The Battle of Poitiers: Fighting that Determined the Fate of Christian Europe

Charles de Steuben’s Bataille de Poitiers en October 732 romantically depicts a triumphant Charles Martel (mounted) facing Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Tours.

Today there is a tendency in the world to justify radical Islam by its supporters, and one of the main arguments in favor of terrorist attacks and violence is the fact that back in the day Christians also organized atrocious Crusades and annihilated the peaceful Muslim population.

Indeed, the history of the Crusades is full of blood, but let’s remember where the crusader campaign began from. To answer the questions of confrontation between the Christian and Muslim civilizations, we need to turn to the pages of history.

As you know, after the uprising of Islam and occupation of Mecca by Muslims, this religion began to spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula and, eventually, became Pan Arabic. After the death of the main prophet of Muslims, Mohammed, in 632, his followers began to occupy more and more lands, spreading Islam and Arab culture and language throughout the region and far beyond its borders with fire and sword: at the peak of is Power the Arab Caliphate occupied vast territories from the Atlantic Ocean to China.

One of the most tragic pages in the history of the Christian world was the occupation of Jerusalem and  the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the main sanctuary of Christians by Muslims in 638  where, according to legend, Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and then resurrected.

In 668, Arab hordes attacked the capital of the Christian empire of Byzantium, Constantinople, and besieged it for five years.

After conquering Sasanian Iran with its Zoroastrian and Christian population after occupying Christian Syria, Egypt, and North Africa and shoving aside the weakening Byzantium, the Arabs set their eyes on Europe.

Starting in 711, almost the entire Pyrenean Peninsula (now Spain) passed under their control, and 8 years later the Arabs managed to cross the Pyrenean and seize the territory of modern southern France.

Europe seemed to repeat the fate of the entire Christian Middle East.

The Beginning of the End of the Islamic Expansion to the West

At the beginning of the 8th century the territory of modern France, on the lands of the former Roman Gallia, stretched out to the state of the Frank – the Frankish kingdom, where during the reign of 15-year-old King Dagobert III, the state was ruled by Major Karl Martell.

Desolating southern Gallia, clenching rich trophies and captives, in 732 the Arabs moved north to the city of Tours, where the rich St. Martin’s Basilica was located – the most revered sanctuary of Western Europe at that time.

Upon learning of the approach of the enemy, Karl Martell forced marches, widely using the well-furnished Roman roads, moved towards the enemy, and reached the Arab army in the fields of Poitiers.

Karl did not attack first, he awaited the attack 6 days: for a whole week the opponents camped against each other, limiting themselves to threats, reconnaissance and minor skirmishes.

On the seventh day, in the morning of October 10, in 732, drums were beaten from the Arab side, preparing a signal for an attack. The Franks lined up in a large quadrangle and kept their disposition disciplined. The attacking cavalry of the Muslims foundered on the consolidated and heavily armed army of the Franks. The randomly fleeing Arabs suffered great losses. It was a decisive victory for the Franks.

After this crushing battle, miracles were told about Karl. He remained in history as the savior of Europe from the Arabs. Karl Martel was recognized as a defender of Christianity and the sole ruler of Gallia, and the question of who would win in Europe – Islam or Christianity – was decided in favor of Christianity.

According to many historians, the history of the West would have gone a completely different way if the Franks did not win. For example, the Belgian historian G. Kurt wrote that this battle “must remain forever among the most important battles of world history, since Christian civilization depended on its outcome or Islam would have prevailed throughout Europe,” and Arab historians call it one of the macro-historical defeats that led to the final fall of the Arab Caliphate in 750.

The period of weakening of the Arab caliphate, which began to be torn apart by internal strife, contrasted with the strengthening of the Frankish kingdom, which under the rule of Karl Martel moved along the path of becoming the main imperial power of Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.

This battle royal is one of the few episodes in the perspective of Christian-Muslim relations, but it changed the course of history. Although Christian Europe was saved, Islamic expansion continued, and centuries later after the battle of Poitiers, in 1096, a series of Crusades originated in Western Europe, the goal of which was to return the Christians to the Holy Sepulcher and Jerusalem.

Thus, the battle of Poitiers is a symbol of the salvation of Christian Europe and one the evidence that the Christians was on strong ground to begin conquest campaigns against Muslims in the early 11th century.

Sourse: R. Payne, The History of Islam, А. Попов, «Полная история ислама и арабских завоеваний в одной книге», О. Фаллачи «Сила Разума».

Eleonora Sargsyan

Translated by Anna Movsisyan.

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