The Battle of Tours

From my Book: The Crescent and the Hammer at amazon.com

Sometime in 730 or 731, Eudo, Christian Duke of Aquitaine, made a treaty with the Muslim Berber sub-governor of Cerdagne, Munusa, also called Munnuza, the treaty was sealed by Eudo marrying his daughter to Munusa.[1] Cerdagne was a Muslim territory in the south-central Pyrenees, but east of the mountain peaks. [2] Cerdagne bordered Aquitaine and was centered on the modern town of Llivia.[3] The exact nature of this treaty is unknown. Some historians have speculated that it was an outright capitulation by Eudo to Munusa, similar to the Treaty of Tudmir.[4] The Chronicle of 754 states the treaty was “aimed at forestalling Arab attacks,” making it merely a non-aggression pact which would allow each signatory to focus against their primary enemies instead of fighting each other.[5] No matter the type of treaty, it allowed the Berber chief to then raise the flag of rebellion against the central Andalusian (Moorish Spain) authority. Munusa supposedly revolted because of the treatment his fellow Berbers had received at the hands of the Arab “judges” in Africa. [6]

Probably receiving the news of the treaty between Eudo and Munusa is what provoked Charles Martel, Prince of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace, to launch two raids into Aquitaine in 731.[7] The chronicler reports only “that Eudo broke the treaty” with Charles, without saying exactly what the breach was.[8] During one of the raids Charles, “put Eudo to flight”, and from both, he “came back with rich booty.” [9] Clearly, for whatever reason, Charles had decided it was time to bring Eudo to heel and bring Aquitaine more firmly into his control.

The response to the treaty and Munusa’s revolt from the west of the Pyrenees was far more devastating to both Munusa and Eudo than Charles’ raids. Abd ar-Rahman, Governor-General of Al-andalus, described as “a warlike man,” prepared and launched an assault on Munusa, besieging him in his “town of Cerdanya,” likely the fortress town of Llivia.[10] In the course of the siege, the Moors cut off the water supply to the town, which forced Munusa to breakout.[11] He was pursued and finally cut off from escape, committed suicide rather than surrender to Abd ar-Rahman.[12] Eudo’s daughter and Munusa’s severed head were sent to the Caliph in Damascus.[13]

Abd ar-Rahman now moved on Aquitaine. Some historians believe that his main goal had always been to deal with the troublesome Eudo for making an agreement with the rebellious Berbers and the assault on Munusa had been merely to setup the attack on Aquitaine.[14] The Continuator of Fredegar states that Eudo invited the “unbelieving Saracen people” to help him against Charles. [15] Here the chronicler is confusing Abd ar-Rahamn with Eudo’s dead ally Munusa.[16] The Chronicle of 754 says that “Abd ar-Rahman, seeing the land filled with the multitude of his army” then crossed the Pyrenees to “invade the lands of the Franks.”[17] This description seems to indicate that the decision to attack Aquitaine was opportunistic rather than planned.

The Moors moved out of Pamplona, crossed the mountains by the Roncesvalles Pass and headed to Bordeaux.[18] Abd ar-Rahman no doubt used this route to surprise his enemy and also to avoid Toulouse, the site of the Moorish defeat eleven years before.[19] Further, the Amir of Al-Andalus likely wanted to avoid the Berber controlled southeastern Pyrenees, through which he had just marched.[20] Eudo was surprised by this sudden attack on his major western city. The Duke had likely been in the north or east of the duchy preparing to oppose yet another raid by Charles.[21] Bordeaux either fell to a direct assault or after a very brief siege. The Moors then “burned down the churches and slew the inhabitants.”[22] They also took “large spoils” including “a leg of gold” adorned with precious stones.[23]

Eudo gathered what forces he could to stop the invaders. The sources are confused as to where the battle took place; one says that it happened west of the River Garonne, which would put it very near Bordeaux.[24] Another source states that the Moors, after sacking the city made straight for Poitiers.[25] This means that even if Eudo took just a few days to collect an army, the battle would have been, as the Chronicle of 754 says: “on the other side of the rivers Garonne and Dordogne” or east of the rivers.[26] Regardless of where it happened, the battle was an utter defeat for the Aquitainians.[27]

