Saturday, October 19, 2013

Battles Long Ago: Moussais-la-Bataille (Tours/Poitiers) 732

Tours (or Poitiers; in Arabic: معركة بلاط الشهداء‎ (ma‘arakat Balâṭ ash-Shuhadâ - Battle of the Road of Martyrs) but probably fought near the modern hamlet of Moussais-la-Bataille

Dates(s): probably 25 OCT 732 (?? Ramadan, 114AH)


Well.

Here we are in October, and the last of the "battles" I've picked out to discuss for this month is Tours (but it was actually fought somewhere north of Poitiers, possibly near a place called Moussais-la-bataille...), the defeat of the Muslim invasion (or was it a raid? Or a "limited incursion"? Or what was it..?) of southern France by Charles "Martel" (Hammer), illegitimate son of the Pippinid line who was de facto ruler of Francia in the 8th Century AD: "The Moors at Tours in seven-thirty-two" was one of those bizarre little historical factoids that I learned in high school history and have never forgotten.

But as you can already see, we have some problems.

We're going to have the problem that the source material is downright bloody awful; monkish chronicles, annals, and royal hagiography on the one side and third-hand speculation on the other.

We'll talk about that in Sources, but the bottom line is we really know almost nothing about the fight itself - including where and when it was - and only little more about the strategic and political circumstances surrounding it.

We're also going to have the problem that, for reasons that include this lack of solid information, we at this remove are not capable of making unequivocal assessment of the macrohistorical importance of the battle. Was it a huge historical turning point, as many have claimed? Or was it nothing more than another of the many encounters between the rising power of Islam and the fractious remnants of Christian post-Roman Europe?

But...along with the failure of the Ummayid siege of Constantinople in 719, the Umayyad defeats - of which Tours/Poitiers/wheverever is most definitely one, regardless of its individual significance - more-or-less guaranteed that there would be a Western power center (or, more properly, centers...) to counterbalance the Islamic powers out of the Middle East.

The resulting conflict between Cross and Crescent was in many respects the engine of technological and political development in both Europe and the western Middle East until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and, in fact, contributed greatly to that Revolution that ended the conflict by crushing the Islamic world for a century or more.

Again, we'll have to do a lot of intelligent guessing and look at the inherent military probabilities of the south-central France and the two opposing forces to try and figure out what was happening on that chilly October some 1,300 years ago.

Forces Engaged: Kingdom of the Franks (regnum Francorum): A largely semi-professional force of heavy armored infantrymen and probably a small light infantry and cavalry element of indeterminate overall size; low estimates range in the 10-15,000s, high as much as 75,000.

There are also ridiculous medieval numbers in the hundreds of thousands but we can disregard those - they were just how an elderly Middle Ages monk said "shitloads".

In all probability far less than the high numbers; I find it unlikely that late-autumn provisions could have been found for more than 20,000-40,000 troops unless the Frankish authorities had planned the campaign that summer, and I think that's unlikely.

One other factor was how the Franks got their troops, and what kind they got.

The Frankish military system was an odd sort of critter. Remember that Rome had fallen only several centuries earlier, Roman influence in military affairs was still strong, and the hard core of the Roman legions had been, even late in the Western Empire, the footsoldier.

The other influence on Frankish tactics and organization was Germanic; the Frankish tribes were originally Germans that had pushed into northwestern Gaul somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd Century. And Germans were infantrymen, too, by and large. A handful of the wealthier types might have forked some sort of horse (although the Germans were also not renowned horse-breeders...) but the Germans had the same issue with close-combat cavalry the Romans had;

No stirrups.

This isn't as big a problem as it seemed to the first military historians of the 19th Century, who never really tried to ride without them, but it makes using a sword or lance much more difficult, especially when facing a man on foot with a polearm or broadaxe.

German - and Roman - cavalry of the late Imperial period tended to be useful for skirmishing and fighting similarly-armed and equipped cavalry. The notion of riding down unshaken heavy infantry would have either amused, or appalled, Germanic and Roman cavalry leaders.

So the Frankish army of 732 was composed largely of semi-professional footsoldiers.

The big difference most historians agree on is that, outside the small bodyguard/household (comitatenses, in the Latin) of the Frankish rulers, most of the Frankish troops were not full-time regulars in the Roman style.

Most likely they were similar to the Saxon fyrd; obligated to provide either military service or to provide funds to equip someone else who could provide that service.

Goffart (2008), says:
"Frankish kings exacted unpaid military service from their subjects in both Merovingian and Carolingian times. This military duty reached back to the origins of the Frankish kingdom, when a large share of Roman taxes was awarded in individual allotments to soldiers obligated to serve, otherwise unpaid, when summoned,and heavily fined if they did not. Both demesne and tributary manses – contributory units – were the main part of state resources applied to military costs. They cannot be simply envisaged as components of an agricultural scheme(grand domaine). A tax-like military obligation was one among several institutions actively surviving from the fifth century to the ninth..."
This is not the equivalent to the later feudal system that would be initiated in Carolingian time, but, rather, a holdover from Late Roman military tenancies and similar to the Byzantine thematic system.

These guys would have been, at least, semi-professional soldiers trained in arms and (given the internal and external fighting that had been going on in Merovingian Francia in the 8th Century) largely combat veterans.

But the Frankish system meant that they couldn't spend a long time in the field; they were ruled by the cycle of the seasons, and keeping a force of more the low five figures in harness for any period of time was probably beyond the capabilities of Merovingian Francia.

Let's figure about 40,000 troops all tolled. That may be a little high, but it's a start point. Assuming a total force of about 40,00 probably as many as 25,000 to 30,000 would have been these heavy spear-and-shield infantry wearing long coats of chain- splint- or scale mail, conical steel helmets, and carrying a longsword as their secondary weapon.

So the core of the Frankish force at Tours would have been their heavy infantry, not all that dissimilar in appearance from this guy, a Frankish infantryman of the 6th Century AD:


Look at him; this guy really doesn't look all that different from Late Roman miles gregarius and he wasn't. For all we know if his arms and armor, though, the tactical organization of the Frankish infantry is difficult or impossible to reconstruct.

The early Frankish cavalry is described as formed into scara a Latinized form of an ancient German word meaning "group."

That helps. Not.

We can guess that a "group" was probably something other than, for example, an ala or a cohors, Latin terms for Roman units of relatively fixed sizes. So scarae were probably less organized than Roman formations and probably more like a Germanic tribal fighting tail; the local headman and his retainers, ranging from a dozen or so to several hundred.

This sort of "fighting-tail" organization is likely to have been in use for the infantry as well, but so far as I know we have no military or tax enrollments to provide hard evidence of that. We will have to assume that there were subordinate leaders in the big infantry formation and subordinate units they were leading.

Another complication we can't really resolve is how many of these guys came from where.

The Merovingian Frankish empire really was just that. It included a variety of Frankish provinces that still more-or-less thought of themselves as separate entities. So the force that Martel commanded would have included contingents from the Frankish states (duchies, from the Latin dux, "leader", the old military title of a regional commander) of Austrasia, Neustria, Burgundy, Swabia, Aquitaine as well as troops from the allied Lombard kingdom in Italy and mercenary troops from anywhere he could find them.

Whatever their tactical organization, while the Frankish heavy infantry weren't quite trained to the level of the Roman infantry, they were damn good troops. The Mozarabic Chronicle says that at Tours they: "...remained immobile like a wall, holding together like a glacier in the cold regions..."

Of the remaining third to quarter or so the bulk were probably a mixture of pure light infantry (that is, spear-and-shield or sword-and-shield infantry with only leather armor and steel cap) or missile-firing infantry with short (self) bows. The contemporary accounts of Tours don't mention Frankish missile fire, but I'm assuming that the Frankish infantry must have had some sort of screening force, if only to repel other missile-firers; a melee infantry force without such protection is vulnerable to being picked apart from distance.

A relatively small number - I'm guessing less than 1-2,000 or so - would have been true armored cavalrymen, equivalent of earlier Roman cataphractii or later medieval medium chivalric cavalry; mailed horsemen armed with a spatha-type sword and a long spear similar to the Roman contus.

