Battle Of Tours
Author: Creasy, Sir Edward Shepherd

Battle Of Tours

732

When the Saracens had completed the conquest of Spain and all that
country was wholly under their dominion, they determined to extend their
authority over the neighboring country of the Franks.

Having crossed the Pyrenees they met with but slight opposition and soon
succeeded in making themselves masters of Southern France, thereby furthering
and encouraging their boastful ambition to conquer and Islamize the whole
world.

Already had Africa, Asia Minor, and Eastern Europe acknowledged their
rule, and the final subjugation of all Christendom by the Mahometan sword
seemed certain and imminent.

Their long and uninterrupted career of success had fed their arrogance
and filled them with a proud confidence in the invincibility of their arms,
and their farther advance into the heart of Europe seemed, in the eyes of
Christian and pagan alike, to be the irresistible march of destiny.

The Saracen host had not penetrated far into the Frankish territory when
they encountered "a lion in the path," in the person of Charles (or Karl),
the great palace-mayor - so called, but who was in reality the de-facto
sovereign of the Frankish kingdoms.

To Charles, famous for his military skill and prestige, came the
recently defeated Eudes, the count of Aquitaine, and the remnant of his
force, craving his protection and leadership against the advancing Saracen
horde.

Charles' signal victory over the Saracen invaders proved to be the
turning-point in the Moslem career of conquest. The question whether the
Koran or the Bible, the Crescent or the Cross, Mahomet or Christ, should rule
Europe and the western world was decided forever upon the bloody field of
Tours.

The broad tract of champaign country which intervenes between the cities
of Poitiers and Tours is principally composed of a succession of rich pasture
lands, which are traversed and fertilized by the Cher, the Creuse, the
Vienne, the Claine, the Indre, and other tributaries of the river Loire.
Here and there the ground swells into picturesque eminences, and occasionally
a belt of forest land, a brown heath, or a clustering series of vineyards
breaks the monotony of the widespread meadows; but the general character of
the land is that of a grassy plain, and it seems naturally adapted for the
evolutions of numerous armies, especially of those vast bodies of cavalry
which principally decided the fate of nations during the centuries that
followed the downfall of Rome and preceded the consolidation of the modern
European powers.

This region has been signalized by more than one memorable conflict; but
it is principally interesting to the historian by having been the scene of
the great victory won by Charles Martel over the Saracens, A.D. 732, which
gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe,
rescued Christendom from Islam, preserved the relics of ancient and the germs
of modern civilization, and reestablished the old superiority of the
Indo-European over the Semitic family of mankind.

Sismondi and Michelet have underrated the enduring interest of this
great Appeal of Battle between the champions of the Crescent and the Cross.
But, if French writers have slighted the exploits of their national hero, the
Saracenic trophies of Charles Martel have had full justice done to them by
English and German historians. Gibbon devotes several pages of his great
work ^1 to the narrative of the battle of Tours, and to the consideration of
the consequences which probably would have resulted if Abderrahman's
enterprise had not been crushed by the Frankish chief. Schlegel speaks of
this "mighty victory" in terms of fervent gratitude, 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"; and Ranke points out, as "one of
the most important epochs in the history of the world, the commencement of
the eighth century, when on the one side Mahometanism threatened to
overspread Italy and Gaul, and on the other the ancient idolatry of Saxony
and Friesland once more forced its way across the Rhine. In this peril of
Christian institutions, a youthful prince of Germanic race, Charles (or Karl)
Martel, arose as their champion, maintained them with all the energy which
the necessity for self-defence calls forth, and finally extended them into
new regions."

[Footnote 1: Gibbon remarks that if the Saracen conquests had not then been
checked, "perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the
schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people
the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet."]

