Influx of Anatolian Turks in the Balkans and Eastern Roman territories until the beginning of the 14th century

Byzantines distinguished among Turkic nations two largest taxa: “Scythians” (Dunabian and northern Black Sea Turks and the Mongols) and “Persians” (Anatolian and Iranian Turks).

Kaykhusraw I.jpg

The “Persians”

In all probability most Persian and Arabic names belonged to the immigrants from Muslim Anatolia. Anatolian Muslims were called Hagarenes by the Byzantines. It is worth noting that Ἀγαρηνός as a sobriquet was surprisingly uncommon in the Byzantine world, probably because of its negative connotations to the Byzantines.

Popular names Τουρκόπουλος and Τουρκόπλος might have had at least three meanings: they could have designated Turkic troops in the Byzantine army, Turkic prisoners of war, or the descendants of the former groups. Most often, but not exclusively, Τουρκόπουλος referred to Anatolian Turks.

A group of names apparently belonged to immigrants from Arab lands: ∆αµασκηνός (that is, of Damascus), Βαβυλωνίτης (that is, a native of Babylon/Baghdad), ἈπελµενέΒερβέρης (Kephalenia, land-holder), Βαρβαρηνός (Serres, paroikos), Βαρβαρηνοί (Chalkidike, a soldier company). Possibly all or at least some of the numerous Σαρακηνοί belong to the same group. All these names, it seems, belonged to immigrants from the Arab world, most likely from North Africa (in particular, the Berbers) who served as light cavalry in the Byzantine army. Βαρβαρηνοί were collective holders of pronoia between ca. 1327 and the end of the 1340s in Kalamaria, in Rousaiou, Leontaria, Patrikon, Hagios Mamas, and probably also Barbarikion. In a similar way, in 1262, small localities in Aulon (Kephalenia) – χωράφιον τὸ καλούµενον τῶν Βερβεριάδων and χωράφιον τοῦ Βέρβερι – probably also refer to Berbers of North Africa.

The approximate numerical distribution of ethnic names gives the following proportions (anthroponymical data relating to Cyprus, Crimea, and Pontos are excluded from the calculation): the “Persians” number approximately 60 percent, Cumans, Mongols, and other “Scythians” around 20 percent, and natives of Arab lands around 10 percent. The predominance of “Persian” names indicates the growing influx of Anatolian Turks in the Balkans.

Byzantine “Persians” in 1204–1262

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Turkic nomadic migration in Anatolia resulted in rapid nomadization and Turkification of vast areas, especially around the edges of the Central Anatolian plateau. Throughout the twelfth century, the Komnenoi succeeded in halting further advance of Turkic nomads and even in regaining some territories conquered by the Turks. By the beginning of the thirteenth century, the role of the nomadic element in Anatolia gradually decreased. Some of the nomads turned to settled life, while others had suffered fatal losses in their fight against sedentary Byzantines, Slavs, Armenians, and Georgians, as well as against the Muslims in sedentary Anatolian zones. In the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries, both settled and nomadic Anatolian Turks continuously penetrated Byzantine possessions, although we have few sources that could give an impression of the scale of these resettlements. At the least, we know that in the very beginnings of the Nicaean empire the Seljuk mercenary soldiers played a crucial role in the consolidation of Theodore I Laskaris’ (1205–22) power.

After his return to power in Konya the Seljuk sultan Ghiyāth al-Dīn Kaykhusraw I concluded a military alliance with Laskaris in the spring of the same year. This alliance is understandable since before this time Kaykhusraw I had spent many years in Constantinople, and both Kaykhusraw and Laskaris belonged to the high aristocratic retinue of the ruling Angeloi; thus personal links between the two men probably facilitated the formation of the alliance. The Seljuk army helped Laskaris considerably in his fight for power in northwest Anatolia in 1205–06.

Available documentary sources, to some extent, reveal the influx of “Persians” into the Byzantine provinces. A few in the Smyrna region might have been Christianized “Persian” immigrants. Few Anatolian immigrants can be found at that time in the Balkans. The Vardariote guard at the imperial palace was made of “Persian” immigrants.

