Early Period of Anatolian Turkish Heritage: Niksar, The Capital of Danishmend Dynasty
Anatolia underwent profound changes during 11th and 12th centuries. Indeed, these changes constitute a significant stage in the history of humanity. In this period, Turkish-Islamic civilisation reached from Middle East into Anatolia, starting a process that would end with proliferation of this civilisation even in Balkans. As of 12th century, these fundamental facts paved way for social, political and also cultural changes in Anatolia. This was the era when the pioneering and leading works of “cultural layer”, eventually known as Anatolian Turkish-Islamic Civilisation, were produced in various towns and cities of Anatolia. Niksar is among these towns, having a privileged status thanks to intensity and significance of cultural assets within.
Today, Niksar is a district of Tokat province; it is located on intersection point of roads coming from Iran, extending to Central Anatolia, Aegean Regions and Istanbul, as well as Anatolian routes from south to Black Sea Region. Due to geopolitical importance of Niksar, Persians had the royal road, which began in Persepolis, pass through Niksar; besides, Black Sea route of Spice trade also traversed the town. Kelkit River, which rises in Anatolia and flows into Black Sea, adds even more to the economic, political and cultural significance of Niksar.
Human life and civilisation have continued in the town since Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages. Today, the town has a population of about 40,000. Ancient Niksar Castle is located on the hill between Maduru and Çanakçı streams, while historic wooden mosques rise around the Castle, in addition to bazaar [arasta] and dozens of historic fountains. The housing pattern of the town maintains ancient wooden characteristics; in terms of typology, Niksar comprises beautiful examples of Turkish house and konak (mansion) architecture. Cultural assets, which emerged thanks to the great changes in Anatolia in 12th and 13th centuries, are generally located in and around the Castle. These buildings and monuments reflect the rich architectural and artistic elements of the early heritage created by Turkish Beys (Emir) who laid the foundation for Turkish civilisation in Anatolia.
In 11th century, Byzantine Niksar was seized by Turks in the wake of Battle of Manzikert; in 1077, it became the capital of Danishmendid. Thanks to geopolitical location, the town mediated proliferation of Turkish-Islamic culture in the regions of Black Sea and Central Anatolia.
Danishmends easily extended from Niksar to Central Anatolia and Black Sea Regions; consequently, they played an important during Turkification of Anatolia by expanding their state and through cultural works. Due to the states’ success in politics and culture, they used the title ‘’Grand Melik of All Romania and the East’’ in the local currency in Greek.
Danishmend, a Persian word, means “wise man”. Accordingly, the beylik was known for inviting the wise and religious scholars to their new lands, as well as for welcoming the learned. Thanks to this character of Danishmendids, Niksar rapidly became a cultural and scientific centre where early and pioneering examples and products of Turkish-Islamic civilisation were created. Thus, the town is a witness of how Anatolia added a new cultural layer to many others throughout millennia. Immediately after the Battle of Manzikert, there was a huge construction period in Niksar. The buildings included many zawiya, khanqah, mosque and masjid for education and performance of religious and Sufi disciplines; likewise, madrasas were constructed for positive sciences, while social and economic structures, such as fountains, Turkish baths, caravanserais, as well as military quarters were built for urban life and various purposes. Indeed, these structures match all building types in Anatolian Turkish culture. This heritage, which comprises rich examples of Danishmendid cultural heritage, kept on advancing after 1175 when the beylik came under the rule of Seljuk Sultanate of Rum.
Yağbasan Madrasa has a special place among this rich cultural heritage. As the first madrasa of Anatolian Turkish Civilisation, Yağbasan was built in 1157-1158. Thanks to Yağbasan Madrasa, the Danishmendid brought the madrasa institution, which has made great contributions to education and science in Muslim world, into Anatolia. Moreover, Davis Kayseri, who is well known Sufi scholar and founder of the Ottoman Medrese system, was educated in Niksar in Yağbasan Madrasa in 12 years, and completed his first philosophical textwork at Niksar Yağıbasan Medrasa. Davudi Kayseri founded the Ottoman Medrese System during the period of Orhan Bey. Yağbasan, has an atrium and two iwans without portico. Yağbasan is especially important in terms of medical education. Thanks to this madrasa, Anatolia reached the most advanced medical science of its time. It was also the first step towards eventual developments that would render Anatolia the most important centre of medical science in upcoming centuries (under Ottoman rule).
Early Anatolian-Turkish buildings in Niksar were constructed around the Castle in such manner to that the latter was positioned in the centre. Castle was built in Roman era, and bears various traces of repair and restoration by Byzantines and Turks due to seismic fragility of the town. Danishmendid repaired the Castle, reinforced and made use of Roman sections such as treasury, granary, cisterns, baths, fountains, by means of vaulted underground roads and vaulted sustaining supports. Moreover, they contributed the palace, baths, fountains, mosques, Mausoleum and Yağbasan Madrasa to the inventory of cultural structures in the castle.