Arnold ranks the victory of Charles Martel even higher than the victory
of Arminius, "among those signal deliverances which have affected for
centuries the happiness of mankind." In fact, the more we test its
importance, the higher we shall be led to estimate it; and, though all
authentic details which we possess of its circumstances and its heroes are
but meagre, we can trace enough of its general character to make us watch
with deep interest this encounter between the rival conquerors of the
decaying Roman Empire. That old classic world, the history of which occupies
so large a portion of our early studies, lay, in the eighth century of our
era, utterly exanimate and overthrown. On the north the German, on the south
the Arab, was rending away its provinces. At last the spoilers encountered
one another, each striving for the full mastery of the prey. Their conflict
brought back upon the memory of Gibbon the old Homeric simile, where the
strife of Hector and Patroclus over the dead body of Cebriones is compared to
the combat of two lions, that in their hate and hunger fight together on the
mountain tops over the carcass of a slaughtered stag; and the reluctant
yielding of the Saracen power to the superior might of the northern warriors
might not inaptly recall those other lines of the same book of the Iliad,
where the downfall of Patroclus beneath Hector is likened to the forced
yielding of the panting and exhausted wild boar, that had long and furiously
fought with a superior beast of prey for the possession of the scanty
fountain among the rocks at which each burned to drink.

Although three centuries had passed away since the Germanic conquerors
of Rome had crossed the Rhine, never to repass that frontier stream, no
settled system of institutions or government, no amalgamation of the various
races into one people, no uniformity of language or habits had been
established in the country at the time when Charles Martel was called to
repel the menacing tide of Saracenic invasion from the south. Gaul was not
yet France. In that, as in other provinces of the Roman Empire of the West,
the dominion of the Caesars had been shattered as early as the fifth century,
and barbaric kingdoms and principalities had promptly arisen on the ruins of
the Roman power. But few of these had any permanency, and none of them
consolidated the rest, or any considerable number of the rest, into one
coherent and organized civil and political society.

The great bulk of the population still consisted of the conquered
provincials, that is to say, of Romanized Celts, of a Gallic race which had
long been under the dominion of the Caesars, and had acquired, together with
no slight infusion of Roman blood, the language, the literature, the laws,
and the civilization of Latium. Among these, and dominant over them, roved
or dwelt the German victors; some retaining nearly all the rude independence
of their primitive national character, others softened and disciplined by the
aspect and contact of the manners and institutions of civilized life; for it
is to be borne in mind that the Roman Empire in the West was not crushed by
any sudden avalanche of barbaric invasion. The German conquerors came across
the Rhine, not in enormous hosts, but in bands of a few thousand warriors at
a time. The conquest of a province was the result of an infinite series of
partial local invasions, carried on by little armies of this description.
The victorious warriors either retired with their booty or fixed themselves
in the invaded district, taking care to keep sufficiently concentrated for
military purposes, and ever ready for some fresh foray, either against a
rival Teutonic band or some hitherto unassailed city of the provincials.

Gradually, however, the conquerors acquired a desire for permanent
landed possessions. They lost somewhat of the restless thirst for novelty
and adventure which had first made them throng beneath the banner of the
boldest captains of their tribe, and leave their native forests for a roving
military life on the left bank of the Rhine. They were converted to the
Christian faith, and gave up with their old creed much of the coarse ferocity
which must have been fostered in the spirits of the ancient warriors of the
North by a mythology which promised, as the reward of the brave on earth, an
eternal cycle of fighting and drunkenness in heaven.

But, although their conversion and other civilizing influences operated
powerfully upon the Germans in Gaul, and although the Franks - who were
originally a confederation of the Teutonic tribes that dwelt between the
Rhine, the Maine, and the Weser - established a decisive superiority over
the other conquerors of the province, as well as over the conquered
provincials, the country long remained a chaos of uncombined and shifting
elements. The early princes of the Merovingian dynasty were generally
occupied in wars against other princes of their house, occasioned by the
frequent subdivisions of the Frank monarchy; and the ablest and best of them
had found all their energies tasked to the utmost to defend the barrier of
the Rhine against the pagan Germans who strove to pass that river and gather
their share of the spoils of the Empire.