Eudo’s army was sure to have been much smaller than the invading Moors, since he had little time to gather a force. The army was likely primarily local infantry levies with a small number of mounted men lead by the local landholders, as well as Eudo’s personal warriors. This force could have been easily flanked by the Muslim cavalry.[28] The sources report that a large part of Eudo’s force fled or was killed, one says: “God only knows the number of those who died or fled (or vanished),” also that “Eudo himself slipped away in flight.” [29]

With the victorious Muslims in hot pursuit, Eudo made straight for his Frankish rival, Charles.[30] While chasing the defeated Duke of Aquitaine, Abd ar-Rahman also set his army to burning and looting.[31] The Moors paid special attention to destroying churches and forts, called “palaces” in the chronicles.[32] These attacks on forts and churches were likely designed to break Christian morale, but also because that was where the mobile wealth could be found. The main body of invaders followed the Roman road from Bordeaux to Tours. [33] Also, large raiding parties would have been dispatched over the countryside to plunder and burn, then return to the main body with the loot.[34] The Moors apparently met no major resistance in their march across Aquitaine.

While his duchy was being ravished, Eudo met with Charles. Since Eudo seemed to know exactly where Charles was located and given Charles’ rapid and massive response to the Muslim threat, some historians have reasoned that Charles was already in Aquitaine, or just north of the Loire near Orleans, when his old enemy told about this new menace from the south. [35] Charles “an expert in all things military” took “boldness as his counselor” and marched his army south to confront the Moors coming north. [36]

Charles with his allied army of Franks, Burgundians and the few Aquitainians that Eudo had brought, put themselves between the Muslims and “the house of the blessed Martin” at Tours, one of the holiest sites in Western Christendom.[37] This move accomplished three things: First, the battle would be fought in Aquitaine, not in Francia, saving Charles from having to fight in his homeland. Second, if Charles was defeated he could retreat into Tours or even across the Loire and still be defending Francia. Last, just as the Moors had surprised Eudo at Bordeaux, so could Charles surprise them by the sudden appearance of his main army to the invaders’ front.

“After each side had tormented the other for almost seven days with raids, they finally prepared their battle lines and fought fiercely.”[38] Charles no doubt dispatched his horsemen to gather intelligence on the approaching enemy and to prevent the Moors from gathering intelligence on him. Further his mounted troops conducted anti-raider operations just as they conducted anti-bandit operations in their home territories.[39] Charles would have likely used what Aquitainians he could for these missions to hide from the Moors that they were about to face the Franks and because the Aquitainians would have had significant local knowledge. Also, this skirmishing slowed the Moors; buying time for Charles to get his slower moving infantry onto ground of his own choosing.

The Frankish leader “set the battle in array” about one-third the way north on the Roman road from Poitiers to Tours, a place now called Moussais-la-Bataille.[40] Charles drew up his men at the top of a gentle slope flanked by heavy woods on his left and the wooded valley of the River Clain on his right with the Roman road to his to the front.[41] Charles had a fortified camp built behind his infantry line.[42] This position was difficult to flank for the highly mobile Islamic forces and also blocked any further movement northward by the Moors. The position provided an excellent field of view for the Franks and trying to approach up the long slope would slow and weary the enemy attackers. Charles would have kept some of his elite fighters, his trustis, and some of the great magnates’ armed followers, or satellites, mounted to act as a quick reaction force to reinforce any weak parts of the infantry line, to carry messages and to act as flank guards.[43] The rest he would have deployed in the traditional Frankish infantry line.[44]

Around 600 CE Maurice had described how the Franks fought in a dense formation with an even front.[45] The entry for the year 612 from the Chronicle of Fredegar describes an infantry formation so closely packed that the dead could not fall.[46] This statement is no doubt hyperbole, but does point out that the Franks traditionally fought in a tight infantry formation. For this battle, the Franks would have deployed in a formation very like the one described in Vegetius, with the Franks standing nearly shoulder to shoulder, leaving just enough room to hold his shield and spear and to stab without interfering with the next soldier in the line.[47] This formation would have been several ranks deep, depending on its total length and the total number of Frankish soldiers fighting. The attacking Moors would have seen a wall of shields bristling with spears.

