The Battle of Tours-Poitiers Revisited


Charles de Steuben's Bataille de Poitiers en octobre 732 depicts a triumphant Charles Martel (mounted) facing ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of ToursThe Battle of Tours-Poitiers Revisited

By William E. Watson

Providence: Studies in Western Civilization Vol.2 No.1 (1993)

Introduction: The Place of the Battle of Tours-Poitiers in Western Historiography

The Battle of Tours-Poitiers has long occupied a prominent position in Western historiography. The eighth- or ninth-century Carolingian Continuator of Fredegar wrote that Charles Martel won his famous victory over the Muslim invaders of the Frankish Kingdom Christo auxiliante.1 Eight centuries later, other clerical authors, the Bollandists, emphasized the miraculous nature of Charles’ victory in their writings.2 Beginning in the eighteenth century, however, non-clerical authors began to exaggerate the significance of the battle. Edward Gibbon, for example, wrote in 1776,

A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the bank 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 Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pupils might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammad.3

Similarly, M. Guizot and Mme. Guizot de Witt wrote in 1869 that it was a struggle between East and West, South and North, Asia and Europe, the Gospel and the Koran; and we now say, on a general consideration of events, peoples, and ages, that the civilization of the world depended on it.4

Ernest Mercier provided the first objective assessment of the battle in an article in 1878, and Leon Levillain and Charles Samaran first attempted (unsuccessfully) to scientifically locate the site of the battle in an article in 1938.5 Maurice Mercier and Andre Seguin produced the first monograph devoted entirely to the battle in 1944, entitled Charles Martel et la bataille de Poitiers in which Latin and Arabic sources were used comparatively.6 Having examined the first part of Ibn Idhari’s Al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi Akhbar al-Maghrib, but not the second, Michel Baudot provided an inaccurate chronology for the Muslim invasion in a 1955 article entitled “Localisation et datation de la premiere victoire remportee par Charles Martel contre les musulmans.”7 Baudot’s incorrect dating of the battle as 733 A.D. has been employed to this day by those unfamiliar with the sources. A revision of the previous generally-held views of the battle has occurred over the past several decades as well, resulting in the conscious minimizing of the significance of Tours-Poitiers in the textbooks of medieval European and Islamic history.8

In this essay I intend to suggest answers to the four most crucial questions concerning the Battle of Tours-Poitiers which have not been answered sufficiently by Frankish experts or Islamicists. What motivated the Muslims to move north of the Pyrenees? What do the Latin and Arabic sources reveal about what transpired in the course of the battle? Precisely when and where did the encounter occur? Can we attach a macrohistorical significance to the battle?

Historical and Geographical Motives for Muslim Operations North of the Pyrenees

Early Roman authors such as Caesar and Strabo noted the distinctiveness of Aquitaine in comparison to the rest of Gaul. Caesar’s statement in the Gallic War concerning the divisibility of Gaul into three parts (or peoples – the Belgae, Aquitani, and Galli (Celtae]) is evidence that ethnographic differences were apparent in the first century before Christ.9 No definite physical boundaries delineated Aquitaine from other regions of Gaul, but it is clear that Aquitaine was perceived as a coherent unit in the early eighth century A.D. This territorial coherence partly explains the emergence of a princely tradition in Aquitaine, a tradition which was notably absent from the Languedoc region to the south. Michel Rouche calls the years 719-21, “the apogee of independent Aquitaine,” as a result of the degree of self determination exercised by the Aquitanian princely family at Toulouse.10

The Languedoc region was largely comprised of the old Roman province of Septimania, named for the veterans of the seventh legion who settled in the vicinity of Beziers.11 This region did not possess the indigenous political and ethnic uniformity which Aquitaine possessed. In the eighth century, before the Muslim invasions, it was an underpopulated, culturally insular, and economically stagnant area which possessed a few notable monasteries (such as Aniane), and two important frontier forts (Carcassone and Nimes), as well as a city of some size (Narbonne). Although politically more coherent than Languedoc, Aquitaine was as economically insular, judging by the lack of archaeological evidence from the seventh and eighth centuries of trade with the north or with the Mediterranean ports.12

