On an arid upland valley in Armenia, one hot August day in 1071, the Roman/Byzantine army marched out of camp to battle the forces of the Turkish Sultan, Alp Arslan. There, near the town of Manzikert, the course of medieval history and the map of the Near East would be changed forever. It was a seminal moment, one that would set in motion a chain of events whose impact is felt to this day.
Roman scouting was unaccountably poor, and the first indication the Romans had that a large Turkish army was in the vicinity was when foraging parties were driven-in by large, aggressive bands of Turkish horse archers. A considerable force of Roman regular cavalry, under Basilakes, Dux of Theodosiopolis (a Roman fortress town near the eastern frontier, now the modern Turkish Erzurum) was dispatched to drive off what was thought to be just small groups of Turkish raiders. Instead, Basilakes blundered into the Sultan’s army, and his force was annihilated. Another contingent under Nikephoros Byrennios, commander of the forces of the European Themes, was dispatched to aid Basilakes. These too were roughly handled, and retreated back into the Imperial Camp.
As swarms of Turkish horsemen poured into the far end of the valley, the Emperor and his commanders realized this was no raiding force, but the Sultan’s main army.
The Sultan now sent a delegation to request a cessation of hostilities; but, as earlier in the year, Romanus rejected this overture.
The following morning, August 26th, 1071 the last great native Roman army the Empire would ever field marched out of camp and prepared for battle.