghri's military prowess and fighting skills earned him the nickname Alp Arslan, which means "Heroic Lion" in Turkish.

Early life


Historical sources differ about his actual birth date. His birth year, which some early sources of medieval period mentioned 1032 and 1033 in khorasan -iran 1 while later sources gave 1030. However, the most authentic considered as TDV Encyclopedia of Islam mentions, is that recorded by Ibn al-Athir, a medieval historian, as 1 Muharram 420 AH equivalent to 20 January 1029 CE.[2] He was the son of Chaghri and nephew of Tughril, the founding sultans of the Seljuk Empire. His grandfather was Mikail, who in turn was the son of the warlord Seljuk. He was the father of numerous children, including Malik-Shah I and Tutush I.[5] It is unclear who the mother or mothers of his children were. He was known to have been married at least twice. His wives included the widow of his uncle Tughril, a Kara-Khanid princess known as Aka or Seferiye Khatun, and the daughter or niece of Bagrat IV of Georgia (who would later marry his vizier, Nizam al-Mulk).[6] One of Seljuk's other sons was the Turkic chieftain Arslan Isra'il, whose son, Kutalmish, contested his nephew's succession to the sultanate. Alp Arslan's younger brothers Suleiman ibn Chaghri and Qavurt were his rivals. Kilij Arslan, the son and successor of Suleiman ibn Kutalmish (Kutalmish's son, who would later become Sultan of Rûm), was a major opponent of the Franks during the First Crusade and the Crusade of 1101.[7]

Early career

Coin minted in the name of Alp Arslan with the title Shahanshah
A miniature depicting Alp Arslan. Rashid al-Din, Jami' al-tawarikh, 1654 Ottoman copy, Topkapi Museum.[8]

Alp Arslan accompanied his uncle Tughril on campaigns in the south against the Fatimids while his father Chaghri remained in Khorasan. Upon Alp Arslan's return to Khorasan, he began his work in administration at his father's suggestion. While there, his father introduced him to Nizam al-Mulk, one of the most eminent statesmen in early Muslim history and Alp Arslan's future vizier.[9]

After the death of his father, Alp Arslan succeeded him as governor of Khorasan in 1059. His uncle Tughril died in 1063 and designated his successor as Suleiman, Arslan's infant brother. Arslan and his uncle Kutalmish both contested this succession which was resolved at the battle of Damghan in 1063. Arslan defeated Kutalmish for the throne and succeeded on 27 April 1064 as sultan of the Seljuk Empire, thus becoming the sole monarch of Persia from the river Oxus to the Tigris. In 1064 he led a campaign in Georgia during which he captured the regions between Tbilisi and the Çoruh river, Akhalkalaki and Alaverdi.[10] Bagrat IV submitted to paying jizya to the Seljuks but the Georgians broke the agreement in 1065.[11] Alp Arslan invaded Georgia again in 1068. He captured Tbilisi after a short battle and obtained the submission of Bagrat IV; however, the Georgians freed themselves from Seljuk rule around 1073–1074.[11][12]

In consolidating his empire and subduing contending factions, Arslan was ably assisted by Nizam al-Mulk, and the two are credited with helping to stabilize the empire after the death of Tughril. With peace and security established in his dominions, Arslan convoked an assembly of the states, and in 1066, he declared his son Malik Shah I his heir and successor.[13] With the hope of capturing Caesarea Mazaca, the capital of Cappadocia, he placed himself at the head of the Turkoman[14] cavalry, crossed the Euphrates, and entered and invaded the city. Along with Nizam al-Mulk, he then marched into Armenia and Georgia, which he conquered in 1064.[15] After a siege of 25 days, the Seljuks captured Ani, the capital city of Armenia. An account of the sack and massacres in Ani is given by the historian Sibt ibn al-Jawzi, who quotes an eyewitness saying:

The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive... The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter the city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses, but that was impossible.[16]

Byzantine struggle


En route to fight the Fatimids in Syria in 1068, Alp Arslan invaded the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, assuming command in person, met the invaders in Cilicia. In three arduous campaigns, the Turks were defeated in detail and driven across the Euphrates in 1070. The first two campaigns were conducted by the emperor himself, while the third was directed by Manuel Comnenos, the great-uncle of Emperor Manuel Comnenos. During this time, Arslan gained the allegiance of Rashid al-Dawla Mahmud, the Mirdasid emir of Aleppo.

In 1071, Romanos again took the field and advanced into Armenia with possibly 30,000 men, including a contingent of Cuman Turks as well as contingents of Franks and Normans, under Ursel de Baieul. Alp Arslan, who had moved his troops south to fight the Fatimids, quickly reversed to meet the Byzantines. Alp Arslan handed control of his army to his eunuch slave general, Taranges, and commanded him to "Win or be beheaded."[17] Taranges prepared for the battle by setting traps and organizing ambushes.[18] The Seljuk and Byzantine armies met on Friday, 26 August 1071 at Manzikert on the Murat River, north of Lake Van, beginning the Battle of Manzikert.[19] The Cuman mercenaries among the Byzantine forces immediately defected to the Turkic side. Seeing this, the Western mercenaries subsequently abandoned the battlefield as well.[20] To be exact, Romanos was betrayed by general Andronikos Doukas, son of the Caesar (Romanos's stepson), who pronounced him dead and rode off with a large part of the Byzantine forces at a critical moment.[21] The Byzantines were wholly routed.

