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

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
20,936
SoCal
#32
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.
Huh. So the loss of interior Anatolia wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought before creating this thread.

Was the interior of Anatolia just as worthless before the Seljuk conquest?

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:

Where did you get the data for this map?

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.
Thank you very much for all of this information!

BTW, why didn't Turkic nomads advance onto Anatolia before the late 11th century? Indeed, what changed?
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#33
Huh. So the loss of interior Anatolia wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought before creating this thread.

Was the interior of Anatolia just as worthless before the Seljuk conquest?
I wouldn't call it worthless -- it had been a good source of manpower and experienced military personnel (probably containing -- in what would become 12th century Turkish Anatolia -- about 1/5th or 1/6th of the Anatolian population in the mid-11th century, or around 1.5-2.3 million people), as well as hosting a number of important cities-- it just wasn't worth the immense amount of effort, money, men, manpower, and risk required to retake and hold it in the geopolitical and socioeconomic climates of the 12th century. Most of those military personnel and much of that manpower had been evacuated west by 1120 in any case (Alexios's final 1116 campaign into the region of Philomelion, for one example, is recorded as having had a great throng of Roman refugees accompanying it on its way back into Roman territory), and Turkish rule and immigration -- as well as the establishment, by the 1110's, of a relatively desolated frontier zone, constantly terrorized by raiders, on what had previously been fairly populous land -- had prematurely stunted the growth of the Phrygian-Galatian-Lycian-Cappadocian settled population in some areas and in others driven it into a precipitous decline.

In general, then, central Anatolia shouldn't be too far underestimated as a core territory of pre-Manzikert Romania, but nor should the impact of its loss, and especially its not being reconquered by the 12th century Roman state, be too far emphasized. It had been, while not quite integral, a somewhat populous, somewhat productive, and somewhat prosperous region, in the agricultural, urban, and more traditionally pastoral terms the Roman state could benefit from -- and, most importantly, one with a fully Roman and particularly militarized population -- but by 1120 AD this description no longer applied, manifestly so, and it would be half a millennium before it would again. Roman farmers had been replaced by Turkish nomads, Roman urban aristocrats by converts and the favourites of the new Turko-Persian sultans and princelings, Roman frontiersmen by Muslim Ghazis, and the protection afforded by the Taurus Mountains by the vulnerabilities of Cappadocian grasslands -- all quite hyperbolically speaking, of course, but true enough by the standards of the Roman state to make any idea of undertaking a full reconquest highly unattractive.

Where did you get the data for this map?
All over the place, really -- this primary source, that primary source, this book on the development of Turkish Anatolia, that book on Roman-Turkish interactions, this article on John II's Paphlagonian campaigns, that article on Manuel's rebuilding of Dorylaion, etc. -- it's part of a running project of mine, and in this case has been through several major changes and updates. I can provide more or less reliable sources/arguments for why most frontier regions/cities/fortresses are or aren't included within the boundaries of John's Empire here, although I haven't collected them into a single coherent list so you'd have to be specific. For this map specifically I'm quite confident about pretty much everything with the exception of Paipert/Bayburt, mentioned under Roman control a few decades earlier -- having been recaptured around 1099 by the quasi-independent Dux of Chaldia, Theodore Gavras -- but not again for an extended period thereafter.

BTW, why didn't Turkic nomads advance onto Anatolia before the late 11th century? Indeed, what changed?
In an immediate sense, it was because Turkic nomads weren't present in large numbers or under the same geopolitical and socioeconomic forces in the Armenian highlands or Mesopotamia before the mid-11th century. For a more total answer on how they got there you'd have to ask someone more familiar with the history of Turkic mercenaries in 9th-11th century Arab/Persian employ and the expansion of the early Seljuk state, as I'm quite unfamiliar with any of that outside of its immediate relevance to the Romans.
 