After the five days of indecisive skirmishing the main body of the Moors found the main body of the Franks and the battle now moved to its crescendo.[48] Abd ar-Rahman faced a number of operational choices. Clearly, the Franks were going to stand on the defense. The Moors could withdraw, but burdened with loot while an enemy army pursued them made such an operation problematic at best.[49] He could have ordered the loot abandoned to retreat faster, but that order was not likely to be obeyed by his men.[50] Further any retreat would be seen as a Christian victory over a Moorish army, which was not acceptable to a devoted Muslim and a “war-like man” such as the Amir of al-Andalus.[51] While the Moors eyed the shield-wall of the Franks, the Governor-General would have likely issued orders to scout around the Christians to see if there was some way to flank them. Also, he would have ordered messengers out to quickly collect his forces. Lastly, he ordered the construction of a fortified camp large enough to hold the carts of treasure and some of his infantry.[52]

The main battle took place on Saturday, October 25, 732.[53] The two armies were likely of similar size. Given the importance attached to this campaign by Abd ar-Rahman and the time taken to mount the expedition, the Moorish army was probably in the range of 10,000 – 15,000 men.[54] The Frankish army was reported to have been “greater in number of soldiers.” [55]   The Christians may have outnumbered the Moors, but probably not by a very much. Charles and his allies drew on a much closer and larger pool of men then the Moors and Charles had already formed an army for a fall campaign, but this was countered by the fact that the Christians had had little time to call up more men to face the Moors.

The sources on the battle do not say what formation the Moors took for their assaults. Likely they took the traditional battle order of a Muslim army; an advanced guard, left and right flanking units and a rear guard and a fifth unit in the center with the general and his personal retinue. [56] Each of the main units would have had light and heavy cavalry, infantry and archers with perhaps some slingers as well.[57] Lastly, a barricade of some kind would have been erected to the rear of the army, so that soldiers would have a sheltered place to rest between attacks.[58]

The battle would have started with the Muslim foot archers moving forward to range the Franks and shooting “a cloud of arrows,” trying to break the Christian formation and demoralize them. [59] Next the light cavalry would have charged forward, throwing their javelins, then retreating, daring the Franks to break formation and chase them. [60] The light cavalry would have had to come within range of the European self bows, allowing the Christians to strike back against their attackers. The chronicles do not mention that the Frank used projectile weapons at all and one historian speculates that Charles held back using bows to encourage the Moors to close with his formation.[61] However, this is unlikely, as the Muslims would have needed no such encouragement to attack. Next, the heavy cavalry charged using their stirrups to brace themselves, wielding their long spears. The Muslim horsemen would have been subjected to flights of arrows during the last part of the charge. The Muslim spears broke on impact with the heavy round shields of the Franks and the Moorish horses shied away from the spears of the Christians. The Muslims then turned and retreated, trying to draw the Franks out of formation. Any horse or rider that came within striking distance of the Franks would have been stabbed at with the fearsome Frankish spears or smashed at with the heavy shield.[62] The Muslim infantry followed closely behind the cavalry looking to exploit any breakthroughs the horsemen might make.[63]

The fighting was quick and brutal. The impetus of any charge was soon lost against the Franks, who stood “immobile like a wall, holding together like a glacier” and they “in the blink of an eye annihilated the Arabs . . .”[64] The area in front of the Frankish line was soon filled with dead and wounded horses and men. The cries of the injured men and screams of wounded horses filled the air; the atmosphere would have been as foul as that of a slaughter-house.[65] This horror continued most of the day. The Muslims charging, stabbing with their spears, flailing at the Franks with their long swords, but making little impression on the solid infantry lines; the Christians stabbing and hitting back. The flanks and legs of the horses and the legs of the riders would have been very vulnerable to the Christians. All the while, the Franks stood firm, killing and maiming and being killed and maimed in return. If a frontline Frankish infantryman was wounded, lost or broke his weapons, or grew too weary to continue the fight, he needed to merely step to the side and rear to be replaced by the next man in file. If a Frank was killed, his body would have been dragged to the rear and the dead man’s place would have taken by another soldier. Late in the afternoon the Moors had had enough and started a general retreat. Seeing this, Charles ordered his men to advance.[66] Keeping in formation, maintaining their iron discipline, the Franks moved forward for the first time that day. During this advance the Franks found Abd ar-Rahman, perhaps commanding a rear guard. The amir was stabbed in the chest and killed, indicating that he was fighting on foot.[67]