In the Tours engagement it's likely that most of these cavalrymen - the wealthier and more "noble" of the Frankish contingent - fought on foot most of the time. Apparently this was a common thing for the Frankish cavalry until after Tours, when the introduction of the stirrup rocked their world.

Mixed into this outfit somewhere was a contingent of Aquitanian troops.

Aquitaine of the 730s - and we'll talk about this in a bit - was nominally independent under a ruling count (or duke, or prince, or even king, depending on how far he felt he could swing his dick that day...). The Aquitanian levy army had been smashed in September outside Bordeaux, but the ruling whatever, one Odo (or Eudo, or Eudes), did a bunk to the north to his old rival Charles, the Austrasian warlord. He seems to have brought with him a group of his soldiers - probably his comitatenses, his professional household troops. These guys seem to have been armored cavalry, true cavalry, in the old Roman guard tradition.

We have no idea how many, but based on the accounts of the engagement the Aquitanians must have been more than just a corporal's guard. Say a couple of thousand or so medium cavalry? Sounds do-able.

So; somewhere between 15,000 and 75,000 total Frankish infantry and a small contingent of Aquitanian cavalry under maior palatii ("Mayor of the Palace" or majordomo) Charles, later called Martel, son of Pepin of Heristal.

Umayyad Forces of Al-Andalus (الأندلس) - The simple answer to "What is the most likely composition of the Muslim force that fought at Tours" is "Arab and Berber mounted infantry and light to medium cavalry".


The "Arab" element would have, by this time, consisted of professional soldiers organized into regular units, ajnad, roughly equivalent to a modern regiment or battalion which were in turn subdivided into companies, platoons, and a ten-man squad called an irafa.

Most of these troops would have been light to medium cavalry capable of fighting on foot or medium close-combat infantry capable of limited mounted action. Armored with shield, helmet, and chain or scale mail and armed with lance and sword. Contemporary accounts suggest that the Arab armies had few, if any, mounted archers.

Pure footsoldiers were, for Umayyad units in the 8th Century, largely for support for sieges and the defense of fortified camps. This included missile infantry, both javelinmen and archers, as well as more heavily armored sword- and spearmen.

Tribesmen from North Africa - known generically as "Berbers" - formed a large, and important, part of the Umayyad force that had overrun Visigothic Spain in the first decade of the 700s. Many of the tribal levies that fought in the early 8th Century were described as similar to the man on the right in the picture above; a light infantrymen with nothing more than a javelin and buckler. This had probably changed, however, by 732.

Though North Africa has never been horse country generally given the tactics and techniques of the Umayyads a good portion of the Berber troops had probably become cavalrymen in the twenty years they had spent in al-Andalus. I find it likely that the Berber element in ar-Rahman's force was probably similar to the Arab; mounted infantrymen capable of fighting as light to medium cavalry and light to medium infantry.

As for the overall size and composition of the Umayyad force, here's where we run into the question, which we'll see again and again, of "what the hell exactly were the Umayyad troops doing in southwestern Gaul in the fall of 732?"

The predominant Western conception of the force brought by the "Moors at Tours" is an invading army, a force intended to physically conquer southwestern Gaul - and beyond - as they had taken Iberia.

That would imply a mixed force of infantry and cavalry (and artillery in the form of siege engines) as well as a logistical tail that would enable the force to stay in the field long enough to hunt down and defeat any organized Frankish and Aquitanian enemies as well as establish fortified places to hold territory.

The problem with that is that none of the contemporary sources for the campaign mention sieges, we know that ar-Rahman bypassed all the large fortresses such as Poitiers (suggesting that he didn't HAVE a battering train), and the Umayyads are described as dragging their booty along with them.

For a commander genuinely set on conquest that seems pointless; you'd take your first big fortified city, make it your logistical base and send your loot back there for safekeeping.

So it seems likely to me that the Umayyad force was intended to harry the Aquitanian countryside; it was a big razzia, a raid.

So the bulk of the force would probably have been a mixture of light and medium mounted infantry, with enough pure infantry and missile troops to guard the camp and hold whatever fortified places they were using as a temporary base. And as with any expedition, a small force gets swallowed up in enemy country while a large one starves, so somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 total seems like a reasonable number, although if the Umayyad force had detachments out they might not have been able to rejoin in time for the fight and so the actual combat numbers might have been somewhat lower.


Say about 40,000 to 50,000 mounted infantrymen, largely Arab and Berber professionals, under Abu Said Abdul Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr ibn Al Sarem Al 'Aki Al Ghafiqi (Arabic: عبد الرحمن الغافقي‎), Walī (Arabic: ولي‎) of al-Andalus

Sources: As I mentioned above, Tours/Poitiers is an extreme example of the difficulty with ancient and medieval warfare; the few, scattered, and often unreliable (as a source of military information) source materials.

For example; there appear to be only two significant contemporary or near-contemporary sources for the engagement.

By far the most voluble on the subject of Tours is the Chronicle of 754, or Mozarabic Chronicle.


The oldest extant copies of this work - also referred to as the Chronicle of Isidore of Beja or Isidore Pacensis, although most modern researchers suspect that the original was written down not in Beja but at or somewhere near the great Andalusian city of Toledo - are manuscript copies said to be from the "beginning of the ninth century, certainly before the tenth" (De Hartmann, 1999) located in the British Library in London and in the Biblioteca de la Academia de la Historia in Madrid. These are written in Mozarabic, a bizarre fusion of Latin and Arabic produced by the Arabization of the pre-conquest inhabitants of al-Andalus.

An original composition date of 754 means that the survivors of Tours would still have been living, so the author or authors might have heard first-hand accounts of the defeat (we have no way of knowing whether or not they did - after-action reports were not a valued body of work in the eighth century...)

Regardless of the veracity, the Mozarabic Chronicle remains, however, the most detailed account of the engagement from either side. The version I worked from for this post is contained in Kenneth Baxter Wolf's 1990 Conquerors and Chroniclers of Early Medieval Spain.

The problem is that there are - and you've heard me say this before - no original texts from this work.

The six folios, all in Latin, all of 9th or 10th Century provenance, are the oldest copies we have. The other extant copies - one in Paris, the other in Madrid - date from the 13th and 14th Centuries, respectively.

On the Frankish side there is a one main near-contemporary work, the so-called "Continuations" of the Chronicle of Fredegar.

The original Chronicle is a collection of earlier works, including "...the Liber Conversationis of Hippolytus; the chronicle of Hydatius; the Chronicle of Eusebius in Jerome's translation; the writings of Isidore of Seville; and the edition in six books of Gregory of Tours's Historiae" (Wiki, 2013) with annotations, comments, and some original text added by "Fredegar", who was probably a Burgundian (or Burgundians) of the seventh century living in or near what is now modern Avenches (Wallace-Hadrill 1963).

This work was completed around 660, but amended again in the late 8th Century, probably sometime between 751 and 768 to include the events up to that year.

Our problem with the "continuations" is that they were commissioned by two Carolingian nobles related to Charles; Childebrand I, his brother, and Childebrand's son, delightfully named "Nibelung".

This presents an enormous issue of hagiography - the authors were getting paid by the family of the Hero of Tours, so anything that didn't reflect gloriously on the man would present a problem both for the patrons and the authors. McKitteric (in Hen and Innes, eds., 2000) observes that: "...the Continuations of the Chronicle of Fredegar...present, from the vantage point of a family member and supporter, the steady accumulation of power and territory of the Carolingian mayors, especially Charles Martel..."

Still, the Fredegar materials are both near-contemporary and written by someone, in a place, who had access to eyewitnesses to the events of October, 732; they cannot then be lightly discarded.


