Support Site Improvements

Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

The Turk and the Saracen


MERE occupation of a rich country is not enough for civilization, as I have granted already. The Turks came into the pleasant plains and valleys of Sogdiana; the Turcomans into the well-wooded mountains and sunny slopes of Asia Minor. The Turcomans were brought out of their dreary deserts, yet they retained their old habits, and they remain barbarians to this day. But why? it must be borne in mind, they neither subjugated the inhabitants of their new country on the one hand, nor were subjugated by them on the other. They never had direct or intimate relations with it; they were brought into it by the Roman Government at Constantinople as its auxiliaries, but they never naturalized themselves there. They were like gipseys in England, except that they were mounted freebooters instead of pilferers and fortune-tellers. It was far otherwise with their brethren in Sogdiana; they were there first as conquerors, then as conquered. First they held it in possession as their prize for 90 or 100 years; they came into the usufruct and enjoyment of it. Next, their political ascendancy over it involved, as in the case of the White Huns, some sort of moral surrender of themselves to it. What was the first consequence of this? that, like the White Huns, they intermarried with the races they found there. We know the custom of the Tartars and Turks; under such circumstances they would avail themselves of their nationa practice of polygamy to its full extent of licence. In the course of twenty years a new generation would arise of a mixed race; and these in turn would marry into the native population, and at the end of ninety or a hundred years we should find the great-grandsons or the great-great-grandsons of the wild marauders who first crossed the Jaxartes, so different from their ancestors in features both of mind and body, that they hardly would be recognized as deserving the Tartar name. At the end of that period their power came to an end, the Saracens became masters of them and of their country, but the process of emigration southward from the Scythian desert, which had never intermitted during the years of their domination, continued still, though that domination was no more.

Here it is necessary to have a clear idea of the nature of that association of the Turkish tribes from the Volga to the Eastern Sea, to which I have given the name of Empire:—it was not so much of a political as of a national character; it was the power, not of a system, but of a race. They were not one well-organized state, but a number of independent tribes, acting generally together, acknowledging one leader or not, according to circumstances, combining and coöperating from the identity of object which acted on them, and often jealous of each other and quarrelling with each other on account of that very identity. Each tribe made its way down to the south as it could; one blocked up the way of the other for a time; there were stoppages and collisions, but there was a continual movement and progress. Down they came one after another, like wolves after their prey; and as the tribes which came first became partially civilized, and as a mixed generation arose, these would naturally be desirous of keeping back their less polished uncles or cousins, if they could; and would do so successfully for awhile: but cupidity is stronger than conservatism; and so, in spite of delay and difficulty, down they would keep coming, and down they did come, even after and in spite of the overthrow of their Empire; crowding down as to a new world, to get what they could, as adventurers, ready to turn to the right or the left, prepared to struggle on anyhow, willing to be forced forward into countries farther still, careless what might turn up, so that they did but get down. And this was the process which went on (whatever were their fortunes when they actually got down, prosperous or adverse) for 400, nay, I will say for 700 years. The storehouse of the north was never exhausted; it sustained the never-ending run upon its resources.


I was just now referring to a change in the Turks, which I have mentioned before, and which had as important a bearing as any other of their changes upon their subsequent fortunes. It was a change in their physiognomy and shape, so striking as to recommend them to their masters for the purposes of war or of display. Instead of bearing any longer the hideous exterior which in the Huns frightened the Romans and Goths, they were remarkable, even as early as the ninth century, when they had been among the natives of Sogdiana only two hundred years, for the beauty of their persons. An important political event was the result: hence the introduction of the Turks into the heart of the Saracenic empire. By this time the Caliphs had removed from Damascus to Bagdad; Persia was the imperial province, and into Persia they were introduced for the reason I have mentioned, sometimes as slaves, sometimes as captives taken in war, sometimes as mercenaries for the Saracenic armies: at length they were enrolled as guards to the Caliph, and even appointed to offices in the palace, to the command of the forces, and to governorships in the provinces. The son of the celebrated Harun al Raschid had as many as 50,000 of these troops in Bagdad itself. And thus slowly and silently they made their way to the south, not with the pomp and pretence of conquest, but by means of that ordinary intercommunion which connected one portion of the empire of the Caliphs with another. In this manner they were introduced even into Egypt.

