The battle of Tours in 732 A.D. was the most significant battle in western history because the future of Christianity in Europe depended entirely on the outcome of this battle. In order to fully understand why this battle was so significant and why it was a tipping point in western history, one must understand the events that preceded the Battle of Tours.
The Rise of Islam
The fight for Christianity’s survival began with the rise and spread of Islam in the 7th century. Islam was born in the early 620s when a man named Muhammad started receiving visions. Muhammad, aged in his late thirties, claimed that he was “called to become the last of the prophets” (Chris and Ted Stewart, 153). The message was very clear: There was only one God (Allah) and God called all of His sons on Earth to submit to His will.
Muhammad was called to spread God’s word throughout all the land with this message: “In the life hereafter, we will all be judged and either awarded with a heavenly home or assigned a burning place in hell” (153). This message was no different than that of Christianity. The only difference between early Islam and early Christianity was how the message was spread. Islam favored conversion through the sword and through suppression, whilst Christianity through love, education, and negotiation.
In the early 620s, Muhammad managed to convert his family and few of the other townspeople in the village of Mecca, his home city. Though, he was met with great resistance and persecution, so he was forced to flee Mecca. Muhammad sought refuge in the city of Medina where he was welcomed. There he found many supporters who rallied to his cause and became ardent believers.
Within a short period of time, Muhammad became ruler of Medina and soon thereafter, Medina converted to Islam. He then waged war against Mecca. It was a long, drawn-out battle, but Muhammad prevailed. Mecca finally capitulated after eight long and hard years of war and all of its inhabitants were forced to convert to Islam.
The Spread of Islam
Legend has it that Muhammad was raptured and ascended into heaven. Regardless of what really happened to him, within a hundred years after his death in 632, Islam had grown from a few hundred converts to an empire that encompassed a huge swathe of territory, from the borders of China to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean; as far north as the Pyrenees mountains and as far south as Egypt.
It was the wealthiest and most powerful empire in the world at the time. The Islamic armies amassed a huge amount of booty and slaves from victorious battles. They also established trading relations throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe which provided the caliphate with even greater wealth and resources to keep on expanding the Islamic Empire. Through trade, the Muslims absorbed much culture and scientific knowledge from Greeks, Persians, Chinese, and Indians. The caliphate took that knowledge and refined it to create technological and scientific advancements of their own.
The World at a Tipping Point
The world in the early 8th century was at a tipping point. Islam took center stage in the world economy and religion. There was no stopping them from further expanding northward into western and central Europe and eastward into Byzantine-held territory.
Christians were regarded as infidels. Consequently, all Christians living in Muslim-held territories were treated as second-class citizens. They were taxed so heavily; many were forced to convert to Islam.
Sultan and Muslim commander alike were determined to unite the entire world under Islam but Christianity was an obstacle that stood in their way. It had to be removed.
In the opening decades of the 8th century, the Muslim armies under commander Abd al-Rahman, ventured into southern France and led raids there. Abdul al-Rahman discovered the conditions in France (then called Gaul) were quite favorable. The French kingdoms had been severely weakened by civil war that raged between them. For that reason, they seemed highly unlikely to make any kind of unified resistance against Abdul al-Rahman’s united and numerically superior army.
Al-Rahman invaded, thinking that Gaul would be an easy takeover. Chris and Ted Stewart wrote that the Arabs “came with their wives, children, and belonging, making it very clear that they intended to stay in France” (164). Not only was their army huge, the Muslims possessed every piece of siege equipment they needed to smash through fortified walls of every castle and city that resisted them. They plundered their way through much of Gaul. It wasn’t long “before they controlled all of the significant cities and a vast amount of the territory in southern and eastern Gaul” (165).
In response, Prince Eudes, the duke of Aquitaine, gathered a small army and confronted the Muslims, but he was roundly defeated. He and what remained of his army fled to the port city of Bordeaux, but the Muslims pursued him and sacked the city.
One Arab historian describes their victories in Gaul:
“(T)he Moslems smote their enemies, and passed the river Garonne, and laid waste the country, and took captives without number. Prosperity made those warriors insatiable…Everything gave way to their scimitars, which were the robbers of lives. All the nations of the Franks trembled at that terrible army,” (quoted in Chris and Ted Stewart, 165-66).
After Bordeaux had been taken, Duke Eudes attempted a second assault against the Muslims, but he was badly defeated once again. Desperate, he fled north to Paris where he met up with Charles Martel. For reasons unknown, Duke Eudes and Charles were enemies, however, the two men put aside their grievances for the sake of Christendom.