The Franks were now within sight of the Moors fortified camp, but night was falling so they “. . . put up their swords, saving themselves to fight the next day. . .”[68] Charles had no desire to perform a night attack against a well-defended enemy camp, so he did the wise thing and moved back to his own camp, ready to renew the fight the next day.[69] Rousing his troops at dawn, Charles had them advance on the enemy camp, seeing it still intact, he sent out scouts, who quickly discovered the camp was empty.[70] The Franks then rushed in “overran their tents” and retook all the loot the Moors had left behind.[71] Charles elected not to pursue his defeated enemy; one source states he feared Moorish ambushes.[72] Other likely reasons are that a large part of his army was made up of levies that he had to return civilian life. Further, the Christian army may have taken more causalities than the chroniclers imply. Lastly, Charles may have felt no need to chase the Moors since he had accomplished his two primary goals of protecting Tours and the Frankish homelands and had also inflicted a major defeat on the Islamic forces. Charles, one source says, had “utterly destroyed their armies.” [73]

The Muslim sources acknowledge that the Franks decisively defeated the Moors at Tours, calling the battle the Balattu-sh-shohada or “The Pavement of the Martyrs”, also calling it a “disastrous battle” and saying the “. . . army was cut to pieces.” [74] Balattu-sh-shohda is the same name given to the Muslim disaster at Toulouse eleven years earlier.[75] Al-Hakem reports that Abd ar-Rahman: “died as a martyr along with all his companions.”[76]  But perhaps the massacre was not as complete as the sources state. The Vita Pardulfi reports that the Moors burned and looted their way south as they retreated through Aquitaine.[77] After all, even a casualty rate of fifty percent would still have left some 5,000 well-armed and angry Moors going south through undefended Christian territory.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Franks and Burgundians besides taking “the spoils and the booty” and dividing it “fairly,” simply went home “over-joyed.” [78] This indicates that Eudo had come to an agreement with Charles regarding his and Aquitaine’s status within the regnum Francorum. At a minimum this arrangement was the reestablishment of the early treaty and more likely was Eudo’s outright recognition of Charles’ personal overlordship.[79] The evidence for the later is that Charles did not campaign again in Aquitaine until after Eudo’s death in 735.[80] Further, the Vita Pardulfi says Charles “gave” Aquitaine to Eudo’s son, Hunoald or Chunoald, after Eudo’s death and also says that Hunoald ruled with Charles’ “permission.” [81]

The Moors either left no occupying forces behind them as they had advanced through Aquitaine, or those garrisons had fled after the defeat at Tours. However, the Les Grande Chroniques reports that: “Eudo, the duke of Aquitaine . . . later killed whatever Saracens he could find who had escaped from this battle,” demonstrating that perhaps Eudo and his surviving Aquitainians had pursued the defeated Moors.[82]  In either case the Christian sources report no major battles to eject any such Moorish forces from the duchy. Certainly by 735, Eudo’s territory still included Bordeaux and extended south to at least the River Garonne.[83]

[1] The Chronicle of 754, in Conquerors and Chroniclers of Early Medieval Spain, trans. and ed. Kenneth Baxter Wolf, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1990), chap. 79, 143

[2] Roger Collins, The Arab Conquest of Spain, 710-797 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd. 1989), 89.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William E. Watson, “The Battle of Tours-Poitiers Revisited” Providence: Studies in Western Civilization v. 1, no. 2, (Fall, 1993), 56.

[5] Chronicle of 754, chap. 79, 143

[6] Ibid., chap. 79, 142.

[7] Watson, “Battle of Tours-Poitiers”, 56.

[8] Continuations of the Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar, ed. and trans. J. M. Wallace-Hardill (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, LTD., 1960), chap. 13, 90

[9] Ibid.

 [10] Chronicle of 754, chap. 79, 142-143 and Collins, Arab Conquest of Spain, 89.

[11] Chronicle of 754, chap. 79, 143.

[12] Ibid. and note 153.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Watson, “Battle of Tours-Poitiers”, 57.

[15] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 90.

[16] Watson, “Battle of Tours-Poitiers”, 57.

[17] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 143.

[18] Chronicon Moissiacense in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores, Vol. 1, ed. Georg Heinrich Pertz, (Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1826), , s. a. 732, 291.

[19] Watson, “Battle of Tours-Poitiers”, 57.

            [20] Ibid.

            [21] [1] Paul Fouracre, The Age of Charles Martel, (Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, Limited, 2000),  87.