Later, or more physically distant, Western source materials that discuss this engagement include:

The Annals of Aniane - a 9th Century MS written by a Gothic cleric, one Witzia of Aniane. It is described as a "Latin chronicle of local and imperial events 670-840, written by a Benedictine monk of Aniane (Hérault, Southern France). It belongs to the Merovingian/Carolingian genre of continuations of Bede." (Bate, 2013)

Several passing mentions of the battle are contained in the 8th or 9th Century Frankish Reichsannalen - annals or chronicles of both local and international events maintained largely at monasteries but covering political and military events. These include the Annales sancti Amandi (maiores) from Saint-Amand-les-Eaux as well at three other Belgic annals: Annales Tiliani, Annales Laubacenses and Annales Petaviani, and several from modern Germany such as the Annales laureshamenses from the imperial abbey at Lorsch.

One source that comes up now and then is The Chronicle of Moissac (or Chronicon Moissiancense), a monkish chronicle thought to have been written in the late 10th Century in the Spanish Catalan monastery of Ripoll but discovered at the abbey of Moissac. The problem with this is that in the description of this work I found online it is noted that "...the entries covering the years 716-770 are missing.", suggesting that it is unlikely to have anything to say about Tours except in passing.

Arabic secondary sources include our old friends Abū al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Idhāri al-Marrākushi (Arabic: أبوالعباس أحمد ابن عذاري المراكشي‎) and his 14th Century Kitāb al-bayān al-mughrib fī ākhbār mulūk al-andalus wa'l-maghrib' (Book of the Amazing Story of the History of the Kings of al-Andalus and Maghreb, better known as The Amazing Story; Arabic: البيان المغرب‎). As reported in my account of the 718-719 Siege of Constantinople, this is a relatively reliable work of medieval history.

In several places discussing Tours (including Watson, 1993) I have encountered reference to Abu'l Qāsim ʿAbd ar-Raḥman bin ʿAbdullah bin ʿAbd al-Ḥakam bin Aʿyan al-Qurashī al-Mașrī's (Arabic: أبو القاسم عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله بن عبد الحكم بن اعين القرشي المصري‎) work Futuḥ mișr (Arabic: فتح مصر‎, Conquest of Egypt).

This is said to be the earliest history in Arabic that reports the battle, but is also described by Brundschwig (1975) "mixing facts with later legends" where it deals with the early Muslim invasion of Egypt - not exactly a encomium for a historian.

Ali 'Izz al-Din Ibn al-Athir al-Jazari (Arabic: عزالدین ابن الاثیر الجزری) is reported to have mentioned Tours in his 13th Century al-Kamil fi'l Tarikh (Arabic: الكامل في التاريخ, The Complete History)

One of the most useful recent secondary sources for the amateur is David Nicholle's 2008 Poitiers AD 732, Charles Martel turns the Islamic tide, published by Osprey. The usual mixture of excellent maps, photographs, and paintings reconstructing the events of an October day 1,281 years ago.

On the Internet there are several sources worth pursuing, although I could not find a particularly detailed or trustworthy account of the battle itself.

William Watson's 1993 article The Battle or Tours-Poitiers Revisited does a nice job discussing several of the many open questions about this engagement, such as "WTF was Abd ar-Rahman doing around Poitiers in 732?" and "What was the macrohistorical impact of the battle?".

Well worth the read.

Walter Goffart's 2008 Frankish Military Duty and the Fate of Roman Taxation is a very detailed analysis of Carolingian fiscal records (known as polyptyques) in an attempt to shed light on the Frankish military system and, to the extent that it can be assessed, its relationship to the earlier Roman practices including fee-service, unpaid levy service, and scutum (shield-tax, or a money payment in lieu of armed service). Only for the truly hardcore tax-and-finance kinkster.

There's a wonderful site called Si l'art m'était conté... (If art had told me...) by someone named Philippe Gavet. I have no idea who Philippe is, what he does, or how he came by his information, but he has an entire page covering, in great detail, the conflict between the Franks and the Umayyads of al-Andalus between 718 and 759.


Still, it has some real issues as military history.

First, it's in French, and the translation sites available on the Web make pretty heavy going converting his work for the English-speaking reader.

And, while his maps are wonderful - I've used a few for this post - I have to say I'm not sure I buy his interpretation of the events of October 732.

For one thing, only the Chronicle of Fredegar has the Franks making a surprise dawn attack on the Umayyads while encamped. We've talked about that, too; that account is so brief, and so much at variance with the more detailed description in the Mozarabic Chronicle that I really find it hard to credit.

Personally, I think Philippe just likes the idea of Charles and les gars descending on the invading ragheads with a heapin' helping of the furor Gallicus. I just have a hard time imagining the Umayyad commander - who up to that point had fought a very competent campaign - being surprised and charged by a force of largely heavy infantrymen. Unless my computer translator is really off Philippe just doesn't make a good case for his tactical reconstruction of the fight.

But his maps sure are awesome.


The Wiki entry is problematic.

It appears to be both well-written and well-sourced. However, the section that covers the engagement itself gives no citations other than the two Frankish sources. Even here there seems to be an issue; the entry quotes the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 twice but the quotes - taken from what appear to be the same passage - are slightly different, as though from two different translators. This isn't explained anywhere in the text.

In addition, there is a great deal of detail regarding tactical movements and motives that just doesn't seem to be well-supported by the original sources.

For example, the entry states that "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."

From my reading of the accounts we don't know where or why Martel marched south, or what the details of his plan were. The sources don't tell us, as we'll see. This is a great little account and makes some military sense...but I wonder if it can be trusted.

There's also some good material in the Wiki article; for example, the discussion of the probable sizes of the two forces is well explicated and referenced and cites many sources, from the medieval to modern commentators, giving a good perspective on the question of numbers.

Overall I'd say worth a look, but I'd advise caution.

And a final word; the above is good advice to use on everything regarding whatever the hell happened somewhere in Poitou on the last Saturday in October, 732. The simple truth is that we know less about this fight than we know of it, and much of what we "know" are guesses and inferences made from sketchy accounts written by credulous men far from the field in both space and time.

Your own intelligence is a good guide to the events of the "Battle of Tours".


The Campaign: To put Tours in perspective, first you have to understand this: Aquitaine was the Alsace-Lorraine of the 8th Century, the recurring prize and battleground for the Frankish Christians and the Umayyad Muslims. It was the contentious border between two rising powers


To the south you had the new Umayyad province of Al-Andalus, where the Arab and Berber forces that had bitchslapped the former Visigothic kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula just a couple of decades earlier were achin' for some rich Aquitanian bacon.

To the north you had Merovingian Francia, an old Roman military province now newly revitalized under Martel and seeing Aquitaine as an unstable border state just ripe for some stern Frankish discipline.

Both sides saw weak Aquitaine in the 730s as a source of trouble that badly needed sorting out and a source of riches that badly needed plundering.

Throw in the usual fractious sonsofbitches you find in border regions and you'd have been hard-pressed to find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. And where there's scum and villainy you'll usually find villainous scum doing some scummy villainy.


Watson (1993) has a nice summary of the tumultuous events leading up to 732:
"A Berber leader named Munusa based at Llivia in Cerdagne...wish(ed) to assert his independence from al-Andalus. To this end, he contracted an alliance in 729 with Prince Eudo of Aquitaine in order to strengthen his position. Eudo had earlier entered into alliance with the Merovingian Franks, and some Frankish chroniclers noted that Eudo's alliance with Munusa was viewed by the Merovingian major domus Charles as an attempt to abrogate the Frankish Aquitanian treaty (although this is by no means certain). The Frankish army invaded Aquitaine on two separate occasions in 731, capturing a great deal of booty and decisively humbling Eudo.

The principal Latin source for the alliance, the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 attests that Eudo's daughter was given in marriage to Munusa to solidify the alliance. According to this account, the amir of al-Andalus soon invaded the region held by Munusa, causing the rebellious Berber to commit suicide (and Eudo's unfortunate daughter was sent along with the severed head of Munusa to Damascus). Some of this is corroborated by al-Maqqari, who writes that "al-–Haytham Ibn Ubayid al-Kinani attacked the land of Munusa and conquered it ...he [al-Haytham] died in the year 113." Despite his success against Munusa, al-Haytham's tenure as amir of al-Andalus was short-lived, and he was unable to decisively suppress the desire for independence on the part of northern Andalusi Muslims. The border region between al-Andalus and the Principality of Aquitaine remained a problem for the Umayyad leadership for decades after Munusa's defeat.

