So dreadful and so widespread were the ravages of the Saracenic light cavalry throughout Gaul that it must have been impossible to restrain for any length of time the indignant ardor of the Franks.
Continuing Battle of Tours,
our selection 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. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Battle of Tours.
Place: Tours, France
It was from this formidable host, after Eudes, the count of Aquitaine, had vainly striven to check it, after many strong cities had fallen before it, and half the land had been overrun, that Gaul and Christendom were at last rescued by the strong arm of Prince Charles, who acquired a surname (Martel, the “Hammer”) like that of the war-god of his forefathers’ creed, from the might with which he broke and shattered his enemies in the battle.
The Merovingian kings had sunk into absolute insignificance, and had become mere puppets of royalty before the eighth century. Charles Martel, like his father, Pépin Héristal, was duke of the Austrasian Franks, the bravest and most thoroughly Germanic part of the nation, and exercised, in the name of the titular king, what little paramount authority the turbulent minor rulers of districts and towns could be persuaded or compelled to acknowledge. Engaged with his national competitors in perpetual conflicts for power, and in more serious struggles for safety against the fierce tribes of the unconverted Frisians, Bavarians, Saxons, and Thuringians, who at that epoch assailed with peculiar ferocity the Christianized Germans on the left bank of the Rhine, Charles Martel added experienced skill to his natural courage, and he had also formed a militia of veterans among the Franks.
Hallam has thrown out a doubt whether, in our admiration of his victory at Tours, we do not judge a little too much by the event, and whether there was not rashness in his risking the fate of France on the result of a general battle with the invaders. But when we remember that Charles had no standing army, and the independent spirit of the Frank warriors who followed his standard, it seems most probable that it was not in his power to adopt the cautious policy of watching the invaders, and wearing out their strength by delay. So dreadful and so widespread were the ravages of the Saracenic light cavalry throughout Gaul that it must have been impossible to restrain for any length of time the indignant ardor of the Franks. And, even if Charles could have persuaded his men to look tamely on while the Arabs stormed more towns and desolated more districts, he could not have kept an army together when the usual period of a military expedition had expired. If, indeed, the Arab account of the disorganization of the Moslem forces be correct, the battle was as well timed on the part of Charles as it was, beyond all question, well fought.
The monkish chroniclers, from whom we are obliged to glean a narrative of this memorable campaign, bear full evidence to the terror which the Saracen invasion inspired, and to the agony of that great struggle. The Saracens, say they, and their King, who was called Abdirames, came out of Spain, with all their wives, and their children, and their substance, in such great multitudes that no man could reckon or estimate them. They brought with them all their armor, and whatever they had, as if they were thenceforth always to dwell in France.
“Then Abderrahman, seeing the land filled with the multitude of his army, pierces through the mountains, tramples over rough and level ground, plunders far into the country of the Franks, and smites all with the sword, insomuch that when Eudes came to battle with him at the river Garonne, and fled before him, God alone knows the number of the slain. Then Abderrahman pursued after Count Eudes, and while he strives to spoil and burn the holy shrine at Tours he encounters the chief of the Austrasian Franks, Charles, a man of war from his youth up, to whom Eudes had sent warning. There for nearly seven days they strive intensely, and at last they set themselves in battle array, and the nations of the North, standing firm as a wall and impenetrable as a zone of ice, utterly slay the Arabs with the edge of the sword.”
The European writers all concur in speaking of the fall of Abderrahman as one of the principal causes of the defeat of the Arabs; who, according to one writer, after finding that their leader was slain, dispersed in the night, to the agreeable surprise of the Christians, who expected the next morning to see them issue from their tents and renew the combat. One monkish chronicler puts the loss of the Arabs at three hundred and seventy-five thousand men, while he says that only one thousand and seven Christians fell; a disparity of loss which he feels bound to account for by a special interposition of Providence. I have translated above some of the most spirited passages of these writers; but it is impossible to collect from them anything like a full or authentic description of the great battle itself, or of the operations which preceded and followed it.
Though, however, we may have cause to regret the meagreness and doubtful character of these narratives, we have the great advantage of being able to compare the accounts given of Abderrahman’s expedition by the national writers of each side. This is a benefit which the inquirer into antiquity so seldom can obtain that the fact of possessing it, in the case of the battle of Tours, makes us think the historical testimony respecting that great event more certain and satisfactory than is the case in many other instances, where we possess abundant details respecting military exploits, but where those details come to us from the annalist of one nation only, and where we have, consequently, no safeguard against the exaggerations, the distortions, and the fictions which national vanity has so often put forth in the garb and under the title of history. The Arabian writers who recorded the conquests and wars of their countrymen in Spain have narrated also the expedition into Gaul of their great Emir, and his defeat and death near Tours, in battle with the host of the Franks under “King Caldus,” the name into which they metamorphose Charles Martel.
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