Alp Arslan humiliating Emperor Romanos IV after the Battle of Manzikert. From a 15th-century illustrated French translation of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium[22]

Emperor Romanos himself was captured in battle and presented to Alp Arslan. It is reported that upon seeing the Roman emperor, the sultan leaped from his throne, commanded Romanos to kiss the ground, and stepped on his neck. He repeatedly berated the emperor, including for spurning his emissaries and offers of peace. Romanos remained unrepentant, asserting that he had merely done what was "possible for a man, and which kings are bound to do, and I have fallen short in nothing. But God has fulfilled his will. And now, do what you wish and abandon recriminations."[23] Purportedly declaring Romanos "too trivial... to kill", Arslan then led him about the camp to sell the prisoner to one of his men. The Seljuk soldiers initially refused to spend any money on buying the emperor, until one man traded a dog for him.[23] Next, wishing to test Romanos, Alp Arslan asked Romanos what he would do if their situation were reversed and Arslan was imprisoned by the Byzantines. Romanos bluntly answered "The worst!" His honesty impressed Arslan, who then decided to spare Romanos's life and instead ransom him back to his homeland. After agreeing on a ransom, Alp Arslan sent Romanos to Constantinople with a Turkish escort, carrying a banner above the disgraced emperor that read: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger".[23]

The reason Alp Arslan spared Romanos was likely to avoid a two-front war. The Fatimids were launching devastating raids on the Seljuk domains during this period, Arslan may have worried that executing the Roman emperor might escalate his conflict with the Byzantines. Romanos himself had told the sultan that "killing me will not be of any use to you".[24]

After hearing of the death of Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, Sultan Alp Arslan pledged: "The Byzantine nation has no God, so this day the oath of peace and friendship taken by both the Persians and Byzantines is nullified; henceforth I shall consume with the sword all those people who venerate the cross, and all the lands of the Christians shall be enslaved."[25]

Alp Arslan and his successor Malik Shah urged Turkish tribes to invade and settle Anatolia where they would not only cease to be a problem for the Seljuk Sultanate but also extend its territory further. Alp Arslan commanded the Turks as follows:

Henceforth all of you be like lion cubs and eagle young, racing through the countryside day and night, slaying the Christians and not sparing any mercy on the Roman nation.[26][27]

Alp Arslan's victories changed the balance in western Asia completely in favor of the Seljuq Turks and Sunni Muslims. While the Byzantine Empire was to continue for nearly four more centuries, the victory at Manzikert signalled the beginning of Turkic ascendancy in Anatolia.[4] The victory at Manzikert became so popular among the Turks that later every noble family in Anatolia claimed to have had an ancestor who had fought on that day.[28]

State organization


Alp Arslan's strength lay in the military realm. Domestic affairs were handled by his able vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, the founder of the administrative organization that characterized and strengthened the sultanate during the reigns of Alp Arslan and his son, Malik Shah. Military Iqtas, governed by Seljuq princes, were established to provide support for the soldiery and to accommodate the nomadic Turks to the established Anatolian agricultural scene. This type of military fiefdom enabled the nomadic Turks to draw on the resources of the sedentary Persians, Turks, and other established cultures within the Seljuq realm, and allowed Alp Arslan to field a huge standing army without depending on tribute from conquest to pay his soldiers. He not only had enough food from his subjects to maintain his military, but the taxes collected from traders and merchants added to his coffers sufficiently to fund his continuous wars.

Suleiman ibn Qutalmish was the son of the contender for Arslan's throne; he was appointed governor of the north-western provinces and assigned to complete the invasion of Anatolia. An explanation for this choice can only be conjectured from Ibn al-Athir's account of the battle between Alp-Arslan and Kutalmish, in which he writes that Alp-Arslan wept for the latter's death and greatly mourned the loss of his kinsman.

Physical appearance and personality


Contemporary descriptions portray Alp Arslan as "very awe-inspiring, dominating," a "greatformed one, elegant of stature. He had long, thin whiskers, which he used to knot up when shooting arrows. And they say his arrow never went astray.... From the top button of his hat to the end of his moustaches it was two yards"[29]

Muslim sources show Alp Arslan as fanatically pious but just. Alp Arslan was so dedicated to the Hanafi madhhab that he always kept a qadi by his side, including in battles.[30]

His vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, described the young sultan:[31]

He was exceedingly imperious and awe-inspiring and, because he was so earnest and fanatical in his beliefs and disapproved of the Shafi‘i rite, I lived in constant fear of him.



