Sultan Ahmed Sanjar


The last sultan of Great Seljuk Empire (B. 1086, Sincar – D. 1157, Merv). His full name was Muizzeddin Ahmet Sancar, he was the son of Sultan Malik-Shah. From an early age he was raised by learning the sciences of the era, gained experience in the affairs of state and helped his brother Sultan Berkyaruk. In the reigns of both his brothers Berkyaruk and Muhammed Tapar, he exerted himself to assist in ensuring national unity by doing government service; he suppressed the rebellions in the east. In the meantime, Sanjar, who was assigned as the Melik of Khorasan due to his achievements, repelled the attacks of Kadir Khan, the monarch of eastern Karakhanid, who had attacked to the Seljuk territory by taking advantage of the situation of the fights for throne within the Great Seljuk Empire (1102). By annexing the Ghaznavids to the Seljuk Empire; he had the khutbah read on behalf of firstly Caliph, and Sultan and Melik Sanjar and the last Behramşah of Gaznavids (1118).

Sanjar continued his sincere and sober cooperation with his older brother Sultan Muhammed Tapar after the death of his brother Berkyaruk. While he applied his politics in the East, Sultan Muhammed was dealing with the west. Thus, the future sultan and Sultan Berkyaruk complemented each other. Sanjar, who followed the policy of his father Malik-Shah, starting from Khorasan, re-established the order of the Seljuk in the east of the country. Thus, the Great Seljuk State continued its struggles in the west by having ensured the east.

Upon the death of Muhammed Tapar on April 18th, 1118, his son, Mahmud, who was at a young age, ascended to the throne by the state officials. On the other side, Sultan Sanjar also declared himself as the sultan and in Khorasan on June 14th, 1118 and had caliph confirm his sultanate. To be the sole sultan of Great Seljuk Empire, Mahmud, who had been enthroned, had to be disposed of. On August 14th, 1119 in Save, the war between uncle and nephew resulted in victory of Sanjar and Sanjar became the Sultan of Great Seljuk Empire, the capital of state moved from the central Irak-ı Acem to Khorasan. According to the agreement with Mahmud, Rey was left to Sanjar and the West parts of the country were given to Mahmud. Yet, Mahmud would continue to assume the title of sultan and was affiliated to Sanjar. Thus, the Iraqi Seljuk Empire was established.

Sanjar, launching series of expeditions in 1113 on Samarkand, in 1114 on Ghazni and Ghurids, restored the domination over the region. In addition, he gained domination over Iraq, Azerbaijan, Taberistan, Iran, Sistan, Kerman, Khorezm, Afghanistan, Kashgar and Transoxiana. Sanjar, who almost reestablished the state by re-ordering and re-editing what had struggled in the fights for the throne for a long time, also re-appointed executive cadre. He gave the region of Gilân and half of Irak-ı Acem to Tuğrul, Persian province with Isfahan and half of Huzistan to Seljuk Shah. He, assuming the title of the “Sultan-ül-Azam” (Great Sultan), established a federal state.

This union continued for a while. But Mahmud, who cooperated with Caliph Müsterşid, started to prepare an uprising against his uncle. Sanjar received the news and proceed towards Mahmud. The Dinever battle on May 26th, 1132 resulted in the victory of Sanjar. Sanjar had younger brother of Mahmud, Tuğrul whom he brought with, ascended to the throne of Iraqi Seljuks instead of Mahmud and returned by giving him some exhortations. Sanjar, who had suppressed the Karakhanids revolt, suppressed the revolts of Ghaznavids in 1136 and Khwarezm in 1141. When Sanjar tried to prevent the attack of Karakhitans on Karakhanids, he was defeated by the Karakhitans on the desert of Katawan near Samarkand in the same year, and this was the turning point of his long lasting reign and what made him extremely anxious; then he lost Belh.

This defeat created great echoes in the Christian world as well as in the Muslim world. Khwarezmian, taking advantage of this situation, took the treasure by invading Khorasan and Merv, the capital of Sanjar. Atsız, who was informed that Sanjar started an expedition on Khwarizm, couldn’t have taken the risk of challenging him on the battle field. After having paid homage, he was forgiven and gave the treasure back. However the reconciliation did not solve anything and Sanjar sent the famous poet Edip Sabir as the ambassador to convince Atsız. When Atsız had Edip Sabir assassinated, Sanjar had to launch an expedition for the third time to Khwarezm, Atsız sent an ambassador to be forgiven, Sultan Sanjar forgave him again.