This was their history for a hundred and fifty years, and what do we suppose would be the result of this importation of barbarians into the heart of a flourishing empire? Would they be absorbed as slaves or settlers in the mass of the population, or would they, like mercenaries elsewhere, be fatal to the power that introduced them? The answer is not difficult, considering that their very introduction argued a want of energy and resource in the rulers whom they served. To employ them was a confession of weakness; the Saracenic power indeed was not very aged, but the Turkish was much younger, and more vigorous;—then too must be considered the difference of national character between the Turks and the Saracens. A writer of the beginning of the present century, compares the Turks to the Romans; such parallels are generally fanciful and fallacious; but, if we must accept it in the present instance, we may complete the picture by likening the Saracens and Persians to the Greeks, and we know what was the result of the collision between Greece and Rome. The Persians were poets, the Saracens were philosophers. The mathematics, astronomy, and botany were especial subjects of the studies of the latter. Their observatories were celebrated, and they may be considered to have originated the science of chemistry. The Turks, on the other hand, though they are said to have a literature, and though certain of their princes have been patrons of letters, have never distinguished themselves in exercises of pure intellect; but they have had an energy of character, a pertinacity, a perseverance, and a political talent, in a word, they then had the qualities of mind necessary for ruling, in far greater measure, than the people they were serving. The Saracens, like the Greeks, carried their arms over the surface of the earth with an unrivalled brilliancy and an unchequered success; but their dominion, like that of Greece, did not last for more than 200 or 300 years. Rome grew slowly through many centuries, and its influence lasts to this day; the Turkish race battled with difficulties and reverses, and made its way on amid tumult and complication, for a good 1,000 years from first to last, till at length it found itself in possession of Constantinople, and a terror to the whole of Europe. It has ended its career upon the throne of Constantine; it began it as the slave and hireling of the rulers of a great empire, of Persia and Sogdiana.


As to Sogdiana, we have already reviewed one season of power and then in turn of reverse which there befell the Turks; and next a more remarkable outbreak and its reaction mark their presence in Persia. I have spoken of the formidable force, consisting of Turks, which formed the guard of the Caliphs immediately after the time of Harun al Raschid:—suddenly they rebelled against their master, burst into his apartment at the hour of supper, murdered him, and cut his body into seven pieces. They got possession of the symbols of imperial power, the garment and the staff of Mahomet, and proceeded to make and unmake Caliphs at their pleasure. In the course of four years they had elevated, deposed, and murdered as many as three. At their wanton caprice, they made these successors of the false prophet the sport of their insults and their blows. They dragged them by the feet, stripped them, and exposed them to the burning sun, beat them with iron clubs, and left them for days without food. At length, however, the people of Bagdad were roused in defence of the Caliphate, and the Turks for a time were brought under; but they remained in the country, or rather, by the short-sighted policy of the moment, were dispersed throughout it, and thus became in the sequel ready-made elements of revolution for the purposes of other traitors of their own race, who, at a later period, as we shall presently see, descended on Persia from Turkistan.

Indeed, events were opening the way slowly, but surely, to their ascendancy. Throughout the whole of the tenth century, which followed, they seem to disappear from history; but a silent revolution was all along in progress, leading them forward to their great destiny. The empire of the Caliphate was already dying in its extremities, and Sogdiana was one of the first countries to be detached from his power. The Turks were still there, and, as in Persia, filled the ranks of the army and the offices of the government; but the political changes which took place were not at first to their visible advantage. What first occurred was the revolt of the Caliph’s viceroy, who made himself a great kingdom or empire out of the provinces around, extending it from the Jaxartes, which was the northern boundary of Sogdiana, almost to the Indian ocean, and from the confines of Georgia to the mountains of Affghanistan. The dynasty thus established lasted for four generations and for the space of ninety years. Then the successor happened to be a boy; and one of his servants, the governor of Khorasan, an able and experienced man, was forced by circumstances to rebellion against him. He was successful, and the whole power of this great kingdom fell into his hands; now he was a Tartar or Turk; and thus at length the Turks suddenly appear in history, the acknowledged masters of a southern dominion.


This is the origin of the celebrated Turkish dynasty of the Gaznevides, so called after Gazneh, or Ghizni, or Ghuznee, the principal city, and it lasted for two hundred years. We are not particularly concerned in it, because it has no direct relations with Europe; but it falls into our subject, as having been instrumental to the advance of the Turks towards the West. Its most distinguished monarch was Mahmood, and he conquered Hindostan, which became eventually the seat of the empire. In Mahmood the Gaznevide we have a prince of true Oriental splendour. For him the title of Sultan or Soldan was invented, which henceforth became the special badge of the Turkish monarchs; as Khan is the title of the sovereign of the Tartars, and Caliph of the sovereign of the Saracens. I have already described generally the extent of his dominions: he inherited Sogdiana, Carisme, Khorasan, and Cabul; but, being a zealous Mussulman, he obtained the title of Gazi, or champion, by his reduction of Hindostan, and his destruction of its idol temples. There was no need, however, of religious enthusiasm to stimulate him to the war: the riches, which he amassed in the course of it, were a recompense amply sufficient. His Indian expeditions in all amounted to twelve, and they abound in battles and sieges of a truly Oriental cast. “Never,” says a celebrated historian, “was the Mussulman hero dismayed by the inclemency of the seasons, the height of the mountains, the breadth of the rivers, the barrenness of the desert, the multitudes of the enemy,” or their elephants of war. One of the sovereigns of the country brought against him as many as 2,500 elephants; the borderers on the Indus resisted him with 4,000 war-boats. He was successful in every direction; he levelled to the ground many hundreds of pagodas, and carried off their treasures. In one of his campaigns he took prisoner the prince of Lahore, round whose neck alone were sixteen strings of jewels, valued at £320,000 of our money. At Mutra he found five great idols of pure gold, with eyes of rubies; and a hundred idols of silver, which, when melted down, loaded a hundred camels with bullion.