In previous centuries these areas were ruled by the Romans, whose economy bound much of Gaul to the Iberian peninsula. In addition to economic ties which had existed since Roman days, politico-military ties connecting southern Gaul to Iberia were reinforced by the Visigothic warriors who settled Aquitaine, Languedoc, and Iberia in the fifth century. They suffered a setback, however, when the dominant power in northern Gaul, the Frankish army of Clovis, crossed the Loire and decisively defeated them at Vouille, killing their king (Alaric III) and wresting Toulouse from them. In addition, Narbonne was taken from them by Burgundian allies of the Franks.13

Narbonne was subsequently reacquired by the Visigoths with the help of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, whose grandson Amalaric was the heir to the Visigothic throne. Narbonne was then the capital of the Visigothic kingdom for twenty years (511-31), and during this time the Visigothic realm has been described as “an Ostrogothic dependency, ruled by Ostrogothic governors.”14 The Visigoths were pushed south of the Pyrenees by the Franks a few years after Theodoric died (526), and the Iberian peninsula was henceforth the center of the Visigothic kingdom.

Septimania remained a frontier province of the Visigoths, but possession of it was contested on several occasions by the Franks, and the Gallic inhabitants periodically revolted against the central authority in Toledo.15 The Visigoths who resided in Septimania from the third decade of the sixth century until the termination of the monarchy were a small military and ecclesiastical elite. The members of this elite resided in Septimania for very short periods of time, which indicates that service to the king north of the Pyrenees was not as desirable as service in Iberia. The high rate of attrition of the Gothic residents has been attributed in part to the hostility of the Gallic population towards the Visigoths. Ecclesiastical ties between Septimania and Iberia, however, were strengthened after the conver–sion of the Visigoths from Arianism to Catholic orthodoxy in 589 under King Recared, and this is reflected by the preponderance of Gothic bishops in Septimanian bishoprics.16

By virtue of the Roman and Visigothic ties which bound Iberia and the Languedoc region together, the lands north of the Pyrenees could potentially be threatened by problems faced by the Visigoths within Iberia proper. This was indeed the case in 711 when the Visigothic army was defeated by a North African Muslim army comprised of Arabs and Berbers commanded by the Umayyad general (and manumitted slave) Tariq Ibn Ziyad. Although the accuracy of many of the details of the Muslim invasion of Iberia recorded by later Arabic historians has been questioned by many scholars, we know that the backbone of the Visigothic army was defeated in one fateful battle on the Rio Barbate, and that the Visigothic king, Roderick (710-11), was killed in the action.17

The initial wave of invasion in the spring and summer months of 711 was followed by a larger force commanded by Tariq’s former master, the Umayyad amir Musa Ibn Nusayr. With the defeat of the regular Visigothic army and the death of the monarch, many Visigoths lost their resolve to resist the invading Muslim forces. Those urban centers which did resist Muslim occupation were systematically destroyed with the help of certain disaffected Visigothic nobles and local Jewish communities which had suffered under economic and social restrictions placed on them by the later Visigothic kings.18

The authority of the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus was firmly established in the peninsula by Musa’s army, and was accom–panied by the settlement of many Berbers and a small Arab military/religious elite who imported Arabic/Islamic cultural forms into Iberia. The Iberian peninsula was reorganized as the province of al–Andalus and was, in this early period of Muslim settlement, a distant, rather insignificant outpost of the Umayyad Caliphate, an Arab empire which stretched from Iran to the Atlantic, and whose capital was the bustling Syrian city of Damascus. The name “al-Andalus” is generally believed to be derived from the Vandals, the ephemeral early Germanic tribe who stayed for a time in southern Iberia before continuing their wanderings, ultimately settling on the North African coast.

Some of the Visigoths who refused to submit to the Muslims fled to the mountainous region of Asturias in the northwestern section of the peninsula, from which region came the strongest early resistance to the Muslims, such as the successes of Pelayo (ca. 717-18) and of King Alfonso I (ca. 739-57). Other Visigothic nobles made separate treaties with the Muslims. Such is the case with Prince Theodemir of Murcia, whose treaty with the Muslims in 713 allowed him to retain his principality as a Christian entity under Islamic suzerainty. Subse–quently, Arabic authors invariably referred to Murcia as “Tudmir” (an Arabic transliteration of the prince’s name), in deference to Theodemir.19 Aside from Asturias, which was never taken by the Muslims, the only other region of the Visigothic kingdom not taken by the time of Musa’s departure for Damascus in 714, was the province of Septimania.

