Who Were the Seljuks?

SeljukSultanSanjarsTombMichaelRunkelviaGetty.jpg
The Seljuk sultan Sanjar's tomb in the ancient capital of Merv, now in Turkmenistan. Michael Runkel via Getty Images

The Seljuks were a Sunni Muslim Turkish confederation that ruled much of Central Asia and Anatolia between 1071 and 1194.

The Seljuk Turks originated on the steppes of what is now Kazakhstan, where they were a branch of the Oghuz Turks called the Qinik. Around 985, a leader called Seljuk led nine clans into the heart of Persia. He died in about 1038, and his people adopted his name.

The Seljuks intermarried with Persians and adopted many aspects of the Persian language and culture.

By 1055, they controlled all of Persia and Iraq as far as Baghdad. The Abbasid caliph, al-Qa'im, awarded the Seljuk leader Toghril Beg the title sultan for his assistance against a Shi'a adversary.

The Seljuk Empire, based in what is now Turkey, was a target of the Crusaders from western Europe. They lost much of the eastern part of their empire to Khwarezm in 1194, and the Mongols finished off the Seljuk remnant kingdom in Anatolia in the 1260s.

Pronunciation: "sahl-JOOK"

Alternate Spellings: Seljuq, Seldjuq, Seldjuk, al-Salajiqa

Examples: "The Seljuk ruler Sultan Sanjar is buried in a magnificent tomb near Merv, in what is now Turkmenistan."