These stories, which sound like the fables in the Arabian Nights, are but a specimen of the wonderful fruits of the victories of this Mahmood. His richest prize was the great temple of Sunnat, or Somnaut, on the promontory of Guzerat, between the Indus and Bombay. It was a place as diabolically wicked as it was wealthy, and we may safely regard Mahmood as the instrument of divine vengeance upon it. But here I am only concerned with its wealth, for which grave writers are the vouchers. When this temple was taken, Mahmood entered a great square hall, having its lofty roof supported with 56 pillars, curiously turned and set with precious stones. In the centre stood the idol, made of stone, and five feet high. The conqueror began to demolish it. He raised his mace, and struck off the idol’s nose. The Brahmins interposed, and are said to have offered the fabulous sum, as Mill considers it, of ten millions sterling for its ransom. His officers urged him to accept it, and the Sultan himself was moved; but recovering himself, he observed that it was somewhat more honourable to destroy idols than to traffic in them, and proceeded to repeat his blows at the trunk of the figure. He broke it open; it was found to be hollow, and at once explained the prodigality of the offer of the Brahmins. Inside was found an incalculable treasure of diamonds, rubies, and pearls. Mahmood took away the lofty doors of sandalwood, which belonged to this temple, as a trophy for posterity. Till a few years ago, they were the decoration of his tomb near Gazneh, which is built of white marble with a cupola, and where Moollas are still maintained to read prayers over his grave. There too once hung the ponderous mace, which few but himself could wield; but the mace has disappeared, and the sandal gates, if genuine, were carried off about twelve years since by the British Governor-General of India, and restored to their old place, as an acceptable present to the impure idolaters of Guzerat.

It is not wonderful that this great conqueror should have been overcome by the special infirmity, to which such immense plunder would dispose him; he has left behind him a reputation for avarice. He desired to be a patron of literature, and on one occasion he promised a court poet a golden coin for every verse of an heroic poem he was writing. Stimulated by the promise, “the divine poet,” to use the words of the Persian historian, “wrote the unparalleled poem called the Shah Namna, consisting of 60,000 couplets.” This was more than had been bargained for by the Sultan, who, repenting of his engagement, wished to compromise the matter for 60,000 rupees, about a sixteenth part of the sum he had promised. The indignant author would accept no remuneration at all, but wrote a satire upon Mahmood instead; but he was merciful in his revenge, for he reached no more than the seven-thousandth couplet.

There is a melancholy grandeur about the last days of this victorious Sultan, which seems to show that even then the character of his race was changed from the fierce impatience of Hun and Tartar to the grave, pensive, and majestic demeanour of the Turk. Tartar he was in his countenance, as he was painfully conscious, but his mind had a refinement, to which the Tartar was a stranger. Broken down by an agonizing complaint, he perceived his life was failing, and his glory coming to an end. Two days before his death, he commanded all the untold riches of his treasury, his sacks of gold and silver, his caskets of precious stones, to be brought out and placed before him. Having feasted his eyes upon them, he burst into tears; he knew they would not long be his, but he had not the heart to give any part of them away. The next day he caused to be drawn up before his travelling throne, for he observed still the Tartar custom, his army of 100,000 foot and 55,000 horse, his chariots, his camels, and his 1,300 elephants of war; and again he wept, and, overcome with grief, retired to his palace. Next day he died, after a prosperous reign of more than thirty years.

But, to return to the general history. It will be recollected that Mahmood’s dominions stretched very far to the west, as some say, even round the Caspian to Georgia; and it is not wonderful that, while he was adding India to them, he found a difficulty in defending his frontier towards Persia. Meantime, as before, his own countrymen kept streaming down upon him without intermission from the north, and he thought he could not do better than employ these dangerous visitors in garrison duty against his western enemies. They took service under him, but did not fulfil his expectations. Indeed, what followed may be anticipated from the history which I have been giving of the Caliphs: it was an instance of workmen emancipating themselves from their employer. The fierce barbarians who were defending the province of Khorasan so well for another, naturally felt that they could take as good care of it for themselves; and when Mahmood was approaching the end of his life, he became sensible of the error he had committed in introducing them. He asked one of their chiefs what force he could lend him: “If you sent one of the arrows into our camp,” was the answer, “50,000 of us will mount to do thy bidding.” “But what if I want more?” inquired Mahmood; “send this arrow into the camp of Balik, and you will have another 50,000.” The Sultan asked again: “But what if I require your whole forces?” “Send round my bow,” answered the Turk, “and the summons will be obeyed by 200,000 horse.” The foreboding, which disclosures such as this inspired, was fulfilled the year before his death. The Turks came into collision with his lieutenants, and defeated one of them in a bloody action; and though he took full reprisals, and for a while cleared the country of them, yet in the reign of his son they succeeded in wresting from his dynasty one-half of his empire, and Hindostan, the acquisition of Mahmood, became henceforth its principal possession.


