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HISTORY CORNER: Battle that saved Western Civilization

by SYD ALBRIGHT
| May 30, 2021 1:00 AM

THE Battle of Tours took place on Oct. 10, 732 A.D. somewhere between the cities of Poitiers and Tours in Aquitaine in western France 100 years after the death of Muhammad, the founder of Islam — Arabic for “submission — that preaches there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet."

The battle lasted only one day, but its significance was huge.

An army that included farmers under the leadership of Charles Martel who was born in Heristal, Belgium, in the late 600s and later became King of the Franks, defeated the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate cavalry heading north from the Iberian Peninsula — even though outnumbered 40,000 or more to 15,000.

Martel’s foot-soldiers carried shields and swords, but no body armor.

At that time, those Moors may have been the most powerful military in the world.

From Spain, they crossed the Pyrenees, planning either to expand their domain, plunder cities — or both. Historians still debate what the Umayyad motive was.

When they faced Charles Martel and his troops in the Battle of Tours, they failed, and a major threat to Western Civilization and its growing Christian faith was stopped.

In the centuries that followed, countless battles continued to take place pitting Christians and Muslims across Europe and the Middle East — including the Crusades — but never again after the Battle of Tours would Islam make major gains north of the Iberian Peninsula.

This is a story of a clash of cultures whose beginning is uncertain — but let’s start with Clovis I, the first king of the Franks who united all of the Frankish tribes under one leader instead of Europe being a patchwork of small fiefdoms ruled by kings or chieftains.

Clovis ruled much of Gaul from 481 to 511, during a time when the Roman Empire was transforming into European nation states.

Like many, Clovis was a pagan, but his wife Clotilde was Christian.

He scoffed at her beliefs until one day during the Battle of Tobiac against the Alemanni (a confederation of Germanic tribes), his troops were near exhaustion and defeat. He looked to the sky and prayed:

“Jesus Christ, whom Clotilde declares to be the son of the living God, who it is said givest aid to the oppressed and victory to those who put their hopes in thee, I beseech thy… aid. If thou shalt grant me victory over these enemies… I will believe in thee, and be baptized in thy name.”

The prayer was answered with a victory, after which he and his men were baptized.

History credits Clovis with making all of Europe Christian — except the Iberian Peninsula — and is considered to have been the founder of the Merovingian dynasty that ruled the Frankish kingdom for two centuries until the rise of the Carolingians in the 8th century.

Clovis is also credited as being the founder of France.

He died in Paris in 511 at the age of 45.

In 711, Muslim Umayyad-led Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula and within seven years defeated the Visigoths, a Germanic people who had ruled the peninsula for some 300 years.

The Moors ruled most of Iberia for some 800 years — reaching its peak with the Umayyad caliphate of Cordova in the 10th century — finally ending in 1492, the year that Columbus discovered the New World.

But the Muslims never did take over the rest of Europe to the north — being stopped by Charles Martel in 732 in a battle somewhere between Tours and Poitiers in west-central France — modern scholarship still hasn’t located exactly where the battle took place.

For six days before the battle, both sides played cat-and-mouse with each other.

Martel, who was then Mayor of the Palace of the eastern Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, knew he had the advantage of being on the wooded high ground where cavalry operations would be difficult — so he waited.

Finally on the seventh day, Moorish leader Abd al-Rahman ibn Abd Allah al-Ghafiqi decided to attack.

Martel lined up his troops in a phalanx-like squares, holding their shields all around and over their heads. Despite having horses, lances, swords and mail body armor, the Moors couldn’t penetrate, as the phalanxes held their ground.

Meanwhile, Martel sent a raiding party to the enemy camp to capture their supplies and plunder. Also in the camp were the Moors’ wives and concubines. When the cavalry heard what was happening, many quit the fight and raced back to camp to protect their women and booty.

In the ensuing years, the Muslims would suffer more defeats. Those defeats split the Islamic world, and left the Caliphate unable to mount a major attack on Europe from their Iberian stronghold after 750 A.D.

Charles Martel started his climb to glory as a Mayor of the Palace — a position of power and influence handling the estates of the ruling class.

They often wielded more power than their masters.

As Mayor, Martel rose to authority over the courts, advised the king on royal appointees, and eventually even commanded the royal army.

Charles Martel became one of the great military commanders of his times.

He died in Paris in 511 A.D. and was succeeded by his son Pepin III, also known as Pepin the Short, or Pepin the Younger, who continued his father’s battle against Muslim incursion.

In one important encounter in 759, he defeated the Arabs in the French city of Narbonne, ending the Muslin advance into France — like his father did at Tours.

Nine years later, Pepin died and his son Carolus Magnus — the historic Charlemagne — succeeded to the throne and became the most important European ruler in Medieval times.

From Charlemagne’s time to Columbus, different Muslim factions battled not only the defenders of Christendom, but also each other for control — one Iberian faction even inviting Charlemagne to help them oust their rivals.

Seeing an opportunity to extend Christendom, he agreed to help.

He didn’t succeed however, and after he pulled out, tragedy struck.

On the way back to France, his troops were ambushed in the Pyrenees by Basques, and his rearguard was killed to the last man. Then the attackers looted the baggage train and slipped away in the dark of night, without leaving a trace.

The rest of Charlemagne’s men got away safely.

At Christmas Mass in 800 A.D., Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor.

Today, some call Charlemagne the Father of Europe — a towering figure of his time who introduced social, economic, educational, political and administrative reform in both state and church that helped unify his vast empire.