The conquests which the Saracens effected over the southern and eastern
provinces of Rome were far more rapid than those achieved by the Germans in
the North, and the new organizations of society which the Moslems introduced
were summarily and uniformly enforced. Exactly a century passed between the
death of Mahomet and the date of the battle of Tours. During that century
the followers of the prophet had torn away half the Roman Empire; and besides
their conquests over Persia, the Saracens had overrun Syria, Egypt, Africa,
and Spain, in an unchecked and apparently irresistible career of victory.
Nor, at the commencement of the eighth century of our era, was the Mahometan
world divided against itself, as it subsequently became. All these vast
regions obeyed the Caliph; throughout them all, from the Pyrenees to the
Oxus, the name of Mahomet was invoked in prayer and the Koran revered as the
book of the law.

It was under one of their ablest and most renowned commanders, with a
veteran army, and with every apparent advantage of time, place, and
circumstance, that the Arabs made their great effort at the conquest of
Europe north of the Pyrenees. The victorious Moslem soldiery in Spain,

"A countless multitude,
Syrian, Moor, Saracen, Greek renegade,
Persian, and Copt, and Tartar, in one bond
Of erring faith conjoined - strong in the youth
And heat of zeal - a dreadful brotherhood,"

were eager for the plunder of more Christian cities and shrines, and full of
fanatic confidence in the invincibility of their arms.

"Nor were the chiefs
Of victory less assured, by long success
Elate, and proud of that o'erwhelming strength
Which, surely they believed, as it had rolled
Thus far uncheck'd, would roll victorious on,
Till, like the Orient, the subjected West
Should bow in reverence at Mahomet's name;
And pilgrims from remotest arctic shores
Tread with religious feet the burning sands
Of Araby and Mecca's stony soil."
-Southey's Roderick.

It is not only by the modern Christian poet, but by the old Arabian
chroniclers also, that these feelings of ambition and arrogance are
attributed to the Moslems who had overthrown the Visigoth power in Spain.
And their eager expectations of new wars were excited to the utmost on the
reappointment by the Caliph of Abderrahman Ibn Abdillah Alghafeki to the
government of that country, A.D. 729, which restored them a general who had
signalized his skill and prowess during the conquests of Africa and Spain,
whose ready valor and generosity had made him the idol of the troops, who had
already been engaged in several expeditions into Gaul, so as to be well
acquainted with the national character and tactics of the Franks, and who was
known to thirst, like a good Moslem, for revenge for the slaughter of some
detachments of the "true believers," which had been cut off on the north of
the Pyrenees.

In addition to his cardinal military virtues Abderrahman is described by
the Arab writers as a model of integrity and justice. The first two years of
his second administration in Spain were occupied in severe reforms of the
abuses which under his predecessors had crept into the system of government,
and in extensive preparations for his intended conquest in Gaul. Besides the
troops which he collected from his province, he obtained from Africa a large
body of chosen Berber cavalry, officered by Arabs of proved skill and valor;
and in the summer of 732 he crossed the Pyrenees at the head of an army which
some Arab writers rate at eighty thousand strong, while some of the Christian
chroniclers swell its numbers to many hundreds of thousands more. Probably
the Arab account diminishes, but of the two keeps nearer to the truth.

It was from this formidable host, after Eudes, the count of Aquitaine,
had vainly striven to check it, after many strong cities had fallen before
it, and half the land had been overrun, that Gaul and Christendom were at
last rescued by the strong arm of Prince Charles, who acquired a surname
(Martel, the "Hammer") like that of the war-god of his forefathers' creed,
from the might with which he broke and shattered his enemies in the battle.

The Merovingian kings had sunk into absolute insignificance, and had
become mere puppets of royalty before the eighth century. Charles Martel,
like his father, Pepin Heristal, was duke of the Austrasian Franks, the
bravest and most thoroughly Germanic part of the nation, and exercised, in
the name of the titular king, what little paramount authority the turbulent
minor rulers of districts and towns could be persuaded or compelled to
acknowledge. Engaged with his national competitors in perpetual conflicts
for power, and in more serious struggles for safety against the fierce tribes
of the unconverted Frisians, Bavarians, Saxons, and Thuringians, who at that
epoch assailed with peculiar ferocity the Christianized Germans on the left
bank of the Rhine, Charles Martel added experienced skill to his natural
courage, and he had also formed a militia of veterans among the Franks.