Within Septimania, Visigothic supporters of the former king, Witiza (700-10), had held sway since the reign of Roderick, when they acknowledged the legitimacy of Witiza’s son Akhila over Roderick. Although some of the partisans of the House of Witiza accepted Islamic suzerainty over Septimania in 714 (including Witiza’s three sons, who were guaranteed provisions similar to those of Theodemir), many of the Septimanian Visigoths revolted against the Umayyads and made one Ardo their king.20

It was probably in response to this action that the first trans-Pyrenean expeditions were launched by the Muslims in 717 and 719. After Musa left for Damascus in 714, his son Abd al-Aziz was chiefly occupied with the further consolidation of al-Andalus until his assassination in 716. He was too concerned with Andalusi problems to be concerned with Ardo.21 In 717, however, Musa’s successor as amir, al–Hurr ath-Thaqafi, led a small raiding party into Septimania, the purpose of which was simply to reconnoiter the region. The next Muslim expedition into Septimania was put off for two years because ethnic tension between Arabs and Berbers in al-Andalus kept the Umayyad authorities preoccupied with internal difficulties.

The reign of Ardo and the independence of the Septimanian Visigoths, however, ended in 719-720 when amir as-Samh Ibn Malik al-Khawlani captured the city of Narbonne for the Umayyad Caliphate. The city was subsequently transformed into an Islamic city and was brought into the political orbit of the Umayyad Caliphate and the cultural orbit of the Andalusi Muslims who settled there. Although as-Samh died before the walls of Toulouse in 721, the Visigothic garrisons holding the key Languedocian forts at Carcassonne and Nimes were subdued in 724 by amir Anbasah Ibn Suhaym al-Kalbi. The conquests definitively ended the Visigothic kingdom and gave the Muslims several bases for further expansion to the north. Indeed, in the very next year after the fall of Carcassonne and Nimes, Anbasah engaged in daring operations far to the north in the Rhone valley as far as Autun.

After Anbasah died suddenly in 725, six amirs followed him in rapid succession. Some of the Muslims of northern Iberia separated themselves from the Umayyad province of al-Andalus during the five-year period (725-30) in which the Andalusi leadership was chiefly occupied with an internal power struggle.22 The Languedocian Muslims were likely affected by the confusion in al-Andalus, as well, although it is not apparent that they wished to break with the Umayyad province.23 A Berber leader named Munusa based at Llivia in Cerdagne, however, did indeed wish to assert his independence from al-Andalus. To this end, he contracted an alliance in 729 with Prince Eudo of Aquitaine in order to strengthen his position. Michel Rouche suggests that the treaty between Munusa and Eudo was similar to the treaties of capitulation signed by Visigothic Christian leaders during the Muslim invasion of the Visigothic kingdom.24

Eudo had earlier entered into alliance with the Merovingian Franks, and some Frankish chroniclers noted that Eudo’s alliance with Munusa was viewed by the Merovingian major domus Charles as an attempt to abrogate the Frankish Aquitanian treaty (although this is by no means certain).25 Both Munusa and Eudo, however, soon paid for their alliance. The Frankish army invaded Aquitaine on two separate occasions in 731, capturing a great deal of booty and decisively humbling Eudo.26

The principal Latin source for the alliance, the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 attests that Eudo’s daughter was given in marriage to Munusa to solidify the alliance.27 According to this account, the amir of al-Andalus soon invaded the region held by Munusa, causing the rebellious Berber to commit suicide (and Eudo’s unfortunate daugh–ter was sent along with the severed head of Munusa to Damascus).28 Some of this is corroborated by al-Maqqari, who writes that “al-–Haytham Ibn Ubayid al-Kinani attacked the land of Munusa and conquered it …he [al-Haytham] died in the year 113 [730].”29 Despite his success against Munusa, al-Haytham’s tenure as amir of al-Andalus was short-lived, and he was unable to decisively suppress the desire for independence on the part of northern Andalusi Muslims. The border region between al-Andalus and the Principality of Aquitaine remained a problem for the Umayyad leadership for decades after Munusa’s defeat.

