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The Battle of Tours (October 10, 732), also called the Battle of Poitiers and in (ma‘arakat Balâṭ ash-Shuhadâ’) Battle of Court of The Martyrs, was fought in an area between the cities of Poitiersmarker and Toursmarker, located in north-central France, near the village of Moussais-la-Bataillemarker about north of Poitiers. The location of the battle was close to the border between the Frankish realm and then-independent Aquitainemarker. The battle pitted Frank and Burgundian forces under Austrasian Mayor of the Palace, Charles Martel against an army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalusmarker. The Franks were victorious, ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi was killed, and Charles subsequently extended his authority in the south. Ninth-century chroniclers, who interpreted the outcome of the battle as divine judgment in his favour, gave Charles the nickname Martellus ("The Hammer"), possibly recalling Judas Maccabeus ("The Hammerer") of the Maccabean revolt. Details of the battle, including its exact location and the exact number of combatants, cannot be determined from accounts that have survived. Notably, the Frankish troops won the battle without cavalry.

Later Christian chroniclers and pre-20th century historians praised Charles Martel as the champion of Christianity, characterizing the battle as the decisive turning point in the struggle against Islam, a struggle which preserved Christianity as the religion of Europe; according to modern military historian Victor Davis Hanson, "most of the 18th and 19th century historians, like Gibbon, saw Poitiers (Tours), as a landmark battle that marked the high tide of the Muslim advance into Europe." Leopold von Ranke felt that "Poitiers was the turning point of one of the most important epochs in the history of the world."

Modern historians, by contrast, are divided over the battle's importance, and considerable disagreement exists as to whether or not the victory was responsible — as Gibbon and his generation of historians claimed, and which is echoed by many modern historians — for saving Christianity and halting the conquest of Europe by Islam. However, there is little dispute that the battle helped lay the foundations of the Carolingian Empire and Frankish domination of Europe for the next century; most historians agree that "The establishment of Frankish power in western Europe shaped that continent's destiny and the Battle of Tours confirmed that power."


The Battle of Tours followed 23 years of Umayyad conquests in Europe which had begun with the invasion of the Visigothic Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian peninsulamarker in 711. These were followed by military expeditions into the Frankish territories of Gaul, former provinces of the Roman Empire. Umayyad military campaigns had reached northward into Aquitaine and Burgundy, including a major engagement at Bordeauxmarker and a raid on Autunmarker. Charles' victory is widely believed to have stopped the northward advance of Umayyad forces from the Iberian peninsulamarker, and to have preserved Christianity in Europe during a period when Muslim rule was overrunning the remains of the old Roman and Persian Empires. Others have argued that the battle marked only the defeat of a raiding force and was not a watershed event.

Most historians assume that the two armies met where the rivers Clainmarker and Viennemarker join between Tours and Poitiers. The number of troops in each army is not known. The Mozarabic Chronicle of 754, a Latin contemporary source which describes the battle in greater detail than any other Latin or Arabic source, states that "The people of Austrasia (Martel's army), greater in number of soldiers and formidably armed, killed the king, Abd ar-Rahman", which agrees with many Arab and Muslim historians. However, virtually all Western sources disagree, and estimate the Franks at 30,000, less than half the Muslim force. Modern historians, using estimates of what the land was able to support, and what Martel could have raised from his realm and supported during the campaign, believe the total Muslim force, counting the outlying raiding parties, which rejoined the main body before Tours, badly outnumbered the Franks. Drawing on non-contemporary Muslim sources, Creasy describes the Umayyad forces as 80,000 strong or more. Writing in 1999, Paul K. Davis estimates the Umayyad forces at 80,000 and the Franks at about 30,000, while noting that modern historians have estimated the strength of the Umayyad army at Tours at between 20–80,000.Davis, p. 105. Edward J. Schoenfeld (rejecting the older figures of 60–400,000 Umayyad and 75,000 Franks) contends that "estimates that the Umayyads had over fifty thousand troops (and the Franks even more) are logistically impossible." Similarly, historian Victor Davis Hanson believes both armies were roughly the same size, about 30,000 men. Modern historians may be more accurate than the mediæval sources as the modern figures are based on estimates of the logistical ability of the countryside to support these numbers of men and animals. Both Davis and Hanson point out that both armies had to live off the countryside, neither having a commissary system sufficient to provide supplies for a campaign. Losses during the battle are unknown but chroniclers later claimed that Charles Martel's force lost about 1,500 while the Umayyad force was said to have suffered massive casualties of up to 375,000 men. However, these same casualty figures were recorded in the Liber pontificalis for Duke Odo of Aquitaine's victory at the Battle of Toulouse . Paul the Deacon reported correctly in his Historia Langobardorum (written around the year 785) that the Liber pontificalis mentioned these casualty figures in relation to Odo's victory at Toulouse (though he claimed that Charles Martel fought in the battle alongside Odo), but later writers, probably "influenced by the Continuations of Fredegar, attributed the Saracen casualties solely to Charles Martel, and the battle in which they fell became unequivocally that of Poitiers." The Vita Pardulfi, written in the middle of the eighth century, reports that after the battle ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân's forces burned and looted their way through the Limousin on their way back to Al-Andalus, which implies that they were not destroyed to the extent imagined in the Continuations of Fredegar.

