Battle of Tours Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Battle of Tours discouraged further Muslim incursions beyond the Pyrenees mountains—incursions that were part of the extensive Islamic Empire—after the Muslims were defeated by Christian Frankish forces.

Summary of Event

A Christian army under the Frankish ruler Charles Charles Martel , later nicknamed Martel (hammer), defeated a Muslim army under the governor ՙAbd al-Rahman ՙAbd al-Rahman (governor) , most likely on October 11, 732. Little else is known about the Battle of Tours, a battle that should be more accurately called the Battle of Poitiers because it was fought closer to Poitiers than Tours, but it is convenient to use the traditional name to distinguish this battle from ones fought near Poitiers in 507 and 1356. Contemporary accounts are so sketchy, and sometimes so unbelievable, that accounts by modern historians vary in details. [kw]Battle of Tours (October 11, 732) [kw]Tours, Battle of (October 11, 732) Tours, Battle of (732) France;Oct. 11, 732: Battle of Tours[0610] Religion;Oct. 11, 732: Battle of Tours[0610] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 11, 732: Battle of Tours[0610] Charles Martel ՙAbd al-Rahman Eudo

By the end of 725, the Islamic empire spread from central Asia through North Africa into Spain and even across the Pyrenees into Septimania, in southern Gaul. Spain;Muslims and Meanwhile, in that part of Gaul still under Christian rule, central military and political power lay not with the Frankish king, a figurehead, but with Charles, his mayor of the palace. Among the noblemen more or less under Charles’s rule was Eudo Eudo , the duke of Aquitaine, who had defeated the Muslims at Toulouse Toulouse, Battle of (721) in 721 but gave his daughter as a bride in 730 to the Muslim ruler of Septimania to form an alliance to secure Eudo’s own position against both Charles and the Spanish Muslims. In 731, Eudo declared himself independent of Charles, but Eudo’s son-in-law died that year in a revolt against ՙAbd al-Rahman, who gave the young widow to his own master, the caliph in Damascus. Gaul, Muslim invasion of

Then Eudo learned that ՙAbd al-Rahman had crossed the western Pyrenees and was heading into Aquitaine. Trying to divert Christian forces by sending a small army east toward Arles, ՙAbd al-Rahman himself led a bigger force north. Arriving too late to keep the Muslims from pillaging and burning Bordeaux, Eudo’s soldiers then lost in battle to ՙAbd al-Rahman’s soldiers at the Dordogne. Humbling himself, Eudo appealed to Charles for help as perhaps seventy thousand Muslims went toward the rich abbey at Tours. When Charles’s probably smaller army of Franks and their German allies eventually crossed the Loire River near Tours, ՙAbd al-Rahman led his men back toward Poitiers, near which the battle occurred at a site now unknown.

The Franks at Tours, searching the Arab camp.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

The two armies that faced each other were different in more than religion. The Franks and their allies were mainly an infantry force relying on shields, chain mail, and helmets for armor, and on axes, javelins, daggers, and swords for weapons. Charles’s personal troops were experienced and probably better armed and armored than the militias raised by his vassals; even so, the discipline and organization of the army as a whole was poor by the standards of most modern nations. ՙAbd al-Rahman’s army, which had more Berbers than actual Arabs, was similar in armor and weaponry to the Arab armies that had won so many victories in the century since Muḥammad’s death. Most of the men rode horses and carried little armor, forgoing shields and preferring turbans to helmets. Their typical weapons were lances and swords.

The different armies faced each other for six days with little fighting. On the seventh day, the Muslims, primarily an offensive force, attacked the Christians, who had taken a defensive position. Although at first the Muslim cavalry could not penetrate the massed Christian infantry, eventually the horsemen broke through in a few places. After a while, however, many Muslims heard a rumor that Christians were stealing the goods the Muslims themselves had earlier stolen in the invasion, and a number of Muslim squadrons rode off to protect their camp. Then, thinking their comrades were fleeing, many other Muslims started riding away from the battle, to the dismay of ՙAbd al-Rahman, who, in his attempt to stop the chaotic retreat, died at his enemies’s hands. On the eighth day, when no Muslims came to fight, Charles sent scouts to the enemy camp. They reported that the Muslims had fled and taken some of their loot with them. Aware of the enemy tactic of feigned retreats, the severity of his own losses, his soldiers’s fatigue, and the ease with which horsemen could outdistance infantrymen, Charles decided not to pursue.

The significance of the battle is debatable. For Edward Gibbon and many other historians who have followed his lead, the battle changed world history because, had Charles not led his Christian army to victory, Muslim conquerors might have reached Poland and Scotland, and Islamic theology would have been taught in Gibbon’s own day to an entirely Muslim student body at Oxford.

Such events might indeed have happened had the Christians lost the Battle of Tours, but evidence suggests that, while important to the men who fought there, especially those who died, the battle did not have by itself all the importance Gibbon claims for it. In reality, the spread of Islam through war had not been one fast victory after another. In 642, only ten years after Muḥammad’s death, Muslims had conquered Egypt, but not until 709 did they conquer the rest of North Africa. Before the Battle of Tours, two Muslim sieges of Constantinople had failed; the Christian victory under Leo III in the second siege, which ended in 718, was probably more important than the victory under Charles fourteen years later in the West. Furthermore, by 732, Muslim soldiers often lacked the zeal that had led their predecessors to fight and risk death for God and were generally more concerned with pillaging than with winning Europe for Islam. That loss of belligerent fervor, combined with civil strife in Muslim Spain and a revolt of the Berbers in North Africa, worked against an extension of Muslim territory in western Europe. A final indication of the relative unimportance of the Battle of Tours is that the Muslims later were militarily successful in Charles’s territory and held Arles and Avignon a while. Only by 759, eighteen years after Charles’s death, did the Franks end the Muslim occupation of Gaul.

Significance

The Christian triumph in the Battle of Tours did, however, discourage Muslim raids deep into Gaul and let Muslim generals know that conquering the Franks would be harder than conquering the Visigoths in Spain, and Charles’s success at the Battle of Tours and elsewhere against Muslims strengthened the position of his son Pépin the Short, who actually became king, and led to the celebrated rule of Pépin’s son Charlemagne.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">France, John. “Recent Writing on Medieval Warfare: From the Fall of Rome to c. 1300.” Journal of Military History 65, no. 2 (April, 2001): 441-475. Offers a detailed discussion of scholarship on medieval warfare from the fall of the Roman Empire through the end of 1300, including battles between Muslim forces of the Islamic Empire and Frankish soldiers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fregosi, Paul. Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the Seventh to the Twenty-first Centuries. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998. Surveys the history of the Islamic empire, including its reaches into Spain and France and the Battle of Tours. Illustrated, with a bibliography and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fuller, J. F. C. A Military History of the Western World: From the Earliest Times to the Battle of Lepanto. Vol. 1 in A Military History of the Western World. 3 vols. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1954-1956. Considers Charles’s victory significant as an epilogue to Leo’.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 6 vols. 1776-1788. Vol. 5. Philadelphia: John D. Morris, n.d. This text possibly overstates the significance of the battle, but the description of the consequences of a Christian defeat is classic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, Archibald R. Naval Power and Trade in the Mediterranean, A.D. 500-1100. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951. Argues that the battle was a thwarting of only a raiding party.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mitchell, Joseph B., and Sir Edward S. Creasy. Twenty Decisive Battles of the World. New York: Macmillan, 1964. A detailed description of the battle’s action.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oman, Charles. The Dark Ages, 476-918. 6th ed. London: Rivingtons, 1919. Argues against historian Gibbon’s interpretation of the battle.

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