Alp Arslan (1026-1072) was the second Seljuk sultan of Persia and Iraq and a member of the Turkish dynasty which revitalized Moslem rule in the declining days of the Abbasid caliphate.
Alp Arslan was born Muhammad ibn Daud in the Arab Empire's Persian province of Khurasan in 1026 (or 1029 or 1032). He was the great-grandson of Seljuk, chieftain of the Ghuzz Turkomans, who had invaded southwestern Asia in the 11th century.
Famed as a military leader, Alp Arslan—his name means "Lion Hero"—began his career campaigning extensively for his father, Daud Chaghri Beg, commander of the Turkoman forces in Khurasan. Upon his father's death in 1059/1060, Alp Arslan succeeded. Meanwhile, Seljuk forces under Chaghri's brother, Tughril Beg, had ended a century of Shiite Buyid dominance in Baghdad, whereupon Caliph al-Kaim made him sultan. With Tughril's death in 1063, Alp Arslan succeeded, despite an attempt to enthrone Tughril's brother Suleiman.
The new sultan was immediately faced with internal opposition. His father's cousin, Kutulmish, carried Khurasan into revolt in 1064, and his own brother, Kawurd (founder of the Kirman dynasty), rebelled twice, in 1064 and 1067.
Between the suppression of recalcitrant subordinates, Alp Arslan campaigned against his neighbors. His first major move was a raid in 1064 into Georgia and Armenia, during which the Georgian king acknowledged Seljuk suzerainty. The following year the Sultan led his forces into Transoxiana. In 1070 he took Aleppo during a campaign into Syria. His holdings then reached from central Asia to the Mediterranean.
Alp Arslan was a courageous man, generous in his treatment of opponents. His strength lay in the military realm, domestic affairs being handled by his Persian vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, founder of the administrative organization which characterized and strengthened the sultanate during the reigns of Alp Arslan and his son. Military fiefs, governed by Seljuk princes, were established to provide support for the soldiery and to accommodate the nomadic Turks to the established Persian agricultural scene.
Meanwhile, not only the Seljuks but independent Turkish bands had been harassing the Byzantine frontier. When the Byzantine emperor, Romanus IV Diogenes, led his forces into the sultanate in 1071 in retaliation, Alp Arslan left Syria and on August 26 met the invaders at Manzikert near Lake Van. This battle, which turned largely on the superior Turkish cavalry, was a crucial one since it opened Anatolia to Turkoman appropriation, although Seljuk authority was not consolidated there until the Rum sultanate was founded in 1155. An indication of Alp Arslan's character appears in his generous treatment of Romanus, who was sent home after the peace settlement with presents and a military escort.
In 1072, campaigning in Turkestan, Alp Arslan was stabbed by the captive commander of a recently conquered fortress. He died soon after, on November 24, and was succeeded by his son Malik Shah.
Further Reading on Alp Arslan
One of the few works on the Seljuks is Tamara Talbot Rice, The Seljuks in Asia Minor (1961). General coverage is provided in W. Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion (2 vols., 1898-1900; trans. 1928); Sir Percy Sykes, A History of Persia (2 vols., 1915; 3d ed. 1930); and Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs: From the Earliest Times to the Present (1937; 8th rev. ed. 1963).