We have now arrived at what may literally be called the turning-point of Turkish history. We have seen them gradually descend from the north, and in a certain degree become acclimated in the countries where they settled. They first appear across the Jaxartes in the beginning of the seventh century; they have now come to the beginning of the eleventh. Four centuries or thereabout have they been out of their deserts, gaining experience and educating themselves in such measure as was necessary for playing their part in the civilized world. First they came down into Sogdiana and Khorasan, and the country below it, as conquerors; they continued in it as subjects and slaves. They offered their services to the race which had subdued them; they made their way by means of their new masters down to the west and the south; they laid the foundations for their future supremacy in Persia, and gradually rose upwards through the social fabric to which they had been admitted, till they found themselves at length at the head of it. The sovereign power which they had acquired in the line of the Gaznevides, drifted off to Hindostan; but still fresh tribes of their race poured down from the north, and filled up the gap; and while one dynasty of Turks was established in the peninsula, a second dynasty arose in the former seat of their power.

Now I call the era at which I have arrived the turning-point of their fortunes, because, when they had descended down to Khorasan and the countries below it, they might have turned to the East or to the West, as they chose. They were at liberty to turn their forces eastward against their kindred in Hindostan, whom they had driven out of Ghizni and Affghanistan, or to face towards the west, and make their way thither through the Saracens of Persia and its neighbouring countries. It was an era which determined the history of the world. I recollect once hearing a celebrated professor of geology attempt to draw out the consequences which would have occurred, had there not been an outlet for the Thames, which exists in fact, at a certain point of its course. He said that, had the range of hills been unbroken, it would have streamed off to the north-east, and have run into the sea at the Wash in Lincolnshire. An utter change in the political events which came after, another history of England, and nothing short of it, would have been the result. An illustration such as this will at least serve to express what I would say of the point at which we now stand in the history of the Turks. Mahmood turned to the east; and had the barbarian tribes which successively descended done the same, they might have conquered the Gaznevide dynasty, they might have settled themselves, like Timour, at Delhi, and their descendants might have been found there by the British in their conquests during the last century; but they would have been unknown to Europe, they would have been strange to Constantinople, they would have had little interest for the Church. They had rebelled against Mahmood, they had driven his family to the East; but they did not pursue him thither; he had strength enough to keep them off the rich territory he had appropriated; he was the obstacle which turned the stream westward; in consequence, they looked towards Persia, where their brethren had been so long settled, and they directed their course for good and all towards Europe.

But this era was a turning-point in their history in another and more serious respect. In Sogdiana and Khorasan, they had become converts to the Mahometan faith. You will not suppose I am going to praise a religious imposture, but no Catholic need deny that it is, considered in itself, a great improvement upon Paganism. Paganism has no rule of right and wrong, no supreme and immutable judge, no intelligible revelation, no fixed dogma whatever; on the other hand, the being of one God, the fact of His revelation, His faithfulness to His promises, the eternity of the moral law, the certainty of future retribution, were borrowed by Mahomet from the Church, and are steadfastly held by his followers. The false prophet taught much which is materially true and objectively important, whatever be its subjective and formal value and influence in the individuals who profess it. He stands in his creed between the religion of God and the religion of devils, between Christianity and idolatry, between the West and the extreme East. And so stood the Turks, on adopting his faith, at the date I am speaking of; they stood between Christ in the West, and Satan in the East, and they had to make their choice; and, alas! they were led by the circumstances of the time to oppose themselves, not to Paganism, but to Christianity. A happier lot indeed had befallen poor Sultan Mahmood than befell his kindred who followed in his wake. Mahmood, a Mahomedan, went eastward and found a superstition worse than his own, and fought against it, and smote it; and the sandal doors which he tore away from the idol temple and hung up at his tomb at Gazneh, almost seemed to plead for him through centuries as the soldier and the instrument of Heaven. The tribes which followed him, Moslem also, faced westward, and found, not error but truth, and fought against it as zealously, and in doing so, were simply tools of the Evil One, and preachers of a lie, and enemies, not witnesses of God. The one destroyed idol temples, the other Christian shrines. The one has been saved the woe of persecuting the Bride of the Lamb; the other is of all races the veriest brood of the serpent which the Church has encountered since she was set up. For 800 years did the sandal gates remain at Mahmood’s tomb, as a trophy over idolatry; and for 800 years have Seljuk and Othman been our foe, singled out as such, and denounced by successive Vicars of Christ.


