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Battle of Tours
The Battle of Tours (more often called the Battle of Poitiers) was fought on October 25, 732 between forces under the Frankish leader Charles Martel and an Islamic army led by Emir Abd er Rahman. During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and Emir Abd er Rahman was killed. The result of this battle stopped the northward advance of Islam from Spain.
- Franks, led by Charles Martel. Estimates of his forces vary. Losses according to St. Denis were about 15,000.
- Muslims, 60-400,000 cavalry, under Abd er Rahman.
The Muslims in Spain for some years threatened French territories. Duke Eudes of Aquitaine had decisively defeated a major invasion force in 721 at the Battle of Toulouse, but Arab raids continued, in 725 reaching as far as the city of Autun in Burgundy. Threatened by both the Arabs in the south and by the Franks in the north, in 730 Eudes allied himself with Othmar of Munuza , the Berber emir in what would later be Catalonia. Arab raids across his southern border ceased, and Othmar married Eudes's daughter Lampade.
However, the next year, Othmar rebelled against the governor of al-Andalus, Abd er Rahman. Rahman quickly crushed the revolt, and next directed his attention against the traitor's former ally, Eudes. According to one unidentified Arab, "That army went through all places like a desolating storm." Duke Eudes (called King by some), collected his army at Bordeaux, but was defeated, and Bordeaux was plundered. Eudes appealed to the Franks for assistance, which Charles Martel only granted after Eudes agreed to submit to Frankish authority. In 732, the Arab raiding force was proceeding north along the River Loire. A possible motive was the riches in the cathedral of Tours. Upon hearing this, Austrasian Mayor Charles collected his army of an estimated 15,000 - 75,000 veterans, and marched south.
Despite the supposedly great importance of this battle, its exact location remains unknown. Most historians assume that the two armies met each other where the rivers Clain and Vienne join between Tours and Poitiers.
Charles positioned his army at a place where he expected the Muslim army to pass, at a defensive position. It is possible that his tightly packed infantry, armed with swords, spears and shield formed a phalanx-like formation. According to the Arabian sources they drew up in a large square. Certainly, given the disparity between the armies, in that the Franks were mostly infantry, against mounted, (and in the case of the Arabs) heavily armoured horsemen, Charles Martel fought a brilliant defensive battle. In a place and time of his chosing, he met a far superior force, and defeated it.
For six days the two armies watched each other, with just minor skirmishes. Neither of them wanted to attack. The Franks were well dressed for the cold, and had the terrain advantage. The Arabs were not as prepared for the intense cold, but did not want to attack what they thought was a numerically superior Frankish army. The fight commenced on the seventh day, as Abd er Rahman did not want to postpone the battle indefinitely.
Abd er Rahman trusted the numerical superiority of his cavalry, and had them charge repeatedly. This time the faith the Muslims had in their cavalry, armed with their long lances, long swords and spears, which had brought them victory in previous battles, was not justified.
In one of the rare instances where medieval infantry stood up against cavalry charges, the disciplined Frankish soldiers withstood the assaults, though according to Arab sources, the Arab cavalry several times broke into the interior of the Frankish square.
For the Frankish soldiers the heavy Saracen cavalry looked invincible: heavily armoured, with even their horses wearing protective armour. It is probable that the numerous Berber cavalry were just lightly armoured. The Franks thus fared much better against the Berber cavalry than against the Saracens.
According to a Frankish source the battle lasted one day; according to Arab sources two days. When the rumour went through the Arab army that Frankish cavalry threatened the booty they had taken from Bordeaux, many returned to their camp. This, to the majority of the Muslim army, appeared to be a full-scale retreat, and soon it was one. While attempting to stop the retreat, Abd er Rahman became surrounded, which lead to his death, and the Muslims returned to their camp.
The next day, when the Muslims did not renew the battle, the Franks feared an ambush. Only after extensive reconnaissance by Frankish soldiers of the Muslim camp did it turn out that the Muslims had retreated during the night.
The Arab army retreated south over the Pyrenees. Charles earned his nickname Martel, meaning hammer, in this battle. He continued to drive the Muslims from France in subsequent years. He would defeat the Moors in battle near the River Berre and the Narbonne.
Importance of the battle
Christian contemporaries, from Bede to Theophanes carefully recorded the battle and were keen to spell out what they saw as its implications. Later scholars, such as Edward Gibbon, would contend that had Martel fallen, the Moors would have easily conquered an internecine Europe. Gibbon wrote that "A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Qur'an would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammed." Though this is disputed by contemporary historians, it is supported by the references in Islamic histories of the times which refer more to the Franks than any other Christian people save the Bzyantines.
However, contemporary Arab historians and chroniclers were much more interested in the Arab defeat at Constantinople in 718. Many contemporary historians argue that had the Arabs actually wished to conquer Europe they could easily have done so. However, these historians argue that the fact is they were not interested, because Northern Europe at that time was considered to be (and was) a socially, culturally and economically backward area with little to interest any invaders. But this is disputed by the records of the Islamic raids into India and other non-muslim states for loot and converts. Given the great wealth in Christian shrines such as the one at Tours, Islamic expansion into that area would have been likely had it not been sharply defeated in 732 by Martel. Further evidence of the importance of this battle lies in Islamic expansion into all other regions of the old Roman Empire. It is not likely Gaul would have been spared save by the strength of Martel's legendary right arm and the loyalty of his veteran Frankish Army.
Moreover, given the fact that the Arabs own histories make more references to the Franks than any other people save the Bzyantines, and the importance they placed on the death of Rahman and the defeat in Gaul, and the subsequent defeat and destruction of Muslim bases in what is now France, it is likely that this battle did have macrohistorical importance in stopping westward Islamic expansion. Gibbons and his generation of historians are probably more correct than the contemporary view that this battle lacked major historical impact. Had Martel fallen at Tours the long term implications for European Christianity would likely have been devastating.
Watson, William E., "The Battle of Tours-Poitiers Revisited", Providence: Studies in Western Civilization, 2 (1993)
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