The Seljuks were a group of nomadic Turkish warrior leaders from Central Asia who established themselves in the Middle East during the 11th century as guardians of the declining ABBASID caliphate, and after 1055 founded the Great Seljuk sultanate, an empire centered in Baghdad and including Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They helped to prevent the FATIMIDS of Egypt from making Shiite Islam dominant throughout the Middle East and, in the 12th century, blocked inland expansion by the Crusader states on the Syrian coast. Their defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of MANZIKERT (1071) opened the way for the Turkish occupation of Anatolia.

Seljuk power was at its zenith during the reigns of sultans ALP-ARSLAN (1063-72) and MALIK SHAH (1072-92), who with their vizier NIZAM AL-MULK, revived Sunnite Islamic administrative and religious institutions. They developed armies of slaves (MAMELUKES) to replace the nomad warriors, as well as an elaborate bureaucratic hierarchy that provided the foundation for governmental administration in the Middle East until modern times. The Seljuks revived and reinvigorated the classical Islamic educational system, developing universities (madrasahs) to train bureaucrats and religious officials.

After Malik Shah's death, a decline in the quality of dynastic leadership and division of their rule among military commanders and provincial regents (atabegs) weakened the power of the Great Seljuks. The last of the line died in battle against the KHWARIZM-SHAHS in 1194.

A branch of the Seljuks established their own state in Anatolia (the sultanate of Konya or Rum, survived until it was conquered by the Mongols in 1243.

Stanford J. Shaw

Bibliography: Boyle, J. A., ed., Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5: The Saljuq and Mongol Periods (1968); Cahen, Claude, Pre-Ottoman Turkey, trans. by J. Jones-Williams (1968); Grousset, Rene, Empire of the Steppes, trans. by Naomi Walford (1970); Klausner, Carla L., The Seljuk Vezirate: A Study of Civil Administration, 1055-1194 (1973); Leiser, Gary, ed. and tr., A History of the Seljuks (1988); Setton, Kenneth, ed., History of the Crusades, vol. 1, 2d ed. (1969).