The power struggle in al-Andalus was resolved in 730 when Abd ar-Rahman was determined to straighten out the uncertain political situation along his northern border, and he quickly prepared an expedition aimed at Aquitaine, to ensure that the Aquitanian prince would no longer be capable of tempting northern Andulusi Muslims from the Umayyad fold. Rather than being merely a raid for plunder in the dar al-Harb, or an attempt to conquer the entire Christian world, the northern expedition of Abd ar-Rahman was designed to eliminate the strategic threat that Eudo of Aquitaine posed to the Andalusi Muslims."
So, if Watson (1993) is correct - and his summary seems highly reasonable to me - we can already discard one of the oldest chestnuts about this fight.


I learned, and you probably did, too, that Charles The Hammer "saved Christendom".

He and his stout-hearted band of heroic Jesus-pesterers drove back the dusky Ishmaeli hordes and saved the spires of Oxford from being minarets and our buxom, flaxen-haired damsels from being locked away in hareems, slaves of perverted Oriental passions. He's the reason why we eat hot dogs and drive chevys instead of sitting on floppy cushions in tents twirling our stringy mustaches and leering at pudgy belly dancers. Right?

Okay, maybe not so much, but you get the general idea.

Only...it seems not.

In fact, the Umayyad force ar-Rahman led over the Pyrenees seems to have been intended for nothing more a big razzia: a raid, if possible the subjugation (through a thorough reaving) of the province of Aquitaine, along with whatever casual rapine and larceny possible along the way.

Turns out that The Hammer wasn't so much the Savior of Western civilizationTM as he was a beat cop chasing off a smash-and-grab burglar.

This is one of Philippe's maps, by the way; for all that his battle map (as you'll see) is a bit chancy this one looks fairly accurate to me.

The Umayyad invasion force, led by the amir 'Abd ar-Rahman is said to have crossed through the Pyrenees at the Roncevaux Pass some time in the summer of 732.

This far-western pass is a rather roundabout route to invade Aquitaine, and Watson (1993) says that this was due to ar-Rahman's recollection of the 721 defeat of his predecessor as-Samh at Toulouse by our pal Odo/Eudes/Eudo, as well as the suspect loyalties of the Muslims then living around Narbonne - the same outfit that produced our friend Munusa that started all this nonsense.

Whatever the reason, ar-Rahman's forces - he seems to have split his army into at least three columns, a main body and two flanking units - descended on Aquitaine like the poetical wolf on the fold.

Both Latin and Arabic sources report this phase of the campaign as an overwhelming Umayyad success. Lots of lovely loot, captives, and the usual burning and reaving.

The Aquitanian defenders led by Odo/Eudo/Eudes (who was also called "the Great", though this wasn't exactly his greatest outing...), arrived too late to prevent the sack of Bordeaux but not too late for him and his army to get soundly thrashed.

The Futuh Misr of Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam that ar-Rahman's forces "took a great deal of booty..." from the sack of the city, which the Latin chronicles describe as fairly horrendous. The continuations of the Chronicle of Fredegar report that Bordeaux's churches were burned and the populace butchered by the Moors, while the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 just says that the Aquitanian civil and military losses were so great that “only God knows how many died and [simply] vanished."


Eudo, mind you, managed to pull a runner and disappeared into the woods heading north.

Ar-Rahman's troops then fanned out again, pushing north, west, and east looking for loot and, probably, the runaway duke/prince.

The Mozarabic Chronicle says that the Muslims destroyed fortifications and churches on the way, both to terrorize the locals as well as destroy any potential nucleation sites for resistance. According to Watson (1993), "(a)t some point in the campaign, the Muslims became aware of the existence of the wealthy shrine of St. Martin at Tours, and they intended to sack it."

Keep in mind that by this time the Umayyad baggage train must have been getting pretty overloaded, what with the carts full of loot, wine, and captive Frenchwomen smoking Gitanes and glowering sulkily at their dusky captors and all.

This must have engaged a lot of the footsoldiers, leaving the Arab and Berber cavalry to roam ahead.

Watson (1993) continues:
"In the meantime, Eudo had managed to alert the Merovingian major domus Charles of the Muslim threat, and Charles assembled the Frankish army to meet 'Abd ar-Rahman's force before it reached Tours. From Charles' perspective, the Muslims were not only threatening to damage or destroy the Frankish kingdom's most sacred shrine (and also one of the greatest in all Latin Christendom) [by this he means St. Martin's shrine at Tours], but Abd ar-Rahman was challenging the integrity of the regnum Francorum. As major domus of the Merovingian kingdom, and the strongest and most charismatic of its princes in an age when the Merovingian "Long–haired Kings" were said to have become "Do-nothing Kings," it was natural that Charles would be the man to lead the Frankish army in the field against the Muslims."
So here's where we were in late summer/early autumn, 732:


The Umayyad force was pushing north through southwest-central France, past Bordeaux and crossing the northern edges of Aquitaine, crossing the Gironde into what is now Poitou. Ar-Rahman and his troops were probably just looking to do as much damage as they could before the cold weather set in.

Keep in mind that a lot of medieval warfare was "planned" in the same way that homeless skater kids plan a squat; if a force of raiders on the prowl saw a good opportunity to winter over in some fat province, well, why not? It was probably the same here; so far as ar-Rahman knew he'd smashed the only organized force he was likely to meet. Why not push north into the fat lands of the Vienne? He had prisoners babbling about some rich infidel hoard north down the river in Tours...hmmm...why not go have a bit of a dekko, maybe rake in some more easy pickings?

Eudo or Odo, meanwhile, was having to make a deal with the devil.

And make no mistake, despite what Watson (1993) says so casually above; Charles was a big devil to the Prince (or whatever he thought of himself) of Aquitaine.

Remember how just the year before Charles had come stomping down into Aquitaine, throwing his weight around and generally acting the badass?

What Watson (1993) didn't tell you in the earlier passage was that Charles and his Franks really had been dickish; sacking and burning several towns, including Bourges, as well as engaging Eudo and Aquitanian troops and whipping them.

But our boy Eudo was either desperate with fear of the Muslim hordes or just had a strong stomach when it came to grovelling; he swore fealty to Charles, agreed to swing his troops into line behind (or, supposedly, on one of the flanks of) the Franks, and head back south to meet the invader.

And so did Martel. For all that I've read several historians claim to have details of the Frankish mobilization I can't find anything in the manuscript sources that provides any level of detail. But this was clearly not a simple or quick process.

For one thing, the troops had to be pulled off their farms and estates. September is reaping and haying season, and time for laying in stores for winter. That had to be completed, or at least far advanced, before the guys could throw the mail and helmet in their war bag, shoulder the spear and shield, and ride out for the assembly areas.

And then there was the logistical challenge of getting the force to the battleground.

Remember that the Franks could ride to the fight but fought on foot, so choosing the right ground was critical. A broad plain or level valley invited the Moors to ride around the immobile Frankish infantry, and too broken or too wooded meant the chances of Berber light troops sneaking in close and cocking a snook.

Ideally the fight would take place in some irregular-ish ground, too broken for good riding but fine for a man on foot. Some place with a rise, or a slope, that the Umayyads - who were good cavalrymen but suffered in bad ground like most cavalrymen - would have to charge up to slow their momentum. A place with good flank security; rivers, ravines, or cliffsides to right and left to force the Franks' enemy to come right at them.

And, preferably, this place would be occupied quickly and, most importantly, quietly, so that ar-Rahman's troops would be surprised and have to improvise something on the fly.


If all this could be done I'll bet Charles and his Franks felt pretty damn cocky. They'd kicked ass all over Europe; these damn wogs were just one more damn thing, and so one by one and in small groups of three or ten the Frankish soldiers packed their kit and rode off into the cooling days of September and October, heading south and west to see what sort of trouble they could find.