The power struggle in al-Andalus was resolved in 730 when Abd ar-Rahman was determined to straighten out the uncertain political situation along his northern border, and he quickly prepared an expedition aimed at Aquitaine, to ensure that the Aquitanian prince would no longer be capable of tempting northern Andulusi Muslims from the Umayyad fold. Rather than being merely a raid for plunder in the dar al-Harb, or an attempt to conquer the entire Christian world, the northern expedition of Abd ar-Rahman was designed to eliminate the strategic threat that Eudo of Aquitaine posed to the Andalusi Muslims.

The Activities of ‘Abd ar-Rahman according to the Latin and Arabic Sources

‘Abd ar-Rahman set off in 732, marching in a northwestern direction through the Pyrenees at the Roncevaux Pass. A decade earlier, as-Samh took the most direct route from Narbonne to the Aquintanian capital at Toulouse. Undoubtedly ‘Abd ar-Rahman’s decision to take a northwestern route in 732 was partly based on the knowledge that as-Samh had failed before the walls of Toulouse. It is also possible that ‘Abd ar-Rahman did not trust the loyalty of the Muslims in the vicinity of Narbonne. Given the fact that north Iberian Muslims had rebelled against the Umayyad province under Manusa prior to 732, ‘Abd ar-Rahman may have been aware that the Muslims of Narbonne would not be particularly cooperative when he passed through with his army.

The expedition is recorded in a number of Latin and Arabic sources, and both types of sources distinguish between two phases in the invasion: the Muslim drive to Bordeaux, resulting in the defeat of Eudo’s Aquitanian army, and the Muslim drive towards Tours, resulting in the defeat of ‘Abd ar-Rahman’s army by the Franks between Poitiers and Tours. According to the earliest Arabic source for the campaign, the Futuh Misr of Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam (c. 803-71), ‘Abd ar Rahman set off on the military expedition against “the most distant enemies of al-Andalus ” because “he was a virtuous man.”30 He gained a swift and decisive victory over Eudo’s army before Bordeaux, and then sacked the city. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam reports that’Abd ar-Rahman “took a great deal of booty,” including gem- and pearl–encrusted golden objects.31

The destruction of Bordeaux is described in the previously mentioned common corpus of material found in two Latin monastic chronicles composed in the ninth century; the Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac, as well as the Chronicle of Fredegar. The Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac contain the same text, and call ‘Abd ar-Rahman “Abderaman, the king of Spain.” According to this account, ‘Abd ar-Rahman marched “with a large army of Saracens” from Pamplona through the Pyrenees, and occupied Bordeaux. Eudo then gathered his army to meet the Muslims on the banks of the Dordogne, across the Garonne, apparently arriving too late to save Bordeaux.32

Confusing ‘Abd ar-Rahman with Munusa, the Chronicle of Fredegar reports that Eudo lured the Muslims north as the result of an alliance between the Andalusi Muslims and the Aquintanian prince (who here receives the less illustrious title of duke). The Chronicle of Fredegar states that Bordeaux’s churches were burned and its inhabitants slain by the Muslims.33

The ensuing Battle of Bordeaux is recorded in the Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac, which contain the same account: the Aquintanian army was decisively defeated and incurred many casualties, causing Eudo to flee north into the Frankish kingdom.34 The Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 also mentions the Battle of Bordeaux, and stated that the Aquitanian casualties in the encounter were so high that “only God knows how many died and [simply] vanished.”35

Following their victory over Eudo’s army, the Muslims ad–vanced through Aquitaine, hoping to catch Eudo. The Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Fredegar describe the general depredations that attended the Muslim advance northward through Aquitaine, and the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 mentions that the Muslims specifically destroyed “palaces” (i.e. “forts”) and burned churches on the way, in the likely anticipation that they were eliminating future sites of resistance and demoralizing the enemy.36 The Chronicle of Fredegar reports that the Muslims specifically targeted the Church of St. Hilary in Poitiers for destruction on their northward advance.37 At some point in the campaign, the Muslims became aware of the existence of the wealthy shrine of St. Martin at Tours, and they intended to sack it. The large amount of plunder taken at Bordeaux described by Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam was undoubtedly being continually enlarged by the Muslims in Aquitaine (for example, at Poitiers), and this added weight probably slowed their progress.

