Why did the Byzantines fail to reconquer the interior of Anatolia in the 12th century?

Feb 2018
172
EU-Germany
#21
an effort was made during the 12th yet in these times the byzantine empire was far more pressured from the west (normans) than ever before beginning in the late 11th and the norman invasion at dyrrhachium(1081) though the policies of manuel I did prove successful in the west (almost crowned roman emporer by the pope) the effort and hope of regaining interior anatolia ended militarily with the defeat at myriokephalon followed by another setback the norman sack of thessaloniki; several year later however the german and hungarian crusaders (third crusade 1189-1192) successfully invaded anatolia even sacked the seljuk capital city konya(iconium) at this point however byzantium was allied with saladin a pro-crusader policy could have gained the final chance of regaining interior anatolia(post-myriokephalon);

THE BYZANTINES AND SALADIN, 1185-1192: OPPONENTS OF THE THIRD CRUSADE
 
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Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#22
Properly reconquering central Anatolia after c. 1110 or so would have been extremely difficult and risky for, as Kirialiax has noted, relatively little reward. The Romans would have had to simultaneously occupy and hold almost all of the (very well fortified) major cities and fortresses of the region (a sea of steppe, drylands, mountains, and steep hills roughly the size of Britain, mind you) while attempting to expel settled Turkish elements and contain, break up, and resettle bands of Turkmen on the combined order of tens or hundreds of thousands of people -- all while maintaining the precarious Balkan status quo, 1400 kilometres west. The points of failure -- opportunities for ambushes, unassailable fortresses, overextended supply and communication lines -- would be innumerable (a second Manzikert wouldn't be unlikely), the manpower required enormous (if not simply unavailable), the Empire left open to attack, and the imperial throne left vulnerable to usurpation; and all that for a chunk of largely sparse and depopulated land, even if one with a Roman populace and sentimental importance. This is closer to what the Empire looked like in 1143 (not including vassals) by the way -- the map in the OP (although I believe it's meant to show the Empire of Manuel in the 1170's, not John) actually over-represents Roman control in central Anatolia:



I would also rather challenge the notion that possession of the Anatolian interior would have provided a major strategic benefit to the Roman state by the 12th century. The Taurus range was a great obstacle to the desert-sprung and later settled Arabs attacking from the south in the 7th-10th centuries, but these were the least of the Romans' worries by the Komnenian period. The major eastern threats of the day in the 11th through 15th centuries were nomads invading and migrating through the great pasture-lands of Iran, the Caucasus, and Upper Mesopotamia, an express highway to the steppe nomad paradise that was the Anatolian plateau -- you of course have the initial Turkish invasions of the 1060's and 70's, but also the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, which led to the complete collapse of the previously nascent Seljuk state, and Timur's advances in the early 15th, which very nearly doomed the Ottomans. Tying your fortunes up with those of central or eastern Anatolia in this age of nomads was a recipe for disaster, as likely to get your ruler captured or killed trying to defend them (Romanos IV, Bayezid I) as provide a real impediment to foreign invasion. It was better, from the Roman perspective -- of a fiscal-military state interested in stability and revenue extraction -- to leave at least the central-eastern plateau as a buffer, preferably of multiple competing states, which could deter or absorb those elements while providing auxiliaries and the products of a pastoral economy. None of this, of course, is to say that the Komnenians had no ambitions in Anatolia at all after the 1130's -- they did further secure and slightly advance the frontier in the west (Manuel's rebuilding and repopulation of Dorylaion, for instance), as well as sporadically attempt to annex the remaining cities of Paphlagonia and Pontus (Gangra, Amaseia, Neokaisarea, etc.) and Ikonion itself -- but in general they had very little interest in the deeper interior, or at the very least never pursued anything approaching a consistent policy of interior reconquest, successful or not.
 
