Horos, Sinor, Terminus. Conceptualization of border in Byzantines, Seljuk and Crusader cultures of war from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries

In the eleventh century, the internal crisis in Byzantium weakened the power of Constantinople. The migration of the Seljuk Turks from the territory of present-day Turkmenistan to Iran and Syria caught Byzantine military leaders unprepared. In the battle of Manzikert (1071), sultan of the Great Seljuks Alp Arslan defeated and captured Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes. The battle resulted in further weakening of central Byzantine Powers in Asia Minor. 

The Seljuk princes used this opportunity and migrated to the warm valleys of Western Anatolia, offering their services to the emperor in Constantinople and his enemies alike. In 1081 Alexios I Komnenos negotiated with the leader of the Turks, Sulaiman ibn Qutlamish, the new border between Byzantium and first Seljuk proto-state in Asia Minor. This border was river Drakon. In the next hundred years, Byzantine emperors constructed in Western Asia Minor a network of forts that allowed them to control the gradual Seljuk expansion. These forts constituted a spatial backbone of Byzantine Seljuk border zone that stretched from Nicomedia in the north to Antalya in the south and from the shores of the Mediterranean sea to the suburbs of Ikonion. The current project aims to investigate the construction of Byzantine-Seljuk border zone both in the imagined space of literary sources and in the real space.

The primary aim of the project is to analyze the Byzantine perception of the Empire’s new border. The project investigates the terms that Byzantine literati used to describe the border with the Turks and the semantic shifts that happened with the terms in the eleventh-fourteenth centuries. The project investigates the construction of the Empire’s new border on the ground. It traces connections between early Byzantine military treatises and the spatial management in Sangarius, Maeander and Halys valleys. The project also analyzes specific military groups that were present on the border, social groups that benefited from the imperial investments into the new landscape and border elites, Byzantine and Seljuk families, whose male and female members were present in Konya and Constantinople.

The second aim of the project is to investigate the influence of Byzantine border construction on the Seljuk Turks. Did scions of Sulaiman ibn Qutlamish used Byzantine standards or introduced their system of space management in Asia Minor? The project aims to analyze previously neglected influence of Byzantine border construction on the Turks, who borrowed Byzantine terms for the Borderlands (sinir from Greek σύνορος) and inherited some methods of spatial management in Anatolia. Very much like Byzantines, the Seljuk Turks praised the activities of specific border groups in their epics, some of which survived in later form.

The third aim of the project is to trace down the influence of the Byzantine border on Crusaders. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the participants of the First, Second, and Third Crusade passed through Asia Minor and observed Byzantine methods of space management. It seems likely that Byzantine principles of border management influenced the spatial management of the Crusades in the Holy Land. Abstaining from the borrowing of concepts, Crusaders used Byzantine methods of social management, creating special military groups to guard their borders.

The expected result of the project will be a monograph that will focus on Byzantine construction of the border and the influence this construction exercised over different cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean. The project will pave the way for further comparative studies of the borders, moving away from old, Latino-centric study of Eastern Mediterranean.


Prof. Dr. Johannes Pahlitzsch


DFG (RTG 2304)