In the meantime, Eudo had managed to alert the Merovingian major domus Charles of the Muslim threat, and Charles assembled the Frankish army to meet ‘Abd ar-Rahman’s force before it reached Tours. From Charles’ perspective, the Muslims were not only threatening to damage or destroy the Frankish kingdom’s most sacred shrine (and also one of the greatest in all Latin Christendom), but Abd ar-Rahman was challenging the integrity of the regnum Francorum. As major domus of the Merovingian kingdom, and the strongest and most charismatic of its princes in an age when the Merovingian “Long–haired Kings” were said to have become “Do-nothing Kings,” it was natural that Charles would be the man to lead the Frankish army in the field against the Muslims.

The resulting battle between Charles and ‘Abd ar-Rahman is described in a large number of Latin and Arabic sources. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam refers to the northward extension of ‘Abd ar-Rahman’s operation into the Frankish kingdom as a separate campaign: ‘He then led another military expedition against the Franks.”38 Ibn Abd al-Hakam says: “He went out as a ghazi, and he [and his companions] were martyred for the faith.”39 The greatest medieval Arabic historian, ‘Izz ad-Din Ibn al-Athir (1160-1233), writes of the battle in his annalistic history of the world, al-Kamil fi t’ Ta’rikh. Like Ibn Abd al-Hakam, Ibn al-Athir writes that ‘Abd ar-Rahman went out ghaziyan (“going out as a ghazi”) into the land of the Franks.40

When one is described as a ghazi in Islamic literature, one can either be engaged in a border war for Islam waged against “infidels,” or engaged in simple piratical raids, a continuation of the ancient Bedouin practice of brigandage into the Islamic era.41 One can imagine that both aspects of the ghazi ethic were present in ‘Abd-ar Rahman’s army and both Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam and Ibn al-Athir describe ‘Abd ar-Rahman as a sincere, just Muslim.42 Again following Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Ibn al-Athir writes that ‘Abd ar-Rahman and his companions died in the battle as shuhada’i, “martyrs for the faith.”43

This idea is reiterated by the thirteenth-century Moroccan au–thor Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi, who mentioned the battle in his history of theMaghrib, al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi Akhbaral-Maghrib. According to Ibn Idhari, ‘Abd ar-Rahman and many of his men found martyrdom on the balat ash-Shuhada’i (“the path of the martyrs).44 This balat, or “path” was identified by Levi-Provencal and others with the Roman road connecting Poitiers and Tours.45

The Franks intercepted the Muslims on this road a short distance from Poitiers, at a site known as Moussais-la-bataille. The details of this encounter, herein called the Battle of Tours/Poitiers, are contained exclusively in Latin sources, as the Arabic sources are silent on the specific events of the battle. The Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac contain the same account: Charles and his large army met the Muslims in suburbio Pictavensi (“in the vicinity of Poitiers”) and defeated them in a great slaughter, driving the survivors back to al-Andalus.46 The Chronicle of Fredegar contains a more substantial account of the battle: the Franks killed ‘Abd ar-Rahman in the operation and overran the tents of the Muslim camp, presumably to recapture the treasure that had been taken from the Aquitanian churches.47

The Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 describes the battle in greater detail than any other Latin or Arabic source: the Franks drew themselves into a large infantry square, so that they were “like an immovable wall” and a “glacier.”48 The Muslims threw themselves at the Frankish square in fruitless attempts to break the formation, and many Muslims were cut down by Frankish swordsmen.49 The Muslim assault, however, ceased when night fell. The discipline and resolve of the Franks was apparently too much for the Muslims, as Frankish scouts discovered on the following morning that the Muslim camp had been abandoned in haste during the night, with a great deal of plunder having been left behind in the tents.50

The Dating of the Battle

Neither the Mozarabic Chronicle nor the Chronicle of Fredegar date the battle, but the event is recorded sub anno 732 in the Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac. The battle is also recorded in brief notices in several other monastic chronicles. The Annals of St. Amand report sub anno 732: Karlus bellum habuit contra Saracinos in mense Octobri.51 The Annales Petaviani are more specific, as die sabbato is added to the same account.52 Both the Annals of Lorsch and the Annals of Alamannia report sub anno 732: Karolus pugnavit contra Saracenos die sabbato ad Pectavis.53 Thus, there is a consensus in most of the Latin sources that the battle occurred on a Saturday in October, 732.

Two of the Arabic sources also place the battle in 732. Although he does not mention his sources, Ibn al-Athir writes in al-Kamil that some Arabic chroniclers had placed the battle in 113 A.H. (731 A.D.), but that 114 A.H. (732 A.D.) is the correct date.54 Ibn Idhari states in the first part of al-Bayan that the battle occurred in 115 A.H. (733 A.D.), but he corrects the date in the second part of his work to Ramadan 114 (October-November 732 A.D.).55 Considering this evidence, Levi-Provençal argued for a date between October 25 and October 31, 732, and Michel Rouche has argued specifically for October 25, 732.56 This particular date is acceptable when one recognizes that the evidence contained in the Latin and Arabic chronicles does converge rather clearly on this point.

Conclusion: The Macrohistorical Significance of the Battle

After examining the motives for the Muslim drive north of the Pyrenees, one can attach a macrohistorical significance to the encounter between the Franks and Andalusi Muslims at Tours-Poitiers, especially when one considers the attention paid to the Franks in Arabic literature and the successful expansion of Muslims elsewhere in the medieval period. Lured on by the promise of plunder and by a desire to catch Eudo, as well as a desire to defeat more foes of Islam, ‘Abd ar-Rahman extended his campaign towards the regnum Francorum. His invasion was neither simply a raid nor part of a grand scheme to conquer all Christendom, it was a failed attempt to elimi–nate a strategic threat located north of the Andalusi border. Moreover, the battle did not decide the outcome of the Christian-Muslim struggle in Francia. Rather, it brought a determined new participant into the field of combat, the Frankish army, which launched an offensive against the remaining Muslin bases to the south only a few years after Charles won his victory at Tours-Poitiers and earned himself the title Martel (“Hammer”).57

The Arabs attached a greater significance to their confrontation with the Franks than with any other European people save the Byzantine Greeks. We find a great many references to the Franks in medieval Arabic literature. The Baghdadi geographer al-Masudi (d. 956), for instance, preserved a list of sixteen Frankish kings (examined by Bernard Lewis), as well as various references to Frankish-Arab military contacts in his Muruj.58

The Iraqi historian Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233) included many references to the Franks in al-Kamil fi ‘t-Ta’rikh and he distinguished between the Latin- and Greek-rite Christians of southern Italy as “those from ar-Rum (Byzantium) and those from al-Franj (the Franks).”59 The word “Franj ” entered the Arabic language in the eighth century with the meaning of “Franks” (and later, “French–men”) in particular, and of “Europeans” in general. The impact of “the Franks” has persisted in Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha): the verb tafarnaja (root=f-r-n-j) means “to become Europeanized;” the adjective mutafarnij means “Europeanized;” al-Ifranj means “the Europeans;” Firanja and bilad al-Firanj mean “Europe,” and so on.

There is clearly some justification for ranking Tours-Poitiers among the most significant events in Frankish history when one considers the result of the battle in light of the remarkable record of the successful establishment by Muslims of Islamic political and cultural dominance along the entire eastern and southern rim of the former Christian, Roman world. The rapid Muslim conquest of Palestine, Syria, Egypt and the North African coast all the way to Morocco in the seventh century resulted in the permanent imposition by force of Islamic culture onto a previously Christian and largely non-Arab base. The Visigothic kingdom fell to Muslim conquerors in a single battle on the Rio Barbate in 711, and the Hispanic Christian population took seven long centuries to regain control of the Iberian peninsula. The Reconquista, of course, was completed in 1492, only months before Columbus received official backing for his fateful voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Had Charles Martel suffered at Tours-Poitiers the fate of King Roderick at the Rio Barbate, it is doubtful that a “do-nothing” sovereign of the Merovingian realm could have later succeeded where his talented major domus had failed. Indeed, as Charles was the progenitor of the Carolingian line of Frankish rulers and grandfather of Charlemagne, one can even say with a degree of certainty that the subsequent history of the West would have proceeded along vastly different currents had ‘Abd ar-Rahman been victorious at Tours-Poitiers in 732.

