Turkey discovers grave of Seljuk Sultan who defeated crusaders

Archaeologists have discovered the grave of Kilij Arslan I, the second ruler of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rūm, and his daughter, in Diyarbakır Province, according to the Smithsonian.

Kilij Arslan (whose name means ‘Sword Lion’), ruled the principality from 1092 until his death in 1107. He was its leader during the First Crusade and defeated the Crusaders in a number of battles.

The century before the First Crusade saw the rise of the Seljuk Empire to encompass most of Persia and Anatolia. On the death of Malik Shah I in 1092, the Seljuk Empire began to fall apart, allowing Kilij Arslan to establish the Seljuk Sultanate of Rūm around Konya.

Map of the Sultanate via Wikimedia Commons

Academics from Dicle University in Diyarbakır began by searching through archives for the location of the graves. The university created a commission to conduct fieldwork in graveyards across Diyarbakır’s Silvan district, and then narrowed the search to two gravesites in Orta Çeşme Park, where they found the Sultan’s remains.

Kilij Arslan helped to rout the army of the People’s Crusade, a ramshackle army of lower class European pilgrims inspired by the Pope’s call for a Holy War to retake Jerusalem. The mob of peasants coalesced under the leadership of Peter the Hermit, a French priest and indulged in widespread Antisemitic pogroms against the Jews of Europe on their way to the Middle East. After leaving Constantinople, the army was destroyed by Kilij Arslan at the Battle of Civetot in 1096.

After this easy victory, Kilij Arslan resumed his war against the Danishmendids, a Turkish Beylik to his East. The main army of the First Crusade arrived and put the Rum capital of Nicaea under seige in 1097. Kilij Arslan’s wife and children were captured by the Crusaders and sent to Constantinople, but they were returned by the Byzantines without ransom due to the good relationship between them and the Sultan. Kilij Arslan then allied with the Danishmendids against the Crusaders, harrying their progress with guerilla tactics. In 1101 he also defeated another Crusader army at Heraclea Cybistra.

After the Crusades, the Sultan extended his territory to the east, capturing Diyarbakır and then Mosul, before dying on campaign in Syria in 1107. 

According to Smithsonian, Dicle University’s rector Mehmet Karakoc, said that the discovery was significant for the area, saying that, “This will bring a different perspective to historical events in terms of both Silvan and Diyarbakır history.”

The Sultan’s daughter, Saide Hatun, was also found by the Dicle University team, according to Archaeology.org.