“Persian” Resettlement of 1262–1263

By the fourth decade of the thirteenth century, a new tide of Turkic migration to Anatolia was brought about by the Mongol conquests. Numerous Turkmen and other Turkic tribes ousted by the Mongols from eastern Turkestan, Central Asia, and Iran inundated Asia Minor once again. The concentration of nomads, who swept through Anatolia from the east to the west, reached its high point along the Seljuk-Nicaean border, probably by the 1250s–60s when migrating Turks were stopped at the end of the Anatolian “corridor” by the Byzantines. First, Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259–82) tried to enroll those nomads to create a sort of buffer along the Byzantine eastern borders in case of a Mongol onslaught. This was later realized to be impracticable. Having failed in propitiating nomadic barbarians, Michael VIII Palaiologos thought to use the Mongol military machine as an instrument of suppression of nomads and shifted the focus to strengthening the frontier fortifications.

The first significant wave of Turkish resettlement from Anatolia to the Balkans, which is well documented, was associated with the mass migration of both sedentary and nomadic subjects of the Seljuk sultan ʿIzz al-Dīn Kaykāwus II (b. 1237–d. 1279/80). The sultan fled to the court of Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1262 and stayed in the Byzantine empire until 1264/65. The vicissitudes in the life of the exiled Seljuk sultan Kaykāwus II  (ruled 1245–62) in Byzantium and his subsequent flight to Crimea are widely known from all the general histories of Byzantium and the Seljuk sultanate. Briefly, the story of Kaykāwus II is as follows. Beginning in the late 1240s, two co-rulers and brothers, ʿIzz al-Dīn Kaykāwus and Rukn al-Dīn Qılıç Arslan, contested the supreme power of the sultanate. The Mongols of Iran, who had subjugated Anatolia as early as 1243, resolutely supported Rukn al-Dīn. As a result of a series of conflicts, ʿIzz al-Dīn left the sultanate and fled to Byzantium, stayed there until 1264/65. At first, his relations with the emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos were friendly; however, later for some reason tensions appeared between the sultan and the emperor. Kaykāwus hatched a plot to depose Michael Palaiologos. The sultan appealed for help to the Bulgarians and the Mongols of the Golden Horde. Finally, in winter 1264/65, Bulgarians and Tatars jointly attacked the empire, and Kaykāwus II, who had stayed in Ainos in Thrace (modern Enez), joined the Tatars and fled to the Golden Horde. This is generally the known story of the sultan’s exile in Byzantium.

Besides family members, there were numerous courtiers of the sultan who followed him into exile. Some members of the Seljuk elite who followed the sultan are known by name. Two military officers (emirs) Malik and Sālik are referred to in The Chronicle of Morea as commanders in the Turkish division of the Byzantine army that invaded Morea in 1263. In all probability, they were middle-ranking emirs in charge of a part of the Turkish contingent. The following year (1263) Malik and Sālik with their Turks defected to the Achaian prince Guillaume de Villehardouin, because the Byzantines ceased paying them their salary. The prince married Malik to a noble lady, the widow of a certain Aimon de Simico. Later, some of Malik’s Turks settled in Morea in Vounarvi and Renta, while Malik went home to “Vlachia”.

It is very likely that the sultan’s Constable the Greek (kundaṣṭabil-i rūmī) took refuge in Constantinople. He was a Greek Christian and had a brother holding the title amīr-maydān. A parallel reading of Pachymeres and Oriental authors leaves little doubt about the identity of the Christian constable and his brother as the brothers Βασιλικοί. The brothers Basilikoi (one of them was Basil by name) originated from Rhodes and, starting as “theater actors” at the Seljuk court and becoming close to the sultan, gained supreme positions and gathered enormous riches. Shortly before the sultan’s arrival in Constantinople, both brothers appeared in Byzantium and were accepted by Michael Palaiologos due to the friendship he had established with them during his exile in the Seljuk sultanate a few years earlier.