The Moors

The invasion of Hispania, and then Gaul, was led by the Umayyad Dynasty ( also "Umawi"), the first dynasty of caliphs of the Islamic empire after the reign of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali) ended. The Umayyad Caliphate, at the time of the Battle of Tours, was perhaps the world’s foremost military power. Great expansion of the Caliphate occurred under the reign of the Umayyads. Muslim armies pushed across North Africa and Persiamarker through the late 600s; forces led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad crossed Gibraltarmarker and established Muslim power in the Iberian peninsula, while other armies established power far away in Sindmarker, in what is now the modern state of Pakistanmarker. The Muslim empire under the Umayyads was now a vast domain that ruled a diverse array of peoples. It had destroyed what were the two former foremost military powers, the Sassanid Empire, which it absorbed completely, and the Byzantine Empire, most of which it had absorbed, including Syria, Armenia and North Africa, although Leo the Isaurian successfully defended Anatolia at the Battle of Akroinon (739) in the final campaign of the Umayyad dynasty.

The Franks

The Frankish realm under Charles Martel was the foremost military power of Western Europe. It consisted of what is today most of France (Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy), most of Western Germany, and the Low Countries. The Frankish realm had begun to progress towards becoming the first real imperial power in Western Europe since the fall of Rome; however, it continued to struggle against external forces such as the Saxons, Frisians, and internal opponents such as Odo the Great (Old French: Eudes), the Duke of Aquitaine.

Muslim conquests from Hispania

The Umayyad troops, under Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, the governor-general of al-Andalusmarker, overran Septimaniamarker by 719, following their sweep up the Iberian peninsulamarker. Al-Samh set up his capital from 720 at Narbonnemarker, which the Moors called Arbūna. With the port of Narbonne secure, the Umayyads swiftly subdued the largely unresisting cities of Aletmarker, Béziersmarker, Agdemarker, Lodèvemarker, Maguelonnemarker, and Nîmesmarker, still controlled by their Visigothic counts.

The Umayyad campaign into Aquitaine suffered a temporary setback at the Battle of Toulouse , when Duke Odo of Aquitaine (also known as Eudes the Great) broke the siege of Toulousemarker, taking Al-Samh ibn Malik's forces by surprise and mortally wounding the governor-general Al-Samh ibn Malik himself. This defeat did not stop incursions into old Roman Gaul, as Arab forces, soundly based in Narbonne and easily resupplied by sea, struck eastwards in the 720s, penetrating as far as Autunmarker in Burgundy in 725.

Threatened by both the Umayyads in the south and by the Franks in the north, in 730 Eudes allied himself with the Berber emir Uthman ibn Naissa, called "Munuza" by the Franks, the deputy governor of what would later become Cataloniamarker. As a gage, and to seal the alliance, Uthman was given Eudes's daughter Lampade in marriage, and Arab raids across the Pyreneesmarker, Eudes's southern border, ceased. However, the next year, Uthman rebelled against the governor of al-Andalusmarker, ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân, who quickly crushed the revolt and directed his attention against Eudes. ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân had brought a huge force of Arab heavy cavalry and Berber light cavalry, plus troops from all provinces of the Caliphate, in the Umayyad attempt at a conquest of Europe north of the Pyreneesmarker. 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 Bordeauxmarker, but was defeated, and Bordeaux was plundered. The slaughter of Christians at the Battle of the River Garonne was evidently horrific; the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 commented, " ", ("God alone knows the number of the slain"). The Umayyad horsemen then utterly devastated that portion of Gaul, their own histories saying the "faithful pierced through the mountains, trampled over rough and level ground, plundered far into the country of the Franks, and smote all with the sword, insomuch that when Eudo came to battle with them at the River Garonne, he fled."

Eudes' appeal to the Franks

Eudes appealed to the Franks for assistance, which Charles Martel only granted after Eudes agreed to submit to Frankish authority.

It appears as if the Umayyads were not aware of the true strength of the Franks. The Umayyad forces were not particularly concerned about any of the Germanic tribes, including the Franks, and the Arab Chronicles, the history of that age, show that awareness of the Franks as a growing military power only came after the Battle of Tours.

Further, the Umayyads appear not to have scouted northward for potential foes, for if they had, they surely would have noted Charles Martel as a force to be reckoned with in his own account, because of his thorough domination of Europe from 717: this might have alerted the Umayyads that a real power led by a gifted general was rising in the ashes of the Western Roman Empire.

Advance toward the Loire

In 732, the Umayyad advance force was proceeding north toward the River Loiremarker having 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, while the main body advanced more slowly.

The Umayyad attack was likely so late in the year because many men and horses needed to live off the land as they advanced; thus they had to wait until the area's wheat harvest was ready and then until a reasonable amount of the harvest was thresh (slowly by hand with flails) and stored. The further north, the later the harvest is, and while the men could kill farm livestock for food, horses cannot eat meat and needed grain as food. Letting them graze each day would take too long, and interrogating natives to find where food stores were kept would not work where the two sides had no common language.

