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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Battle of Tours, 732 AD

On this day in the year 732, the century-long tidal wave of Islamic expansion came to an end at the Battle of Tours in modern day France.

Some scholars, however, downplay the significance of the battle. While it is true that the Battle of Tours was not of the same size and scope of a Gaugamela or even a Cannae, no one who honestly looks at a map of the period can deny Tour’s strategic significance at the time or its long term macrohistorical significance.

In the one hundred years following Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula, conquered and converted Persia, captured the Holy Land, and seized Egypt, north Africa, Spain, and Asia Minor (what is today Turkey). Only Constantinople and the Byzantine use of Greek fire kept Islam from invading the Balkans and marching into the heart of Europe – which is precisely what happened after the fall of Constantinople to Islamic forces in 1453.

Islamic conquests from 622 through the mid-eighth century AD.

With the majority of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control by 717, the Pyrenees presented the only modest obstacle to Islamic conquest of what is today France. In that very year, while Muslims lais siege to Constantinople, Islamic forces began crossing the mountains along the Mediterranean coast. This area of southern France, called Septimania, spent the next fifteen years under the dominance of Islamic rule. It was only a matter of time before an advance was made across the Pyrenees along the Atlantic coast.

Image Source: Battle of Tours at Wikipedia
When the advance finally came in 732, it was aided by forces marching from the Islamic Septimanian capital of Narbonne. The local Christian lord, Odo of Aquitaine, found himself caught between two forces attacking him from two directions. His only hope was to abandon his lands and flee north with his army in hopes of finding aid from the Franks, a Germanic tribe that had settled in Gaul as the Roman Empire collapsed.

There he met with Charles, who was effectively the king of the Franks but held only the title of prime minister out of deference to the Merovingians who still held on to the throne. Long had Charles known the Islamic threat to the south, and he had prudently prepared for war by steadily strengthening the Frankish army. Odo of Aquitaine pledged Aquitaine to the Franks in return for their protection and arms. Charles agreed and the united Christian forces marched south.

On October 10, 732, Charles earned the name “Martel” (“the Hammer”) at Tours as his men dealt a stunning defeat against the invading Islamic army. It was a rare instance of medieval infantry standing victorious against cavalry. At one point Charles was nearly struck down, but his comitatus, true to the noble Germanic warrior spirit, formed a wall of men around their leader and saved his life. The same could not be said of the Islamic leader, Abd-al-Raḥmân, whose death in the battle also meant a general retreat of Islamic forces.

A new power was rising. The German warrior wielding the Christian standard finally halted the Islamic advance in western Europe and marked strengthening ties between the Franks and the Catholic Church. For his part, Charles Martel aided St. Boniface’s missionary work in what is today Germany while the Church played a pivotal role in the peaceful transition of power from the Merovingians to the descendants of Charles – the Carolingians. Charles’ son, Pippin, finished driving Muslim forces out of Septimania around 759 while Charles’ grandson, Charlemagne, helped launch the 700-year long Reconquista (“Re-conquest”) of the Iberian Peninsula.

While Charles turned the tide, his grandson Charlemagne established a Frankish foothold in Iberia and began aiding in the re-conquest of what is today Spain and Portugal. 


  1. the majority of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control by 717,

    Quran Academy Live

  2. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.