The Battle of Tours

  By Timotheus, October 2002; Revised
Contents »
1. Introduction

The Battle of Tours, although not as earth-shattering as some western historians have written it up to be, was nonetheless crucial in the development of Christian Europe.

2. Background Historical Information

In a forest, on the banks of the Loire River, on the road between Tours and Poiters in France, two armies faced each other. It was October in the year 732 A.D. By the tenth day of the month the future of Europe would be decided. Who were these armies, and why was this moment so important? Read on, for a look at one of the most fascinating battles in the history of the world.

Before that can be done, however, we need to take a look at the events that led up to the battle. A hundred and ten years earlier, Muhammad had started the religion of Islam; after his death in 632, it spread throughout the Middle East. From their capital in Damascus the Umayyad Caliphs spread their religion by the sword, conquering Northern Africa in the late 600s. In 713 the conquest of Spain was complete. No doubt the Europeans on the other side of the Pyrenees felt a little threatened.

They were right to feel so. Thirsting for riches, glory, and new converts, the Moslems sent raiding parties into France throughout 732, and in October of that year , an overwhelming force of Moslems crossed the Pyrenees and headed toward the French city of Tours , pillaging as they went. Christians say the Moslems had 400,000 horsemen; Moslem sources put the number at 60,000. According to the historian Edward Creasy, the Arab number diminishes but is the closer of the two numbers.

2.1 Abd-er-Rahman
The Moslem armies were led by Abd ar-Rahman ibn-Abdallah. He had become governor of Spain in 721 and was purported to be a model of integrity and justice, as well as an excellent general.

2.2 Charles Martel
The leader of the Franks and the representative of Christianity against Islam could not have been more different. He was Charles Martel, an illegitimate son of Pepin of Heristal, Mayor of the Palace. After a long and hard fight for the succession, Charles put a puppet on the throne in 717 and assumed the title Mayor of the Palace. He spent most of the rest of his life conquering other kingdoms and putting down rebellions, preparing the way for his sons. 

2.3 Duke Eudo

While Charles and the legitimate grandson of Pepin were fighting, Eudo, Duke of Aquitaine, saw an opportunity to escape his fiefdom to the Franks and declared independence. This displeased Charles, who, after he won the throne in France, defeated Eudo but had to leave without finishing him off because of Germanic aggression in the northeast . In 721 Eudo banished the ever-approaching Moslems from his kingdom, but in 725 they resurged and penetrated as far as Burgundy . Eudo, unable to stop them, made peace by marrying his daughter to Othmar, a renegade Moslem who controlled an area of the northern Pyrenees.

2.4 Before the Battle

This act angered both Charles and Abd-er-Rahman. In 731, Abd-er-Rahman killed Othmar in battle and overran Aquitaine. Abd-er-Rahman decided to head further into France, and to Tours. Eudo escaped to Paris, where he met Charles, who was preparing an army to go after him! Eudo begged for Charles’ help in turning back the Moslems. Charles agreed, but only on the condition that Eudo swear allegiance and never again break himself from the rule of the Franks . Eudo accepted, and the Frankish army marched toward Tours as well. What happened next did not change the world. But it prevented the world from being changed.

3. The Battle

3.1 Early Arab Successes

Abd-er-Rahman, nearing Tours, unexpectedly found Charles’ army; he had thought Charles to be still in the northwest. Abd-er-Rahman hoped that the Franks would take the offensive. An Arab account of the battle gives many excuses for the poor performance of the Arabs:

“What frightened him most of all was the possibility of losing his army among the forests and the streams… It was bitterly cold weather, with the Arabs still dressed for their summer campaigns. The wolf pelts of the Franks helped them in the icy cold.”

For seven days the two armies each waited for the other to attack. On the seventh day, Abd-er-Rahman attacked.

“Charles held firm, forming his men in a hollow square to take the main charge of the Arabs while dispatching raiders along unfrequented forest pathways to attack the Arabs in the rear. The Arabs, once guerrillas, had reverted to a classical mode of warfare, and were no match for the Franks, who numbered many more well-equipped soldiers than the Arab spies had indicated. Also, the Franks were fighting with the river at their back, and could not retreat even if they had wanted to. The Arabs marching through France had acquired immense booty, and this too worked in the favor of the Franks, who were not weighed down with the task of guarding their treasure, nor did they possess baggage trains of any kind.”