The narrations of Pachymeres, Ibn Bībī, and Yazıcızâde ʿAlî suggest that the sultan was also followed by a significant number of Anatolian nomads who did not recognize the power of the Mongols in Anatolia and their protégé, the sultan Rukn al-Dīn. One can deduce from Pachymeres’ account that a considerable number of Anatolian nomadic Turks (σκηνίτας) moved to Byzantine territory and recognized the authority of the emperor. Relations between the nomadic newcomers and the local population were far from harmonious. Nomads plundered the locals and the latter paid them back in kind. Nonetheless, Michael Palaiologos “tried hard to win to his side border-dwelling Persians” hoping to use them as a barrier in case of Mongol attack.


The data provided by Oriental sources confirm this in many ways, and add further details. After the flight of ʿIzz al-Dīn from the sultanate, a war of many months between the government forces and the nomadic Turks erupted in borderland regions throughout the country’s western, northern, and southern frontiers. In the 1230s–60s, many nomadic Turks came to Anatolia from Turkestan, Central Asia, and Iran as refugees from the Mongol conquests. They probably considered ʿIzz al-Dīn a symbol of resistance against the hated Mongols and viewed the sultan’s defeat as their own. During Turkmen revolts in the western borderland regions, the Byzantines were occasionally involved in the clashes.

The most detailed account of the migration of nomadic Turks to Byzantium can be found in a few controversial passages from Yazıcızâde ʿAlî’s narration. Michael Palaiologos authorized a fairly large-scale emigration of nomadic Turks, partisans of ʿIzz al-Dīn, from Anatolia to the European part of the Byzantine empire. It is plausible that the main bulk of the Turkish nomads was settled by the Byzantine authorities in southern Dobrudja. According to YazıcızâdeʿAlî, the spiritual leader of the Turks of Dobrudja was Sarı Saltıq. The warriors of these nomadic groups participated in some victorious wars on the side of the emperor, in particular during the reconquest of Dobrudja in the name of Michael VIII Palaiologos.

Kaykāwus’ Turks, being incorporated into the Byzantine army, took part in the wars of the empire. Ibn Bībī makes ʿAli Bahādur the hero of these wars. He asserts that every time an enemy appeared, the emperor asked ʿAli Bahādur for help because of the latter’s courage. As ʿAli Bahādur fought with and defeated the emperor’s adversaries his position in the Byzantine service grew in importance and honor. The Greek references to Turkish detachments in the Byzantine army within a generation of the sultan’s arrival (1262–80s) are very scant and never mention ʿAli Bahādur. For that time, Pachymeres refers to Kaykāwus’ warriors in the Byzantine army solely as Πέρσαι (Persians) and τὸ Περσικόν (the Persian). He maintains that, τὸ Περσικόν detachment participated in the Byzantine campaign in Morea in 1263. According to The Chronicle of Morea, those Turks were partly under the command of the aforementioned Malik and Sālik. The Chronicle of Morea indicates Dobrudja as the homeland of these Turks. Around 1265, Malik asked his lord Guillaume de Villehardouin to let him go to his “patrimonies”; receiving the prince’s assent he went to “Vlachia” (Βλαχία). Given the imprecise and polysemantic meaning of Βλαχία and Βλάχοι at the time, it could have been an indication of Dobrudja, or Βλαχία could have been any other location in the Balkans (such as Macedonia or Thrace) which had been granted to the Turks by the Byzantine authorities.

In 1271, Πέρσαι took part in the siege of Neai Patrai in Thessaly under the command of Ῥιµψᾶς. Rhimpsas was a baptized Turk who had been in Byzantine service since the late 1250s. It was common Byzantine practice to place non-Greeks under the command of officials of the same origin.

In the fourteenth century, the descendants of Kaykāwus’ Turks were normally known as Τουρκόπουλοι (sons of Turks) and the denomination τὸ Περσικόν was becoming less common. This is clear from Pachymeres’ account of the battle of Apros in July 1305. He refers to them as a detachment that “[had been labeled] formerly τὸ Περσικόν and was also called Τουρκόπουλοι”. Consequently, initially the detachments of Kaykāwus’ Turks were technically called Πέρσαι and τὸ Περσικόν; it was their descendants who acquired the synonymic denomination of Τουρκόπουλοι.