The Engagement: So.

One of the big problems with the actual engagement is that some of our most reliable sources up to this point, the Arabic chroniclers, fall silent.

There are no Arabic accounts, at least no detailed accounts written within a human lifetime or several of the battle itself.

The Frankish and other Western accounts are not much more help, either.

For one thing - and we talked about this for Constantinople, and Hattin, and even for the Mother of All Islamic Battles, Badr - the accounts we have weren't written by soldiers.

They were written, largely, either by clerics - monks or churchmen acting as government ministers or clerks - or by civilian bureaucrats. In either case they had little, if any, first-hand experience at war.

And by a combination of ignorance and the larger credulity and magical thinking of their age they could believe and write three militarily impossible things before breakfast.

What did these people actually say about the Battle of Tours?


Let's look at more-or-less the best we have, from the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754:
"Then Abd ar-Rahman, seeing the land filled with the multitude of his army, cut through the rocky mountains of the Basques so that, crossing the plains, he might invade the lands of the Franks. He struck so far into Frankish territory that he joined battle with Eudes (our boy Odo/Eudo - FDC) on the other side of the rivers Garonne and Dordogne. God only knows the number of those who died or fled. Eudes himeself slipping away in flight.

While ar-Rahman was pursuing the general Eudes, he decided to despoil the church of Tours by destroying its palaces and burning its churches. There he confronted the consul of Austrasia by the name of Charles...who had been summoned by Eudes.

After each side had tormented the other for almost seven days with raids, they finally prepared their battle lines and fought fiercely. The northern peoples remained immobile like a wall, holding together like a glacier in the cold regions, and in the blink of an eye annihilated the Arabs with the sword.

The people of Austrasia, greater in number of soldiers and formidably armed, killed the king Abd ar-Rahman, when they found him, striking him on the chest. But suddenly, within sight of countless tents of the Arabs, the Franks despicably put up their swords, saving themselves to fight the next day since night had fallen during the battle.

Rising from their own camp at dawn, the Europeans saw the tents of the Arabs all arranged along with their canopies, just as the camp had been set up before. (T)hey sent scouts to reconnoiter and discovered that all the troops of the Ishmaelites had left. They had all fled silently by night in tight formation, returning to their own country. But the Europeans, worried lest the Saracens deceitfully attempt to ambush them from hidden paths, were slow to react and searched in vain everywhere around.

Having no intention of pursuing the Saracens, they took the spoils and the booty...back their country and were overjoyed."
That's it.


You'll note the salient points here.

1. The fight is said to have taken place somewhere on the road to Tours but no location is specified.
2. The battle begins with a week-long period of raids and skirmishes.
3. The Umayyads attack ("The northern peoples remained immobile like a wall...").
4. Ar-Rahman is killed.
5. The Franks, winning and at the point of overrunning the Umayyad camp, stop fighting for darkness.
6. The Umayyads run away that night, but in good order ("...in tight formation...")

If you think that's skimpy, here's the entire account of the engagement from the Continuations of the Chronicle of Fredegar:
"Prince Charles boldly drew up his battle lines against them [the Arabs] and the warriors rushed in against them. With Christ's help he overturned their tents, and hastened to battle to grind them small in slaughter. The king Abdirama having been killed, he destroyed [them], driving forth the army, he fought and won. Thus did the victor triumph over his enemies."
Note the little differences?

1. There's no week of skirmishing.
2. The battle itself is short - no time given, but the impression is that it was quick and decisive, no halting for darkness.
3. The Franks attack first ("...the warriors rushed in against them.")
4. The Umayyads fall apart, are routed, and destroyed.

About the only similarity is that ar-Rahman is killed fairly early on in the engagement.


But, really...c'mon; what the hell kind of military historian writes that?

For my money the Fredegar is ridiculous, and is about as useful for figuring out what really happened in late October 732 as the collected lyrics of the songs from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Do you see where I'm coming from, here? These are pretty much the best near-contemporary accounts, there are a hell of a lot of holes in both (though the Fredegar is far the worse), and even after you've read them there are still a lot of questions about Tours/Poitiers that are still not settled.

Let's take the two most basic first.


First: When was the Battle of Tours fought?

Probably on 25 OCT 732, thought all we really know is that is was probably a Saturday in late October 732.

None of the near-contemporary Western accounts provide an actual date, including both the Mozarabic Chronicle and Fredegar. The battle is dated as 732 in the Annals of Aniane and is mentioned on several of the monastic annals compiled in what are today the Low Countries as in that same year.

The Annals of St. Amand reports that: "sub anno 732: Karlus bellum habuit contra Saracinos in mense Octobri." (Charles fought the Saracens in the month of October.) and the Annales Petaviani expands it to "Karlus bellum habuit contra Saracinos in mense Octobri die sabbato" - specifying that the fight was on a Saturday.

From modern Germany the Annales laureshamenses say that "sub anno 732: Karolus pugnavit contra Saracenos die sabbato ad Pectavis", repeating the Saturday reference.

So based on this we can begin by saying that the battle probably took place on a Saturday in October, 732.

But which Saturday?

For a leap year starting on a Tuesday there are four Saturdays in October: 4 OCT, 11 OCT, 18 OCT, and 25 OCT. We cannot get any closer than this using Western sources.

However, in the al-Bayān al-Mughrib (Arabic: البيان المغرب‎) Abū al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Idhāri al-Marrākushi (Arabic: أبو العباس أحمد ابن عذاري المراكشي‎) puts the battle in the month of Ramadan in the Muslim year 114, which spans the months of October and November 732.

So this makes 4 OCT and 11 OCT as dates less likely in favor of either 18 OCT or 25 OCT. But although several historians have argued in favor of the latter, it's hard to see this as conclusive. I suspect that the engagement did take place on the last Saturday in October, 732, but I can see how this could be considered at least an open question.

Second: Where was the Battle of Tours fought?

Well, the Mozarabic Chronicle mentions Tours, or on the road to it. But the problem is that nothing else; no archaeology, no local tradition or monuments or place-names support that.

So despite the map above, no; the "Battle of Tours" wasn't fought particularly close to or within the modern city of Tours.

Watson (1993) says that:
"...Moroccan au–thor Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi, who mentioned the battle in his history of the Maghrib, al-Bayan al-Mughrib fi Akhbaral-Maghrib, (said) "Abd ar-Rahman and many of his men found martyrdom on the balat ash-Shuhadai (“the path of the martyrs). This balat, or “path” was identified by Levi-Provencal and others with the Roman road connecting Poitiers and Tours."
But he also quotes the The Annals of Aniane and the Chronicle of Moissac as
"...containing the same account: Charles and his large army met the Muslims in suburbio Pictavensi (“in the vicinity of Poitiers”) and defeated them in a great slaughter, driving the survivors back to al-Andalus."
So the overall impression this gives is that the fight took place on the old Roman road just outside Poitiers.


This road was, apparently, something of a highway running southwest-to-northeast through Aquitaine and Poitou from Roman time well into the high medieval; you can see from the illustration that it was one of the great pilgrim roads, the Via Turonensis, that wound from Tours to Compostela in Spain.


So it would have also served as a perfect main supply and road march route if you were, say, an Umayyad troop heading for Tours for a little recreational plunder.

But there's a problem with Poitiers, too; there's also no evidence there for an eighth century battle. No monuments of the time or of later in Carolingian time (after the Muslims were pushed out), no tombs, no shrines, nothing.

In fact, no archaeological evidence has been found of this fight. None. Anywhere.


We have physical evidence of where part of Varus' legions were destroyed in the Teutoburg Forest over 700 years earlier, but nothing for this battle.

There is a tradition in west-central France that the battle was fought near a small town east of the River Clain; Moussais, now called Moussais-la-bataille, located about halfway between Poitiers to the south and Tours to the north.