Meanwhile Kumac, one of the Sanjar’s commanders, was defeated by Sultan Alâeddin Hüseyin Cihansuz of Ghurids, who declared his independency. While Sanjar was preparing for the expedition to Ghurids, Ghurids fought Ghaznavids. In the end, Ghaznavids were totally vanquished and Behramshah ran to India. When Alâeddin Hüseyin Cihansuz of the monarch of Ghurids destroyed the Ghaznavids’ capital, Sultan Sanjar started an expedition to Ghurids. Ghurids were defeated in the battle fought in June 1152 and their monarch was held captive and the country was given to Alâeddin Cihansuz again. Sanjar won a great victory for the first time after the defeat in the desert of Katawan and gained reputation again.

However, this time, the disagreement between emirs of Seljuks and Oghuzs deepened and Sultan Sanjar had to fight in the province of Belh on the insistence of some emirs (1153). The battle resulted in the defeat of Seljuk army and Sanjar was captivated. After that unexpected result, all of a sudden, the Oghuzs, who captivated the sultan of Great Seljuk Empire to which they were affiliated, found themselves at the head of the state. Though Sanjar had been a captive among them, they didn’t choose a sultan among them instead of him, keeping him on the throne indicated that they wanted the Great Seljuk Empire to be continuing. Yet, the great sultan opted to abdicate the throne instead of being a captive sovereign and secluded himself in a hankâh (dervish lodge) in Merv. He suffered great difficulties during his captivation, which lasted for three years. He was salvaged from the hands of Oghuzs in April 1156 by Müeyyed Ayaba, the grandson of Kumac, one of his commanders. A year after his liberation, he died at the age of 91 on April 29th, 1157 and was buried in the tomb in Merv that he had had built. After his death, the Great Seljuk Empire collapsed.

Sultan Sanjar, during his forty year reign, followed a bidirectional politics towards both the west and the east. During his reign, the people of country were in welfare. The Batiniyya and Ismailiyya movements emerging to violate the existing order, despite all the measures taken by government, continued to spread among the ignorant, leaping from one castle to another reached Syria and Khorasan the backbone of the empire. A bullying movement spread all over the country. Sultan Sanjar hadn’t had the time for dealing with this problem since he was struggling with the fights for throne, internal disorders, and attacks from the east.

His relation with the greatest scholar of the era İmam-ı Gazalî was famous, who also lived in the reign of his father Malik-Shah, and Sanjar, who also had relations with Ahmet Namık-i Camî, had poets in his palace. As a result, during his long lasting reign, several physicians, scientist, artist, who were complimented by the Sultan, were raised. Sultan Sanjar liked to be among them, listened to their advices and asked them to warn him when he was wrong. He always patiently listened to complainers whoever they were and in the end, he secured the justice.

Sanjar assumed as a great sultan as his father Malik-Shah while he was alive. After his death, he was exemplified as a great sultan. Because of his authority in Hadith, he was deemed one of the Hadith scholars. It is known that he wrote poems in Farsi. His tomb that he had built in Merv while he was still alive was a great work of art and indicated the level of civilization in the era.



Early years
Sanjar was born in ca. 1086 in Sinjar, a town situated in the borderland between Syria and the al-Jazira. Although primary sources state that he was named after his birthplace (Rāvandi, p. 185; Ebn al-Jawzi, XVIII, p. 161) Bosworth notes Sanjar is a Turkic name, denoting “he who pierces”, “he who thrusts”.[3] He was a son of Malik Shah I and participated in wars of succession against his three brothers and a nephew, namely Mahmud I, Barkiyaruq, Malik Shah II and Muhammad I. In 1096, he was given the province of Khorasan to govern under his brother Muhammad I.[4] Over the next several years Ahmad Sanjar became the ruler of most of Iran with his capital at Nishapur.

Governor of Khorasan
A number of rulers revolted against Sanjar and continued the split of the Great Seljuq Empire that had started upon dynastic wars. In 1102, he repulsed an invasion from Kashgaria, killing Jibrail Arslan Khan near Termez.[4] In 1107, he invaded the domains of the Ghurid ruler Izz al-Din Husayn and captured him, but later released him in return for tribute.