After Manzikert, the dominion of Alp Arslan extended over much of western Asia. He soon prepared to march for the conquest of Turkestan, the original seat of his ancestors. With a powerful army, he advanced to the banks of the Oxus. Before he could pass the river safely, however, it was necessary to subdue certain fortresses, one of which was for several days vigorously defended by the rebel, Yusuf al-Kharezmi or Yusuf al-Harani. Perhaps over-eager to press on against his Qarakhanid enemy, Alp Arslan gained the governor's submission by promising the rebel 'perpetual ownership of his lands'. When Yusuf al-Harani was brought before him, the Sultan ordered that he be shot, but before the archers could raise their bows Yusuf seized a knife and threw himself at Alp Arslan, striking three blows before being slain. Four days later on 24 November 1072, Alp Arslan died and was buried at Merv, having designated his 18-year-old son Malik Shah as his successor.[32]



One of his wives was Safariyya Khatun.[33] She had a daughter,[34] Sifri Khatun,[35] who in 1071–72, married Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadi.[34][36] Safariyya died in Isfahan in 1073–74.[36] Another of his wives was Akka Khatun. She had been formerly the wife of Sultan Tughril. Alp Arslan married her after Tughril's death in 1063.[36] Another of his wives was Shah Khatun. She was the daughter of Qadir Khan Yusuf, and had been formerly married to Ghaznavid Mas'ud I.[34][36][37] Another wife was Ummu Hifchaq also known as Ummu Qipchaq.[38] Another of his wives was the daughter of King of Tashir Kiurike I, who was married to the sister of the Georgian king Bagrat IV. Alp Arslan divorced her, and married her to Nizam al-Mulk.[39] His sons were Malik-Shah I, Tutush I, Arslan Shah, Tekish,[40] Toghan-Shah,[41] Ayaz and Buibars.[34] One of his daughters married the son of Kurd Surkhab, son of Bard in 1068.[36] Another daughter, Zulaikha Khatun, was married to a Muslim, son of Quraish in 1086–87.[36] Another daughter, Aisha Khatun, married Shams al-Mulk Nasr, son of Ibrahim Khan Tamghach.[36] Another daughter was married to Mas'ud III of Ghazni and was his first wife.[42][43] Another daughter was Sara Khatun.[34]



Alp Arslan's conquest of Anatolia from the Byzantines is also seen as one of the pivotal precursors to the launch of the Crusades.

From 2002 to July 2008 under Turkmen calendar reform, the month of August was named after Alp Arslan.

The 2nd Training Motorized Rifle Division of the Turkmen Ground Forces is named in his honor.


  1. ^ English: The Exalted Sultan
  2. ^ King of Islam
  3. ^ King of Kings
  4. ^ Honorific in Turkic meaning "Heroic or Great Lion"; Persian: آلپ ارسلان; Arabic epithet: Diyā ad-Dunyā wa ad-Dīn Adud ad-Dawlah Abu Shujā' Muhammad Ālp Ārslan ibn Dawūd; Persian: ضياء الدنيا و الدين عضد الدولة ابو شجاع محمد آلپ ارسلان ابن داود; January 1029 – 24 November 1072


  1. ^ a b c "THE SELJUKS AND THEIR SUCCESSORS: IRAN AND CENTRAL ASIA, C.1040-1250 Coin no. 3 of 14". This coin was struck at the mint of al-Ahwaz, the capital town of Khuzistan, which, together with al-Basra, was the main trading city at the head of the Arabian Gulf. On it, Alp Arslan clearly states his power and prestige as "the Exalted Sultan, King of Kings, King of Islam." In the inscription on his coins his name appears as Alb because Arabic lacks the letter "p", but to Persian and Turkish speakers his name is pronounced "Alp".
  2. ^ a b Kafesoğlu 1989, p. 526.
  3. ^ Cahen 1986, p. 420.
  4. ^ a b Cahen, Claude (12 February 2024). "Alp-Arslan". Encyclopedia Britannica. "But the Battle of Manzikert opened Asia Minor to Turkmen conquest"
  5. ^ K. A. Luther. "ALP ARSLAN". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. I Fascicle 8. pp. 895–898.
  6. ^ Bosworth, C. E. "AḤMAD B. NEẒĀM-AL-MOLK". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. I, Fasc. 6. pp. 642–643.
  7. ^ Peacock, A.C,S., Great Seljuk Empire, Edinburgh University Press, 2015, pgs. 179, 183
  8. ^ Yıldız, Osman Fikret (1 January 2019). Büyük Selçuklular Ve Nizamül-Mülk, Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi, Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, (Yüksek Lisans Tezi), Isparta 2019,(Great Seljuks and Nizamal-Mulk). p. 93 Fig.4. Miniature from Reşîdüddîn, Câmiu't-Tevârîh, TSMK, Hazine, nr. 1654, vr. 202
  9. ^ Magill, Frank Northen (1998). Dictionary of World Biography: The Middle Ages, Volume 2. Routledge. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-57958-041-4.
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  15. ^ Bosworth 1968, p. 62-65.
  16. ^ Quoted in Norwich, John Julius (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. New York: Viking. pp. 342–343. ISBN 978-0-394-53779-5.
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Alp Arslan
Born: 20 January 1029 Died: 15 December 1072
Regnal titles
Preceded by Sultan of the Seljuq Empire
4 October 1063– 15 December 1072
Succeeded by