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Marc Czarnuszewicz

Marc Czarnuszewicz
University of St Andrews
İstilacılardan Sultanlara: Büyük Selçukluların Sosyoekonomik Etkisinin Düzenlemesi

St. Andrews Üniversitesi tarih bölümünde doktora adayı olan Czarnuszewicz’ın projesi, Anadolu ve İran tarih yazımında ‘Büyüklüğü’ nispeten ihmal edilmiş bir hanedan olan Büyük Selçuklu hanedanını inceliyor. İlk durumda, hanedanın bölgeye olan ilgisi genellikle 1071’deki Malazgirt Savaşı ile hem başlayıp hem de bitmiş olarak görülüyor; erken dönem Türk Anadolu’sunun beylikleri siyasi ve kültürel olarak tamamen ayrı devletler olarak görülüyor. İkincisinde, hanedanın ‘Türklük’ algısı, daha sonraki Moğollar veya Timurlular gibi yıkıcı fatihler olduklarına dair temelsiz iddialara ve daha geniş sosyo-kültürel miraslarının analiz edilmemesine yol açmıştır.
Büyük Selçukluları yeniden değerlendirmek, İmparatorluklarının yeniden haritalandırılmasını gerektirmektedir. Marc’ın projesi, fetihlerinin yol açtığı kültürel değişimin mekaniğine odaklanarak ve bu değişimin tam olarak nerede ve nasıl gerçekleştiğini haritalandırarak, Selçukluların etkisi ve yönetimi için anakronik sınırlardan kaçınan ve bölgeleri bölmek yerine birbirine bağlayan yeni bir model önerecektir. Bu sayede Malazgirt savaşının neden yapıldığı, Büyük Selçuklu sarayına ait günümüze ulaşan eserlerin tamamının neden Türkçe değil de Farsça ve Arapça yazıldığı ve Selçukluların tartışmalı kültürel mirasının Anadolu ve İran arasında neden bu kadar farklılık gösterdiği sorularına yanıt bulunacak.

Reflections on the Popular Perception of the Seljuqs in Modern Turkey

Marc Czarnuszewicz

To be a Seljuq historian outside of Turkey is to plough something of a lonely furrow. For unclear reasons, Seljuq history seems to attract a much smaller cohort of dedicated specialists than Ottoman, Mongol, or Mamluk history. But the centrality of the Seljuqs to the Turkish national story means that, on coming to Turkey, it is not hard to find memorials to their legacy of one kind or another. Turkish television is replete with glossily-produced dramas offering imaginative retellings of Seljuq history, and one can find the names of various Seljuq Sultans on everything from boats to buildings. One of my ongoing interests during my time at ANAMED has been to observe how this high level of visibility corresponds with popular understandings of the Seljuq past among Turks, as well as how it may risk distorting it.

Part of my concern here derives from the many instances of the inappropriate use of the term Seljuq in Turkey I have seen. For example, when used to label Anatolian objects in museums, in many instances the term Seljuq stands for little more than “post-Manzikert, pre-Ottoman, and not visibly Christian.” Instead of other more general periodizations like “beylik period” or “late eleventh–mid-fourteenth century,” which may be more accurate, the logic of curators is to choose the term most evocative for their audience. Dynastic conceptions of history are popular worldwide for good reason, not least because they help reduce an amorphous mass of events into readily comprehensible human dramas.

If the idea of a Seljuq period has implanted itself firmly in the Turkish national imagination, then we should also recognize that this has come at the expense of other notions. One of these is that of the aforementioned beylik period. While many modern Turks will understand the rough period this equates to, the political fragmentation is not only harder for people to grasp but also conflicts with the idea of Turkish national unity. There is some local celebration of regional beyliks, especially those with impressive architectural legacies, but it is easier to understand them as simple vassals of a Rum Seljuq center than it is to grapple with the dynamics of three centuries of political complexity. We can see this dominance in the universal recognition of the double-headed eagle symbol as part of the Rum Seljuq “brand” in the popular imagination, even though the Artuqid beylik of Mardin had at least an equal claim as the first Turkish dynasty to employ it in Anatolia. The double-headed eagle is the municipal symbol of Konya, while Mardin must settle for a more generic stylized dome flanked by minarets.

The other main notion which the term Seljuq hides from the popular imagination is that of the diversity of their Empire, thanks to the connotations of idealized Islamic rulership and Turkishness which the name summons up. There is no real consensus among professional historians to explain how the allied processes of Islamization and Turkicization unfurled in Anatolia.[1] Consequently, it is all the more difficult to push back against popular understandings where Seljuq conquest is typically equated with near simultaneous conversion and ethnic assimilation. The consequences here are most visible when we return to the issue of periodization and how Christian buildings, crafts, and churches are presented to the Turkish public. If we have evidence that these were produced in part under Seljuq rule, then there should be no real hesitancy in characterizing them as Seljuq artifacts, but the ethno-religious associations of the term Seljuq mean that these are instead invariably referred to as Late Byzantine.