The Arab accounts claim that the battle lasted two days, while according to Christian sources the battle raged for seven. The Arab account is likely closer to the truth; seven days was a long time even then for a battle to progress with no one getting the upper hand, and seven was a number admired by Christians of that era.

The Arab army was almost entirely formed of cavalry. In previous battles, the sight of the Arabian cavalry charging had always put the enemy to flight. Thus the Arabs had begun to regard their cavalry as invincible. In addition, they had many more soldiers than the Franks . But, in a rare instance where medieval infantry stood up against cavalry charges, the disciplined Frankish soldiers withstood the determined charges, though according to Arab sources, their cavalry several times broke into the interior of the Frankish square.

3.2 The Franks Chase After the Treasure Carts

“As the battle progressed, the Franks began to waver. Not in vain had Hisham [the caliph that ruled at that time] ordered his best metalsmiths to study the problems of armor. Behind their coats of mail, their pointed helmets, their horses clothed in chain mail, the Arabs were almost impregnable. They were on the verge of victory when the Franks fought their way toward the treasure carts.” A portion of the Arabs forgot the battle and ran to the defense of the carts. To many of the rest of the troops, this looked like a retreat. Soon it was one. “Abd ar-Rahman ordered his troops back into line, but he was too late. A lance killed him. Then, while the armies were still fighting confusedly, night fell. Both armies retired to lick their wounds.”

3.3 The Arabs Retreat

It appears that the lieutenants of Abd-er-Rahman bickered among themselves about who would become the next leader. They could not decide peacefully, and in the night withdrew over the Pyrenees back into Spain. When Charles’ army awoke the next morning, the tents of the Arabs were still in formation. Charles sent in spies when no Arabs were seen. He prepared his army for an ambush when it was reported that no Arabs were in the tents either. But when it became obvious that the hitherto invincible Saracen cavalry had retreated, they did not “trouble to pursue the fugitives, [but]…contented themselves with sharing the spoils and returning right gladly to their own country.” The casualties of the battle were at least 1,500 Christians and at most 375,000 Arabs.

4. Why was the battle won?

At first glance it seems that it was the remarkable bravery of the Franks in the face of the Moslem charge. Yet if we are to believe even some of the accounts of the Arabs, we will find that the Moslems were on the verge of victory. No, it was the desperate act of a few Franks who made their way to the treasure carts of the Arabs, and began taking them away. It was the greed of a small portion of the Arab army , who, seeing their precious treasure being taken away, broke ranks and chased after it, leaving a greater treasure behind. It was the cowardice of the rest of the Arab army, who, normally brave when on the offensive, mistaking the chase of the treasure for a retreat, withdrew from the fight. It was the one spear that found its mark in the heart of Abd-er-Rahman. It was the jealousy and lust for power of the lieutenants of Abd-er-Rahman , who would not agree on one commander and return to the fight, but instead, because they could not choose among themselves, withdrew over the Pyrenees, never to return again. The Battle of Tours was lost by the Arabs because of the common fallacies of men!

5. Of what importance was the battle of Tours?

The most common response is that this was the high-water mark of Islam in Europe. This “turned the tide in the undeclared war against Western Europe.” If the battle had not been won, the path would have been clear for an advance through

Charles Martel
Charles Martel
Europe. As Edward Gibbon’s famous line runs, “A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. 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 Muhammed.”

However, Abd-er-Rahman’s men were equipped for raiding, not invading. They might have been able to succeed in conquering some of the cities but would have had no way of holding them, although it is true that this was the bulk of the Frankish (French) army, and the path would have been cleared for a big invasion.

Could the Franks, if they had lost, regrouped and pushed back the Moslems? Sir Edward Creasy disagrees, saying, “It is unlikely a lesser man could have succeeded where his superior had failed.” That is likely true, but the Moslems would have had severe trouble with peasant revolts. Creasy himself says in his book when describing why Charles went after Abd-er-Rahman so quickly: “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.” The Moslems would not have been able to hold France for long without sufficient military dictatorship. The same would likely be true throughout the rest of Europe.