[22] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 90.

[23] Ibn Abd El-Hakem, History of the Conquest of Spain, trans. and ed. John Harris Jones, (London: Williams & Norgate, 1858), 33.

[24] Chronicon Moissiacense, s. a. 732, 291.

[25] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 90.

            [26] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 143.

[27] Ibid.

[28] [1] David Nicolle, Poitiers AD 732: Charles Martel Turns the Islamic Tide (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2008), 47.

[29] Chronicon Moissiacense, s. a. 732, 291 and Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 143-144

            [30] Ibid. chap. 80, 144.

            [31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 90.

[34] Chronicon Moissiacense, s. a. 732, 291.

[35] Fouracre, Charles Martel, 87 and Vita Eucherii Episcopi Aurelianensis in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, Vol. 7, ed. B. Krusch and W. Levison (Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1920), chap. 8, 50.

[36] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144 and Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 90

[37] Vita Eucherii, chap. 8, 50 and Les Grandes Chroniques, trans. Robert Levine, http://people.bu.edu/bobl/grch4+5.htm (accessed June 27, 2012), Book Five, chap. XXVI, and Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 90-91.

[38] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144.

[39] Bernard S. Bachrach, “Animals and Warfare in Early Medieval Europe”, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di sull’alto, Medioevo 31. (1985), 714.

[40] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 91 and Maurice Mercier and Andre Seguin, Charles Martel et la Bataille de Poitiers (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Gethner, 1944), 17.

[41] Ibid., 17-18

[42] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144.

[43] Bachrach, “Animals and Warfare”, 713-714.

            [44] Maurice, Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, trans. George T. Dennis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1984), Book XI, Part 3, 119.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Chronicle of Fredegar, chap. 38, 31.

[47] Flavius Vegetius Renatus, De Re Militari, trans. John Clarke, Book III, chap. 12. http://www.pvv.ntnu.no (accessed June 21, 2012).

[48] Mercier and Seguin, Charles Martel, 19.

[49] Bernard S. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare: Prelude to Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001),  174.

[50] Spencer Tucker, Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, Inc. 2011), 99.

[51] Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, 173 and Izz al-Dīn Ibn Al-Athir, Annales du Maghreb et de l’Espagne, trans. E. Fagnan (Algiers: A. Jourdan, 1901), 58 and Chronicle of 754, chap. 79, 142.

[52] Ibid., chap. 80, 144.

[53] Annales Petaviani in Monumentis Germaniae Historicis: Scriptores, Vol. 1, ed. Georg Heinrich Pertz (Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1826), s. a. 732, 9 and Watson, “Battle of Tours-Poitiers”, 67.

[54] Chronicle of 754, chaps. 79 – 80, 143.

[55] Ibid, chap. 80, 144.

[56] Abd-ar-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, an Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. N. J. Dawood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), 225.

[57] Matthew Bennett, Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World: Equipment, Combat Skills and Tactics (New York: Amber Books, Ltd, 2005), 17.

    [58] Abd-ar-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, an Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. N. J. Dawood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), 226.

[59] Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, 172, note 67 on 355.

[60] Nicolle, Poitiers, 30-31.

[61] Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare 173, note 71 on 355.

[62] Simon Coupland “Carolingian Arms and Armor in the Ninth Century”, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Vol. 21 (1990), 45 and 37.

[63] Bennett, Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World, 71-72.

[64] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144.

[65] Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (New York Routledge, 2003), 210-211.

[66] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 91.

[67] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144.

[68] Ibid.

            [69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 91.

[72] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144

[73] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 13, 91.

[74] Muhammad Al-Makkari, The History of The Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain, Vol. 2, trans. by Pascual de Gayangos (London: W. H. Allen and Co. 1843), 37.

[75] Ibid., 2:33.

[76] El-Hakem, Conquest of Spain, 33.

[77] Vita Pardulfi Abbatis Waractensis in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, Vol. 7, ed. W . Levison (Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1920), chap. 15, 33-34.

[78] Chronicle of 754, chap. 80, 144.

[79] Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, 27.

[80] Annales Mettenses Priores, ed. B. De Simson (Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1905), s .a. 735, 28

[81] Vita Pardulfi, chap. 21, 38.

[82] Les Grandes Chroniques, Book Five, chap. XXVI

[83] Continuations of Fredegar, chap. 15, 91.

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