A military explanation for why Eudes was defeated so easily at Bordeauxmarker and at the Battle of the River Garonne after having won 11 years earlier at the Battle of Toulouse is simple. At Toulouse, Eudes managed a basic surprise attack against an overconfident and unprepared foe, all of whose defensive works were aimed inward, while he attacked from the outside. The Umayyad forces were mostly infantry, and what cavalry they had never got a chance to mobilize and meet him in open battle. As Herman of Carinthia wrote in one of his translations of a history of al-Andalus, Eudes managed a highly successful encircling envelopment which took the attackers totally by surprise — and the result was a chaotic slaughter of the Muslim forces.

At Bordeauxmarker, and again at the Battle of the River Garonne, the Umayyad forces were cavalry, not infantry, and were not taken by surprise, and given a chance to mass for battle, this led to the devastation of Eudes's army, almost all of whom were killed with minimal losses to the Muslims. Eudes's forces, like other European troops of that era, lacked stirrups, and therefore had no heavy cavalry. Virtually all of their troops were infantry. The Umayyad heavy cavalry broke the Christian infantry in their first charge, and then slaughtered them at will as they broke and ran.

The invading force went on to devastate southern Gaul. 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's Mayor of the Palace, Charles Martel, collected his army and marched south, avoiding the old Roman roads and hoping to take the Muslims by surprise. Because he intended to use a phalanx, it was essential for him to choose the battlefield. His plan — to find a high wooded plain, form his men and force the Muslims to come to him — depended on the element of surprise.


Preparations and maneuver

From all accounts, the invading forces were caught entirely off guard to find a large force, well disposed and prepared for battle, with high ground, directly opposing their attack on Tours. Charles had achieved the total surprise he hoped for. He then chose to begin the battle in a defensive, phalanx-like formation. According to the Arabian sources, the Franks drew up in a large square, with the trees and upward slope to break any cavalry charge.

For seven days, the two armies watched each other with minor skirmishes. The Umayyads waited for their full strength to arrive, which it did, but they were still uneasy. 'Abd-al-Raḥmân, despite being a good commander, had managed to let Charles bring his army to full strength and pick the location of the battle. Furthermore, it was difficult for the Umayyads to judge the size of the army opposing them, since Charles had used the trees and forest to make his force appear larger than it probably was. Thus, 'Abd-al-Raḥmân recalled all his troops, which did give him an even larger army — but it also gave Charles time for more of his veteran infantry to arrive from the outposts of the Kingdom. These infantry were all the hope for victory he had. Seasoned and battle hardened, most of them had fought with him for years, some as far back as 717. Further, he also had levies of militia arrive, but the militia was virtually worthless except for gathering food, and harassing the Muslims. Unlike his infantry, which was both experienced and disciplined, the levies were neither, and Charles had no intention of depending on them to stand firm against cavalry charges (Most historians through the centuries have believed the Franks were badly outnumbered at the onset of battle by at least 2-1.). Charles gambled everything that ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân would in the end feel compelled to battle, and to go on and loot Tours. Neither of them wanted to attack, but Abd-al-Raḥmân felt in the end obligated to sack Tours, which meant literally going through the Frankish army on the hill in front of him. Charles's decision to wait in the end proved crucial, as it forced the Umayyads to rush uphill, against the grade and the woods, negated a large part of the natural advantages of a cavalry charge.

Charles had been preparing for this confrontation since Toulouse a decade before. He was well aware that if he failed, no other Christian force remained able to defend western Christianity. But Gibbon believes, as do most pre and modern historians, that Charles had made the best of a bad situation. Though outnumbered and depending on infantry, without heavy cavalry, Charles had a tough, battle-hardened heavy infantry who believed in him implicitly. Moreover, as Davis points out, this infantry was heavily armed, each man carrying up to perhaps 75 pounds of wood and iron armour into battle. Formed in a phalanx, they were better able to resist a cavalry charge than might be conventionally thought, especially as Charles had been able to secure them the high ground and trees to further aid breaking such charges. Charles also had the element of surprise, in addition to being allowed to pick the ground. And that element of surprise extended to his opponents being totally unaware of how good his forces were; Martel had trained them for a decade for this battle, and was well aware of his opponents strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately, the Caliphate forces did not know anything at all about the Franks.

The Franks were dressed for the cold, and had the terrain advantage. The Arabs were not as prepared for the intense cold of an oncoming northern European winter, despite having tents, which the Franks did not, but did not want to attack a Frankish army they believed may have been numerically superior. Essentially, the Umayyads wanted the Franks to come out in the open, while the Franks, formed in a tightly packed defensive formation, wanted them to come uphill, into the trees, diminishing at once the advantages of their cavalry. It was a waiting game which Charles won: the fight began on the seventh day, as ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân did not want to postpone the battle indefinitely with winter approaching.


Western Knight fighting against an Arabian horseman.
(Illustration from the 19th c.)

‘Abd-al-Raḥmân trusted the tactical superiority of his cavalry, and had them charge repeatedly. This time the faith the Umayyads 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 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. "The Muslim horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side."

Despite this, the Franks did not break. It appears that the years of year-round training that Charles had bought with Church funds, paid off. His hard-trained soldiery accomplished what was not thought possible at that time: infantry withstood the Umayyad heavy cavalry. Paul Davis says the core of Charles's army was a professional infantry which was both highly disciplined and well motivated, "having campaigned with him all over Europe," buttressed by levies that Charles basically used to raid and disrupt his enemy, and gather food for his infantry. The Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 says:

"And in the shock of the battle 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. 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."

