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Road to Manzikert: Byzantine and Islamic…

Road to Manzikert: Byzantine and Islamic Warfare, 527-1071

by Brian Todd Carey

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This book consists of series of very detailed descriptions of battles, connected by a very broad-brush historical narrative. The history is sufficient to provide the context – and acts as a useful reminder of major events if the reader is already familiar with them – but it has no depth and offers little by way of analysis. This is fair enough, as the book is intended as an account of warfare. As such, it offers however only a series of tactical vignettes; in order to get the “bigger picture” it needs to be supplemented with other reading – for example Edward N. Luttwak’s “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.” (See my review http://www.librarything.com/profile_reviews.php?view=maimonedes)
The maps and battle diagrams are very detailed, but there is rather too many of them; the account of every campaign in Anatolia repeats essentially the same map with different arrows on it. One or two larger scale maps would have been preferable, leaving it to the interested reader to follow the action. Similarily, most readers would be able to understand the difference between the center and wings of a battle formation even if it was not illustrated every time. Apart from considerations of readability, the detail in the chapter on early Muslim warfare – from Muhammad to the Rashidun Caliphate - worried this reviewer. As far as I am aware, information about the battles of the prophet and his immediate successors comes only from either the Koran or traditional Islamic sources – most of the latter written at least a century later – rather than from objective historical sources. In fact, most of the authors’ references in this chapter are to secondary sources; yet the authors describe and illustrate these battles with the same degree of detail as others where reliable contemporary sources are available.
The account leads up to – the “fateful” battle of Manzikert in 1071, a devastating Byzantine defeat, in which the emperor Romanus was captured by the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan, and which led to the loss of Anatolia to the Muslims. Scholars are divided as to whether or not this event provided the real impetus for the Crusades from Western Europe which followed, starting in 1096. It is true that Romanus’ successor Alexios Komnenos did write to Pope Urban II in 1095, asking for help against the Seljuks; but it is not clear why he did (and the contents of his letter have not survived) , as the Byzantine position had improved substantially in the previous 10 years and substantial parts of Anatolia had been recovered. Alexios was trying to repair relations between the Orthodox and Latin Churches following the low point of the Great Rift in 1054, and perhaps his request has to be seen just in this light. Some take the view that although it was the deteriorating situation of the Byzantines in Anatolia which led eventually to Urban’s call to arms at Clermont , the move was planned by his predecessor Gregory VII immediately following Manzikert, and was not consequent on a request from Alexios. The authors discuss this issue briefly, but do not take a point of view on it.
This is a useful reference book; it has a Chronology of Byzantine and Islamic history, glossaries of important personalities and military terms, and many, many maps. ( )
  maimonedes | Dec 10, 2012 |
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