“That Dreadful Day” describes the battle of Manzikert and its subsequent conquest by the Seljuk Turks in August 1071 C.E. Its loss to the Byzantines had a long and melancholy effect. Byzantine historians felt the loss so deeply that it is never referred to in later documents by anything other than that “dreadful” or “horrible” day. The author seized on this point in describing the events leading to and directly after the event, giving it a more exalted status than perhaps it deserves. His thesis argues the importance of the loss of this one city and its effect on the future as a whole for the Eastern Empire.

Byzantium, comparably the world’s greatest power for seven centuries, lost at one blow the richest part of its domain, its heartland, leaving the rest to be plucked at and torn away piece meal by predatory neighbors until after the longest death rattle in history, its last remnant, the city of Constantinople, fell to the enemy’s sword. (P. 17)
 

Manzikert, as battles went during those times did not really distinguish itself in any particular or memorable way. However, it was the culmination of approximately a fifty-year period that saw the Byzantine Empire go from its greatest height in 1025 to the loss of Manzikert in 1071. “Less than fifty years later the Empire was reduced to a fraction of its former extent” (p. 57). In 1025 Byzantium was more powerful and influential than at any time in its previous history.  Its borders extended for  “a thousand miles from west to east.” It stretched from the Danube in the north to the Islands of Crete and Cyprus in the South (P. 57, also see map on page 72-73). When one views the significance of Manzikert from this vantage it becomes clear as to the significance of the loss.

The Empire was strong in 1025 and showed no signs of slowing down. From that point on Byzantium began to experience invasions from all sides. Franks and Normans felt bold enough to attack and did so on a number of occasions for different provocations. In the East the Muslims seem to do the same. Little by little these attacks wore the empire down and took their toll on its power and strength.

Of course it would be another three hundred and fifty years before the empire actually fell, so with the benefit of historical hindsight we might conclude that Byzantium’s historians who referred to Manzikert in such apocalyptical terms, were a bit premature in their assessments. Professor Friendly himself suggests that Manzikert might have not been the disaster that it was labeled. “To be sure, the amputations suffered at Manzikert and in the years immediately following were not immediately lethal” (58). However, the author still saw fit to regard Manzikert as the beginning of the end of the empire.

Manzikert might indeed have been the major blow that the author insists that it was, but an argument can be made that Manzikert would not have even been possible without having to defend the empire and engage in small but costly military campaigns for a number of years before the battle. Allthough Professor Friendly does not express it, it is hard to conceive that only the loss of Manzikert was lamented. Indeed, it is Manzikert that is remembered. The author suggests that the best way to judge this time and therefore understand the devastating loss at Manzikert is to realize the “Zenith” and “Nadir” the empire seemed to experience in a very short period of time. “The depth of the fall of Byzantium is best measured by the altitude of the peak on which it previously stood. “ (p.59) As the author’s thesis states, it was this “peak” from which the empire stood culminating some fifty years later with the fall of Manzikert to the Turks.

Friendly uses a number of primary and secondary sources to make his points.   Along with the standard scholars like Runciman and Charanis, he makes use of a number of original sources who lived during that era. However, he is careful to distinguish between Arab and Byzantine accounts. The reason for this is simple.  Arab accounts are regarded as not reliable and Friendly is quick to point this out. For example, Bar Hebreaus reported that the Turk General, Afsin, had “reached the walls of Constantinople itself.” There are no Byzantine reports that this ever took place. Friendly warns the reader to view the report with skepticism as he prefaces Afsin’s success with “ The legend arose, which Bar Hebraeaus reported as fact” (p.162).

The author utilizes the memoir of Michael Attaleiates to tell most of the main thrust of the story, the actual battle of Manzikert. Attaleiates, present for “That Dreadful day” provides the only Byzantine eyewitness account of the battle.

In my opinion this is not a book for scholars. It is far too general for that. However, it is a good resource for someone like myself, who is interested in eleventh century Byzantium and its interaction with the Muslim world. This is one of those historical accounts that introduces the student to the subject matter. It is used primarily as a “discovering tool” so that one can decide what specifically would be of interest to research more thoroughly.

 

*All notes are taken from,. Alfred Friendly.  That Dreadful Day Hutchinson and co. London. 1981

 

 

 

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