The battle turns

Umayyad troops who had broken into the square had tried to kill Charles, but his liege men surrounded him and would not be broken. The battle was still in flux when—Frankish histories claim—a rumor went through the Umayyad army that Frankish scouts threatened the booty that they had taken from Bordeauxmarker. Some of the Umayyad troops at once broke off the battle and returned to camp to secure their loot. According to Muslim accounts of the battle, in the midst of the fighting on the second day (Frankish accounts have the battle lasting one day only), scouts from the Franks sent by Charles began to raid the camp and supply train (including slaves and other plunder).

Charles supposedly had sent scouts to cause chaos in the Umayyad base camp, and free as many of the slaves as possible, hoping to draw off part of his foe. This succeeded, as many of the Umayyad cavalry returned to their camp. To the rest of the Muslim army, this appeared to be a full-scale retreat, and soon it became one. Both Western and Muslim histories agree that while trying to stop the retreat, ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân became surrounded, which led to his death, and the Umayyad troops then withdrew altogether to their camp. "All the host fled before the enemy", candidly wrote one Arabic source, "and many died in the flight". The Franks resumed their phalanx, and rested in place through the night, believing the battle would resume at dawn the following morning.

Following day

The next day, when the Umayyad forces did not renew the battle, the Franks feared an ambush. Charles at first believed that the Umayyad forces were trying to lure him down the hill and into the open. This tactic he knew he had to resist at all costs; he had in fact disciplined his troops for years to under no circumstances break formation and come out in the open. (See the Battle of Hastingsmarker for the results of infantry being lured into the open by armoured cavalry.) Only after extensive reconnaissance of the Umayyad camp by Frankish soldiers — which by both historical accounts had been so hastily abandoned that even the tents remained, as the Umayyad forces headed back to Iberiamarker with what loot remained that they could carry — was it discovered that the Muslims had retreated during the night.

Contemporary accounts

The Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 "describes the battle in greater detail than any other Latin or Arabic source". It says of the encounter that,

Charles Martel's family composed, for the fourth book of the Continuations of Fredegar's Chronicle, a stylised summary of the battle:

This source details further that "he (Charles Martel) came down upon them like a great man of battle". It goes on to say Charles "scattered them like the stubble".

The references to "rushing in" and "overturning their tents" may allude to the phraseology of the Book of Numbers, chapter 24, "where the Spirit of God 'rushed in' to the tents of Israel." The Latin word used for "warrior", , "is also biblical, from the Book of Maccabees, chapters 15 and 16, which describe huge battles.

It is thought that Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Chapter XXIII) includes a reference to the Battle of Poitiers: "...a dreadful plague of Saracens ravaged France with miserable slaughter, but they not long after in that country received the punishment due to their wickedness".

Strategic analysis

‘Abd-al-Raḥmân was a good general and should have done two things he failed to do. Gibbon makes the point that he did not move at once against Charles Martel, was surprised by him at Tours as Charles had marched over the mountains avoiding the roads to surprise the Muslim invaders, and thus the wily Charles selected the time and place they would collide:
  • ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân either assumed that the Franks would not come to the aid of their Aquitanian rivals, or did not care, and he thus failed to assess their strength before invasion.
  • He failed to scout the movements of the Frank army, and Charles Martel.
Having done either, he would have curtailed his lighthorse ravaging throughout lower Gaul, and marched at once with his full power against the Franks. This strategy would have nullified every advantage Charles had at Tours:
  • The invaders would have not been burdened with booty that played such a huge role in the battle.
  • They would have not lost one warrior in the battles they fought before Tours. (Though they lost relatively few men in overrunning Aquitaine, they suffered some casualties — losses that may have been pivotal at Tours).
  • They would have bypassed weaker opponents such as Eudes, whom they could have picked off at will later, while moving at once to force battle with the real power in Europe, and at least partially picked the battlefield.
While some military historians point out that leaving enemies in your rear is not generally wise, the Mongols proved that indirect attack, and bypassing weaker foes to eliminate the strongest first, is a devastatingly effective mode of invasion. In this case, those enemies were virtually no danger, given the ease with which the Muslims destroyed them. The real danger was Charles, and the failure to scout Gaul adequately was disastrous.

According to Creasy, the Muslims' best strategic choice would have been to simply decline battle, depart with their loot, garrisoning the captured towns in southern Gaul, and return when they could force Charles to a battleground more to their liking, one that maximized the huge advantage they had in their mailed and armored horsemen. It might have been different, however, had the Muslim forces remained under control. Both western and Muslim histories agree the battle was hard fought, and that the Umayyad heavy cavalry had broken into the square, but agreed that the Franks were in formation still strongly resisting.

Charles could not afford to stand idly by while Frankish territories were threatened. He would have to face the Umayyad armies sooner or later, and his men were enraged by the utter devastation of the Aquitanians and wanted to fight. But Sir Edward Creasy noted that,

Both Hallam and Watson argue that had Charles failed, there was no remaining force to protect Western Europe. Hallam perhaps said it best: "It may justly be reckoned among those few battles of which a contrary event would have essentially varied the drama of the world in all its subsequent scenes: with Marathonmarker, Arbela, the Metaurus, Châlons and Leipzigmarker."