The year 1048 of our era is fixed by chronologists as the date of the rise of the Turkish power, as far as Christendom is interested in its history. Sixty-three years before this date, a Turk of high rank, of the name of Seljuk, had quarrelled with his native prince in Turkistan, crossed the Jaxartes with his followers, and planted himself in the territory of Sogdiana. His father had been a chief officer in the prince’s court, and was the first of his family to embrace Islamism; but Seljuk, in spite of his creed, did not obtain permission to advance into Sogdiana from the Saracenic government, which at that time was in possession of the country. After several successful encounters, however, he gained admission into the city of Bokhara, and there he settled. As time went on, he fully recompensed the tardy hospitality which the Saracens had shown him; for his feud with his own countrymen, whom he had left, took the shape of a religious enmity, and he fought against them as pagans and infidels, with a zeal, which was both an earnest of the devotion of his people to the faith of Mahomet, and a training for the exercise of it. He died, it is said, in battle against the pagans, and at the wonderful age of 107. Of his five sons, whom he left behind him, one, Michael, was cut off prematurely in battle against the infidels also, and has obtained the name of Shadid or the Martyr; for in a religion where the soldier is the missionary, the soldier is the martyr also. The other sons became rich and powerful; they had numerous flocks and fertile pastures in Sogdiana, till at length they attracted the notice of the Sultan Mahmood, who, having dispossessed the Saracens of the country where Seljuk had placed himself, looked about for mercenary troops to keep his possession of it. It was one of Seljuk’s family, who at a later date alarmed Mahmood by telling him he could bring 200,000 horsemen from the Scythian wilderness, if he sent round his bow to summon them; it was Seljuk’s horde and retainers that ultimately forced back Mahmood’s son into the south and the east, and got possession of Sogdiana and Khorasan. Having secured this acquisition, they next advanced into Persia, and this was the event, which is considered to fix the date of their entrance into ecclesiastical history. It was the date of their first steadily looking westward; it determined their destiny; they began to be enemies of the Cross in the year 1048, under the leading of Michael the Martyr’s son, Togrul Beg.

It is the inconvenience of any mere sketch of historical transactions, that a multiplicity of objects successively passes over the field of view, not less independent in themselves, though not less connected in the succession of events, than the pictures of a magic lantern. I am aware of the weariness and the perplexity which are in consequence inflicted on the attention and the memory of the hearer; but what can I do but ask your indulgence, Gentlemen, for a circumstance which is inherent in any undertaking like the present? I have in the course of an hour to deal with a series of exploits and fortunes, which begin in the wilds of Turkistan, and conclude upon the Bosphorus; in which, as I may say, time is no measure of events, one while from the obscurity in which they lie, at another from their multitude and consequent confusion. For four centuries the Turks are little or hardly heard of; then suddenly in the course of as many tens of years, and under three Sultans, they make the whole world resound with their deeds; and, while they have pushed to the East through Hindostan, in the West they have hurried down to the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Archipelago, have taken Jerusalem, and threatened Constantinople. In their long period of silence they had been sowing the seeds of future conquests; in their short period of action they were gathering the fruit of past labours and sufferings. The Saracenic empire stood apparently as before; but, as soon as a Turk showed himself at the head of a military force within its territory, he found himself surrounded by the armies of his kindred which had been so long in its pay; he was joined by the tribes of Turcomans, to whom the Romans in a former age had shown the passes of the Caucasus; and he could rely on the reserve of innumerable swarms, ever issuing out of his native desert, and following in his track. Such was the state of Western Asia in the middle of the eleventh century.


I have said there were three great Sultans of the race of Seljuk, by whom the conquest of the West of Asia was begun and completed; their names are Togrul Beg, Alp Arslan, and Malek Shah. I have not to write their histories, but I may say a few words of their characters and their actions.

1. The first, Togrul, was the son and grandson of Mahometan Martyrs, and he inherited that fanaticism, which made the old Seljuk and the young Michael surrender their lives in their missionary warfare against the enemies of their faith. Each day he repeated the five prayers prescribed for the disciples of Islam; each week he gave two days to fasting; in every city which he made his own, he built a mosque before he built his palace. He introduced vast numbers of his wild countrymen into his provinces, and suffered their nomadic habits, on the condition of their becoming proselytes to his creed. He was the man suited to his time; mere material power was not adequate to the overthrow of the Saracenic sovereignty: rebellion after rebellion had been successful against the Caliph; and at the very time I speak of he was in subjection to a family of the old Persian race. But then he was spiritual head of the Empire as well as temporal; and, though he lay in his palace wallowing in brutal sensuality, he was still a sort of mock-Pope, even after his armies and his territories had been wrested from his hands; but it was the reward of Togrul’s zeal to gain from him this spiritual prerogative, retaining which the Caliph could never have fallen altogether. He gave to Togrul the title of Rocnoddîn, or “the firm pillar of religion;” and, what was more to the purpose, he made him his vicegerent over the whole Moslem world. Armed with this religious authority, which was temporal in its operation, he went to war against the various insurgents who troubled the Caliph’s repose, and substituted himself for them, a more powerful and insidious enemy than any or all. But even Mahomet, the Caliph’s predecessor, would not have denied that Togrul was worthy of his hire; he turned towards Armenia and Asia Minor, and began that terrible war against the Cross, which was to last 500 years. The prodigious number of 130,000 Christians, in battle or otherwise, is said to be the sacrifice he offered up to the false prophet. On his victorious return, he was again recognized by his grateful master as his representative. He made his public entry into the imperial city on horseback. At the palace gate he showed the outward deference to the Caliph’s authority which was his policy. He dismounted, his nobles laid aside their arms, and thus they walked respectfully into the recesses of the palace. According to the Saracenic ceremonial, the Caliph received them behind his black veil, the black garment of his family was cast over his shoulders, and the staff of Mahomet was in his hand. Togrul kissed the ground, and waited modestly, till he was led to the throne, and was there allowed to seat himself, and to hear the commission publicly declaring him invested with the authority of the Vicar of the Arch-deceiver. He was then successively clothed in seven robes of honour, and presented with seven slaves, the natives of the seven climates of the Saracenic Empire. His veil was perfumed with musk; two crowns were set upon his head; two scimitars were girded on his side, in token of his double reign over East and West. He twice kissed the Caliph’s hand; and his titles were proclaimed by the voice of heralds and the applause of the Moslem.