Perhaps the other issue with the ubiquity of the label Seljuq is that it creates the impression that artifacts bearing that label may all be linked to the majesty of the kings of the dynasty. In reality, there is a relative paucity of Rum Seljuq material of all kinds for much of the twelfth century, whereas after the Seljuq defeat by the Mongols at the battle of Kösedağ in 1243, we have an abundance of notable examples. From this period onwards, the Seljuq Sultans lacked authority, stuck between princes, viziers, and Mongol governors.[2] But it is precisely because of this decline in kingly authority that viziers like Sahib Ata Fakhr al-Din Ali had the resources to build sites like the Ince Minareli madrasa, one of the defining “Seljuq” symbols of Konya. The paradox is that buildings constructed because of Seljuq weakness likely appear to modern eyes as symbols of the dynasty’s greatness.

What has struck me is the palpable desire among Turks I have met to see the Seljuqs both as good and as great, maybe because they represent a common historical heritage which everyone can unite behind. Whereas the vast Ottoman legacy is replete with potentially divisive issues, the passage of time has made the Seljuq legacy less controversial. Instead, all groups can find something about them to celebrate: ethno-nationalists can point to their Turkishness and to the Rum Seljuq domination of Anatolia; those for whom religious considerations are paramount can note the Seljuqs’ pious foundations and their battles against the Crusaders; whereas feminists can identify with the many powerful women in Seljuq political life. In other words, it is partly because our understanding of the Seljuqs is so fragmented that their image is malleable enough to suit all possible tastes.

A highlight of my time here has been the chance to audit some undergraduate classes on the Seljuqs, thanks to the kindness of Prof. Dr. Osman G. Özgüdenli of Marmara University, and to see what happens when the popular perceptions of the dynasty which young Turks have grown up with clash with the realities of history as an academic discipline. Perhaps the greatest surprise for me as a foreign observer was how different their perception of the background to Seljuq history was to that of a typical student at a university in the UK. For example, when the professor asked the students whether they knew about the Göktürks, an Inner Asian nomadic confederation of the sixth–eighth centuries and possible ancestors of the Seljuqs, he met with a positive response, with many students volunteering further information.[3] By contrast, when he asked them what they knew of the Umayyads and Abbasids, the silence was stony, with only a handful of students offering tentative responses. If the same question were asked to undergraduate students taking their first Seljuq history class in the UK, the likely responses would be entirely the reverse. The class would be taught as part of an Islamic or Middle Eastern history course and, after having learnt about the Umayyad and the Abbasid caliphates, the Seljuqs would be identified as but one in a succession of dynasties connected with the decline of the latter. The Göktürks might merit a footnote in their set-reading, if that. Such are the differences between learning about the Seljuqs as part of a national historical narrative versus through a regional or faith-based historical paradigm.

The other impression I was left with was how much the students cared personally about the Seljuq rulers and debated passionately the morality of their actions. In my own research, the idea of passing moral judgement on the actions of my subjects, whether that be their ownership of slaves, their remarriage of the wives of deceased family members, or their use of violence, is an alien one. The only moral judgement that counts is that of the authors of my sources, in as much as it may be shaping their presentation of events. For the students, however, moral issues were the ones which brought out the most passionate discussions. If these Sultans were indeed the ancestors, and if their names were to be celebrated in the world around them, then questions of exactly what they had done and to what extent these actions accorded with both contemporary and modern morality were of prime importance. Perhaps discussions of slavery in the British Empire would be the topic most likely to engender a similarly vociferous debate in a UK university classroom. Previous to this, I had taken a certain pleasure in the Seljuqs being both a relatively “sleepy” and youthful field of inquiry, and my resultant freedom as a researcher to experiment with new ideas without fear of controversy. It was a healthy reminder that my particular academic ivory tower was no more immune from identity-based disputes than any other.

However, purely from a selfish perspective, the positive sentiments most modern Turks have toward the Seljuqs have been a great boost. Not only is it expedient to be able to say in a single word what you study and have people from all walks of life instantly connect with your meaning, the encouragement and support I am typically offered as a result has been immensely gratifying. By way of example, I visited a meyhane in Bursa called “Selçuk Restaurant” and chatted to the eponymous owner after my meal. When I asked him what the Seljuqs meant to him, he stated simply, “annem ve babam.” My experience would suggest that it is not just Turks who share his surname who feel likewise.



Golden, Peter B. An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples: Ethnogenesis and State-Formation in Medieval and Early Modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1992.

Jackson, Cailah. Islamic Manuscripts of Late Medieval Rum, 1270s–1370s: Production, Patronage and the Arts of the Book. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020.

Peacock, A. C. S., Bruno De Nicola, and Sara Nur Yıldız. “Introduction.” In Islam and Christianity in medieval Anatolia, edited by ids., 1–20. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2015.

[1] For a recent summary of the arguments, see A. C. S. Peacock, Bruno De Nicola, and Sara Nur Yıldız, “Introduction,” in Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia, edited by ids. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2015), 1–20.

[2] Cailah Jackson, Islamic Manuscripts of Late Medieval Rum (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 4.

[3] On the Göktürks in English, see Peter B. Golden, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples (Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1992), 115–53.