Likes: Futurist
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#34
had prematurely stunted the growth of the Phrygian-Galatian-Lycian-Cappadocian
Correction here: Lycaonian, not Lycian -- I mixed up the names when writing and didn't realize it until after the editing window was up. The Lycian population doesn't seem to have been too badly affected by the Turkish invasions, and in fact the was invested in quite considerably by the Komnenians, seeing the construction or reconstruction of a number of city walls and fortresses (with the secured wealth of the region showing itself in known churches and monasteries of the era). A map from Wikipedia of the classical regions of Anatolia, for reference:

 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,654
#35
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.
I am of the opinion that even prior to the Arab and Islamic expansion that many parts of Anatolia were Byzantine in name only- there were mostly Christian inhabitants but several warlike tribes that were mostly autonomous if the Byzantines left them alone they left the lowland towns and trade routes mostly alone. I have read several accounts of deals struck or campaigns postpones or diverted due to the restiveness of the various hill peoples. Armenians are the most well known having their own ethnic identity that has lasted until today but formerly there were several peoples that the Romans, Seljuks, and for a long time even the Ottomans simply found expedient to accept their tacit surrender but in fact leave them mostly alone. Such peoples usually moved out of the way of the stronger powers avoiding large battles but were very difficult to root out and served as auxillaries and scouts for whichever armies were nearby.

In this environment, it is easier to understand why the Byzantines left central Anatolia mostly alone- even when it was the full Roman empire those lands were mostly valuable for the trade connections further east and generated relatively little revenue for the state from their own agricultural produce. Repeated raids by Arabs reduced what little tax base their was and the trade routes were diverted north and south for a period of time with the expansion of Islam so as was pointed out by the time there was a status quo along the frontiers very few people of importance in Constantinople had a real stake in central Anatolia. Even the well defended ports on the coasts became less important as Byzantine navy and trade prospects in the Mediterranean declined and the increasing focus of the Byzantines on the Balkans and Greece for the state while maintaining open trade with the Arabs and divide and conquer with the nomadic statelets.
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#36
I am of the opinion that even prior to the Arab and Islamic expansion that many parts of Anatolia were Byzantine in name only- there were mostly Christian inhabitants but several warlike tribes that were mostly autonomous if the Byzantines left them alone they left the lowland towns and trade routes mostly alone. I have read several accounts of deals struck or campaigns postpones or diverted due to the restiveness of the various hill peoples. Armenians are the most well known having their own ethnic identity that has lasted until today but formerly there were several peoples that the Romans, Seljuks, and for a long time even the Ottomans simply found expedient to accept their tacit surrender but in fact leave them mostly alone. Such peoples usually moved out of the way of the stronger powers avoiding large battles but were very difficult to root out and served as auxillaries and scouts for whichever armies were nearby.
If you're thinking of the Isaurians and company, they were long, long gone by the 11th century, and either extinct entirely or effectively irrelevant by the late 7th. If any even somewhat notable non-Roman peoples still existed in Anatolia by the 8th century (and no hint of them survives in the sources, if so), the transformation of the region into an extended militarized frontier zone -- subject to constant annual raids for centuries -- would have led to their assimilation into the Roman whole as they were forced to rely on Roman state institutions and seek common refuge in Roman fortified places, for which conforming to Roman religious, lingual, social, and cultural norms would be a requirement. We thus never hear of any even semi-independent Anatolian peoples in the Middle Byzantine sources -- Roman, Arab, Armenian, or otherwise -- with the only partial exceptions, the Armenians and Laz, existing on the very north-eastern fringes of the region, and arguably not even in Anatolia proper. These two exceptions are also very well documented, as are actual semi-autonomous hill peoples in Greece, Thrace, and Crimea (the Peloponnesian Slavs, Vlachs, Goths, etc.), pointing to an absence of evidence being, in this case, a good indication of absence.