There is no solid evidence about the total number of Turks who moved from Anatolia to the Balkans. The only reference to the size of a Turkish detachment is found in The Chronicle of Morea. In 1263, 3,000–3,500 Turks took part in the Byzantine campaign against Morea, while the aforementioned Malik and Sālik were in charge of 1,500 Turks. The men of Malik and Sālik seem to have come to Morea without their families, since later the Achaean prince “gave them wives and they begot children”. Only Yazıcızâde ʿAlî gives estimates of the total numbers: “in the land of Dobrudja, there were two or three Muslim cities and thirty to forty camps [bölük] of nomadic Turkic families”. In another passage he implies that, in Byzantium, the sultan could count on “ten or twelve thousand” of his supporters, probably soldiers among the sultan’s attendants and compatriots in Byzantium. If, in reality, 10,000–12,000 of Kaykāwus’ Turks were able to bear arms it might imply a minimum total of 35,000–42,000 immigrant Turks, including men, women, and children.

The emergence in the second half of the thirteenth century, or a little later, of new Macedonian place-names could have been in association with Kaykāwus’ Turks. These are Γαζῆς (near Rousaiou in Kalamaria), Μελίκι (east of Berroia), Τουρκοχώριον (5 km north-northwest of Berroia), and another Τουρκοχώριον (near Gabriane in Kalamaria). It was normal practice to grant Turkish newcomers pronoia and arable land. Probably, these place-names indicate the localities of a concentration of Turkish military pronoiars and farmers that lasted for decades.

“Persian” Immigrations until the Beginning of the Fourteenth Century

The further settling of the Anatolian Turks in the last quarter of the thirteenth century, especially during the civil war in the first half of the fourteenth century, is poorly documented. In contrast to a detailed and vivid picture of the Turkic resettlement in Byzantium in the 1260s, for the subsequent decades we have only bits of information. At that period, as in the 1260s, the main source of the Turkic influx remained mercenary troops, who were sometimes supplemented by the arrival en masse of Turkic slaves.

The only well-documented episode concerns the events of the 1290s and the activity of the famous military commander Alexios Philanthropenos. In 1293, the Turks broke through the Byzantine defense and advanced to the upper Caicus (Bakırçay) and the region of Achyraous. In 1293–95, the pinkernes Alexios Philanthropenos won a series of brilliant victories and not only returned Achyraous but also cleared the strategic region of the middle reaches of the Meander. During the victorious wars of Alexios Philanthropenos, many Turks joined the Byzantines as slaves, defectors, and mercenaries. In the letters of Maximos Planoudes he describes with excitement the results of Philanthropenos’ victories, giving an impression of how these triumphs were seen in Constantinople. Planoudes portrays uncountable numbers of Turkish prisoners captured and sent to the metropolis by Philanthropenos. Moreover, he relates an unprecedented affluence of barbarian slaves in the Constantinopolitan market, while in the Asian provinces of the empire “Persian” slaves were so numerous that their price had fallen below the cost of sheep. The slaves captured by Philanthropenos were also exported from the empire (in particular, to Cyprus) or exchanged for Byzantine captives; however, most were settled in Byzantine lands.

Philanthropenos’ exceptional military talent and luck, as well as the great wealth he captured during the war, attracted many Anatolian Turks to his side, with entire clans defecting. Gregoras adds that the Turks were under severe Mongol pressure from the east at that time, thus confirming concurrent information from Oriental sources about the punitive operations of the Ilkhāns against the nomads in western Anatolia. As a result, Philanthropenos established a large Turkic detachment in his army. During the short period of Philanthropenos’ victorious campaigns, large numbers of Turks were absorbed by Byzantine society. After the suppression of Philanthropenos’ rebellion at the end of 1295 imperial forces executed Turks loyal to him in flocks, but Turkic defectors and mercenaries continued to serve in the Byzantine army and to live in imperial lands.

The campaigns of Philanthropenos and Roger de Flor marked the last instances of a massive influx of cheap slaves from Anatolia into the Byzantine market. The inflow of Anatolian Turks into the Balkans did not cease, however, the predominant type was not slaves but rather mercenaries and free immigrants.

(Source: “The Byzantine Turks, 1204-1461”, by Rustam Shukurov)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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