Sanjar undertook a campaign to eliminate the Assassins within Persia and successfully drove them from a number of their strongholds including Quhistan and Tabas.[5] However, an anecdote indicates that en route to their stronghold at Alamut, Sanjar woke up one day to find a dagger beside him, pinning a note from Hassan-i Sabbah stating that he (Hassan) would like peace. Sanjar, shocked by this event, sent envoys to Hassan and they both agreed to stay out of each other’s way.

In 1117, he marched against the Ghaznavid Sultan Arslan-Shah of Ghazna defeating him at Battle of Ghazni and installing Arslan’s brother Bahram-Shah in the throne as a Seljuk vassal.

Sultan of the Great Seljuk Empire

Ahmad Sanjar, as featured on the front of the 5 Turkmenistan manat banknote.
On February 26, 1105 Sultan Barkiyaruq died. He chose his younger son, Muizzeddin Malik-Shah, as heir to the throne. Malikshah took the name Malik-Shah II after being proclaimed the Sultan of the Seljuk Empire. However, the true power was in the hands of his uncle, Muhammad Tapar. In the same year, Muhammad Tapar dethroned his cousin and started to rule the State himself as sultan. When Muhammad died on April 4, 1118, his son Mahmud II was declared as new sultan. When Muhammad’s son Mahmud II ascended the throne, Emir or Yazd Garshasp II fell into disgrace; slander about him spread to the court that made him lose confidence, and made Mahmud send a military force to Yazd where Garshasp was arrested and jailed in Jibal, while Yazd was granted to the royal cupbearer. Garshasp, however, escaped and returned to Yazd, where he requested protection from Ahmad Sanjar (Garshasp’s wife was the sister of Ahmad).

Garshasp urged Ahmad to invade the domains of Mahmud in Central Iran, and gave him information on how to march to Central Iran, and the ways to combat Mahmud. Ahmad accepted and advanced with an army to the west in 1119, where he together with “five kings” defeated Mahmud at Saveh.[8] The kings who aided Ahmad during the battle were Garshasp himself, the Emir of Sistan and the Khwarazmshah,[8] including two other unnamed kings.[9] Nizari forces were also present in Sanjar’s army.[10] After being victorious, Ahmad then restored the domains of Garshasp II.[9] Ahmad then marched as far as Baghdad, where he agreed with Mahmud that he should marry one of his daughters, and that he should give up strategic territories in northern Persia.

Battle of Qatwan in 1141
In 1141, Ahmad, along with Garshasp II, marched to confront the Kara Khitan threat and engaged them near Samarkand at the Battle of Qatwan. He suffered an astounding defeat, and Garshasp was killed. Ahmad escaped with only fifteen of his elite horsemen, losing all Seljuq territory east of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes).

Sanjar’s as well as Seljuks’ rule collapsed as a consequence of yet another unexpected defeat, this time at the hands of the Seljuks’ own tribe, in 1153. Sanjar was captured during the battle and held in captivity until 1156. It brought chaos to the Empire – situation later exploited by the victorious Turkmens, whose hordes would overrun Khorasan unopposed, wreaking colossal damage on the province and prestige of Sanjar.Sanjar eventually escaped from captivity in the fall of 1156, but soon died in Merv (present-day Turkmenistan), in 1157. After his death, Turkic rulers, Turkmen tribal forces, and other secondary powers competed for Khorasan, and after a long period of confrontations, the province was finally conquered by Khwarazmians in the early 1200s.

Death and legacy

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum in Merv (modern Mary, Turkmenistan)
Sanjar died in 1157 and was buried in Merv. His tomb was destroyed by the Mongols in 1221, during their invasion of the Khwarezmian Empire.

The death of Sanjar meant the end of the Seljuq dynasty as an empire, since they only controlled Iraq and Azerbaijan afterwards. Sanjar is considered as one of the most prominent Seljuq sultans and was the longest reigning Muslim ruler until the Mongols arrived. Although of Turkic origin, Sanjar was highly Iranized, and due to his feats, even became a legendary figure like some of the mythological characters in the Shahnameh.[17] Indeed, medieval sources described Sanjar as having “the majesty of the Khosrows and the glory of the Kayanids”.[3] Persian poetry flourished under Sanjar, and his court included some of the greatest Persian poets, such as Mu’izzi, Nizami Aruzi, and Anvari.

Ahmad Sanjar married Terken Khatun (died 1156) with whom he had two daughters – wives of his nephew Mahmud II. After her death, Sanjar married Rusudan, widow of sultan Masud Temirek. He had no children with her.

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