Such was Togrul Beg, and such was his reward. After these exploits, he marched against his brother (for these Turkish tribes were always quarrelling over their prey), deposed him, strangled him and put to death a number of his adherents, married the Caliph’s daughter, and then died without children. His power passed to his nephew Alp Arslan.

2. Alp Arslan, the second Sultan of the line of Seljuk, is said to signify in Turkish “the courageous lion:” and the Caliph gave its possessor the Arabic appellation of Azzaddin, or “Protector of Religion.” It was the distinctive work of his short reign to pass from humbling the Caliph to attacking the Greek Emperor. Togrul had already invaded the Greek provinces of Asia Minor, from Cilicia to Armenia, along a line of 600 miles, and here it was that he had achieved his tremendous massacres of Christians. Alp Arslan renewed the war; he penetrated to Cæsarea in Cappadocia, attracted by the gold and pearls which encrusted the shrine of the great St. Basil. He then turned his arms against Armenia and Georgia, and conquered the hardy mountaineers of the Caucasus, who at present give such trouble to the Russians. After this he encountered, defeated, and captured the Greek Emperor. He began the battle with all the solemnity and pageantry of a hero of romance. Casting away his bow and arrows, he called for an iron mace and scimitar; he perfumed his body with musk, as if for his burial, and dressed himself in white, that he might be slain in his winding-sheet. After his victory, the captive Emperor of New Rome was brought before him in a peasant’s dress; he made him kiss the ground beneath his feet, and put his foot upon his neck. Then, raising him up, he struck or patted him three times with his hand, and gave him his life and, on a large ransom, his liberty.

At this time the Sultan was only forty-four years of age, and seemed to have a career of glory still before him. Twelve hundred nobles stood before his throne; two hundred thousand soldiers marched under his banner. As if dissatisfied with the South, he turned his arms against his own paternal wildernesses, with which his family, as I have related, had a feud. New tribes of Turks seem to have poured down, and were wresting Sogdiana from the race of Seljuk, as the Seljukians had wrested it from the Gaznevides. Alp had not advanced far into the country, when he met his death from the hand of a captive. A Carismian chief had withstood his progress, and, being taken, was condemned to a lingering execution. On hearing the sentence, he rushed forward upon Alp Arslan; and the Sultan, disdaining to let his generals interfere, bent his bow, but, missing his aim, received the dagger of his prisoner in his breast. His death, which followed, brings before us that grave dignity of the Turkish character, of which we have already had an example in Mahmood. Finding his end approaching, he has left on record a sort of dying confession:—“In my youth,” he said, “I was advised by a sage to humble myself before God, to distrust my own strength, and never to despise the most contemptible foe. I have neglected these lessons, and my neglect has been deservedly punished. Yesterday, as from an eminence, I beheld the numbers, the discipline, and the spirit of my armies; the earth seemed to tremble under my feet, and I said in my heart, Surely thou art the king of the world, the greatest and most invincible of warriors. These armies are no longer mine; and, in the confidence of my personal strength, I now fall by the hand of an assassin.” On his tomb was engraven an inscription, conceived in a similar spirit. “O ye, who have seen the glory of Alp Arslan exalted to the heavens, repair to Maru, and you will behold it buried in the dust.” Alp Arslan was adorned with great natural qualities both of intellect and of soul. He was brave and liberal: just, patient, and sincere: constant in his prayers, diligent in his alms, and, it is added, witty in his conversation;—but his gifts availed him not.

3. It often happens in the history of states and races, in which there is found first a rise and then a decline, that the greatest glories take place just then when the reverse is beginning or begun. Thus, for instance, in the history of the Ottoman Turks, to which I have not yet come, Soliman the Magnificent is at once the last and greatest of a series of great Sultans. So was it as regards this house of Seljuk. Malek Shah, the son of Alp Arslan, the third sovereign, in whom its glories ended, is represented to us in history in colours so bright and perfect, that it is difficult to believe we are not reading the account of some mythical personage. He came to the throne at the early age of seventeen; he was well-shaped, handsome, polished both in manners and in mind; wise and courageous, pious and sincere. He engaged himself even more in the consolidation of his empire than in its extension. He reformed abuses; he reduced the taxes; he repaired the high roads, bridges, and canals; he built an imperial mosque at Bagdad; he founded and nobly endowed a college. He patronised learning and poetry, and he reformed the calendar. He provided marts for commerce; he upheld the pure administration of justice, and protected the helpless and the innocent. He established wells and cisterns in great numbers along the road of pilgrimage to Mecca; he fed the pilgrims, and distributed immense sums among the poor.

