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SELJUKS (Arab. Saljūq), dynasty of Turkic origin which ruled *Iran and the surrounding countries in the 11th and 12th centuries. The conquest of much of the Middle East by the Seljuks, who founded an empire extending from Central Asia to the Mediterranean, influenced inter alia the situation of its Jewish subjects.

The Seljuks adopted and developed various institutions of military and civil administration which became the basis of much of the government structure in many of the states which succeeded them, including the *Ayyubids, the *Mamluk Sultanate, and the *Ottoman Empire; among the most important of these institutions was the military land-tenure system known as iqṭā', which some scholars mistakenly call "Oriental feudalism." No less important, they supported and helped restore the primacy of orthodox *Islam, known as Sunnism. From their crossing of the Oxus to *Khurasan in 1035 at the head of their Turcoman warriors, which resulted in the conquest of Persia (Iran), they saw themselves and projected an image as champions of orthodox Islam and "the friends of the caliph." The 200 years prior to their conquests had seen an increased influence of Shiʿite heretical sects and the establishment of Shiʿite dynasties, such as the *Fatimids in 969 in *Egypt and later in parts of *Syria (including Palestine), and the Buwayhids in *Iraq and western Persia. This latter dynasty even held sway over the *Abbasid caliphs, who had been reduced to virtual puppets. The Seljuks, therefore, had the sympathy of orthodox scholars and notables who facilitated their conquest in many places. In 1055 the Seljuk leader Tughril Bey entered *Baghdad and concluded a solemn treaty with the Abbasid caliph, who recognized him as "king of the East and the West," and granted him the title "sultan." This was the first time this title was officially used in the Islamic world for the de facto ruler of the caliph's realm, whose authority now was recognized as mainly de jure. Accordingly, the Seljuks made great efforts to stress the Islamic tendency of their policy and to strengthen the hold of orthodox Islam; in fact, in many ways they saw their main enemy as the extreme Shiʿite Fatimids, and not the non-Muslims. This being said, when Seljuk armies invaded Christian countries, there were often massacres of monks, churches were burnt, and nonconformist Muslim groups were required to adapt to orthodox Islam; some of these more extreme measures were apparently the initiative of local commanders or Turcoman tribesmen and did not necessarily always represent the policy of the central government. The Seljuks founded religious colleges (madrasas) to educate new generations of theologians in the spirit of orthodox Islam. Their graduates, rigidly orthodox, became the class of scholars from which government officials were recruited, as were the teachers of the new colleges. The result was a strong, loyal, and militant class of Sunni scholars, who in turn influenced the tone and policy of Seljuk rule. The Seljuk official par excellence was the wazir Niẓām al-Mulk, who served the sultans Alp Arslan (1063–72) and Malikshah (1072–92) until his assassination. Besides being responsible for the orderly running of the vast empire and the establishment of a network of madrasas (called the Niẓāmiyya after him), he wrote a work in the Mirror-for-Princes genre, known as the Siyaset-Nameh, which gives tremendous insight into the working of these bureaucrats-cum-scholars' minds.

The 1070s and 1080s also saw the conquest by Turcomans, more or less under Seljuk authority, of Syria and Palestine. There is ongoing discussion among scholars about the nature of this rule and the degree of violence which the local population, including the small Jewish communities, suffered. In any event, by the mid-1090s the Fatimids had regained control over Palestine. Seljuk victories in Anatolia and Syria, including the conquest of Jerusalem, had indirectly contributed to the initiative of the first Crusade, which led to the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 by the Franks. Ironically, by the time the Crusaders arrived in Syria at the end of the 1090s, the Seljuk state had begun to fall apart in this area and even further east, and no concerted resistance to the invaders could be offered. On the other hand, Seljuk authority was maintained in central and east Iran (and in Anatolia under another branch of the family) until the mid-12th century.

The orthodox Seljuks and their client princes considered reenactment of the so-called Covenant of *Omar, i.e., the repressive laws designed to differentiate and humiliate non-Muslims, as an integral part of their policy. Shortly after the conquest of Persia (Iran) and Babylonia (Iraq), a series of decrees were issued, enforcing the old repressive laws on Christians and Jews, and manifestations of intolerance occurred. Ibn al-Jawzī and other chroniclers dwell on the efforts to implement the Covenant of Omar in Babylonia. In 1058 the non-Muslims of Baghdad were forced to wear signs on their dress. Similarly, there were attempts to dismiss them from government positions. In 1062 taverns were closed, depriving Jews and Christians of a major source of revenue. The measures taken in 1085 by the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadī (1075–94) reinforced the Covenant of Omar in its entirety. (We should remember, however, that the caliph's power was limited, so the extent of these measures may not have extended far beyond Baghdad.) Non-Muslims were required to wear distinctive signs on their turbans; they could not raise their voices when praying, nor build houses higher than those of their Muslim neighbors. Again taverns were closed and wine was poured into the streets. In 1091 the caliph decreed that the *dhimmīs wear yellow headgear and girdles of various colors, and a sign of lead around their necks as well. Women had to wear shoes of different colors, such as one red and the other black. The Arabic chronicler reports that the promulgation of these laws caused many non-Muslims to embrace Islam, in order to escape the humiliation. In 1105, however, the laws were abolished. In a diploma issued by Sanjar, the last Seljuk ruler of central and eastern Persia, to the muḥtasib (inspector of markets and public morals) of Mazandaran, among his many responsibilities, he is called upon to make sure that the dhimmīs wear distinguishing clothing to mark their inferiority. As can be seen, the Jews were not selected especially for restrictive measures under the Seljuks, but rather were swept up in general anti-dhimmī fervor, which also affected the more numerous Christians

The Arabic historians reveal that the measures of the caliphs and the Seljuks authorities vis-à-vis the dhimmīs, the aim of which was their humiliation, were not kept consistently. One outstanding example of the selective and far from consistent implementation of the Covenant of Omar was the Jewish tax-farmer Ibn ʿAllān, one of Niẓām al-Mulk's protégés, who was executed by some of the latter's opponents in 1079–80. On the other hand, the jizya (poll tax) taken from the non-Muslims was regularly collected, making an important contribution to the revenues of the empire (and representing a real burden to the dhimmīs, both as individuals and communities). Large Jewish communities existed in Baghdad and Nishapur, as well as other large cities of the Seljuk empire. *Benjamin of Tudela, writing several years after the end of Seljuk power in central and eastern Persia, notes Jewish communities in Hamadan, Isfahan, Nahavand, and Shiraz. These Jewish inhabitants were probably mostly involved in trade and commerce.

While not always enforced, Seljuk policy towards the dhimmīs, like many other Seljuk institutions, served as models for subsequent dynasties. Therefore its importance should not be underestimated.


J.A. Boyle, The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5: The Saljuq and Mongol Periods (1968); C. Cahen, Pre-Ottoman Turkey (tr. J. Jones-Williams, 1968). M. Gil, A History of Palestine, 6341099 (tr. E. Broido, 1992), 409–29; D.O. Morgan, Medieval Persia, 10001797 (1988), 25–50.

[Eliyahu Ashtor /

Reuven Amitai (2nd ed.)]