Hallam has thrown out a doubt whether, in our admiration of his victory
at Tours, we do not judge a little too much by the event, and whether there
was not rashness in his risking the fate of France on the result of a general
battle with the invaders. But when we remember that Charles had no standing
army, and the independent spirit of the Frank warriors who followed his
standard, it seems most probable that it was not in his power to adopt the
cautious policy of watching the invaders, and wearing out their strength by
delay. So dreadful and so widespread were the ravages of the Saracenic light
cavalry throughout Gaul that it must have been impossible to restrain for any
length of time the indignant ardor of the Franks. And, even if Charles could
have persuaded his men to look tamely on while the Arabs stormed more towns
and desolated more districts, he could not have kept an army together when
the usual period of a military expedition had expired. If, indeed, the Arab
account of the disorganization of the Moslem forces be correct, the battle
was as well timed on the part of Charles as it was, beyond all question, well
fought.

The monkish chroniclers, from whom we are obliged to glean a narrative
of this memorable campaign, bear full evidence to the terror which the
Saracen invasion inspired, and to the agony of that great struggle. The
Saracens, say they, and their King, who was called Abdirames, came out of
Spain, with all their wives, and their children, and their substance, in such
great multitudes that no man could reckon or estimate them. They brought
with them all their armor, and whatever they had, as if they were thenceforth
always to dwell in France.

"Then Abderrahman, seeing the land filled with the multitude of his
army, pierces through the mountains, tramples over rough and level ground,
plunders far into the country of the Franks, and smites all with the sword,
insomuch that when Eudes came to battle with him at the river Garonne, and
fled before him, God alone knows the number of the slain. Then Abderrahman
pursued after Count Eudes, and while he strives to spoil and burn the holy
shrine at Tours he encounters the chief of the Austrasian Franks, Charles, a
man of war from his youth up, to whom Eudes had sent warning. There for
nearly seven days they strive intensely, and at last they set themselves in
battle array, and the nations of the North, standing firm as a wall and
impenetrable as a zone of ice, utterly slay the Arabs with the edge of the
sword."

The European writers all concur in speaking of the fall of Abderrahman
as one of the principal causes of the defeat of the Arabs; who, according to
one writer, after finding that their leader was slain, dispersed in the
night, to the agreeable surprise of the Christians, who expected the next
morning to see them issue from their tents and renew the combat. One monkish
chronicler puts the loss of the Arabs at three hundred and seventy-five
thousand men, while he says that only one thousand and seven Christians fell;
a disparity of loss which he feels bound to account for by a special
interposition of Providence. I have translated above some of the most
spirited passages of these writers; but it is impossible to collect from them
anything like a full or authentic description of the great battle itself, or
of the operations which preceded and followed it.

Though, however, we may have cause to regret the meagreness and doubtful
character of these narratives, we have the great advantage of being able to
compare the accounts given of Abderrahman's expedition by the national
writers of each side. This is a benefit which the inquirer into antiquity so
seldom can obtain that the fact of possessing it, in the case of the battle
of Tours, makes us think the historical testimony respecting that great event
more certain and satisfactory than is the case in many other instances, where
we possess abundant details respecting military exploits, but where those
details come to us from the annalist of one nation only, and where we have,
consequently, no safeguard against the exaggerations, the distortions, and
the fictions which national vanity has so often put forth in the garb and
under the title of history. The Arabian writers who recorded the conquests
and wars of their countrymen in Spain have narrated also the expedition into
Gaul of their great Emir, and his defeat and death near Tours, in battle with
the host of the Franks under "King Caldus," the name into which they
metamorphose Charles Martel.