Charles, duke of the Austrasian Franks, was famed for his prowess in battle and decisive leadership skills. He had spent his entire adult years fighting the pagan hordes across the Rhine and also for control at home. Prior to 732, Charles fought in at least a dozen major campaigns throughout Europe. His courage and strength earned him the title ‘Martel’ or ‘Hammer’ because “as a hammer breaks and crushes iron steel, and all other metals, so did he break up and crush his enemies,” (quoted in Stewart, 168).
Duke Eudes and all of the other Frankish barons recognized Charles as the only man capable of defeating the ravaging invaders. Though Charles had no standing army, he had a small number of highly trained, skilled, and disciplined soldiers who were ardently loyal to him. These men had marched with and fought alongside Charles on his campaigns throughout Europe, so Charles knew he could count on them.
When Charles learnt of Al-Rahman’s invasion of Gaul, he immediately summoned a call to war. He was joined by his comrades as well as other soldiers in other regions of Europe who were just as desperate to oust the Muslims.
The actual size of the Christian army is unknown, but what is known is this: Every Christian solider knew that theirs was the only army to defend Christendom. The western world was at a tipping point and, should they fail, Christendom would be taken over and Christianity stamped out. This realization must have struck terror into their hearts, but it also motivated them.
The Battle of Tours 732 AD
Charles gathered his army somewhere south of Tours. There, they waited for the advancing Muslim army. Charles used the terrain as a tactic; he and his army hid in the forest atop of the hills surrounding the area. This was one strategy that would aid in his victory against the Muslims.
Meanwhile, Abd al-Rahman, overconfident that Gaul was his for the taking, took his time, raiding and looting en route to Tours. He knew through a network of spies that the Franks had assembled an army under Charles Martel and that they were stationed near Tours. As he approached Tours, Al-Rahman assembled his troops, prepared to confront the Franks. Though, he was more than confident that his far numerically superior and organized army would quickly and easily crush them. When he encountered an organized and heavily armed Frankish force, Al-Rahman must have been shocked to his core. So much that he hesitated.
There were other reasons why Al-Rahman hesitated: The Franks were located in among the forest uphill, so there was no way of him knowing how large the Frankish army actually was. His army would also have to march uphill and through the forest in order to engage them and Al-Rahman needed some time to summon the scattered regiments of his army. Time, though, was not on his side. It was October, winter was just around the corner, and the Muslims lacked the physical stamina for cold-weather warfare. Also, his men were anxious to fight.
A couple of light skirmishes took place over the next couple of days in which Al-Rahman attempted to lure the Franks into open battle. But Charles knew this tactic all too well, so he held firm.
Finally, on Sunday 25 October, the two armies met in battle. Abd Al-Rahman organized his army in a broad-front formation and issued the attack. Meanwhile, Charles organized his troops in a phalanx position in efforts to ward off the onslaught.
The battle raged on all day. The sound of clanging swords, men’s cries, and death rang throughout the surrounding countryside. Bodies littered the ground and blood stained the earth as thousands of men died. Against all odds, the Franks held out. Somehow and someway a contingent of Franks had managed to attack the Muslim camp at their rear. That forced Al-Rahman and his soldiers to retreat to defend their families and their possessions at their camp. While they were retreating, Charles ordered a counterattack.
The counterattack was just as fierce and bloody. It ended when Charles was forced to withdraw. But sometime during the battle, Abd al-Rahman died when a javelin pierced through his body.
The Muslims were lost without their leader. They must have decided it was not worth the effort to continue their conquest without such a strong and capable leader. Sometime during that night, they abandoned their camp and all of their loot, including their slaves, and retreated back to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain).
Charles Martel, Savior of Christendom
Charles Martel emerged as more than just a victor. He was the savior of Christendom and Christianity. Had that javelin pierced through his body instead, there is absolutely no doubt that Al-Rahman’s army would have conquered all of Europe. The question is: If Charles Martel fell in battle, would Christianity exist today? It’s hard to say, but history would have taken a fundamentally different turn and our world would be quite different.
Byfield, Ted and Paul Stanway. The Sword of Islam A.D. 565 to 740. The Christians;
Clayton, Matt. The Middle Ages: Captivating History. Captivating History, 2019.
Stewart, Chris and Ted. 7 Tipping Points That Saved the World. Shadow Mountain;
Salt Lake City, Utah, 2011.