Islamic Warfare



Society during the time of the Seldjuk Turks was divided into something along feudal lines when one is discussing the art of warfare during the crusades. The Sultan would grant the great Amirs land or revenue that was referred to as iqta'. This was assigned to an individual as a reward for service to the state. Iqta' came in many forms, however in it's early development it became a militarized system through which the landholder kept all of the revenues collected and the only duty he owed the central government was personal service in the army. Depending on the status of the individual they could be bound to take a contingent of their own soldiers when called upon for this military service.


Individual sultan's inability to enforce loyalty within the obligations of the iqta' caused political weakness in the Seldjuk empire. For small-scale operations and regular duties a standing force called the 'askar, consisting of slaves and freedmen, was sufficient for the purposes of the amirs' obligations under the iqta'. However, for larger operations the great amirs and their personal contingents, made up of the individuals he would have granted land or revenue to under the greater iqta' held by him, were called to fulfill their military obligations. Therefore any large Muslim army was a composite force made up of individual amirs and their contingents who may have their own personal rivalries or disputes.


Because of the lack of a large standing army, military operations were often seasonal. Land holding amirs could be much more interested in their agricultural prospects than in the wars they were engaged in. There was always the possibility of their land being taken while they were away on campaign. Part time soldiers also got tired of fighting and during the winter season when it was difficult to hold a campaign they would leave for home and family.



The main determinant of the Muslim tactics during the crusades was the predominant position of the horse archer in their army. As a light cavalry, the horse archers that made up the bulk of the Islamic armies were highly mobile. This mobility was used in four ways which gave the Turks an advantage over the European armies which could be highly dangerous when they approached for close combat. High mobility allowed the Islamic army to maintain a distance from the enemy and choose the moment at which they would close with them. This allowed for the Muslim forces to generally control the place and timing of the major confrontations. The second use of this mobility was the feigned retreat which allowed them to lead the Europeans into ambushes or to cause a fake retreat to last for some days to tire the enemy. Good mobility allowed them to attack the weakest points in the enemy's army. The rear and the flanks made ideal targets against the Europeans since the commander would travel in the vanguard at the front of the column while traveling. This caused chaos while traveling, and in a battle it allowed the Turks to attack the crusaders without ever coming into a pitched battle with the main body of the Europeans until they were worn-down and had lost all support from the flanks of the attack in battle. The last way in which this mobility helped the Muslims was in attacking the enemy and forcing him to fight on the march. Instead of the Europeans sitting in a circle and gradually being killed by arrows, they marched toward either safety or where they supposed the enemy to be. This allowed for even greater possibilities of the use of the Turkish mobility in battle to come into distance, attack with arrows and move back away from the distance in which the slower loading crossbow could be used against them.


The horse archers themselves could loose their arrows from the saddle without halting or dismounting, and even shoot backwards while in retreat. The composite bow was a light weapon which often did not penetrate the armour far enough to cause injury to the wearer. Due to thick pads of felt and the mail worn by knights, the arrows were often seen sticking out of warriors who just continued on their way. The many flights of arrows were used mainly to destroy any cohesion that the Europeans would have, and cause them to lose horses as well. This loss of horses was a major blow to the main weapon of the Crusaders; namely the heavy cavalry charge with lances in rest. The horse archers would begin the fight at bowshot range patiently waiting for the most opportune time to attack at close quarters and finish the enemy. Only when a favorable opportunity arrived, or when they were forced into confrontation would the lightly armoured Turks attempt combat at close quarters.

(Smail 64-87, Hurley 135-147, Bradbury 12-14)