Monday, February 20, 2017

The Battle of Poiters and Charles Martel the Hammer

Charles de Steuben's Bataille de Poitiers en October732 depicts a triumphant Charles Martel (mounted) facing 'Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Tours. The Celtic Cross in the background is an anachronism, such crosses being unknown at the time in the environs of Tours.
With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Europe fell into disarray. Due to this vacuum of power, Islam was able to spread. Beginning with the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca in 622, Islam would expand to control Arabia, North Africa, Palestine, Persia, Spain, and parts of India. It was a rise of power unseen before in history. In merely one hundred years a small group of Muhammad’s followers would become one, if not the most dominant force surrounding the Mediterranean and beyond. 

Uniting the tribes of Arabia under a common monotheistic religion, Muhammad was able to conquer Syria by 636, Alexandria by 642, Carthage by 697 and finally crossing the Straight of Gibralter in 711 they moved into Spain. To all observers it appeared that Islam would become the dominant religion of Europe, surpassing Christianity. Having established control of the Iberian Peninsula, the Muslim general Abd ar-Rahman departed his base in Pamplona and crossed the Pyrenees into the territory controlled by the Franks. He would make it across the Garonne River, pass the city of Bordeaux and reach all the way to the town of Poitiers with little resistance by local forces. It was not until he encountered Charles Martel, known by historians as “the Hammer”, that the advance of Islam would be checked. 

One of the main contributing factors to the rapid rise and movement of Islam throughout Norther Africa and the Iberian peninsula was a use of mounted soldiers. This was to serve as the Achilles heel of Abd ar-Rahmans forces when they encountered Charles Martel on the road from Poitiers to Tours. In what is known as the Battle of Tours, the Battle of Poiters and the Battle of the Palace of the Martyrs by Arab sources, Charles Martel controlling Frankish and Burgundian forces would defeat the advancing Muslims be relying on military tactics used by the Romans and Greeks for centuries. Rather than relying on the maneuver warfare of knights on horseback so often seen in popular depictions of Middle Ages warfare, Charles Martel’s forces, an assortment of spearman, light infantry and aristocratic nobles formed up on foot to hold firm the road from Poitiers to Tours.  Here they would encounter and defeat the advancing Islamic invaders. They would methodically beat back the advancing horseman in what was described by the historian Isadore as “the men of Europe, an immovable sea, stood close to another and stiffened like a wall, as a mass of ice they stood firm together.” And “with great blows of their swords, they beat down the Arabs.” With fortitude and strength, the men of Europe had preserved Christianity in Europe on that fateful day in October 732. If not for them Europe would likely have been praying to Mecca five times a day.

Curtis, Lang and Petersen, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History. Flemming H. Revell, Grand Rapids MI. 1991.

Hanson, Victor Davis, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. Anchor Books, New York. 2001.

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