Could the Moslems, after having lost, regrouped and reinvaded? We must remember that it was never the intent of the Moslems to invade. It was only to pillage and loot. And likely all future invasion plans were put on hold when it was seen how bravely the Franks resisted the charge of the cavalry. A monkish chronicler states that 375,000 Arab horsemen died in the battle ; while this is obviously an exaggeration, even Arab accounts state that many Arabs died in the battle, and it would have been hard to recruit and train more horsemen. In addition, within 50 years the Umayyad dynasty crumbled, and internal strife within the empire would have prevented any further campaigns. Likely they would not even have the time to consider, much less the troops to accomplish, a reinvasion.

So perhaps, as William E. Watson wrote, “the importance of the Battle of Tours has been greatly exaggerated over the passage of time, and that the only reason it's noteworthy of all, is that after the conclusion of this battle, Muslim invasions of Western Europe ceased.” Yet, that was important. A boundary was now clearly set between Christian and Moslem, and aside from the Spaniards taking back their homeland, the Crusades, and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, there would be no further conflict between the two. Both religions were left to develop and to nurture cultures. And, as is so often mentioned in analyses of the battle, this ensured that Christianity, not Islam, would be the dominant religion in Europe, and by extension the New World. All invasion plans of Europe were destroyed along with much of the Arab army in this battle.

6. The Battle of Tours was no magic bullet

Many French cities were still held by the Arabs, from previous, smaller incursions. But this had been the turning point. Charles, given the surname Martel (or Tudites in Latin, both meaning “The Hammer”) after this battle, continued to retake Arab cities for the Franks. He “summoned the assistance of the Lombards, instigated a revolt by the Basques and Gascons in the south, and harried the enemy unmercifully. Avignon was recaptured for the Franks, and Nimes, long occupied by the Arabs, was put to flames. Terror in France led to terror in Spain, where the governor was taken prisoner and killed by rebels. Narbonne was abandoned by its commander, and one by one the captured cities of France were reconquered by the Franks.”

After this battle, Charles returned to Paris (even then the capital of the Franks) and continued to govern the Franks and fight battles. Upon his death in 741, a little more than nine years since his famous battle, his sons, not content with the title Mayor of the Palace, assumed the kingship and divided the kingdom among themselves. The son of one of them is forever etched into the history of Europe, just as his grandfather is. He ushered in a new chapter in the history of Europe. His name was Charles as well, but he is often called Charles the Great. In Latin he is called Charlemagne.


Some historians call the battle The Battle of Tours while other name it The Battle of Poiters. Tours is more commonly known, so I will use it for this paper. However, Poiters is likely the more correct.

The people who ruled the Moslem world at the time.

Some historians say this date is inaccurate, and that the battle took place in 733. Reid Culp,

Reid Culp,

Reputed to have great riches in that time. Reid Culp,

It appears that Christian sources magnify their victory while Arab sources minimize the defeat. David Merkel, personal interview.

Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, p. 162.

Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, p. 162.

The Frankish kings were usually figureheads; the Mayor of the Palace or majordomo was the power behind the throne. and Paul Davis, 100 Decisive Battles, p. 105

Also known as Eudes.
Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles, p. 103.
Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles, p. 103
Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles, p. 103
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 142
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 142
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 142
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 143
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 143
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 143 and
Isidore of Beja’s Chronicle, cited in;actionfiltered=display;threadid=2069
Both numbers from St. Denis. Obviously an exaggeration.
Sir Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, p. 169. Quoted in;actionfiltered=display;threadid=2069
Reid Culp,
Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 143
Reid Culp,

Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. VII, p. 17. Quoted in
Paul Davis, 100 Decisive Battles, p. 105

Sir Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World

Sir Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, p. 163

Sir Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, p. 164

Robert Payne, The History of Islam

William E. Watson

Reid Culp,
Reid Culp,

Likely a reference to the favorite weapon of Thor, the Scandinavian god. Sir Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, p. 162.

Robert Payne, The History of Islam, p. 143.
Paul Davis, 100 Decisive Battles, p. 105

Both images from Reid Culp,


Creasy, Edward. 15 Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo. Dorset Press: New York, 1852.

Davis, Paul. 100 Decisive Battles: from ancient times to the present. Oxford University Press: New York, 1999.

Gibbon, Edward. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Doubleday: New York, 1776.

Payne, Robert. The History of Islam. Dorset Press: New York, 1959.

Culp, Reid. <>

 Watson, William E. <>