"The Byzantine writers deplore the loss of an inestimable pearl: they forgot to mention that, in this fatal day, the Asiatic provinces of Rome were irretrievably sacrificed."
- Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Everybody knows the Turks were badass. That's a given. I mean, you can't read anything about the military history of Eastern Europe without being regaled with tales of insane, daring Christian knights demonstrating the quality of their solidified concrete holy nutsacks by standing up to the mighty, face-crushing Turkish hordes and somehow pulling victory from the jaws of inevitable defeat. So it stands to reason that since fighting the Turks and surviving without being impaled by your own spiked gauntlets was such a tremendous, noteworthy achievement, then these were obviously a ruthless, vicious, powerful civilization of earth-breaking killmongers so insanely tough that they ate baby reindeer and urinated Red Bull energy drinks, right? Well, if that's the case, why is it that most Westerners can't name a single notable Turkish hero aside from Suleiman the Magnificent, Barbarossa, and maybe Selim the Grim?
The Turks, much like the Persians, just need a better PR campaign or something, because they have a totally badass warrior pedigree on par with that of history's best. These guys forged a series of tempered-steel empires that dominated the fuck out of huge tracts of lands across Europe and Asia, and maintined a millenia-spanning stranglehold on Eastern military dominance running from the pre-Crusade middle ages to the end of World War I - a badass Xbox Live achievement that they owe in no small part to the warrior-king Alp Arslan and the role he played in the knife-point castration of the armies of Byzantium in the 11th century.
Adud Al-Dawla Abu Shuja Alp Arslan Muhammad succeeded his uncle Tughril Bey as Sultan of the Seljuk Turks in 1063. His first order of business was of course to crush all opposition to his accession and have any pretenders to the throne violently executed by the sharpest gardening instruments in the Turkish Empire. Once that was out of the way, Alp Arlsan decided to show the world that even though the Seljuks were newcomers to the scene in the Middle East, that this Sunni Muslim empire of nomadic Central Asian steppe warriors could get out there and brain fools with the best of them. Alp Arlsan, known as "The Valiant Lion" of the Turks, immediately assembled an appropriately-imposing force of Turkish cavalry and horse archers and set his sights on destroying all trace of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor.
At this point in history, the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium was still a pretty serious military threat, but years of über-corrupt rulers, reckless spending, and miscellaneous douchery left the entire system completely decrepit and over-the-hill, and Alp Arslan figured that he was just was the guy to deliver the final kick in the balls that was going to show the Greeks once and for all that they were no longer the big dogs in the Mediterranean. Alp and his armies figured the best way to demonstrate this fact was by blitzing into a number of small buffer states between Byzantium and the Seljuk Empire and utterly laying waste to everything they could find. The Turks, who were pretty pumped up about stabbing with intent to kill, found themselves facing off against Byzantine mercenaries who had gone months without getting paid and had shockingly little interest in getting themselves decapitated for a king who couldn't give a shit about them. The Turks captured Phyrgia, Cappadocia, Anatolia, and a bunch of other places that seem to only exist in ancient times, before facing stiffer resistance in Armenia and Georgia. The Armenians fought so hard and pissed Alp Arslan off so hard that after he finally captured their capital he ordered it torched to the ground and the entire population massacred. Hey, I didn't say he was a fine upstanding citizen – I said he was a dude you didn't want to fuck around with.
After pretty much smoking everything in Asia Minor by the end of 1068, Alp Arlsan decided to leave the mop-up work to his lieutenants, and he headed back home to his harem to chill with his plunder and babes and start planning an invasion of Fatimid Egypt (who, like Byzantium, was also pissing him off for some unspecified reason). Well no sooner did Double-A leave Asia Minor than some brave-yet-delusionally-misguided Greek Emperor decided he was going to put a humongoid army together and actually start fighting back against these unstoppable face-crushing marauders. Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes assembled a tremendous force of Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Armenians, French, Modavians, and whatever else he could find (he even had a member of the Scottish royal family in his ranks) and set out to teach Alp a lesson in getting his face punctured by a flying sword-stroke of Western justice.