The citadel hosts Nizamettin Yağbasan Mausoleum, a typical early Danishmendid building, near Yağbasan Madrasa, as well as the masjid with the same name. Castle Mosque, palatial structures, arsenals, baths and masjids have lost their monumental features because of various earthquakes strike from 14th to 20th century. Nonetheless, the rich remains under and above the ground have huge archaeological and cultural importance in order to demonstrate the architectural development and evolution in Anatolia in 12th and 13th centuries. Treasury of 18,934 Seljuk coins was unearthed during an archaeological excavation in the final quarter of 20th century in the castle. This finding shows that citadel treasury and granaries, military quarters and palace were actively used by Turks. In this regard, Niksar Citadel is a notable archaeological site so as to reflect information about urban life of Anatolian Turks, as well as urban planning and architectural evolution throughout the process.
In spite of the turbulent political situation in 12th and 13th centuries (efforts by various Turkish Beys to constitute Anatolian Turkish Unity, their collective struggle against Byzantium and Crusaders, settlement of new-coming Turkic tribes etc.), Danishmendid have also constructed all urban elements and structures required by sociocultural life of the society around the castle, out of the city walls. This was probably due to the fact that their ‘’settlement policy’’ for new population. It is known that, the Danişmendid applied the "settlement policy’’ (including the placement of new Turkish families in the agricultural areas of the city) for the first time within the early Anatolian Turkic States. This regular policy of settlement was maintained in Seljuk and then in the Ottoman Empire as well.
Keşfi Osman Effendi Mosque, built outside the citadel by Jalwati order, underwent two separate construction processes in 1078 and 1108. The Grand Mosque, dated to 1145, is a basilica-style building, some examples of which can be observed on other early Turkish mosques. Cin Mosque has a rectangular plan on east-west direction, covered with sharp barrel vault and walled with rubble masonry, was constructed in 1160. Mosque of Çöreği Büyük is an important building constructed by Ilkhanate in 13th century. It was originally a zawiya and khanqah. It is a notable structure, since it is the first ever zawiya with a known plan. The plan actually consists of three iwans and corner rooms, giving to the atrium, except for the south. It is the adaptation of a well-known scheme of Ghaznavid, Kara-Khanid and Seljuk Empire eras into zawiya architecture. The atrium is an indicator of the argument that Niksar and Tokat Yağıbasan Madrasas have influenced the plans of subsequent khanqah and zawiya architecture. On the crown gate is a sitting gazelle figure next to a masnavi by Ferdowsi, reflecting the artistic and cultural richness of the period.
In addition to this stock of religious buildings outside the city walls, there are several mausoleum and complexes [kulliye] of zawiya and madrasa (this complex sometimes have also mausoleum) constructed from 12th and 13th centuries. Kırkkızlar Mausoleum is dated to 1220. The Mausoleum features rare Anatolian brickworks. The interior and exterior plan is octagonal. It consists of two storeys, with mummy section below. It is adorned with neat brick wall, artistically supported with adornments of glazed tile in turquoise around the epitaph. Ayat al-Kursi is inscribed with faience mosaic within. Sungur Bey Zawiya and Mausoleum are dated to 1164- 1169. The complex was built in the name of a bey within Danishmendid Dynasty. Kitchen of zawiya is next to monumental mausoleum, in addition to archaeological remains of zawiya and masjid. Atabey Şahinşah Madrasa and Mausoleum is a building of rectangular plan with vault and iwan, and dated to 1182-1183. Ahi Pehlivan Mausoleum and Zawiya is built in 13th century, and offers an important archaeological site in terms of early Anatolian-Turkish complex architecture. In addition, mausoleums of Fahriye Hatun, Mühür Kesen and Sheikh Bolat are among significant archaeological heritage of Niksar.
Apart from the mentioned complexes, there are, as well, distinct mausoleums, exclusively built as tomb. These Mausoleum are located in Melikgazi Cemetery, the Muslim necropolis of the town during 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Cemetery is an outdoor museum thanks to richness of Danishmendid, Seljuklar, Ilkhanate and Ottoman gravestones in addition to the mausoleum. The Mausoleum and mausoleums exhibit various architectural styles. Gravestones show traditions of millennia and indicated tombs of those who have migrated to Niksar from Balkans, Anatolia and Crimea for education purposes during 12th and 13th centuries. The cemetery is named after Melik Ghazi Mausoleum is actually the tomb of Danishmend Ahmad Ghazi, the conqueror of Niksar. Alternating hacking masonry in the mausoleum is a unique style, not observed even in Seljuk and Danishmendid mausoleums. So-called “Turkish triangles” in diamond forms towards the dome are uncommon for similar structures in 12th and 13th centuries. Apparently, the mausoleum was restored following the arrival of Ottoman rule in 1392. The restoration works are important, since they show how Ottomans cared and appropriated their ghazi ancestors, as well as their Anatolian-Turkish heritage of Beyliks Period. Doğan Şah Alp Mausoleum, a 12th century building, is notable as an early example in terms of form. The big structures opposite are Anonymous Mausoleums from 12th century; they have rubble walls and barrel vaults. Ak Yapı Mausoleum, a 13th century building with square plan and a dome with tromps, is another notable structure within cemetery. Atabey Şahinşah Mausoleum is from 12th century, has an octagonal form and is covered with a dome. All these gonbad are very rich in terms of architectural plan, construction elements, inscriptions and adornments on epitaphs, motifs on surrounding gravestones, as well as calligraphy and typology of such headstones. They reflect the features of the time in the tradition of calligraphy, a significant characteristic of Islamic civilisation.
