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The Image of the Seljuk Turks among the Byzantine Literati of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

Roman Shliakhtin, Central European University, Junior Fellow 2015–2016

While at Dumbarton Oaks, I finished my dissertation on the identity of the Turks that the Byzantine literati constructed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Byzantine literati of the eleventh century used a set of labels that became the basis for the identity projected upon the Seljuk Turks. After the shocks of the eleventh century and the turbulent reign of Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine court literati reinvented the Turks of Asia Minor as “the Persians,” inscribing them in the imagined universe of the Komnenoi. After the disastrous battle at Myriokephalon, they recognized the territorial and political domination of the Turks in Asia Minor. All through the period in question, they described the frontier zone that separated the Roman Empire and the polities of the Turks. This crossable boundary zone was always present in the literary imagination, leaving little ground for the discussion of the “symbiotic” relations between Constantinople and Ikonion. My dissertation demonstrates that the identity projected by the Byzantines on the Turks had some analogs in the self-identification of the Great Seljuks and the Turks of Asia Minor. A product of the highly educated Constantinopolitan literati and intended for a Byzantine audience, this ascribed Turkish identity proved persistent and influential for the construction of other medieval Mediterranean identities. It affected the emerging identity of the “Turks” expressed by Crusader sources, the Late Byzantine image of the Turks, and last, but not least, the presentation of the Turks of Anatolia.