Battle of Tours

Also known as the Battle of Poitiers, the Battle of Tours was an armed confrontation that took place in 732 AD, during the Middle Ages, somewhere near the cities of Poitiers and Tours, France. It was fought between the Frankish Army, commanded by Charles Martel, and the Muslim forces of the Cordoban emirate, which attempted to invade the whole of Europe and make of it another Islamic Caliphate.

The Cordoban emirate had previously invaded Gaul (France) in 721 AD. As they advanced northward, the Muslim forces had been stopped in its tracks at the Battle of Toulouse, in which Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine, defeated the invaders. But the arrival in the interim of a new emir of Cordoba, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, who brought with him a huge force of Arabs and Berber horsemen, triggered a far greater invasion. Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi had been at Toulouse, and the Arab Chronicles make clear he had strongly opposed the Emir’s decision not to secure outer defenses against a relief force, which allowed Odo and his relief force to attack with impunity before the Islamic cavalry could assemble or mount. In the invasion of 732, the Muslims sacked and looted the city of Bordeaux, then defeated Odo at the at the Battle of the River Garonne. Odo managed to escape and went to Charles, seeking help. Charles agreed to come to Odo’s rescue, provided Odo acknowledged Charles and his house as his Overlords, which Odo did formally at once.

The Frankish army, under Charles Martel, consisted of 30,000 men, mostly of veteran infantry. While Charles had some cavalry, they did not have stirrups, so he had them dismount and reinforce his phalanx. Odo and his Aquitanian nobility were also normally cavalry, but they also dismounted at the Battle’s onset, to buttress the phalanx. The Franks had avoided the old Roman roads, hoping to take the invaders by surprise. Martel believed it was absolutely essential that he not only took the Islamic by surprise, but that he were allowed to select the ground on which the battle would be fought, ideally a high, wooded plain where the Islamic horsemen, already tired from carrying armour, would be further exhausted charging uphill. Further, the woods would aid the Franks in their defensive square by partially impeding the ability of the Umayyad horsemen to make a clear charge.

They were indeed taken by surprise to find a large force opposing their expected sack of Tours, and they waited for six days, scouting the enemy and summoning all their raiding parties so their full strength was present for the battle. Emir Abdul Rahman did not like the unknown at all, and he did not like charging uphill against an unknown number of foes who seemed well-disciplined and well-disposed for battle. But the weather was also a factor. The Germanic Franks, in their wolf and bear pelts, were more used to the cold, better dressed for it, and despite not having tents, which the Muslims did, were prepared to wait as long as needed, the autumn only growing colder.

On the seventh day, the Muslim army, mostly Berber and Arab horsemen and led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, attacked. During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and the emir was killed. While Western accounts are sketchy, Arab accounts are fairly detailed in describing how the Franks formed a large square and fought a brilliant defensive battle. Rahman had doubts before the battle that his men were ready for such a struggle, and should have had them abandon the loot which hindered them, but instead decided to trust his horsemen, who had never failed him. Indeed, it was thought impossible for infantry of that age to withstand armoured cavalry.

Martel managed to inspire his men to stand firm against a force which must have seemed invincible to them, huge mailed horsemen, who, in addition, probably vastly outnumbered the Franks. In one of the rare instances where medieval infantry stood up against cavalry charges, the disciplined Frankish soldiers withstood the assaults. Fearing defeat, a large portion of the Muslim army abandoned the battle and returned to camp. In attempting to stop the retreat, Abdul Rahman was surrounded and killed by the Franks. The Franks resumed their phalanx, and rested in place through the night, believing the battle would resume at dawn of the following morning.

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Thor is Carlos Benito Camacho, the manager and writer of this blog.