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Oct 2012
671
#23
A road trip from Trebizond to Attaleia would have covered most of the trip from Trebizond to Antioch. In such a scenario, one might wonder whether it's best to finish the trip by road as well. It's like taking a road trip from California to Houston, Texas and then taking a boat ride to New Orleans. When one goes that far by road, one might wonder whether it's best to finish one's journey by road as well.
Before industrial ages waterways were in general the fastet and safest way to travel, not road trips. The easiest way from Trebizond to Antioch would be by sea, all the way around Anatolia, not across Anatolia by land.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#24
A road trip from Trebizond to Attaleia would have covered most of the trip from Trebizond to Antioch. In such a scenario, one might wonder whether it's best to finish the trip by road as well. It's like taking a road trip from California to Houston, Texas and then taking a boat ride to New Orleans. When one goes that far by road, one might wonder whether it's best to finish one's journey by road as well.
This is what happens when there's a pot boiling and I hit "post" before re-reading what I wrote. I meant that both routes would start from Constantinople, so one would go CP -> Trebizond, and then CP - > Attaleia would be a separate journey.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#25
Looking at the first map, I fail too understand why they didn't take Rome. They were very close. One would think that would be the objective they'd have too have. I admit too knowing very little about the eastern Roman empire. I do know that much earlier than the times you are discussing interior Anatolia was held by Celts centered around Ankara.
They tried, just not through military means. They never lost Rome, it just slowly slipped out of their sphere of influence after Ravenna fell in 751 and there was no way to exert pressure directly. Groups in both the Latin and Greek remained committed to church union and 1054 has been blown up beyond all proportion. Numerous good-faith efforts were made to reconcile the churches under the Komnenoi starting with the Council of Bari in 1098 (and others, later). It did not work, but plenty of people were committed to the idea of church and empire as one.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#26
To steer the conversation in a different way, while I am not convinced that the Komnenoi were particularly interested in retaking the plateau, was their logistical system up to the task? On the one hand, we see them campaigning really far from home when fighting the Hungarians, and those campaigns do not seem to have been extensively prepared years in advance. On the other hand, they had the Danube on which to transport supplies, and it is explicitly referenced that they used it.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#28
How or why was this different for the Turks, kirialax?
"The Turks" came as small, independent operators who made agreements with cities and the Byzantine army. Many were welcomed in, but the power vacuum that resulted from the Byzantine civil wars meant that they ended up taking advantage of their hosts and couldn't be easily dislodged. The pattern is the largely similar in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.
 
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Nov 2014
1,645
Birmingham, UK
#29
"The Turks" came as small, independent operators who made agreements with cities and the Byzantine army. Many were welcomed in, but the power vacuum that resulted from the Byzantine civil wars meant that they ended up taking advantage of their hosts and couldn't be easily dislodged. The pattern is the largely similar in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.
Mostly a matter of logistics then? Ie smaller independent bands could live off the land or strike deals with local interests in a way the larger Umayyad host couldn't ?
 
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Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#30
How or why was this different for the Turks, kirialax?
The Turks were also nomadic steppe pastoralists, and the Anatolian plateau was effectively a giant steppe -- in the winter they could essentially just do what they and their ancestors had done on the Eurasian steppe, supplemented by extorting/terrorizing the settled locals, whereas the Umayyads had to be much more proactive in maintaining supply lines for mixed professional and desert-acclimatized forces. Arab forces also tended to be concentrated into one or two large armies, while, as Kiralax noted, the first waves of Turks especially entered as small raiding parties which could more comfortably "live off the land". A final note is that the Turks mainly entered Anatolia through the east and north-east, along the great grass highway from Central Asia to Anatolia, through which it was far easier to drive herds than the narrow, forested passes of the south-eastern mountains -- the Taurus Mountains proper -- which shaped much of the earlier Arab-Roman conflict.

For comparison, this is a pretty standard view at the Cilician Gates (with a giant hole blasted in it for a highway, mind you):



While these (from Google Maps -- near Melitine, Sivas, Caesarea, and the lands between them) are some of the standard scenes to be expected in the Cappadocian borderlands: