THE BATTLE OF TOURS
- Introduction -
In AD 732, two vast armies clashed in what is frequently termed one of the world’s most significant battles. The fate of both Europe and all of Christendom hinged on this one conflict between a powerful Islamic army and one commanded by a famed Christian warrior. Was this encounter, however, now called the Battle of Tours, really as consequential as we have been led to believe?
- Before the Battle -
On October 10, AD 732, Abd al-Rahman, also known as Abu Said Abdul Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr ibn Al Sarem Al 'Aki Al Ghafiqi, a powerful Muslim ruler, led his mighty Saracen army against a force of Frankish troops. For years now, a divided Europe had fallen prey to militant Islamic armies.
By 711, Muslims had crossed the Mediterranean and conquered all of Spain. Realising his peril, Charles, the most powerful of the Franks, urgently began training a ‘standing army’. At that time, European armies were made up of ordinary citizens, called up only in times of war. Charles, however, realised that the only way he could stop the unstoppable Islamic forces was with a well-trained, disciplined army. It was this army, 75,000 strong, that now faced a Muslim force of, reportedly, as many as 400,000 ferocious horsemen.
- The Battle of Tours -
As the armies met, Charles’ strategy soon began to pay off. Although attacked by wave after wave of Saracens, his heavily outnumbered force held firm. A writer from the time put it this way: “...the men of the North seemed like 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.”
The day was soon lost for Abd al-Rahman. As Charles sent in his scouts to raid the Saracen camp, the Arab force dissolved. Thousands were cut down but many more fled. Abd al-Rahman was himself slain in this time of chaos. A mere one thousand five hundred Franks lost their lives. In honour of his victory, Charles was given the surname “Martel”, meaning “the Hammer”. Abd al-Rahman’s hopes of an Islamic Europe had been decisively dashed.
- Significance in Doubt -
In recent years, some modern historians have challenged not only the minute details of the conflict but the significance of the battle itself.
The general consensus is that, if the Muslims had conquered Europe, Christianity (as we know it today) may not have survived. As it is, Charles defeated the Muslims and Christianity has gone on to become the world’s largest religion and has had a massive impact on ethical, social and general development around the world.
A number of modern historians suggest, however, that there are several reasons to doubt this consensus. One of the most popular is that Abd al-Rahman’s Muslim force could have realistically been a mere raiding party. The fact that his army was made up of mostly horsemen seems to support this logic.
Many people also point out that it would be unrealistic to suppose that a society as staunchly Christian as Europe would submit to Islamic rule for any amount of time without rising up to overthrow their conquerors. In other words, as long as there were Christians in Europe, there would be no peace for their Islamic oppressors.
- Conclusion -
On the other hand, many historians claim that this belief is simply a form of politicised historical revisionism. They point out that even the invasion of Spain had begun with sea raids. As soon as these “raiders” discovered that they could conquer the country, they did. It is quite obvious, considering the speed of the Muslim expanse, that they had all of Europe (if not the world) in their sights. It is also reasonable to suppose that they would not have engaged in a full-fledged battle against Charles Martel unless their aim was to crush him entirely. The Arab horsemen would have been lighter and faster and would have been fully capable of escape had that been their wish.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that both Turkey and Palestine had once been some of the most Christianised parts of the world - both central parts of the Christian Byzantine Empire - until conquered by Muslim forces in 1453 and 1517 respectively. Today, Turkey is one of the most Islamic countries in the world. The same went for Palestine, until the recent establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948. It seems most likely that the ultimate goal of the Muslim force was to conquer France and expand their Caliphate into all of Europe.
While the Battle of Tours did not put an absolute end to Islamic conquests in Europe, it was certainly the single most influential conflict of its time. With Abd al-Rahman out of the picture, Charles could look to further his military and economic strength. Certainly, if he had not been able to stem the Muslim advance - or, worse, he had fallen during combat - Gaul, if not all of Europe, would have become part of the new Islamic Caliphate. We have much to thank Charles the Hammer, preserver of Europe, for.
Researched and Written By
1. Bunting, Tony. “Battle of Tours.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Mar. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Tours-732.
2. Bulfinch, Thomas, and H.G. Wells. “The Battle of Tours - 732 AD.” Classic History, 7 Aug. 2015, www.classichistory.net/archives/battle-of-tours.
3. “Battle of Tours.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-tours.
4. “Battle of Tours (732 A.D.).” Robert Anderson (1805-1871), www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/notes/tours.html.
5. “Charles Martel Stops Muslim Expansion at the Battle of Tours” (732). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=1971
6. “This Day in History: October 10th- The Battle That Shaped History.” (2014, October 07). Retrieved from http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/10/day-history-october-10th-battle-shaped-history/
Summary: A significant battle fought between Islamic forces under Abd al-Rahman and Christian forces under Charles Martel
Date: October 10, AD 732
Contestants: The Islamic Caliphate had been expanding for decades now and Muslim forces under Abd al-Rahman were looking to conquer Gaul (modern day France). Charles Martel, de facto King of the Franks, had been training a 'standing' army with which he met the Arab force.
Location: Between Tours and Poitiers, West-Central France
Fought in A.D. 732, the Battle of Tours (also called the Battle of Poitiers), fought between Abd al-Rahman and Charles Martel, was among the most decisive events in European history.