Some other things to note are that A) the Anatolian plateau, though high in elevation and mostly unsuited to medieval agriculture, was for the most part only mildly hilly (with isolated outcroppings suitable to fortification) and hosted a number of important fortified urban centres of Roman authority (Iconium, Caesarea, Amorion, Ancyra, Gangra, etc.), and B) the Roman state of the Middle Byzantine period had a very long and accomplished history of (re)settling and fully assimilating (particularly in Anatolia) large, entirely foreign people groups from outside the Empire -- from Slavs to Khurramites to Armenians to Bulgars to Pechenegs -- as well as actively encouraging conformity among pre-existing groups (Basil I's conversion of the last Hellenic Pagan community in the Peloponnese, for instance), so we would certainly not expect significant non-Roman groups deep within the core of Romania to have remained as such.

Anthony Kaldellis's recent Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium covers the above non-geographic topics in great detail, if you're interested.

The Anatolian Themes in 842 AD (note the amount of Thematic capitals on the plateau -- the region, as a constant war zone, saw a great concentration of Roman authority):



Some views of the central-western plateau, near Amorium, Iconium, and Ancyra respectively:





It's really at the transitional zones between the central plateau and lowlands that mountains, steep hills, and forests become more standard, and these were almost all part of the Komnenian Empire; see the terrain around the Komnenian fortifications of Kotyaion (Kutahya), for instance (a huge and fascinating complex -- more photos here):



The borders of John's Empire and the cities mentioned over Anatolia, for reference:



An exaggerated relief map of the same region (Google Earth is a beautiful thing):

 
Last edited:

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
20,936
SoCal
#37
If you're thinking of the Isaurians and company, they were long, long gone by the 11th century, and either extinct entirely or effectively irrelevant by the late 7th. If any even somewhat notable non-Roman peoples still existed in Anatolia by the 8th century (and no hint of them survives in the sources, if so), the transformation of the region into an extended militarized frontier zone -- subject to constant annual raids for centuries -- would have led to their assimilation into the Roman whole as they were forced to rely on Roman state institutions and seek common refuge in Roman fortified places, for which conforming to Roman religious, lingual, social, and cultural norms would be a requirement. We thus never hear of any even semi-independent Anatolian peoples in the Middle Byzantine sources -- Roman, Arab, Armenian, or otherwise -- with the only partial exceptions, the Armenians and Laz, existing on the very north-eastern fringes of the region, and arguably not even in Anatolia proper. These two exceptions are also very well documented, as are actual semi-autonomous hill peoples in Greece, Thrace, and Crimea (the Peloponnesian Slavs, Vlachs, Goths, etc.), pointing to an absence of evidence being, in this case, a good indication of absence.

Some other things to note are that A) the Anatolian plateau, though high in elevation and mostly unsuited to medieval agriculture, was for the most part only mildly hilly (with isolated outcroppings suitable to fortification) and hosted a number of important fortified urban centres of Roman authority (Iconium, Caesarea, Amorion, Ancyra, Gangra, etc.), and B) the Roman state of the Middle Byzantine period had a very long and accomplished history of (re)settling and fully assimilating (particularly in Anatolia) large, entirely foreign people groups from outside the Empire -- from Slavs to Khurramites to Armenians to Bulgars to Pechenegs -- as well as actively encouraging conformity among pre-existing groups (Basil I's conversion of the last Hellenic Pagan community in the Peloponnese, for instance), so we would certainly not expect significant non-Roman groups deep within the core of Romania to have remained as such.

Anthony Kaldellis's recent Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium covers the above non-geographic topics in great detail, if you're interested.

The Anatolian Themes in 842 AD (note the amount of Thematic capitals on the plateau -- the region, as a constant war zone, saw a great concentration of Roman authority):



Some views of the central-western plateau, near Amorium, Iconium, and Ancyra respectively:





It's really at the transitional zones between the central plateau and lowlands that mountains, steep hills, and forests become more standard, and these were almost all part of the Komnenian Empire; see the terrain around the Komnenian fortifications of Kotyaion (Kutahya), for instance (a huge and fascinating complex -- more photos here):



The borders of John's Empire and the cities mentioned over Anatolia, for reference:



An exaggerated relief map of the same region (Google Earth is a beautiful thing):

How much do you think that the Byzantines benefited from having these two "tails" in Anatolia--one expanding all of the way up to Trebizond in the north and another expanding almost all of the way up to Antioch in the south? Do you think that the Byzantines were right to hold onto these "tails" or do you think that they should have limited themselves to only western Anatolia?
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
#39
Apologies for the slightly delayed response, I've been busy.