Strategically, and tactically, Charles probably made the best decision he could in waiting until his enemies least expected him to intervene, and then marching by stealth to catch them by surprise at a battlefield of his choosing. Probably he and his own men did not realize the seriousness of the battle they had fought, as Matthew Bennett and his co-authors, in Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World (2005) says: "few battles are remembered 1,000 years after they are fought [...] but the Battle of Tours is an exception [...] Charles Martel turned back a Muslim raid that had it been allowed to continue, might have conquered Gaul."


Umayyad retreat and second invasion

The Umayyad army retreated south over the Pyreneesmarker. Charles continued to drive the Umayyad forces from France in subsequent years. After the death (c. 735) of Eudes, who had reluctantly acknowledged Charles' suzerainty in 719, Charles wished to unite Eudes's Duchy to himself, and went there to elicit the proper homage of the Aquitainians. But the nobility proclaimed Hunold, Eudes' son, as the Duke, and Charles recognized his legitimacy when the Umayyads entered Provence as part of an alliance with Duke Maurontus the next year. Hunold, who originally resisted acknowledging Charles as overlord, soon had little choice. He acknowledged Charles at once as his overlord, and Charles confirmed his Duchy, and the two prepared to confront the invaders. Charles believed it was vital to confine the Umayyad forces to Iberiamarker and deny them any foothold in Gaul, a view many historians share. Therefore he marched at once against the invaders, defeating one army outside Arlesmarker, which he took by storm and razed the city, and defeated the primary invasion force at the Battle of the River Berre, outside Narbonnemarker.

Advance to Narbonne

Despite this, the Umayyads remained in control of Narbonne and Septimaniamarker for another 27 years, though they could not expand further. The treaties reached earlier with the local population stood firm and were further consolidated in 734 when the governor of Narbonne, Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri, concluded agreements with several towns on common defense arrangements against the encroachments of Charles Martel, who had systematically brought the south to heel as he extended his domains. He destroyed Umayyad armies and fortresses at the Battle of Avignon and the Battle of Nimes. The army attempting to relieve Narbonne met him in open battle at the Battle of the River Berre and was destroyed, but Charles failed in his attempt to take Narbonne by siege in 737, when the city was jointly defended by its Muslim Arab and Berber, and its Christian Visigothic citizens.

Carolingian dynasty

Reluctant to tie down his army for a siege that could last years, and believing he could not afford the losses of an all-out frontal assault such as he had used at Arlesmarker, Charles was content to isolate the few remaining invaders in Narbonnemarker and Septimaniamarker. The threat of invasion was diminished after the Umayyad defeat at Narbonne, and the unified Caliphate would collapse into civil war in 750 at the Battle of the Zab. It was left to Charles' son, Pippin the Short, to force Narbonne's surrender in 759, thus bringing Narbonne into the Frankish domains. The Umayyad dynasty was expelled, driven back to Al-Andalus where Abd ar-Rahman I established an emirate in Cordoba in opposition to the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdadmarker.

Charles's grandson, Charlemagne, became the first Christian ruler to begin what would be called the Reconquista from Europe. In the northeast of Spain the Frankish emperors established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyreneesmarker in part of what today is Cataloniamarker, reconquering Gironamarker in 785 and Barcelonamarker in 801. This formed a buffer zone against Muslim lands across the Pyreneesmarker. Historian J.M. Roberts said in 1993 of the Carolingian Dynasty:
"It produced Charles Martel, the soldier who turned the Arabs back at Tours, and the supporter of Saint Boniface the Evangelizer of Germany. This is a considerable double mark to have left on the history of Europe."

In addition, strong arguments can be made for Charles as a powerful agent for social change. Prior to Tours, stirrups and heavy cavalry were unknown in the west. Lynn White Jr., in his book "Medieval Technology and Social Change", argues that the introduction of stirrups into Europe after Tours by Charles and his heirs was a direct causal relationship between the adoption of the stirrup for cavalry and the introduction and development of "feudalism" in Carolingian France.

The last Umayyad invasions of Gaul

In 735, the new governor of al-Andalus again invaded Gaul. Antonio Santosuosso and other historians detail how the new governor of Al-Andalus, 'Uqba b. Al-Hajjaj, again moved into France to avenge the defeat at Poitiers and to spread Islam. Santosuosso notes that 'Uqba b. Al-Hajjaj converted about 2,000 Christians he captured over his career. In the last major attempt at forcible invasion of Gaul through Iberia, a sizable invasion force was assembled at Saragossamarker and entered what is now French territory in 735, crossed the River Rhone and captured and looted Arlesmarker. From there, he struck into the heart of Provence, ending with the capture of Avignon, despite strong resistance. Uqba b. Al-Hajjaj's forces remained in French territory for about four years, carrying raids to Lyons, Burgundy, and Piedmont. Again Charles Martel came to the rescue, reconquering most of the lost territories in two campaigns in 736 and 739, except for the city of Narbonne, which finally fell in 759. Alessandro Santosuosso strongly argues that the second (Umayyad) expedition was probably more dangerous than the first. The second expedition's failure put an end to any serious Muslim expedition across the Pyreneesmarker, although raids continued. Plans for further large-scale attempts were hindered by internal turmoil in the Umayyad lands which often made enemies out of their own kind.

