Monday, October 10, 2011


The Battle of Tours (or Portiers) was fought on this day in 732 A.D., wherein Charles Martel (Charles “The Hammer”), the de facto King of the Franks, clashed with an Islamic expeditionary force under the command of Abd-er-Rahman. Barely a century following the birth of Islam, the Umayyad Caliphate controlled all of the Middle East and North Africa, and its leaders conspired to seize upon Europe through concurrent, pincer-like invasions from both the east and the west. Their way upon the eastern front was checked, however, by the still powerful Byzantine Empire, with its glittering capitol at Constantinople. Following a second attempt to lay siege to the Byzantine capitol, the Arab forces were soundly defeated on both land and sea by Emperor Leo III in 718.

The situation in western Europe, however, was far less sure. Much of Europe was still pagan or only recently converted to the Christian faith. A great deal of instability prevailed in the centuries following the collapse of the western Roman Empire, as one barbarian tribe vied with another for supremacy across the whole continent. In fact, the Muslims first set foot on the Iberian peninsula at the invitation of the warlord Rodrigo, who, in 710, foolishly sought their aid in gaining the upper hand over a rival faction in a squabble over control of the Visigothic throne. Once gaining a foothold, the Islamic forces quickly swept Rodrigo and the rest aside, overran the entire peninsula, and began pouring over the Pyrennes, where they made mincemeat of the ramshackle collection of provinces and duchies which then constituted western Gaul (France, as we know it today).

But Charles, in his capacity as Mayor of the Palace (comparable to a modern-day Prime Minister) to the “do-nothing” Frankish King, was determined to oppose them. Despite the disorganized political atmosphere, and the fact that Charles' army consisted only of infantry while the Saracen host included a substantial contingent of cavalry, the Franks were victorious, driving the invaders back over the Pyrennes and into Spain, where they would hold sway for another 700 years, before the last remnants were driven out by Fredinand and Isabellla in the fifteenth century. As for Charles, his son Pepin the Short and grandson Charles the Great (Charlemagne) continued his legacy, and, upon the foundation made possible by the victory at Tours, established a Christian empire in central Europe marked by political stability and a revival of learning and the arts. This Carolingian Renaissance, encouraged greatly by two men from Britain, the missionary Boniface and the scholar Alcuin, would provide seed for the propagation of the gospel and of Christian culture all throughout Europe in the coming generations.

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