This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Western Europe at This Time.
The people of Islam had conquered Arabia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Europe was next. They were stopped at the walls of Constantinople. Far to the west, they conquered most of Spain. Next was France. They conquered the southern part of it. Now they were advancing deep into the French heartland.
This selection is from Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Edward S. Creasy published in 1851. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Edward S. Creasy (1812-1878) was a favorite military historian.
Place: Tours, France
The broad tract of champaign country which intervenes between the cities of Poitiers and Tours is principally composed of a succession of rich pasture lands, which are traversed and fertilized by the Cher, the Creuse, the Vienne, the Claine, the Indre, and other tributaries of the river Loire. Here and there the ground swells into picturesque eminences, and occasionally a belt of forest land, a brown heath, or a clustering series of vineyards breaks the monotony of the widespread meadows; but the general character of the land is that of a grassy plain, and it seems naturally adapted for the evolutions of numerous armies, especially of those vast bodies of cavalry which principally decided the fate of nations during the centuries that followed the downfall of Rome and preceded the consolidation of the modern European powers.
This region has been signalized by more than one memorable conflict; but it is principally interesting to the historian by having been the scene of the great victory won by Charles Martel over the Saracens, A.D. 732, which gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization, and reestablished the old superiority of the Indo-European over the Semitic family of mankind.
Sismondi and Michelet have underrated the enduring interest of this great Appeal of Battle between the champions of the Crescent and the Cross. But, if French writers have slighted the exploits of their national hero, the Saracenic trophies of Charles Martel have had full justice done to them by English and German historians. Gibbon devotes several pages of his great work * to the narrative of the battle of Tours, and to the consideration of the consequences which probably would have resulted if Abderrahman’s enterprise had not been crushed by the Frankish chief. Schlegel speaks of this “mighty victory” in terms of fervent gratitude, and tells how “the arm of Charles Martel saved and delivered the Christian nations of the West from the deadly grasp of all-destroying Islam”; and Ranke points out, as “one of the most important epochs in the history of the world, the commencement of the eighth century, when on the one side Mahometanism threatened to overspread Italy and Gaul, and on the other the ancient idolatry of Saxony and Friesland once more forced its way across the Rhine. In this peril of Christian institutions, a youthful prince of Germanic race, Charles (or Karl) Martel, arose as their champion, maintained them with all the energy which the necessity for self-defense calls forth, and finally extended them into new regions.”
[* Gibbon remarks that if the Saracen conquests had not then been checked, “perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”]
Arnold ranks the victory of Charles Martel even higher than the victory of Arminius, “among those signal deliverances which have affected for centuries the happiness of mankind.” In fact, the more we test its importance, the higher we shall be led to estimate it; and, though all authentic details which we possess of its circumstances and its heroes are but meagre, we can trace enough of its general character to make us watch with deep interest this encounter between the rival conquerors of the decaying Roman Empire. That old classic world, the history of which occupies so large a portion of our early studies, lay, in the eighth century of our era, utterly exanimate and overthrown. On the north the German, on the south the Arab, was rending away its provinces. At last the spoilers encountered one another, each striving for the full mastery of the prey. Their conflict brought back upon the memory of Gibbon the old Homeric simile, where the strife of Hector and Patroclus over the dead body of Cebriones is compared to the combat of two lions, that in their hate and hunger fight together on the mountain tops over the carcass of a slaughtered stag; and the reluctant yielding of the Saracen power to the superior might of the northern warriors might not inaptly recall those other lines of the same book of the Iliad, where the downfall of Patroclus beneath Hector is likened to the forced yielding of the panting and exhausted wild boar, that had long and furiously fought with a superior beast of prey for the possession of the scanty fountain among the rocks at which each burned to drink.
Although three centuries had passed away since the Germanic conquerors of Rome had crossed the Rhine, never to repass that frontier stream, no settled system of institutions or government, no amalgamation of the various races into one people, no uniformity of language or habits had been established in the country at the time when Charles Martel was called to repel the menacing tide of Saracenic invasion from the south. Gaul was not yet France. In that, as in other provinces of the Roman Empire of the West, the dominion of the Caesars had been shattered as early as the fifth century, and barbaric kingdoms and principalities had promptly arisen on the ruins of the Roman power. But few of these had any permanency, and none of them consolidated the rest, or any considerable number of the rest, into one coherent and organized civil and political society.
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