Frankly, to me this seems as likely a place as any; it has what appears to be good defensive terrain; a high plateau straddling the juncture of the Clain and the Vienne Rivers which would have provided the flank security and prevented the Umayyads from bypassing his troops, and right on the main road to the north. We don't have any idea of the forest cover or lack of it in 732, but the area today is rolling and wooded where not in crop and might well have been then, as well.

It's "in the vicinity of Poitiers" but neither immediately nearby that city nor extermely close to the large city of Tours to the north, where you would expect to find some sort of permanent record of a major battle. It is along the Roman road, the "path of martyrs" as well as the most direct route between the known Umayyad engagement at Bordeaux and their reputed destination of Tours.

Nicolle (2008) makes a case that the term "Pectavis" used in the Annales laureshamenses is equivalent to the Latin vetus Pictavus which he applies to the ruins now known as Vieux-Poitiers, "Poitiers-la-Vielle" on Philippe's map below.


The place seems to fit. While this isn't conclusive, the evidence of the modern geography and topography seems to work with the manuscript sources.

Though I will say this; if the plateau above Moussais WAS the site of this fight then Martel must have had bigger balls than I do.

I would have hesitated to take position on that hill; if you're beaten the only way north is a single narrow bridge across the Vienne, and to try and do that with a pack of savage Muslims at your back?

No, thanks.

There is the vicinity of Moussais-la-battaile as it may have appeared in the early 730s. This is Philippe's map of the battle, and it shows his scheme of maneuver. I like the base map, but I think there's some issues with Philippe's tactical reconstruction.

For one thing, it has the Franks forming up in line along the Tours-Vienne road and charging down on the Umayyad camp, which is, as we're mentioned, only in Fredegar and poorly described at that. The notion of heavy infantry charging cavalry doesn't sound right, either.

For another, it has the khandaq, the fortified Muslim camp, tucked in behind the Umayyad fighting lines, which seems unlikely given the accounts of the Christian attack separate from the main battle.

But I think we can work with Phillipe's nice map as a base.

Let's back up a bit and set the scene.

I tend to buy the Mozarabic Chronicle's account of the initial week of skirmishing, for a couple of reasons.

First, it would have made sense that the Umayyad force came north in a broad front of multiple independent columns, a sort of Sherman's March complete with "bummers" and clouds of Berber raiders and foragers scampering out in front and the hard core of the Umayyad jundis stomping up the old Roman road.

This tactic provides both reconnaissance and security, and allows ar-Rahman the luxury of choosing his route among several, rather than just boring along a single route. Nicolle (2008) discusses the probability that "...flanking units (west of the Clain/Vienne valley)...were active here. There is also strong but inconclusive evidence of a significant clash on 11, 14, or 15 October near Loudun, (about) 40km west of the rivers."

I consider it very likely that the main engagement was preceded by probes and skirmishes between the Frankish/Aquitanian troops pushing south and the Umayyad force, the "...tormented the other for almost seven days with raids..." of the Chronicle of 754.

Second, neither Charles nor ar-Rahman had any sort of measure of their opponent, and both were experienced combat commanders who understood the value of what the U.S. Army terms "intelligence preparation of the battlefield" or IPB.


FM 34-130 describes this as what the commander does to
"...understand the battlefield and the options it presents to friendly and threat forces. IPB is a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and environment in a specific area. By applying the IPB process, the commander gains the information necessary to selectively apply and maximize his combat power at critical points in time and space on the battlefield."
I believe that this is what was going on in the week leading up to 25 OCT; the two commanders were probing to get a sense for their enemies' weaknesses and the best way to apply troops to the local terrain to exploit that.

Ar-Rahman's scouts bring him news that a strong force of barbarians that nobody had run up against before was probing down from the north. Given that ar-Rahman was in Gaul to raid getting caught in a stand-up fight with an enemy he had little solid intel on surely wasn't in his plans. A sensible commander - and ar-Rahman's actions up to that point suggest he was - would find a decent defensible spot, pull in his flanking parties, and prepare to either attack in strength or withdraw.

Nicolle (2008) has ar-Rahman falling back on the Moussais area from the north. I'm not sure I find that persuasive.


Here's the Vienne River at the town of Cenon-sur-Vienne today.

The confluence of the Clain and Vienne at Cenon makes a hell of a good defensive barrier.

To fort up on the bluffs south of Cenon and, at the very least, not outpost the crossing, seems the height of military stupidity, and we have no evidence that ar-Rahman was a stupid soldier.

It seems to me more likely that the Umayyad force was still moving north. If you're moving up the Roman road and get to the vicinity of Moussais by nightfall it makes better sense to send your baggage train to fort up in the hills to the east and take up positions with the Clain protecting your left and the hills your right.

A hard man would still have sent his guys out to picket the crossing of the Vienne. But in war things just happen, so...


Meanwhile Charles and les gars are marching down the road from Tours, scouts out, and - in my military opinion, anyway - could have done a lot worse than to taken up what we used to call a RON ("remain overnight") position in Cenon.

The river would provide protection from a surprise Umayyad sally, and a strong scouting screen would serve to both add to security as well as locate the enemy troops. So, my proposed situation at nightfall, 24 OCT 732:


Both sides probably spent a pretty restless night, the sort of night that soldiers have spent since the first australopithecene hunting parties went looking for each other in the African savannah; the old sweats roll up and get some sleep, while the young guys fret and start up at every odd noise, there's one guy who's snoring like a band saw, another working off his nervous energy having a nightmare, or just laying staring up at the dark.

My guess is that Charles and his commanders had their plan set before daylight, and had their troops up and moving at or just before BMNT. The light troops rode out first followed by the grunts on their transport-horses, pushing in columns through the late-autumn cold down the road.

Curt challenges and replies from the scouts at the rally point in the old Roman settlement, and a hustling push up to the plateau to the southwest.

Screened by the light horse the heavies pull up, kick off their mounts and form up around their banners or standards. Smaller blocks form into larger, larger into a solid mass. By the time the watery October sun has risen a handspan above the forests to the east the first Umayyad sentries are looking at a solid black mass of men and armor.


The Umayyad officers get their guys booted into line.

Word runs back to the camp to get the security force up and posted. Emir ar-Rahman looks over his lines and the enemy's. It looks like a pretty even match; nothing to panic about, anyway. He consults with his unit commanders, issues his orders, and sends his subordinates back to their units.

Some time after sunrise - probably early to mid morning - the Umayyad signallers; drummers, trumpeters, banner-bearers, give the order to advance.

"The Muslim force attacks the Christian Army," says Nicolle (2008), "probably making a series or repeated attacks against specific sections of the enemy line, as was normal for practice for the Umayyad Army during this period."


We have no idea how long these attacks took place, but several hours does not seem be too much time for two large forces, the defenders largely on foot, the attackers probably a mixture of mounted and infantrymen, to test each other out.

We've talked about this before, but, again, it's worth remembering how completely unlike anything those of us reading this have known or will experience pre-industrial battle was.

For one thing, it was completely unmechanized. Everything; every weapon strike, every movement, was at the pace of, and with the strength and speed of, living muscle and bone, either human or animal.

Which meant that that times and distances were human- or at most horse- or camel-size, too.

To our modern ears the combat would have seemed strangely silent. No roaring propellants or explosives. Human cries; of command, or ferocity, or agony. The sound of metal on metal as sword or spear met shield or armor. Horns, and drums.

And as we've also talked about before; the fight must have had physical limits, as well.

A man can't fight like a machine. Swinging a sword, drawing a bow, thrusting a spear or parrying with a shield are all immensely exhausting work. The fighters on both sides were largely trained for war as athletes train for competition, but, still; the combination of work, adrenaline, and fear are massively wearying.


There must have been more than one moment that morning when one side, or both, simply drew back and stood there, gasping for breath, their backs and shoulders steaming through their mail in the October chill.

Did they curse at each other? Flip each other the late-Roman/early medieval version of The Bird? Did they just stand and stare, wondering who would turn out to be the stronger, or the faster, or the luckier?


