Saturday, October 12, 2013

On October 10, 732 AD....

At NRO Raymond Ibrahim describes one of those consequential turning point events in history. Once upon a time every school child would have known of Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours:
Precisely 100 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632, his Arab followers, after having fought across thousands of miles and conquered lands from Arabia to Spain, found themselves in Gaul, the territory that would become modern-day France, facing a hitherto little-known people, the Christian Franks.

There, on October 10, in the year 732, one of history’s most decisive battles took place, demarcating the extent of Islam’s western conquests and ensuring the survival of the West. ....

...[T]he battle-hardened Frankish ruler, Charles, aware of their intentions, had begun rallying his liegemen to his standard. Having risen to power in France in 717 — the same year a mammoth Muslim army was laying siege to Byzantium — Charles appreciated the significance of the Islamic threat. Accordingly, he intercepted the invaders somewhere between Poitiers and Tours. The chroniclers give amazing numbers concerning the Muslims; some said as many as 300,000. Suffice it to say, the Franks were greatly outnumbered; most historians are content with the figures of 80,000 Muslims against 30,000 Franks.

The Muslim force consisted mainly of cavalry and was geared for offensive warfare. The vast majority being of Berber extraction, they wore little armor, though their elite Arab overlords were at least chain-mailed. For arms, they relied on the sword and the lance; arrows were little used.

Conversely, the Franks were primarily an infantry force (except for mounted nobles such as Charles). Relying on deep phalanx formations and heavy armor — reportedly 70 pounds for each man — the Franks were as immovable as the Muslims were mobile. They also appear to have had a greater variety of weaponry: The shield was ubiquitous, and arms included swords, daggers, javelins, and two kinds of axes, one for wielding and the other for throwing....

Writes an anonymous Arab chronicler: “Near the river Owar [Loire], the two great hosts of the two languages and the two creeds [Islam and Christianity] were set in array against each other. The hearts of Abd al-Rahman, his captains, and his men were filled with wrath and pride, and they were the first to begin to fight. The Muslim horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun.”

According to the Chronicle of 754, much of which was composed from eyewitness accounts, “The men of the north stood as motionless as a wall, they were like a belt of ice frozen together, and not to be dissolved, as they slew the Arab with the sword. The Austrasians [Franks], vast of limb, and iron of hand, hewed on bravely in the thick of the fight; it was they who found and cut down the Saracens’ king [Rahman].” ....

As night fell, the Muslims and Christians disengaged and withdrew to their tents. With the coming of dawn, the Franks discovered that the Muslims, perhaps seized with panic because their emir was dead, had fled south during the night — still looting, burning, and plundering all and sundry as they went. ....

...[A]ny number of historians...would go on to say that the Battle of Tours “must ever remain one of the great events in the history of the world, as upon its issue depended whether Christian Civilization should continue or Islam prevail throughout Europe.” .... [more]