End Notes

1.The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar with its Continuations, ed. J. M. Wallace–Hadrill (London, 1960), 90.

2. Maurice Mercier and Andre Seguin, Charles Martel et la bataille de Poitiers (Paris, 1944), 55-56.

3. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (New York, 1974), 6:16.

4. M. Guizot and Mme. Guizot De Witt, A History of France (New York,1869),1:154.

5. Ernest Mercier, “La bataille de Poitiers et les vraies causes du recul de l’invasion arabe,” Revue Historique 7 (1878),1-13; Leon Levillain and Charles Samaran, “Sur le lieu et la date de la bataille dite de Poitiers de 732, ” Bibliotheque de 1′Ecole de Chartres 99 (1938), 243-67.

6. Evariste Levi-Provencal wrote (I believe unjustly) in Histoire de I’Espagne omusulmane (Paris, 1950,1: 60, n. 3: “une etude recente, mais sans grande portee.”

7. Michel Baudot, “Localisation et datation de la premiere victoire remportee par Charles Martel contre les Musulmans,” Memoires et documents publies par la Societe de 1′Ecole de Chartres 12, i (1955), 93-105.

8. Baudot’s article was first brought to the attention of English-speaking scholars by Lynn White, Jr., who based some of his theories in Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford 1962) upon Baudot’s misinterpretations. See, for example, White’s comments on the stirrup on 2-12. Michel Rouche challenged Baudotin 1968 article entitled “Les Aquitains ont-ils trahi avant la bataille de Poitiers?,” Le Moyen Age 74 (1968),5-26. See also the comments of Donald A. Bullough in “Europae Pater: Charlemagne and his achievement in the light of recent scholarship,” English Historical Review 85 (1970), 73 and 85; Bernard S. Bachrach, “Charles Martel, Mounted Shock Combat, the Stirrup, and Feudalism,” Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History ed. William M. Bowsky, 7 (1970), 50-51.

9. Michel Rouche, L’Aquitaine des Visigoth aux Arabes. 418-781: Naissance d’une region (Paris, 1979), 11-15.

10. Ibid, 113.

11. Edward James, “Septimania and its Frontier: An Archaeological Approach,” in James, ed. Visigothic Spain: New Approaches (Oxford, 1980), 223.

12. Ibid, 226, 239-40.

13. Joseph F. O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain (Ithaca, 1975), 41.

14. Ibid.

15. E. A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain (Oxford, 1969), 216, 218-28.

16. Ibid, 226; James, “Septimania,” 225.

17. Thomas F. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Middle Ages (Princeton, 1979), 14 and 32.

18. Eliyahu Ashtor, The Jews of Moslem Spain (Philadelphia, n.d.), 10-24; Bernard S. Bachrach, Early Medieval Jewish Policy in Western Europe (Minneapolis, 1977), 24-26; Allan H. Cutler and Helen E. Cutler, The Jew as Ally of the Muslim (Notre Dame, 1986), 93; Evariste Levi-Provencal, Histoire 1:80-81; William Montgomery Watt and Pierre Cachia, A History of Islamic Spain (Edinburgh, 1977), 12.

19. Watt and Cachia, History, 17,19, 25; Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain, 14.

20. Ibid, 12; Thompson, The Goths, 251; Arthur Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768-900 (New York, 1972), 11.

21. Watt and Cachia, History, 15.

22. Levi-Provencal, Histoire, 1:60-61, n.l; Michel Rouche, L’Aquitaine,113-14; Idem, “Les Aquitains, ” 5-26.

23. Ibid.

24. Rouche, “Les Aquitains,” 11.

25. Rouche, L’Aquitaine, 113.

26. Ibid, 113.

27. Cronica Mozarabe de 754, ed. Jose Eduardo Lopez Pereira (Zaragoza, 1980), 96-99.

28. Ibid.

29. AI-Maqqari, Analectes sur 1′histoire et la litterature des Arabes d’Espagne par al Makkari, ed. R. Dozy, G. Dugat, L. Krehl, and W. Wright (Amsterdam, 1967), 216.