At some point during these Umayyad attacks someone - possibly our old pal Odo/Eudo - takes a group of cavalrymen on a loop, probably around the Muslim right, and falls on the Umayyad khandaq (in Arabic الخندق); the fortified camp where the attackers have what us GIs would call their LOGPAC.

According to many Umayyad sources the Berber troops commonly brought their entire families on campaign. That's not exactly unusual for nomadic peoples; momma and the yard-apes are your S-4, foraging and cooking the food, setting up and striking the camp. Plus, y'know, it's lonely out there on campaign and the local girls are usually pretty stand-offish...

Well, you get the idea.

Anyway, we have no solid evidence who actually led the attack on the camp. Nicolle (2008) likes the idea of Odo/Eudo as the commander of this force because "...at this date the Aquitanians traditionally fielded a larger number of cavalry than the Franks, and secondly a successful attack upon a camp...presupposes a degree of surprise and thus of superior local knowledge."

Again, I'm not sold. The Frankish were good troops, and assuming halfway decent recon one of Charles' scout units could perfectly well have done this.

Whoever leads this raid, it works a treat.


The armored horsemen fight into the khandaq and start butchering. No doubt it was less bloody than the chronicles made it out to be - the notion that a Christian army of 40,000 could kill over a quarter of a million is just ridiculous - but it must have been noisy and ugly and lethal enough for those gaffers, mommies, and kiddos caught in it.

Nicolle (2008) notes that the sources say that first word of this mess had a devastating effect on the Umayyad maneuver force; "The North African historian Abd al-Wahid Dhaunn Taha certainly blames the Muslim defest on the 'unreliable Berbers' who, he maintains, were primarily concerned to protect the families..."

Probably in small groups at first and then in full units the Umayyad assault element fell apart, bolting (or retiring tactically) to the southeast to relieve the camp garrison.


Somewhere around this time the Umayyad commander ar-Rahman is killed, either in the confused fighting around the camp or when Martel's force, taking advantage of the loss of cohesion in the Muslim maneuver element, pushes forward.
Nicolle (2008) advances the theory that "...Abd ar-Rahman al-Ghafiqi was mortally wounded, either by an arrow or more likely by a javelin. The dubious account of Sidi Osman Ben Artan maintained that...during the resulting fighting al-Ghafiqi was hit by a javelin that penetrated a 'fault' in his armor."


The Frankish force joins the Aquitanians in hammering on the khandaq which, if it had been set up in keeping with Umayyad practice, would have included some rough fieldworks. More people, on both sides - though, obviously, more from the chaotic and disrupted Muslim army and its wretched camp-followers - died or were wounded. But after this the engagement seems to just sort of peter out.

The Franco-Aquitanian force doesn't overrun the khandaq. The Umayyad defense stabilizes. Slowly the sounds of fighting diminish and eventually die away as the evening dark begins to descend.

Sunset on 25 OCT was probably about 6:00 local time. The low hills east of the Clain would have been littered with the wreckage of battle, dead, dying, and wounded men, women, and children, and the exhausted survivors of both sides, because for many a battle is not an event but a disaster that they are caught up in, no different from a great earthquake or a violent storm.

They didn't know it at the time, but the Battle of Tours was over.


We don't know who took over the Muslim force that night, but he was a damn competent commander.

Somehow he managed to get his shaken troops reorganized and into march order during the long October night, and move them off right under the noses of the Frankish and Aquitanian troops. Forget the Fredegar; pretty much everyone else who writes about this engagement agrees that the Umayyad force conducted a successful withdrawal.

This force was not shattered, either; Eudo/Odo and the Aquitanian army pursued several bodies of Muslim troops, the main force southeast towards the Rhone Valley while other parties, probably western flanking units, marched south back into al-Andalus. During these actions the retreating Umayyad troops were reported by Aquitanian sources to have conducted military operations en route, suggesting that the Umayyads saw themselves as still an army, as beaten but not whipped.

After spending the next several days on the battlefield Martel and his Franks marched back north.

The Outcome: Decisive Frankish tactical victory

The Impact: To me the "impact" of Moussais/Tours/Poitiers isn't the effect on the geopolitical situation on the southwest side of the European continent as much as what it says about that situation.

I tend to agree with those historians who see this fight as a relatively minor victory in the long struggle between the Muslim and non-Muslim powers. The attack on Aquitaine was a raid, not a conquest, and Martel saved no spires and stemmed no tide. In fact, ar-Rahman's successor, the wali Abd al-Malik Ibn Qatan al-Fihri crossed the Pyrenees the following year to ravage the Basque and Gascon lands. The Umayyad governor of Narbonne to the southeast raided deep into the Rhone and Durence valleys. So far as the historical record lets us see it appear that the victory at Tours/Poitiers had little even short-term military effect on the Muslim armies of al-Andalus.

Indeed; Martel spent most of the rest of his rule campaigning mostly in Germany, Aquitaine, and Burgundy. He did fight the Muslim emirate again in 737 around Narbonne, Avignon, and Arles but without major success. His Carolingian descendents had little joy of their clashes with the Andalusians; Spain was on of the few places that Charlemagne, like his famous successor Napoleon, had little success and none of it lasting. The containment and eventual Reconquest of Muslim Iberia was a story in which Charles "The Hammer" plays quite a minor role.

His fame as the Great Hammer of the Wogs lives on primarily in the Islamofascism fantasies of Christian cheerleaders and the heroic battle fantasies of Stormfront slashfic writers that, in turn, spring from this single engagement.

No, to me the "story" of Tours, or whatever you want to call this fight, is that the high hills above the Clain were just too far from Mecca, too far from Damascus and Baghdad. The great wave of conquest that had surged out of the Islamic heartland was almost spent, exhausted by years, and distance, and the lives of men and women.

The battle of October 732 doesn't write the end of the great Muslim Expansion, it simply punctuates it. The Caliphate was just too big, and the peoples at its edges too tough, for the rolling growth of Islam to continue. The far end of that growth just happened to be not far from the valley of the Clain and the Vienne.

The Umayyad Caliphate itself was spent; two decades after the defeat on the Moussais plateau a series of rebellions brought down Umayyad rule. Dozens of men and women of the Umayyad house were butchered. A single surviving grandson of the last Umayyad caliph managed to set up an Umayyad caliphate-in-exile in al-Andalus, the "Caliphate of Córdoba" that lasted another 300 years.


During this time the Muslims of Iberia never seriously threatened the remainder of Europe; they were too busy trying to hold what they had.


As for the engagement itself, well...we can't really be sure, but from what we can guess it looks like a case of one side just having some shit luck combined with good intelligence and security on the other.

Ar-Rahman seems to have been caught, like Custer, maneuvering offensively when he should have been more frightened. He didn't secure his enemy's avenue of approach, and he didn't provide enough flank and rear security. He did manage to hold off an enemy with a sudden advantage. His second-in-command, whoever that was, did a nifty job of extricating the Muslim force from the cleft stick they found themselves in.

His counterpart, Martel (and, possibly, Odo/Eudo) executed his simple mission cleanly. He managed to maintain his operational security until contact with the enemy and thus enabling him to surprise the Umayyads. He pulled of a successful single envelopment, and inflicted serious enough damage on his opponent to force a retreat. His guys raked in some serious jack, too; that was serious business in medieval and ancient war. I suspect nobody in the Frankish army really bothered about the fact that the Muslim loot was originally stolen from their Christian pals in Aquitaine.

I might not be supposed to covet my neighbor's ass but the Lord never said anything about not stealing it from the guy who stole it from my neighbor.
Touchline Tattles: I'm afraid I don't have any good tales from Moussais/Tours/Poitiers; the sources just weren't telling good solid human interest stories back in the day. So I'll have to end with this bizarre little note from Nicolle (2008) regarding the state of tourism in the Poitou region:


"It says a great deal for the French refusal to be burdened with their own glorious history, that the biggest tourist attraction in this region is the Futurescope. This, as the name implies, is a huge entertainment complex dedicated to the latest and anticipated future technologies, located midway between Poitiers and Moussais-la-Bataille."


I wonder what the ghosts of 732 would think of that?