Historical and macrohistorical views

The historical views of this battle fall into three great phases, both in the East and especially in the West. Western historians, beginning with the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754, stressed the macrohistorical impact of the battle, as did the Continuations of Fredegar. This became a claim that Charles had literally saved Christianity, as Gibbon and his generation of historians agreed that the Battle of Tours was unquestionably decisive in world history.

Modern historians have essentially fallen into two camps on the issue. The first camp essentially agrees with Gibbon, and the other argues that the Battle has been massively overstated—turned from a raid in force to an invasion, and from a mere annoyance to the Caliph to a shattering defeat that helped end the Islamic Expansion Era. It is essential however, to note that within the first group, those who agree the Battle was of macrohistorical importance, there are a number of historians who take a more moderate and nuanced approach to supporting the battle's importance, rather than the more dramatic rhetoric of Gibbon. The best example of this school is William E. Watson, who does believe the battle has such importance, as will be specifically discussed below, but analyzes it militarily, culturally and politically, rather than seeing it as a classic "Muslim versus Christian" confrontation.

In the East, Arab histories followed a similar path. First, the battle was regarded as a disastrous defeat, then it faded essentially from Arab histories, leading to a modern dispute which regards it as either a secondary loss to the great defeat of the Second Siege of Constantinople or a part of a series of great macrohistorical defeats which together brought about the fall of the first Caliphate. Essentially, many modern Muslim scholars argue that the first Caliphate was a jihadist state which could not withstand an end to its constant expansion. [7608] With the Byzantines and Franks both successfully blocking further expansion, internal social troubles came to a head, starting with the Great Berber Revolt of 740, and ending with the Battle of the Zab, and the destruction of the Umayyad Caliphate.

In Western history

The first wave of real "modern" historians, especially scholars on Rome and the medieval period, such as Edward Gibbon, contended that had Charles fallen, the Umayyad Caliphate would have easily conquered a divided Europe. Gibbon famously observed:

Nor was Gibbon alone in lavishing praise on Charles as the savior of Christiandom and western civilization. H.G. Wells in his A Short History of the World said in Chapter XLV "The Development of Latin Christendom:"

Gibbon was echoed a century later by the Belgian historian Godefroid Kurth, who wrote that the Battle of Poitiers "must ever remain one of the great events in the history of the world, as upon its issue depended whether Christian Civilization should continue or Islam prevail throughout Europe."

Germanmarker historians were especially ardent in their praise of Charles Martel; Schlegel speaks of this "mighty victory", and tells how "the arm of Charles Martel saved and delivered the Christian nations of the West from the deadly grasp of all-destroying Islam." Creasy quotes Leopold von Ranke's opinion that this period was:

The German military historian Hans Delbruck said of this battle "there was no more important battle in the history of the world." (The Barbarian Invasions, page 441.) Had Charles Martel failed, Henry Hallam argued, there would have been no Charlemagne, no Holy Roman Empire or Papal Statesmarker; all these depended upon Charles's containment of Islam from expanding into Europe while the Caliphate was unified and able to mount such a conquest. Another great mid era historian, Thomas Arnold, ranked the victory of Charles Martel even higher than the victory of Arminius in its impact on all of modern history: "Charles Martel's victory at Tours was among those signal deliverances which have affected for centuries the happiness of mankind." Louis Gustave and Charles Strauss in Moslem and Frank; or, Charles Martel and the rescue of Europe said "The victory gained was decisive and final, The torrent of Arab conquest was rolled back and Europe was rescued from the threatened yoke of the Saracens." (page 122)

Charles Oman, in his History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, concludes that

John H. Haaren says in Famous Men of the Middle Ages:

But, as will be seen below, today’s historians are very clearly divided on the importance of the battle, and where it should rank in the signal moments of military history.

In Muslim history

Eastern historians, like their Western counterparts, have not always agreed on the importance of the battle. According to Bernard Lewis, "The Arab historians, if they mention this engagement [the Battle of Tours] at all, present it as a minor skirmish," and Gustave von Grunebaum writes: "This setback may have been important from the European point of view, but for Muslims at the time, who saw no master plan imperilled thereby, it had no further significance."Contemporary Arab and Muslim historians and chroniclers were much more interested in the second Umayyad siege of Constantinople in 718, which ended in a disastrous defeat.

However, Creasy has claimed: "The enduring importance of the battle of Tours in the eyes of the Moslems is attested not only by the expressions of 'the deadly battle' and 'the disgraceful overthrow' which their writers constantly employ when referring to it, but also by the fact that no more serious attempts at conquest beyond the Pyreneesmarker were made by the Saracens."