The balls-out assault caught Alp Arslan's men off-guard, and before you know it Diogenes started winning a bunch of victories and talking about how he was the fucking hottest shit since Greek Fire. The Turks were driven back beyond the Euphrates River by an army of 100,000 Western knights, and Diogenes laid siege to the remainder of the Turkish army at the city of Manzikert in 1071.
When Alp Arslan heard the distressing news he threw down his favorite wife and immediately hauled ass out to the battlefield with an elite battalion of 40,000 of his best horsemen. He flew in, approached Diogenes' force, and offered the Byzantines the opportunity to withdraw from the battlefield with honor rather than die an inglorious death at the receiving end of a few thousand scimitars. Diogenes' reply was as follows:
"If the Barbarian wishes for peace, let him evacuate the ground which he occupies for the encampment of the Romans, and surrender his city and palace as a pledge of his sincerity."
Uh, wrong answer. The Battle of Manzikert took place the following day, when Emperor Diogenes charged his massive armored phalanxes and heavy infantry spears-first at Alp Arslan and his outnumbered force of light cavalry. While the sight of this huge army would inspire urine in pretty much any other military in the world, Alp Arlsan had seen this shit a thousand times at this point, and had the same response every time – he had his men ride backwards, firing their bows, maintaining ordered military lines, and keeping just out of reach of the Macedonian spears. For eight hours, Diogenes' footsoldiers chased these horses across a field like a bunch of dumbasses, and as soon as the sun started to go down and everybody got tired from sprinting around in their armor, the Turks rode in, encircled the Byzantine flanks, and laid waste to Diogenes' army with the ungodly realness. The Emperor himself, valiant warrior that he was, held firm, fighting to the last, but was finally brought down after all of his bodyguards were slain and his horse was cut out from underneath him. The most powerful and wealthiest man in the Western world had ridden into battle with an army over twice the size of Alp Arslan's (well, depending on who you ask), and somehow got worked over so hard that he found himself in the clutches of his hated enemies. That, my friends, is what we like to refer to in the Internet biz as "epic fail".
Diogenes was brought before the Sultan, who demanded the Emperor signify his surrender by kissing the ground before the Turkish ruler. Diogenes did. According to some reports, Alp Arslan then placed his foot on the Emperor's neck, though it seems to be debatable. I kind of hope he did, if for no other reason than just to make sure Diogenes knew he was Alp's bitch. It sure makes for good pictures, if nothing else. After having appropriately humiliated the Byzantine ruler, Alp Arslan had him rise, and asked him a poignant question: "If our circumstances were reversed, and I had found myself in your power, how would you have treated me?" The Emperor, defiant (and, dare I say it, badass) to the end, responded by saying he would've punched the shit out of the Sultan and then had him dragged through the streets of Constantinople behind some horses or something. Alp Arslan nodded, smiled, and said, "I offer you far worse – I offer you your freedom."
With that, the Sultan had Diogenes brought to a lavish tent, where he was given robes of honor, a giant feast, and all the dignity and respect associated with his lofty status as ruler of the a major world power. After a few days of living the good life, the two rulers worked out a sufficiently one-sided peace treaty that involved annual tribute paid from Greece to the Turks and the release of all Muslim POWs in Byzantine power, and then Diogenes was brought home by a full Turkish military honor guard.
Well, Alp Arslan did all he could to be generous and kind to his captive, but once he left the Turkish camp things went downhill pretty quickly for poor Diogenes. Apparently while the Emperor was out of down getting beaten up and having Sultans step on his face some dude came in and usurped the throne, and when Diogenes showed up at Constantinople some dude tied him up and stabbed him in the eyes until he died from it. Alp Arslan suffered a similarly-unsatisfying fate a few months later when he was shanked by an assassin (one version of the story claims that some guy was a little sore that Alp Arslan had ordered him executed by being impaled on four sharpened stakes at the same time, and sent one of his kinsmen to avenge him), but the damage had been done – the core of the Byzantine army had been destroyed, and by 1081 all of Asia Minor and the Levant would be firmly under Turkish domination. This was the end of the Byzantine Empire's tenure as a dominant world power, and marked not only the beginning of the end of their civilization, but also the rise of a powerful Turkish presence that would last until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire almost nine hundred years later.