He was in every respect a great prince; he extended his conquests across Sogdiana to the very borders of China. He subdued by his lieutenants Syria and the Holy Land, and took Jerusalem. He is said to have travelled round his vast dominions twelve times. So potent was he, that he actually gave away kingdoms, and had for feudatories great princes. He gave to his cousin his territories in Asia Minor, and planted him over against Constantinople, as an earnest of future conquests; and he may be said to have finally allotted to the Turcomans the fair regions of Western Asia, over which they roam to this day.

All human greatness has its term; the more brilliant was this great Sultan’s rise, the more sudden was his extinction; and the earlier he came to his power, the earlier did he lose it. He had reigned twenty years, and was but thirty-seven years old, when he was lifted up with pride and came to his end. He disgraced and abandoned to an assassin his faithful vizir, at the age of ninety-three, who for thirty years had been the servant and benefactor of the house of Seljuk. After obtaining from the Caliph the peculiar and almost incommunicable title of “the commander of the faithful,” unsatisfied still, he wished to fix his own throne in Bagdad, and to deprive his impotent superior of his few remaining honours. He demanded the hand of the daughter of the Greek Emperor, a Christian, in marriage. A few days, and he was no more; he had gone out hunting, and returned indisposed; a vein was opened, and the blood would not flow. A burning fever took him off, only eighteen days after the murder of his vizir, and less than ten before the day when the Caliph was to have been removed from Bagdad.


Such is human greatness at the best, even were it ever so innocent; but as to this poor Sultan, there is another aspect even of his glorious deeds. If I have seemed here or elsewhere in these Lectures to speak of him or his with interest or admiration, only take me, Gentlemen, as giving the external view of the Turkish history, and that as introductory to the determination of its true significance. Historians and poets may celebrate the exploits of Malek; but what were they in the sight of Him who has said that whoso shall strike against His cornerstone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, shall be ground to powder? Looking at this Sultan’s deeds as mere exhibitions of human power, they were brilliant and marvellous; but there was another judgment of them formed in the West, and other feelings than admiration roused by them in the faith and the chivalry of Christendom. Especially was there one, the divinely appointed shepherd of the poor of Christ, the anxious steward of His Church, who from his high and ancient watch tower, in the fulness of apostolic charity, surveyed narrowly what was going on at thousands of miles from him, and with prophetic eye looked into the future age; and scarcely had that enemy, who was in the event so heavily to smite the Christian world, shown himself, when he gave warning of the danger, and prepared himself with measures for averting it. Scarcely had the Turk touched the shores of the Mediterranean and the Archipelago, when the Pope detected and denounced him before all Europe. The heroic Pontiff, St. Gregory the Seventh, was then upon the throne of the Apostle; and though he was engaged in one of the severest conflicts which Pope has ever sustained, not only against the secular power, but against bad bishops and priests, yet at a time when his very life was not his own, and present responsibilities so urged him, that one would fancy he had time for no other thought, Gregory was able to turn his mind to the consideration of a contingent danger in the almost fabulous East. In a letter written during the reign of Malek Shah, he suggested the idea of a crusade against the misbeliever, which later popes carried out. He assures the Emperor of Germany, whom he was addressing, that he had 50,000 troops ready for the holy war, whom he would fain have led in person. This was in the year 1074.

In truth, the most melancholy accounts were brought to Europe of the state of things in the Holy Land. A rude Turcoman ruled in Jerusalem; his people insulted there the clergy of every profession; they dragged the patriarch by the hair along the pavement, and cast him into a dungeon, in hopes of a ransom; and disturbed from time to time the Latin Mass and office in the Church of the Resurrection. As to the pilgrims, Asia Minor, the country through which they had to travel in an age when the sea was not yet safe to the voyager, was a scene of foreign incursion and internal distraction. They arrived at Jerusalem exhausted by their sufferings, and sometimes terminated them by death, before they were permitted to kiss the Holy Sepulchre.


Outrages such as these were of frequent occurrence, and one was very like another. In concluding, however, this Lecture, I think it worth while to set before you, Gentlemen, the circumstances of one of them in detail, that you may be able to form some ideas of the state both of Asia Minor and of a Christian pilgrimage, under the dominion of the Turks. You may recollect, then, that Alp Arslan, the second Seljukian Sultan, invaded Asia Minor, and made prisoner the Greek Emperor. This Sultan came to the throne in 1062, and appears to have begun his warlike operations immediately. The next year, or the next but one, a body of pilgrims, to the number of 7,000, were pursuing their peaceful way to Jerusalem, by a route which at that time. lay entirely through countries professing Christianity. The pious company was headed by the Archbishop of Mentz, the Bishops of Utrecht, Bamberg, and Ratisbon, and, among others, by a party of Norman soldiers and clerks, belonging to the household of William Duke of Normandy, who made himself, very soon afterwards, our William the Conqueror. Among these clerks was the celebrated Benedictine Monk Ingulphus, William’s secretary, afterwards Abbot of Croyland in Lincolnshire, being at that time a little more than thirty years of age. They passed through Germany and Hungary to Constantinople, and thence by the southern coast of Asia Minor or Anatolia, to Syria and Palestine. When they got on the confines of Asia Minor towards Cilicia, they fell in with the savage Turcomans, who were attracted by the treasure, which these noble persons and wealthy churchmen had brought with them for pious purposes and imprudently displayed. Ingulphus’s words are few, but so graphic that I require an apology for using them. He says then, they were “exenterated” or “cleaned out of the immense sums of money they carried with them, together with the loss of many lives.”