The city maintains the folkloric traits which created the mentioned rich cultural and archaeological heritage. Even in 21st century, Culture of Beyliks, which shaped early Anatolian- Turkish culture and led to a new cultural stage in the beginning of second millennium, is apparent here and there by means of religious rituals, handicrafts and similar arts, oral tradition, as well as through names of people and places.
The Summary of Danishmend History: In 6th and 7th centuries, Islam gained recognition in Arabian Peninsula and this civilisation spread in Middle East, North Africa and Andalusia. This process paved way for serious changes in the history of humanity. History would enter a brand new stage upon foundation of Seljuk Empire by Turks on the eastern border of Eastern Roman Empire, whereupon they became the guard of Caliph.
Turkic-Oghuz tribes headed for Anatolia just prior to second millennium AD. Romanos IV Diogenes, the Eastern Roman Emperor, was uneasy with Turkic tribes on the frontiers of Seljuk Empire. Thereupon, Romanos IV decided to assault, but Alp Arslan, Seljuk Sultan, would not remain unresponsive and as a result Alp Arslan defeated Byzantines in Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Fight for Byzantine throne between military and technocrat families of the Empire, state wars between Armenian and Greek Orthodox peoples and related social tension did weaken Anatolia during the period.
“Ghaza-ghazi” system, as well as the advantages of socio-political structure of the Turkish Anatolian Beylik system, which was supported by “sheikhs” who have moderate attitude towards social and moral atmosphere of the public, took Turkic Beyliks deep into Anatolia.
Following the Battle of Manzikert, Niksar became homeland [il, yurt] to Artuq Bey, son of Eksük in 1071. Eventually, the town would change hands several times between Eastern Roman Empire and Turkish armies. In 1077, the town was seized by Melik Ahmet Danishmend Ghazi and became the capital of Danishmendid State. Thus, chain of events in famous epic of Danishmendname have got started.
Danishmendid Beys were strong enough to become the most important actors in Turkification of Anatolia, along with Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate. The relationship between two states was so rich to comprise political and affinity bonds. Danishmendid had a notable place in early Anatolian- Turkish history thanks to their fight against Crusaders together with the Seljuk, their bilateral relations and conflicts with Byzantine Emperors, struggles against Franks and above all, cultural riches. Under the rule of Emir Ghazi, the second of bey of Danishmendid, the beylik had seized the majority of Anatolia except for so-called Aegean Region. Thereupon, Sanjar, the Caliph of Baghdad, declared Emir Ghazi as Melik. In those days, the region, which extended from Central Anatolia until Sakarya River, was ruled by Danishmendid and accordingly called “Danishmendiye” or “Danishment Lands”. These denominations were still in use throughout Anatolia during the foundation years of Ottomans.
Following these golden ages, the state was divided between heirs as is the case in many Turkish states. Zunnun rules in Kayseri, while Ayd ud-Daula reigns in Malatya, and Nizamettin Yağıbasan governs Sivas, Tokat and Niksar. Each bey builds many madrasas, khanqah, zawiya, mausoleums and mosques in their respective realms. In 1174, Anatolian Seljuk Sultan Kilij Arslan II conquers Tokat, Sivas, Niksar and other Danishmend provinces, and establishes political Turkish unity in Anatolia. Thus, Anatolia Seljuk era starts in Niksar as well. Many structures, Kyrgyz Mausoleum above all, were built during this period.
Kilij Arslan divides the country between his eleven sons; thereupon, Anatolian political unity did not last long. Niksar became a centre of science and culture under the rule of Nasraddin Barkiyaruk Shah; soon, however, Rukn ad-Din Sulayman Shah captured Niksar and Amasya following the conflicts of brothers. The fortress walls were repaired in those days. Niksar underwent turbulent periods under Vizier Shamsuddin Isfahani, Rukn ad-din Kilij Arslan IV and Nur al-Din Pervane, before falling under Ilkhanate rule in 1307. In 1341, the town was captured by Eretnids, before becoming capital to Tajaddinids for a short while. Then, Niksar fell under rule of Kadi Burhan al-Din. This was another turbulent era for Niksar until the death of Kadi in 1398. Later on, the town voluntarily came under Ottoman hegemony, whereupon the Age of Beyliks was over.