Thirteenth-century Moroccan author Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi, mentioned the battle in his history of the Maghrib, "al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi Akhbar al-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)." Antonio Santosuosso points out in his book Barbarians, Marauders and Infidels: The Ways of Medieval Warfare, on p. 126 "they (the Muslims) called the battle's location, the road between Poitiers and Tours, "the pavement of Martyrs." However, as Henry Coppée has explained, "The same name was given to the battle of Toulouse and is applied to many other fields on which the Moslemah were defeated: they were always martyrs for the faith"

Khalid Yahya Blankinship argued that the military defeat at Tours was one of the failures that contributed to the decline of the Umayyad caliphate: "Stretching from Morocco to China, the Umayyad caliphate based its expansion and success on the doctrine of jihad—armed struggle to claim the whole earth for God's rule, a struggle that had brought much material success for a century but suddenly ground to a halt followed by the collapse of the ruling Umayyad dynasty in 750 AD. The End of the Jihad State demonstrates for the first time that the cause of this collapse came not just from internal conflict, as has been claimed, but from a number of external and concurrent factors that exceeded the caliphate's capacity to respond. These external factors began with crushing military defeats at Byzantium, Toulouse and Tours, which led to the Great Berber Revolt of 740 in Iberia and Northern Africa."

Current historical debate on macrohistorical impact of Battle of Tours

Some modern historians argue that the Battle of Tours was of no great historical significance while others continue to contend that Charles Martel's victory was important in European or even world history.

Supporting the significance of Tours as a world-altering event

William E. Watson, strongly supports Tours as a macrohistorical event, but distances himself from the rhetoric of Gibbons and Drubeck, writing, for example, of the battle's importance in Frankish, and world, history in 1993:

Watson adds, "After examining the motives for the Muslim drive north of the Pyreneesmarker, 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."

Victorian writer John Henry Haaren says in Famous Men of the Middle Ages, "The battle of Tours, or Poitiers, as it should be called, is regarded as one of the decisive battles of the world. It decided that Christians, and not Moslems, should be the ruling power in Europe." Bernard Grun delivers this assessment in his "Timetables of History," reissued in 2004: "In 732 Charles Martel's victory over the Arabs at the Battle of Tours stems the tide of their westward advance.”

Historian and humanist Michael Grant lists the battle of Tours in the macrohistorical dates of the Roman era. Historian Norman Cantor who specialized in the medieval period, teaching and writing at Columbia and New York University, says in 1993: "It may be true that the Arabs had now fully extended their resources and they would not have conquered France, but their defeat (at Tours) in 732 put a stop to their advance to the north."

Military historian Robert W. Martin considers Tours "one of the most decisive battles in all of history." Additionally, historian Hugh Kennedy says "it was clearly significant in establishing the power of Charles Martel and the Carolingians in France, but it also had profound consequences in Muslim Spain. It signaled the end of the ghanima (booty) economy."

Military Historian Paul Davis argued in 1999, "had the Muslims been victorious at Tours, it is difficult to suppose what population in Europe could have organized to resist them." Likewise, George Bruce in his update of Harbottle's classic military history Dictionary of Battles maintains that "Charles Martel defeated the Moslem army effectively ending Moslem attempts to conquer western Europe."

Antonio Santosuosso puts forth an interesting modern opinion on Charles, Tours, and the subsequent campaigns against Rahman's son in 736-737. Santosuosso presents a compelling case that these later defeats of invading Muslim armies were at least as important as Tours in their defence of Western Christendom and the preservation of Western monasticism, the monasteries of which were the centers of learning which ultimately led Europe out of her Middle Ages. He also makes a compelling argument, after studying the Arab histories of the period, that these were clearly armies of invasion, sent by the Caliph not just to avenge Tours, but to begin the conquest of Christian Europe and bring it into the Caliphate.

Objecting to the significance of Tours as a world-altering event

Other historians disagree with this assessment. Alessandro Barbero writes, "Today, historians tend to play down the significance of the battle of Poitiers, pointing out that the purpose of the Arab force defeated by Charles Martel was not to conquer the Frankish kingdom, but simply to pillage the wealthy monastery of St-Martin of Tours". Similarly, Tomaž Mastnak writes:

The Christian Lebanese-American historian Philip Hitti believes that "In reality nothing was decided on the battlefield of Tours. The Moslem wave, already a thousand miles from its starting point in Gibraltar - to say nothing about its base in al-Qayrawan - had already spent itself and reached a natural limit."

The view that the battle has no great significance is perhaps best summarized by Franco Cardini says in Europe and Islam

(See postmodernism .) In their introduction to The Reader's Companion to Military History Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker summarise this side of the modern view of the Battle of Tours by saying “The study of military history has undergone drastic changes in recent years. The old drums-and-bugles approach will no longer do. Factors such as economics, logistics, intelligence, and technology receive the attention once accorded solely to battles and campaigns and casualty counts. Words like "strategy" and "operations" have acquired meanings that might not have been recognizable a generation ago. Changing attitudes and new research have altered our views of what once seemed to matter most. For example, several of the battles that Edward Shepherd Creasy listed in his famous 1851 book The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World rate hardly a mention here, and the confrontation between Muslims and Christians at Poitiers-Tours in 732, once considered a watershed event, has been downgraded to a raid in force."


A number of modern historians and writers in other fields agree with Watson, and continue to maintain that this Battle was one of history's pivotal events. Professor of religion Huston Smith says in The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions "But for their defeat by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 733, the entire Western world might today be Muslim." Historian Robert Payne on page 142 in "The History of Islam" said "The more powerful Muslims and the spread of Islam were knocking on Europe’s door. And the spread of Islam was stopped along the road between the towns of Tours and Poitiers, France, with just its head in Europe."

