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Tours

 

This month the Museum looks at why our secular problems with the Middle East are being hidden behind the veil of religion and how the Internet makes “history”.
 
Internet Compilation of The Battle of Tours (732 A.D.)

The Battle of Tours, October 10, 732.

In this corner Frankish leader Charles “The Hammer” Martel and (here the numbers vary massively, but we’ll say) 25,000 Franks.

And in this corner Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi Abd “The Arab” al Rahman, and his cast of thousands, say 100,000, again the numbers are sketchy at best.

The Location: near the city of Tours, France, obviously. Tours is not near the border with Spain as one might suspect, but rather about 150 miles south of Paris, and twice that the Spanish Caliphate. 

During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and Emir Abd er Rahman was killed. This battle stopped the northward advance of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula, and is considered by most historians to be of macrohistorical importance, in that it halted the Islamic conquests, and preserved Christianity as the controlling faith in Europe, during a period in which Islam was overrunning the remains of the old Roman and Persian Empires.

In 732, the Arab advance force was proceeding north toward the River Loire having already outpaced their supply train and a large part of their army. Essentially, having easily destroyed all resistance in that part of Gaul, the invading army had split off into several raiding parties, simply looting and destroying, while the main body advanced more slowly. One of the major raiding parties advanced on Tours. A possible motive, according to the second continuator of Fredegar, was the riches of the Abbey of Saint Martin of Tours, the most prestigious and holiest shrine in western Europe at the time. Upon hearing this, Austrasia Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel, collected his army, including Burgundian veterans, and marched south.

Despite the 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 chose to begin the battle in a defensive, 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, all without armor, against mounted and Arab armored or mailed horsemen, (the Berbers were less heavily protected) Charles Martel fought a brilliant defensive battle. In a place and time of his choosing, he met a far superior force, and defeated it.

For six days, the two armies watched each other with just minor skirmishes. The Muslims waited for their full strength to arrive, which it did, but they were still uneasy. No good general, and Abd er Rahman was one, liked to let his opponent pick the ground and conditions for battle - and Martel had done both. Martel gambled everything that Abd er Rahman would in the end feel compelled to battle, and to go on and loot Tours. It became a waiting game, which Martel won. The fight commenced on the seventh day, as Abd er Rahman did not want to postpone the battle indefinitely.

Abd er Rahman trusted the tactical superiority of his cavalry, and had them charge repeatedly. This time the faith the Muslims had in their cavalry, armed with their long lances and swords 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. But despite this, Franks did not break, and it is probably best expressed by a translation of an Arab account of the battle from the Medieval Source Book: "And in the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like North a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people of the Austrasians carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down to the breasts of the foe."

It might have been different, however, had the Muslim forces remained under control. According to Muslim accounts of the battle, in the midst of the fighting on the second day, scouts from the Franks began to raid the camp and supply train (including slaves and other plunder). A large portion of the army broke off and raced back to their camp to save their plunder. What appeared to be a retreat soon became one. While attempting to restore order to his men, who had managed to break into the defensive square, Abd er Rahman was surrounded by Franks and killed.

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 was it discovered 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.

The importance of these campaigns, Tours and the later campaigns of 736-7 in putting an end to Muslim bases in Gaul, and any immediate ability to expand Islamic influence in Europe, cannot be overstated. Gibbons and his generation of historians, and the majority of modern experts agree with them that they were unquestionably decisive in world history.

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 a divided 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." Certainly, the Islamic invasions were an enormous danger during the window of 721 from Toulouse to 737 at the Arab defeat at Narbonne. But the window was closing. The unified Caliphate collapsed into civil war in 750 at the Battle of the Zab which left the Umayyad dynasty literally wiped out except for the Princes who escaped to Africa, and then Iberia, where they established the Umayyad Emirate in opposition to the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad.

In the modern era, Norwich, the most widely read authority on the Eastern Roman Empire, says the Franks halting Muslim Expansion at Tours literally preserved Christianity as we know it. Had Martel fallen at Tours the long term implications for European Christianity may have been devastating. His victory there, and in the following campaigns, may have literally saved Europe and Christianity as we know it, from conquest while the Caliphate was unified and able to mount such a conquest. Had the Franks fallen, no other power existed stopping Muslim conquest of Italy and the effective end of what would become the modern Catholic Church.

No later Muslim attempts against Asturias or the Franks was made as conflict between what remained of the Umayyad Dynasty, (which was the Umayyad Emirate and then Caliphate of Iberia) and the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad prevented a unified assault on Europe. It would be another 700 years before the Ottomans managed to invade Europe via the Balkans

Exhibit Two: That of course is the “internetization” of the “Gibbon” Version, for when you go to the two sources of this battle, (the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 written by a Christian Monk in Cordova who was able to interview the Moorish survivors of the battle, and the Carolinian Chronicle of Fredegar, exact date or author unknown, but probably written around 675 to glorify the event, in effect a propaganda leaflet) it is an Arab raiding party (no numbers of either side is ever given) out for good olde Christian loot, the Cathedral in Tours having a golden reputation, that Charles turned back after the death of its leader, and the Moors had never intended to actually colonize beyond Spain. Indeed it seems the colonization of Spain was also more an accident in filling a power vacuum than an actual concerted conquest, and in all these battles there was never a religious question involved, just post-Roman warlords fighting amongst themselves.  But that of course doesn’t fit our current “needs” as a narrative so we’ll go with Gibbon and Exhibit One.

Exhibit Three: Finally The Museum must note this is a battle that we don’t know exactly when it was, 732-733, where it was fought, how big the opposing forces were, and just little hints of how it was fought, “the Franks stood firm like a Northern Glacier…”. Note even in the internet version above the battle goes on for either 2 or 7 days, it’s your choice. It was indeed a Moorish defeat, and you can find several fine videos on YouTube giving precise details of the Great Victory that Saved the Christian World, but they don’t seem to mention as the Mozabric Chronicle does that the Moors lost because “…there are more Franks and they are better armed.


Unkwil



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Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree..”