They tell us how there was war between the count of the Frankish
frontier and the Moslems, and how the count gathered together all his people,
and fought for a time with doubtful success. "But," say the Arabian
chroniclers, "Abderrahman drove them back; and the men of Abderrahman were
puffed up in spirit by their repeated successes, and they were full of trust
in the valor and the practice in war of their Emir. So the Moslems smote
their enemies, and passed the river Garonne, and laid waste the country, and
took captives without number. And that army went through all places like a
desolating storm. Prosperity made these warriors insatiable. At the passage
of the river Abderrahman overthrew the count, and the count retired into his
stronghold, but the Moslems fought against it, and entered it by force and
slew the count; for everything gave way to their cimeters, which were the
robbers of lives.

"All the nations of the Franks trembled at that terrible army, and they
betook them to their king 'Caldus,' and told him of the havoc made by the
Moslem horsemen, and how they rode at their will through all the land of
Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, and they told the King of the death of
their count. Then the King bade them be of good cheer, and offered to aid
them. And in the 114th year ^1 he mounted his horse, and he took with him a
host that could not be numbered, and went against the Moslems. And he came
upon them at the great city of Tours. And Abderrahman and other prudent
cavaliers saw the disorder of the Moslem troops, who were loaded with spoil;
but they did not venture to displease the soldiers by ordering them to
abandon everything except their arms and war-horses. And Abderrahman trusted
in the valor of his soldiers, and in the good fortune which had ever attended
him. But, the Arab writer remarks, such defect of discipline always is fatal
to armies.

[Footnote 1: Of the Hegira.]

"So Abderrahman and his host attacked Tours to gain still more spoil,
and they fought against it so fiercely that they stormed the city almost
before the eyes of the army that came to save it, and the fury and the
cruelty of the Moslems toward the inhabitants of the city were like the fury
and cruelty of raging tigers. It was manifest," adds the Arab, "that God's
chastisement was sure to follow such excesses, and Fortune thereupon turned
her back upon the Moslems.

"Near the river Owar, ^2 the two great hosts of the two languages and the
two creeds were set in array against each other. The hearts of Abderrahman,
his captains, and his men, were filled with wrath and pride, and they were
the first to begin the fight. The Moslem horsemen dashed fierce and frequent
forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many
fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun. Night parted the
two armies, but in the gray of the morning the Moslems returned to the
battle. Their cavaliers had soon hewn their way into the centre of the
Christian host. But many of the Moslems were fearful for the safety of the
spoil which they had stored in their tents, and a false cry arose in their
ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; whereupon several
squadrons of the Moslem horsemen rode off to protect their tents. But it
seemed as if they fled, and all the host was troubled.

[Footnote 2: Probably the Loire.]

"And while Abderrahman strove to check their tumult and to lead them
back to battle, the warriors of the Franks came around him, and he was
pierced through with many spears, so that he died. Then all the host fled
before the enemy and many died in the flight. This deadly defeat of the
Moslems, and the loss of the great leader and good cavalier Abderrahman, took
place in the hundred and fifteenth year." ^1

[Footnote 1: An. Heg.]

It would be difficult to expect from an adversary a more explicit
confession of having been thoroughly vanquished than the Arabs here accord to
the Europeans. The points on which their narrative differs from those of the
Christians - as to how many days the conflict lasted, whether the assailed
city was actually rescued or not, and the like - are of little moment
compared with the admitted great fact that there was a decisive trial of
strength between Frank and Saracen, in which the former conquered. 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 Pyrenees were made by the Saracens.

Charles Martel and his son and grandson were left at leisure to
consolidate and extend their power. The new Christian Roman Empire of the
West, which the genius of Charlemagne founded, and throughout which his iron
will imposed peace on the old anarchy of creeds and races, did not indeed
retain its integrity after its great ruler's death. Fresh troubles came over
Europe, but Christendom, though disunited, was safe. The progress of
civilization, and the development of the nationalities and governments of
modern Europe, from that time forth went forward in not uninterrupted, but
ultimately certain, career.

 

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