How much do you think that the Byzantines benefited from having these two "tails" in Anatolia--one expanding all of the way up to Trebizond in the north and another expanding almost all of the way up to Antioch in the south? Do you think that the Byzantines were right to hold onto these "tails" or do you think that they should have limited themselves to only western Anatolia?
Both were fairly urbanized, densely populated regions, had Roman populations (outside of Cilicia), were easily accessible by sea, controlled key centres of Mediterranean and Asian trade (as well, in the south, as Christian pilgrimage), were protected by mountain ranges (especially in the north, hence the survival of the Empire of Trebizond into the 1460's), reinforced other provinces still in Roman hands (Cyprus and Cherson), and provided avenues for power projection into the Caucasus, Black Sea, Levant, and Egypt, so they were definitely worth holding on to. Additionally, many of the main urban centres of both regions, including Attaleia, Sinope, and Trebizond, had never actually fallen to the Turks, making reconquest much easier (and any potential abandonment very damaging to imperial prestige).

Ultimately, the reason both regions were lost was not because of any inherent vulnerability in their position (with, again, the exception of Cilicia) but the unique, irregular chaos and loss seen in the aftermath of 1204. In addition to the immediate fragmentation seen in the first decade of the 13th century, leading to the loss of Lycia and Pamphylia to the Turks and Pontus to a rival, Georgian-sponsored Roman faction, the wholesale loss of the imperial fleet and Venetian/Crusader occupation of the Aegean islands, and Crete in particular (as well as Rhodes, by an independent Roman ruler, until 1250), made a Roman reoccupation of the southern Anatolian coast by sea -- which would have otherwise been a high priority -- a near-impossibility
 
Likes: Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
20,936
SoCal
#40
Apologies for the slightly delayed response, I've been busy.
Don't worry about it! It's great that you responded at all--which is what I am really after. :)

Both were fairly urbanized, densely populated regions, had Roman populations (outside of Cilicia), were easily accessible by sea, controlled key centres of Mediterranean and Asian trade (as well, in the south, as Christian pilgrimage), were protected by mountain ranges (especially in the north, hence the survival of the Empire of Trebizond into the 1460's), reinforced other provinces still in Roman hands (Cyprus and Cherson), and provided avenues for power projection into the Caucasus, Black Sea, Levant, and Egypt, so they were definitely worth holding on to. Additionally, many of the main urban centres of both regions, including Attaleia, Sinope, and Trebizond, had never actually fallen to the Turks, making reconquest much easier (and any potential abandonment very damaging to imperial prestige).

Ultimately, the reason both regions were lost was not because of any inherent vulnerability in their position (with, again, the exception of Cilicia) but the unique, irregular chaos and loss seen in the aftermath of 1204. In addition to the immediate fragmentation seen in the first decade of the 13th century, leading to the loss of Lycia and Pamphylia to the Turks and Pontus to a rival, Georgian-sponsored Roman faction, the wholesale loss of the imperial fleet and Venetian/Crusader occupation of the Aegean islands, and Crete in particular (as well as Rhodes, by an independent Roman ruler, until 1250), made a Roman reoccupation of the southern Anatolian coast by sea -- which would have otherwise been a high priority -- a near-impossibility
Thanks for your response. What you write here makes sense considering that the Anatolian coastlines are still some of the most populous parts of Anatolia even today:

Mapping Population Density Across the Globe

BTW, how much did the loss of Cyprus hurt the Byzantines?

Also, why did the Byzantines fail to negotiate a union with Trebizond after the Latins were kicked out of Constantinople?