A contemporary historian gives us fuller particulars of the adventure, and he too appears to have been a party to the expedition. It seems the prelates celebrated the rites of the Church with great magnificence, as they went along, and travelled with a pomp which became great dignitaries. The Turcomans in consequence set on them, overwhelmed them, stripped them to the skin, and left the Bishop of Utrecht disabled and half dead upon the field. The poor sufferers effected their retreat to a village, where they fortified an enclosure and took possession of a building which stood within it. Here they defended themselves courageously for as many as three days, though they are said to have had nothing to eat. At the end of that time they expressed a wish to surrender themselves to the enemy, and admitted eighteen of the barbarian leaders into their place of strength, with a view of negotiating the terms. The Bishop of Bamberg, who is said to have had a striking presence, acted for the Christians, and bargained for nothing more than their lives. The savage Turcoman, who was the speaker on the other side, attracted by his appearance, unrolled his turban, and threw it round the Bishop’s neck, crying out: “You and all of you are mine.” The Bishop made answer by an interpreter: “What will you do to me?” The savage shrieked out some unintelligible words, which, being explained to the Bishop, ran thus: “I will suck that blood which is so ruddy in your throat, and then I will hang you up like a dog at your gate.” “Upon which,” says the historian, “the Bishop, who had the modesty of a gentleman, and was of a grave disposition, not bearing the insult, dashed his fist into the Turcoman’s face with such vigour as to fell him to the ground, crying out that the profane wretch should rather be the sufferer, for laying his unclean hands upon a priest.”

This was the signal for an exploit so bold, that it seemed, if I may so express myself, like a particular inspiration. The Christians, unarmed as they were, started up, and though, as I have observed, they may be said to have scarcely tasted food for three days, rushed upon the eighteen Turcomans, bound their arms behind their backs, and showing them in this condition to their own troops who surrounded the house, protested that they would instantly put them all to death, unless they themselves were let go. It is difficult to see how this complication would have ended, in which neither side were in a condition either to recede or to advance, had not a third party interfered with a considerable force in the person of the military governor, himself a Pagan, of a neighbouring city; and though, as our historian says, the Christians found it difficult to understand how Satan could cast out Satan, so it was, that they found themselves at liberty and their enemies marched off to punishment, on the payment of a sum of money to their deliverers. I need not pursue the history of these pilgrims further than to say, that, of 7,000 who set out, only 2,000 returned to Europe.

Much less am I led to enter into the history of the Crusades which followed. How the Holy See, twenty years after St. Gregory, effected that which St. Gregory attempted without result; how, along the very way which the pilgrims I have described journeyed, 100,000 men at length appeared cased in complete armour and on horseback; how they drove the Turk from Nicæa over against Constantinople, where he had fixed his imperial city, to the farther borders of Asia Minor; how, after defeating him in a pitched battle at Dorylæum, they went on and took Antioch, and then at length, after a long pilgrimage of three years, made conquest of Jerusalem itself, I need not here relate. To one point only is it to our present purpose to direct attention. It is commonly said that the Crusades failed in their object; that they were nothing else but a lavish expenditure of men and treasure; and that the possession of the Holy Places by the Turks to this day is a proof of it. Now I will not enter here into a very intricate controversy; this only will I say, that, if the tribes of the desert, under the leadership of the house of Seljuk, turned their faces to the West in the middle of the eleventh century; if in forty years they had advanced from Khorasan to Jerusalem and the neighbourhood of Constantinople; and if in consequence they were threatening Europe and Christianity; and if, for that reason, it was a great object to drive them back or break them to pieces; if it were a worthy object of the Crusades to rescue Europe from this peril and to reassure the anxious minds of Christian multitudes;—then were Crusades no failure in their issue, for this object was fully accomplished. The Seljukian Turks were hurled back upon the East, and then broken up, by the hosts of the Crusaders. The lieutenant of Malek Shah, who had been established as Sultan of Roum (as Asia Minor was called by the Turks), was driven to an obscure town, where his dynasty lasted, indeed, but gradually dwindled away. A similar fate attended the house of Seljuk in other parts of the Empire, and internal quarrels increased and perpetuated its weakness. Sudden as was its rise, as sudden was its fall; till the terrible Zingis, descending on the Turkish dynasties, like an avalanche, coöperated effectually with the Crusaders and finished their work; and if Jerusalem was not protected from other enemies, at least Constantinople was saved, and Europe was placed in security, for three hundred years.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved