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Current historical debate on macrohistorical impact of Battle of Tours
Some modern historians argue that the Battle of Tours was of no great historical significance while others continue to contend that Charles Martel's victory was important in European or even world history.
Supporting the significance of Tours as a world-altering event
William E. Watson, strongly supports Tours as a macrohistorical event, but distances himself from the rhetoric of Gibbons and Drubeck, writing, for example, of the battle's importance in Frankish, and world, history in 1993:
There is clearly some justification for ranking Tours-Poitiers among the most significant events in Frankish history when one considers the result of the battle in light of the remarkable record of the successful establishment by Muslims of Islamic political and cultural dominance along the entire eastern and southern rim of the former Christian, Roman world. The rapid Muslim conquest of Palestine, Syria, Egypt and the North African coast all the way to Morocco in the seventh century resulted in the permanent imposition by force of Islamic culture onto a previously Christian and largely non-Arab base. The Visigothic kingdom fell to Muslim conquerors in a single battle on the Rio Barbate in 711, and the Hispanic Christian population took seven long centuries to regain control of the Iberian peninsula. The Reconquista, of course, was completed in 1492, only months before Columbus received official backing for his fateful voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Had Charles Martel suffered at Tours-Poitiers the fate of King Roderick at the Rio Barbate, it is doubtful that a "do-nothing" sovereign of the Merovingian realm could have later succeeded where his talented major domus had failed. Indeed, as Charles was the progenitor of the Carolingian line of Frankish rulers and grandfather of Charlemagne, one can even say with a degree of certainty that the subsequent history of the West would have proceeded along vastly different currents had ‘Abd ar-Rahman been victorious at Tours-Poitiers in 732.
Watson adds, "After examining the motives for the Muslim drive north of the Pyrenees, one can attach a macrohistorical significance to the encounter between the Franks and Andalusi Muslims at Tours-Poitiers, especially when one considers the attention paid to the Franks in Arabic literature and the successful expansion of Muslims elsewhere in the medieval period."
Victorian writer John Henry Haaren says in Famous Men of the Middle Ages, "The battle of Tours, or Poitiers, as it should be called, is regarded as one of the decisive battles of the world. It decided that Christians, and not Moslems, should be the ruling power in Europe." Bernard Grun delivers this assessment in his "Timetables of History," reissued in 2004: "In 732 Charles Martel's victory over the Arabs at the Battle of Tours stems the tide of their westward advance.”
Historian and humanist Michael Grant lists the battle of Tours in the macrohistorical dates of the Roman era. Historian Norman Cantor who specialised in the medieval period, teaching and writing at Columbia and New York University, says in 1993: "It may be true that the Arabs had now fully extended their resources and they would not have conquered France, but their defeat (at Tours) in 732 put a stop to their advance to the north."
Military historian Robert W. Martin considers Tours "one of the most decisive battles in all of history." Additionally, historian Hugh Kennedy says "it was clearly significant in establishing the power of Charles Martel and the Carolingians in France, but it also had profound consequences in Muslim Spain. It signaled the end of the ghanima (booty) economy."
Military Historian Paul Davis argued in 1999, "had the Muslims been victorious at Tours, it is difficult to suppose what population in Europe could have organised to resist them." Likewise, George Bruce in his update of Harbottle's classic military history Dictionary of Battles maintains that "Charles Martel defeated the Moslem army effectively ending Moslem attempts to conquer western Europe."
Antonio Santosuosso puts forth an interesting modern opinion on Charles, Tours, and the subsequent campaigns against Rahman's son in 736-737. Santosuosso presents a compelling case that these later defeats of invading Muslim armies were at least as important as Tours in their defence of Western Christendom and the preservation of Western monasticism, the monasteries of which were the centers of learning which ultimately led Europe out of her Middle Ages. He also makes a compelling argument, after studying the Arab histories of the period, that these were clearly armies of invasion, sent by the Caliph not just to avenge Tours, but to begin the conquest of Christian Europe and bring it into the Caliphate.
Objecting to the significance of Tours as a world-altering event
Other historians disagree with this assessment. Alessandro Barbero writes, "Today, historians tend to play down the significance of the battle of Poitiers, pointing out that the purpose of the Arab force defeated by Charles Martel was not to conquer the Frankish kingdom, but simply to pillage the wealthy monastery of St-Martin of Tours". Similarly, Tomaž Mastnak writes:
Modern historians have constructed a myth presenting this victory as having saved Christian Europe from the Muslims. Edward Gibbon, for example, called Charles Martel the savior of Christendom and the battle near Poitiers an encounter that changed the history of the world... This myth has survived well into our own times... Contemporaries of the battle, however, did not overstate its significance. The continuators of Fredegar's chronicle, who probably wrote in the mid-eighth century, pictured the battle as just one of many military encounters between Christians and Saracens - moreover, as only one in a series of wars fought by Frankish princes for booty and territory... One of Fredegar's continuators presented the battle of Poitiers as what it really was: an episode in the struggle between Christian princes as the Carolingians strove to bring Aquitaine under their rule.
The Christian Lebanese-American historian Philip Hitti believes that "In reality nothing was decided on the battlefield of Tours. The Moslem wave, already a thousand miles from its starting point in Gibraltar - to say nothing about its base in al-Qayrawan - had already spent itself and reached a natural limit."
The view that the battle has no great significance is perhaps best summarised by Franco Cardini says in Europe and Islam:
Although prudence needs to be exercised in minimising or 'demythologising' the significance of the event, it is no longer thought by anyone to have been crucial. The 'myth' of that particular military engagement survives today as a media cliché, than which nothing is harder to eradicate. It is well known how the propaganda put about by the Franks and the papacy glorified the victory that took place on the road between Tours and Poitiers...
In their introduction to The Reader's Companion to Military History Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker summarise this side of the modern view of the Battle of Tours by saying “The study of military history has undergone drastic changes in recent years. The old drums-and-bugles approach will no longer do. Factors such as economics, logistics, intelligence, and technology receive the attention once accorded solely to battles and campaigns and casualty counts. Words like "strategy" and "operations" have acquired meanings that might not have been recognizable a generation ago. Changing attitudes and new research have altered our views of what once seemed to matter most. For example, several of the battles that Edward Shepherd Creasy listed in his famous 1851 book The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World rate hardly a mention here, and the confrontation between Muslims and Christians at Poitiers-Tours in 732, once considered a watershed event, has been downgraded to a raid in force."
A number of modern historians and writers in other fields agree with Watson, and continue to maintain that this Battle was one of history's pivotal events. Professor of religion Huston Smith says in The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions "But for their defeat by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 733, the entire Western world might today be Muslim." Historian Robert Payne on page 142 in "The History of Islam" said "The more powerful Muslims and the spread of Islam were knocking on Europe’s door. And the spread of Islam was stopped along the road between the towns of Tours and Poitiers, France, with just its head in Europe."
Popular conservative military historian Victor Davis Hanson shares his view about the battle's macrohistorical placement:
Recent scholars have suggested Poitiers, so poorly recorded in contemporary sources, was a mere raid and thus a construct of western mythmaking or that a Muslim victory might have been preferable to continued Frankish dominance. What is clear is that Poitiers marked a general continuance of the successful defence of Europe, (from the Muslims). Flush from the victory at Tours, Charles Martel went on to clear southern France from Islamic attackers for decades, unify the warring kingdoms into the foundations of the Carolingian Empire, and ensure ready and reliable troops from local estates."
Paul Davis, another modern historian who addresses both sides in the debate over whether or not this Battle truly determined the direction of history, as Watson claims, or merely was a relatively minor raid, as Cardini writes, says "whether Charles Martel saved Europe for Christianity is a matter of some debate. What is sure, however, is that his victory ensured that the Franks would dominate Gaul for more than a century."
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