30. Ibn’Abd al-Hakam, Futuh Misr, ed. Charles C. Torrey (New Haven, 1922), 216.

31. Ibid.

32. Annals of Aniane, in Claude Devic and Jean Vaissette, eds. Histoire generale du Languedoc (Toulouse, 1875), 2:2:5; Chronicle of Moissac, MGH SS 1:291.

33. Chronicle of Fredegar, ed. J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, 89-90.

34. Annals of Aniane, 2:2:5; Chronicle of Moissac MGH SS 1:291.

35. Cronica Mozarabe, 98-99.

36. Annals of Aniane, 2:2:5; Chronicle of Moissac, MGH SS 1:291. Cronica Mozarabe, 98-9.

37. Chronicle of Fredegar, 89-90.

38. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futuh Misr, 217.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibn al-Athir, AI-Kamil fi t-Ta’rikh (Beirut, 1985), 5:174.

41. I. Melikoff, “Ghazi;” Encyclopaedia of Islam, ser. 2,1043-44.

42. Ibn’Abd al-Hakam, Futuh Misr, 217, Ibn al-Athir, AI-Kamil, 5:174.

43. Ibn al-Athir, AI-Kamil, 5:174.

44. Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi, Histoire de 1′Afrique et de I’Espagne intitulee al-bayano 1–Maghrib, ed. E. Fagnan (Algiers, 1901), 1:49.

45. Levi-Provencal, Histoire,1:62; Mercier and Sequin, Charles Martel, 17-19.

46. Annals of Aniane, 2:2:5; Chronicle of Moissac, MGH SS 1:291.

47. Chronicle of Fredegar, 89-91.

48. Cronica Mozarabe,100-01.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid.

51. Annals of St. Amand, MGH SS 1:8.

52. Annales Petaviani, MGH SS 1:9.

53. Annals of Lorsch, MGH SS 1:24; Annals of Alemannia, MGH SS 1:24.

54. Ibn al-Athir, AI-Kamil, 5:174.

55. Ibn Idhari, Histoire,1:49; 2:39.

56. Levi-Provencal, Histoire,1:62; Rouche, “Les Aquitains;” 26.

57. The purpose of Charles’ subsequent drive south along the Rhone River in 737 was to dislodge the Muslims from their bases at Lyon, Avignon, Carcassonne, and Nimes. While he decisively established Frankish supremacy in the Rhone valley, Charles was unable to capture Narbonne. Eventually, his son Pepin III (“the Short”) succeeded in taking Narbonne with the assistance of the indigenous Christian population (759). Later, however, after Carolingian power waned in the second half of the ninth century, yet another Andulusi Muslim base was estab–lished in Francia at a coastal Provencal site called Fraxinetum in the Latin sources (jabal al-Qilal in the Arabic sources). The successful establishment of this preda–tory base in Provence in 888 and its long duration (almost a century) was a sign of how ineffective local Christian resistance was by the late ninth century in the former Carolingian realm. Without the Frankish army to assist them local military leaders were finally able to push out this last Muslim base under the skillful leadership of Count William of Arles (thereafter known as “the Liberator”) in 972. See especially Charles Pellat, “Les Sarrasins en Avignon,” in En terre d’Islam 1944/ 4 (Lyon, 1944), reprinted in Etudes sur 1′histoire socioculturelle de 1′Islam (London, 1976); William E. Watson, “The Hammer and the Crescent: Contacts Between Andulusi Muslims, Franks, and Their Successors in Three Waves of Muslim Expansion into Francia,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1990), 61-97; Gonzague De Rey, Les invasions des sarrasins en Provence (Marseilles, 1971); Philippe Senac, Provence et piraterie sarrasine (Paris, 1982); Bruno Luppi, l Sarraceni in Provenza in Liguria a nelle Alpi occidentale (Bordighera,1973); Stephen Weinberger, “Peasant Households in Provence: ca. 800-1100,” in Speculum 48 (1973).

58. Bernard Lewis, “Mas udi on the Kings of the Franks;” Al-Mas udi Millennary Commemoration Volume (Aligarh, 1960), 7-10; Idem, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York, 1982)139-40.

59. Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil, 6:520-21.

This article was first published in Providence: Studies in Western Civilization v.2 (1993). We thank the Department of Western Civilization at the the University of Providence and William Watson for their permission to republish this article.


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