Popular conservative military historian Victor Davis Hanson shares his view about the battle's macrohistorical placement:

Paul Davis, another modern historian who addresses both sides in the debate over whether or not this Battle truly determined the direction of history, as Watson claims, or merely was a relatively minor raid, as Cardini writes, says "whether Charles Martel saved Europe for Christianity is a matter of some debate. What is sure, however, is that his victory ensured that the Franks would dominate Gaul for more than a century." Davis writes, "Moslem defeat ended the Moslem’s threat to western Europe, and Frankish victory established the Franks as the dominant population in western Europe, establishing the dynasty that led to Charlemagne."

See also


  1. Oman, 1960, p. 167.
  2. Henry Coppée writes, "The same name (see ante) was given to the battle of Toulouse and is applied to many other fields on which the Moslemah were defeated: they were always martyrs for the faith" (Coppée, 1881/2002, p. 13.)
  3. Bachrach, 2001, p. 276.
  4. Fouracre, 2002, p. 87 citing the Vita Eucherii, ed. W. Levison, Monumenta Germaniæ Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum VII, pp. 46–53, ch. 8, pp. 49–50; Gesta Episcoporum Autissiodorensium, extracts ed. G. Waitz, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores XIII, pp. 394–400, ch. 27, p. 394.
  5. Riche, 1993, p. 44.
  6. Hanson, 2001, p. 143.
  7. Schoenfeld, 2001, p. 366.
  8. Hanson, 2001, p. 166.
  9. Ranke, Leopold von. "History of the Reformation," vol. 1, 5
  10. Davis, 1999, p. 106.
  11. The patriotic and religious fresco project and its cultural implications are discussed by Albert Boime, A Social History of Modern Art 2004, pp 62ff.
  12. "There were no further Muslim invasions of Frankish territory, and Charles Martel's victory has often been regarded as decisive for world history, since it preserved western Europe from Muslim conquest and Islamization." [1]
  13. Cowley and Parker, 2001, p. xiii.
  14. Davis, Paul K. "100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present"
  15. Hanson, Victor Davis. “Culture and Carnage: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power"
  16. Fouracre, 2000, p. 85 citing U. Nonn, 'Das Bild Karl Martells in Mittelalterliche Quellen', in Jarnut, Nonn and Richeter (eds), Karl Martel in Seiner Zeit, pp. 9–21, at pp. 11–12.
  17. Fouracre, 2000, p. 88.
  18. Eggenberger, 1985, p. 3.
  19. Saudi Arabia's Aramco historical site,
  20. Saudi Aramco World : The Arabs in Occitania
  21. previously attributed to Isidorus Pacensis, Bishop of Béja — see, O'Callaghan, 1983, p. 189.
  22. Wolf, 2000, p. 145.
  23. From the Anon Arab Chronicler: The Battle of Poitiers, 732.
  24. Davis, Paul K. (1999) page 105
  25. Arabs, Franks, and the Battle of Tours, 732: Three Accounts
  26. Watson, 1993.
  27. Fouracre, 2000, p. 149.
  28. Bede, 1847, p. 291.
  29. quoted in Creasy, 1851/2001, p. viii.
  30. Fouracre, 2000, p. 96.
  31. Roberts,J.M.. “The New History of the World
  32. Santosuosso, 2004, p. 126
  33. quoted in Frank D. Gilliard, The Senators of Sixth-Century Gaul, Speculum, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Oct., 1979), pp. 685-697
  34. quoted in Creasy, 1851/2001, p. 158.
  35. History of the later Roman Commonwealth, vol ii. p. 317, quoted in Creasy, 1851/2001, p. 158.
  36. Lewis, 1994, p. 11.
  37. von Grunebaum, 2005, p. 66.
  38. Coppée, 1881/2002, p. 13.
  39. Famous Men of The Middle Ages by John H. Haaren, LL.D. and A. B. Poland, Ph.D. Project Gutenberg Etext.
  40. The Timetables of History p.275.
  41. Professor of Humanity at Edinburgh University, and author of History of Rome
  42. Civilization of the Middle Ages p.136.
  43. The Battle of Tours (732)
  44. University of St. Andrews.
  45. Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal: Political History of Al-Andalus, p. 28.
  46. Davis, Paul 1999, p. 105.
  47. Leaders & Battles Database.
  48. Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Western Ontario, considered an expert historian in the era in dispute.
  49. Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Piemonte Orientale in Vercelli, Italy.
  50. Barbero, 2004, p. 10.
  51. Institute of Philosophy SRC.
  52. Hitti, 2002, p. 469.
  53. Professor of Medieval History, University of Florence, Italy.
  54. 'Editors' Note', Cowley and Parker, 2001, p. xiii.
  55. Davis, Paul, 1999, p. 107.
  56. Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present: The World’s Major Battles and How They Shaped History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 103.


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  • Roberts, J.M. (2003) The New History of the World Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-521927-9
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  • Torrey, Charles Cutler (1922). The History of the Conquest of Egypt, North Africa and Spain: Known as the Futūh Miṣr of Ibn ʻAbd al-Ḥakam. Yale University Press.
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