An Unfortunate Seljuk Sultan Was Blinded And Strangled On The Orders Of His Own Brother

(The blind Leading the Blind (cropped), by Pieter Brueghel the Elder  ( –1569), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


The Sultan of the Rûm Turks from 1107-1116, named Malik-Shah, was a very unlucky man. For one, he had the misfortune of having the same name as the much more famous Seljuk Sultan ruling at that time in Bagdad, making this particular Sultan of Rûm a mere footnote in history. Unfortunately for him, his name does stand out in history because of his supposed unfortunate, grisly end.

Sultan Malik-Shah of Ikonion (or Konya) became the ruler of the Sultanate of Rûm, located in Anatolia, after the death of his father, Sultan Kilidj Arslan in 1107. Not much is known about Malik-Shah’s reign—the feats of his predecessor and successor were much better documented than his. Nevertheless, from sources such as Anna Komnene’s The Alexiad, we know he was leading military forays against the Byzantine Empire from around 1112-1116.

Power, however, was in no way secure or stable for Malik-Shah. His half-brother, Ma’sud, was gathering powerful conspirators in an extensive plot to usurp power from the sultan. Recruitment became easier for Ma’sud as his half-brother’s military expeditions continued to prove fruitless. Yet, the turning point was likely when Malik-Shah made peace with the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios Komneneos, which occurred in 1116.

There were enough clandestine whispers in the Rûm Sultanate that even Emperor Alexios’ intelligence network picked up on the danger. Anna Komnene claimed that Alexios gave the information to Malik-Shah, but the sultan largely disregarded the intelligence and refused any aid from the emperor.

Despite being warned of the present danger, Sultan Malik-Shah began his journey home. On the road, he ran into an assassin, but the assailant was disarmed and the sultan was safe. Then, following the advise of a friend, Malik-Shah rerouted his party to the Byzantine-controlled city of Tyragion.

He would come to realize that was a mistake. Soon after the sultan’s arrival at the city, an army led by Ma’sud arrived on the scene and besieged Tyragion. Even worse, the friend of Malik-Shah who had led the sultan to the city turned out to be one of Ma’sud’s conspirators—he betrayed his liege and let the enemy into the city.

According to Anna Komene, little mercy was shown to Malik-Shah. Ma’sud had his half-brother blinded, and, apparently, a candelabrum given to Malik-Shah by Emperor Alexios was the very tool used for the blinding. After losing power and eyesight, Malik-Shah returned to Ikonion, where his wife and a nurse looked after his needs. Nevertheless, rumor soon got out that the former sultan could still see a glimmer of light through his ruined eyes. When Sultan Ma’sud I (r. 1116-1155) heard the rumor, he allegedly became enraged and determined to finally kill Malik-Shah, once and for all. In 1117, according to The Alexiad, Ma’sud had his half-brother strangled to death with a bowstring.

Written by C. Keith Hansely.


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