Battle of Poitiers (Battle of Tours) – First Islamic Wave – Year 732


 

The Battle of Tours (October 10, 732), also called the Battle of Poitiers and in Arabic: ”ma‘arakat Balâṭ ash-Shuhadâ’) Battle of Court of The Martyrs, was fought in an area between the cities of Poitiers and Tours, near the village of Moussais-la-Bataille (modern Vouneuil-sur-Vienne) about 20km north of Poitiers. The location of the battle was close to the border between the Frankish realm and then-independent Aquitaine. The battle pitted Frankish and Burgundian forces under Austrasian Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel against an army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-general of al-Andalus. The Franks were victorious, ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi was killed, and Charles subsequently extended his authority in the south. Ninth-century chroniclers, who interpreted the outcome of the battle as divine judgment in his favour, gave Charles the nickname Martellus ("The Hammer"). Details of the battle, including its exact location and the exact number of combatants, cannot be determined from accounts that have survived. Notably, the Frankish troops won the battle without cavalry.

 

As later chroniclers praised Charles Martel as the champion of Christianity, pre-20th century historians began to characterise this battle as being the decisive turning point in the struggle against Islam, a struggle which preserved Christianity as the religion of Europe. "Most of the 18th and 19th century historians, like Gibbon, saw Poitiers (Tours), as a landmark battle that marked the high tide of the Muslim advance into Europe." Leopold von Ranke felt that "Poitiers was the turning point of one of the most important epochs in the history of the world."

 

While modern historians are divided and there is considerable disagreement as to whether or not the victory was responsible — as Gibbon and his generation of historians claimed, and which is echoed by many modern historians — for saving Christianity and halting the conquest of Europe by Islam, there is little dispute that the battle helped lay the foundations of the Carolingian Empire and Frankish domination of Europe for the next century. "The establishment of Frankish power in western Europe shaped that continent's destiny and the Battle of Tours confirmed that power."

 

 

Background

 

The Battle of Tours followed twenty years of Umayyad conquests in Europe which had begun with the invasion of the Visigothic Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula in 711. These were followed by military expeditions into the Frankish territories of Gaul, former provinces of the Roman Empire. Umayyad military campaigns had reached northward into Aquitaine and Burgundy, including a major engagement at Bordeaux and a raid on Autun. Charles' victory is widely believed to have stopped the northward advance of Umayyad forces from the Iberian peninsula, and to have preserved Christianity in Europe during a period when Muslim rule was overrunning the remains of the old Roman and Persian Empires.

 

Most historians assume that the two armies met where the rivers Clain and Vienne join between Tours and Poitiers. The number of troops in each army is not known. Drawing on non-contemporary Muslim sources, Creasy describes the Umayyad forces as 80,000 strong or more. Writing in 1999, Paul K. Davis estimates the Umayyad forces at 80,000 and the Franks at about 30,000, while noting that modern historians have estimated the strength of the Umayyad army at Tours at between 20–80,000. Edward J. Schoenfeld (rejecting the older figures of 60–400,000 Umayyad and 75,000 Franks) contends that "estimates that the Umayyads had over fifty thousand troops (and the Franks even more) are logistically impossible." Another modern military historian, Modern historians may be more accurate than the medieval sources as the modern figures are based on estimates of the logistical ability of the countryside to support these numbers of men and animals. Both Davis and Hanson point out that both armies had to live off the countryside, neither having a commissary system sufficient to provide supplies for a campaign. Losses during the battle are unknown but chroniclers later claimed that Charles Martel's force lost about 1,500 while the Umayyad force was said to have suffered massive casualties of up to 375,000 men. However, these same casualty figures were recorded in the Liber pontificalis for Duke Odo of Aquitaine's victory at the Battle of Toulouse (721). Paul the Deacon reported correctly in his Historia Langobardorum (written around the year 785) that the Liber pontificalis mentioned these casualty figures in relation to Odo's victory at Toulouse (though he claimed that Charles Martel fought in the battle alongside Odo), but later writers, probably "influenced by the Continuations of Fredegar, attributed the Saracen casualties solely to Charles Martel, and the battle in which they fell became unequivocally that of Poitiers." The Vita Pardulfi, written in the middle of the eighth century, reports that after the battle ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân's forces burned and looted their way through the Limousin on their way back to Al-Andalus, which implies that they were not destroyed to the extent imagined in the Continuations of Fredegar.

 

 

The opponents

 

The invasion of Hispania, and then Gaul, was led by the Umayyad Dynasty, the first dynasty of caliphs of the Islamic empire after the reign of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali) ended. The Umayyad Caliphate, at the time of the Battle of Tours, was perhaps the world’s foremost military power. Great expansion of the Caliphate occurred under the reign of the Umayyads. Muslim armies pushed across North Africa and Persia through the late 600s; forces led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad crossed Gibraltar and established Muslim power in the Iberian peninsula, while other armies established power far away in Sind, in what is now the modern state of Pakistan. The Muslim empire under the Umayyads was now a vast domain that ruled a diverse array of peoples. It had destroyed what were the two former foremost military powers, the Sassanid Empire, which it absorbed completely, and the Byzantine Empire, most of which it had absorbed, including Syria, Armenia and North Africa, although Leo the Isaurian successfully defended Anatolia at the Battle of Akroinon (739) in the final campaign of the Umayyad dynasty.

 

The Frankish realm under Charles Martel was the foremost military power of Western Europe. It consisted of what is today most of France (Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy), most of Western Germany, and the low countries. The Frankish realm had begun to progress towards becoming the first real imperial power in Western Europe since the fall of Rome, as it struggled against external forces such as the Saxons, Frisians, and internal opponents such as Odo the Great (Old French: Eudes), the Duke of Aquitaine.

 

 









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