Charlemagne — who may have been as tall as 6-foot-4 — also established a new monetary standard, replacing gold with silver because there wasn’t enough gold available to service the growing economy.

Called the “livre carolinienne,” the new system was based on a pound of silver being divided into 240 pieces — like the old British pound equaling 240 pence — and was coupled with a new universal accounting system.

Charlemagne had 18 children, born from eight of his 10 known wives or concubines.

He died on Jan. 28, 814 A.D. in Aachen, Germany, where his tomb now rests.

Charlemagne’s reform legacy was an amazing feat — giving substance and strength to the burgeoning Western Civilization that was just emerging from the Dark Ages into the light of the Carolingian Renaissance.

His efforts produced a blooming of the arts, science, education, intellectual endeavor, and ensured the survival of Christianity in the West.

Charlemagne accomplished this despite not being able to read or write — though he tried to learn late in life. He did learn to speak Latin and some Greek, adding to his ability to communicate with his subjects in their languages.

Throughout the 13 centuries since Martel’s victory at the Battle of Tours, there’s been ongoing conflict and violence between Christianity and Islam.

The 21st century marks a seismic cultural shift as both faiths seek dominance in the modern world. Millions of Muslims have immigrated to Western nations for a variety of reasons — seeking asylum, better jobs, education, or perhaps just “a better life.”

Not to be forgotten is the underlying goal of some of the divergent branches of Islam such as the pan-Islamists to unite the world into one universal Islamic Caliphate, governed under Sharia Law.

Charles Martel and Charlemagne would no doubt be alarmed at how their world has changed.

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Contact Syd Albright at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

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Moors contribute to culture…

During the time that Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula, they did a good job in many ways. Their beautiful architecture still exists and is a proud Spanish heritage. A 9th century Moor poet and singer named Ziryab was also interested in astronomy, cosmetics, cooking, while also introducing the three-course meal, table etiquette, new foods including asparagus, and invented deodorants and pleasant tasting toothpaste.

Who were the Franks?

The Franks were a Germanic-speaking people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century that included today’s northern France, Belgium and western Germany, establishing the most powerful Christian kingdom of early medieval western Europe. France is named after them.

Martel a founder of feudalism…

Charles Martel was a founding figure of the European Middle Ages, a skilled administrator and warrior who introduced heavy armored cavalry to his army, and is credited with establishing the responsibilities of the knights of courts, and the Frankish system of feudalism.

Mysterious death…

When Charlemagne’s father Pepin the Short died, he shared power with his younger brother Carloman. They didn’t get along however, and in 769, Carloman refused to support his brother in putting down a revolt in Aquitaine. Two years later, Carloman suddenly died — allegedly from nosebleed or peptic ulcer. Charlemagne then took over all of his brother’s land and became sole King of the Franks. Historians still debate what really happened.

Charlemagne and Hitler…

Charlemagne fought the Saxons in today’s northwest Germany for many years, and in 782 is said to have ordered the execution of around 4,500 Saxons who refused to reject their pagan ways and convert to Christianity. Hitler took advantage of that in 1935 by raising a monument to the victims, and demonizing Charlemagne and the Catholic Church. But Hitler changed his mind in 1942, celebrating Charlemagne’s 1200th birthday, calling him a symbol of German superiority.

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The Muslims were moving north from the Iberian Peninsula into mostly Christian Europe and they were stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D., but that was not the end of the Muslim threat.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Geographic region called the Maghreb, where the Moors came from, crossing the strait of Gibraltar, bringing Islam to the Iberian Peninsula in 711 A.D.

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Charles Martel was a brilliant strategic military leader and tactician, who was always one jump ahead of his enemies, all of which in the long-run saved Europe from Muslim domination and the destruction of Christianity in Europe.

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Tombs of King Clovis II of France (foreground) and Charles Martel in the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris.

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PHOTO ISTOCK

Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 A.D.), grandson of Charles Martel, was king of the Franks who founded the Holy Roman Empire, stimulated Europe’s economy, political life and culture, while waging ongoing battles against competing forces — especially the Saxons — while holding the Muslims in Iberia back from reinvading Europe, north of the Pyrenees.

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The Visigoths were a pagan Germanic people who sacked Rome in 410 A.D., settled in southern Gaul before taking over the Iberian Peninsula, then converting to Christianity and remaining there until the Muslim conquest in 711.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Don Rodrigo was the last king of the Visigoths, and was defeated by invading Muslims in July 711 A.D. at the Battle of Guadalete in Iberia.

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Painting of Pepin the Short (AKA Pepin the Younger), son of Charles Martel and father of Charlemagne, being reconsecrated in Paris as King of the Franks by Pope Stephen II, after Pepin agreed to protect him and the Church from the Lombards and Muslims.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Charlemagne’s tomb is in Aachen Cathedral, Aachen, Germany, and was opened by Emperor Otto II in 1000 A.D., with an early chronicle stating, “He had not lost any of his members to decay, except only the tip of his nose. Emperor Otto replaced this with gold, took a tooth from Charles's mouth, walled up the entrance to the chamber and withdrew.”

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Moorish architecture of The Royal Alcázars palace of Seville in Spain.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Countries where Muslims are at least 10 percent of the population, the different colors in this map denoting different branches of Islam.

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BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

In recent time, Muslim refugees from many countries are flooding into Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia and elsewhere, bringing Islamic religion, laws and culture.