16 comments:

Lisa said...

Wow -- I'm first on the scene, terribly impressed ... and have nothing to add besides a sincere "thanks" for a great post.

Leon said...

Nice write-up Chief, it's a battle like Marathon: lots of information but many tantalizing details omitted.

A few pedantic corrections:
- it should be comitatenses (pl of comitatensis)
- it should be vexilium, which didn't have any fixed numbers to my knowledge, the best English description would be "detachment"

FDChief said...

Lisa: Ta (Blush...)

Leon: corrections noted. I will say that I seem to recall that the Late Roman vexilia tended to be typically roughly two yo threecohorts in size, about 1,000 to 1,500. It's been some time since I read up on the Late Imperial Army, tho, so I could well be mistaken.

Ael said...

Thanks, another great write-up.

I don't buy the dawn advance in front of the Umayyad. Too much chance for shit to go wrong during a 3 mile advance. Especially since Charles had a tactically defensive battle plan at least for the start of the fight.

FDChief said...

Ael: I think that the problem with assuming that the Frankish-Aquitanian force was forted up on the heights of Moussais first, though, is that you have to assume that ar-Rahman was dumb enough to march up to the Christians and set his camp out where the damn Bible-bangers could get at it.

Why not leave the thing some distance back down the road? Still in position to provide support but tons less vulnerable.

So you're left with the problem that you have to get the Franks in position to be attacked somehow without the Muslims sussing them out early. My solution is to have them close by but screened by some topographic barrier - in this case, the Vienne - and then moving in darkness or at least in pre-dawn to a sort of "objective rally point" close enough to the Muslim lines to be threatening but not so close that they could be attacked while deploying.

That give Martel more flexibility. For all that most of the accounts claim that Martel/Odo had a defensive plan we don't really KNOW that. We know that's what's happened...but I think it's just as likely that Martel was winging it, shoving his mailed fist in the bloody wogs' faces and from there willing either to sit back and absorb their attacks or go on and take a whack at them if they didn't look hard enough.

But - as I can't repeat often enough - that's just MY guess. We just don't really know. Hell, we don't even know what happened, much less what Martel and ar-Rahman were planning to have happen...

This engagement is both fun to bloviate on - because you can do SO much arm-waving - and infuriating, because at the end of the day you'll never really know...

Ael said...

I agree, it is a lot of fun to speculate. A major reason why I don't see Martel doing an early tap dance with the bulk of his army is the way he behaved the next morning.

He kept a firm grip on his people and approached the (abandoned) camp with caution. This strongly suggests a tactically defensive mindset. I suspect his strategic thinking was that since the season was so late the Umayyad had to either attack (to get into winter quarters at unspoiled Tours) or leave.

This further suggests that Martel would choose the exact site of his defense. (i.e. he took a look at the field with his own eyes before committing his army to standing there).

As far as the camp goes, you don't want to jam up the road itself, so you need to put it on one side or the other. There was a river on the left of the road, so why not put it into that nice tree lined meadow on the right. Who would have guessed that the bible bangers would ride their horses through the trees.

FDChief said...

Ael: All good points, and your analysis may very well be the right one. It is certainly as good or better than mine.

Bottom line for me, tho, is that the "big picture" here is how this fight effectively signposts the "high water mark" for the western end of the first wave of Islamic expansion, and the high point for ALL the Islamic expansion not associated with the Ottomans.

While I don't buy the notion that it was The Hammer and his boys that "stopped" the Muslim expansion, it DID stop and it stopped in SW France in the 8th Century. It may have been more due to the exhaustion of the Umayyad Caliphate than the furor of the Franks...but it meant that there would be a Europe, and a Christian Europe into the 14th-15th Centuries.

But, ironically, why that turned out to be important is that Europe then turned away from Christianity and to "modernity"; the Enlightenment, commerce, science, all the things that a strict religious conformity would have tended to stifle.

Meanwhile Islam was losing it's innovative edge as the hand of Ottoman bureaucracy clamped down on everyone it could...

And here we are today.

Ael said...

I agree with you about the raid vs invasion thing.

Also, losing a competent ruler has got to hurt. So much at that time depended on the ability of a single person to make good decisions.

FDChief said...

Good point about the loss of ar-Rahman. The thing that stands out about the early history of al-Andalus is how badly it suffered from the internal breakdown of Umayyad rule. Eventually the fugitive Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba stabilizes things and there's a long twilight, but the 8th Century is a sad tale of civil war, Berber revolt, Christian opportunism (both the Asturians as well as the Franks under Pepin the Short used the period to carve off pieces of the northern end of al-Andalus) and general mayhem.

Hard to say if a living ar-Rahman might have done better...but certainly his successors could hardly have done worse.

Anonymous said...

Good work and I hope to visit Moussais in September - thank you.

Your argument that it was just a big raiding party rather than an invasion makes sense to me, but if it had gone well then an invasion would surely have followed. That was the norm during Islam's early expansion. So I do think that this was an epochal battle.

Anonymous said...

You've done a great job of extracting juice from the ancient sources while rejecting the dross and making clear what is your own (very well informed) speculation. One more thing - what is the earliest written reference to the battle having taken place by Moussais, or to the name Moussais la Bataille? If the earliest ref is centuries later then nothing is proved, but if only a couple of generations after 732AD then it authenticates it.

Bill said...

I appreciate the information and interpretation.

Yet, it seems you go out of your way to discount the importance of the battle in reaction to perceived unearned fervor of glory.

To me it was definitely a major turning point and not at all merely a repulsion of a raiding party. Abdul ar-Rahman put together a significant invasion force to bring Uthman ibn Naissa's province back into the fold and expand the Umayyad territory in Aquitaine/Gaul.

It's true that Umayyad leadership made mistakes, but that was due in part to overconfidence after smashing Odo's army that had handed them defeat 11 years earlier.

I wouldn't be dismissive of the importance of this battle along with those of Toulouse before, and Narbonne after. Whereas Toulouse provided the Umayyads their first defeat in Western Europe, and Tours and Narbonne established the Franks as a force capable of reversing muslim expansion.

Gerald said...

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.

FDChief said...

Anon: The contemporary chronicles are - as noted in the post - fairly vague about the physical location of the fight. My understanding of the identification of Moussais as the closest town to the engagement is as a sort of local tradition in the Moussais vicinity; I don't have a good source for the antiquity of that.

But I think there's a case to be for the "inherent military probability" for the battle being somewhere close by. Had it actually been within sight of Poitiers or Tours - being much larger population centers even back in the day - you'd have thought that the site would have been much more likely to be monumented and remembered...

FDChief said...

Bill: The single biggest issue with seeing this as some sort of 8th Century Battle of Waterloo is that you have to discard the Umayyads' lack of a siege train.

If Ar-Rahman is really invading - invading-invading and not just loping over the Pyrenees on the off-chance that he can catch the infidels doping off and nick some nifty loot - then he can't hope to hold anything without capturing fortified places, and without a battering train he can't do that except 1) by escalade, which is insanely costly, or 2) by starvation, which is insanely time-consuming.

So - given his order of battle and the progress of the campaign - it seems more likely that the Umayyads were doing just what I suspect; raiding. Hell of a big raid, and the whipping they took at the hands of Martel & Co. had to hurt...but not the "saving of European Christianity" that it's passed into legend.

Now...the durability of the Frankish military system that produced wins like Tours, Narbonne, and Toulouse...now that WAS important at stopping the Islamic conquest, much as the Byzantine military capability in the east helped stop the Umayyads on that side of the Med.

But I think it was even more complex than that. Western military skill, Umayyad overstretch, the logistical and economic constraints of 8th Century Europe and North Africa...it all had to come together to produce a Christian Europe and a Muslim North Africa and Middle East side-by-side for the next 12 centuries.

I'm not trying to sell Tours short...but I'm not going to make it some sort of huge historical turning point, either. I don't think that - looking at the history of southwestern Europe during the period - there's any way to do that. It was an important PART of that history...but just a part.

Blogger said...

NeoBux is the best work from home website.