Arabs, Franks, and the Battle of Tours, 732: Three Accounts
The following opinion was expressed about the Franks by the emir who conquered
Spain, and who---had he not been recalled---might have commanded at Tours. It shows what
the Arab leaders thought of the men of the North up to the moment of their great
disillusionment by "The Hammer."
From an Arabian Chronicler
Musa being returned to Damascus, the Caliph Abd-el Melek asked of him about his
conquests, saying "Now tell me about these Franks---what is their nature?"
"They," replied Musa, "are a folk right numerous, and full of might:
brave and impetuous in the attack, but cowardly and craven in event of defeat."
"And how has passed the war betwixt them and thyself? Favorably or the
"The reverse? No, by Allah and the prophet!" spoke Musa. "Never has a
company from my army been beaten. And never have the Moslems hesitated to follow me when I
have led them; though they were twoscore to fourscore."
Isidore of Beja's Chronicle
The defeat of the Saracen invaders of Frankish lands at Tours (more properly
Poitiers) in 732 A.D. was a turning point in history. It is not likely the Muslims, if
victorious, would have penetrated, at least at once, far into the north, but they would
surely have seized South Gaul, and thence readily have crushed the weak Christian powers
of Italy. It is very unfortunate that we do not possess scientific accounts of Charles
Martel's great victory, instead of the interesting but insufficient stories of the old
Then Abderrahman, [the Muslim emir] seeing the land filled with the multitude of his
army, crossed the Pyrenees, and traversed the defiles [in the mountains] and the plains,
so that he penetrated ravaging and slaying clear into the lands of the Franks. He gave
battle to Duke Eudes (of Aquitaine) beyond the Garonne and the Dordogne, and put him to
flight---so utterly [was he beaten] that God alone knew the number of the slain and
wounded. Whereupon Abderrahman set in pursuit of Eudes; he destroyed palaces, burned
churches, and imagined he could pillage the basilica of St. Martin of Tours. It is then
that he found himself face to face with the lord of Austrasia, Charles, a mighty warrior
from his youth, and trained in all the occasions of arms.
For almost seven days the two armies watched one another, waiting anxiously the moment
for joining the struggle. Finally they made ready for combat. And in the shock of the
battle the men of the North seemed like North a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they
stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of
their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people
of the Austrasians carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down
to the breasts [of the foe].
At last night sundered the combatants. The Franks with misgivings lowered their blades,
and beholding the numberless tents of the Arabs, prepared themselves for another battle
the next day. Very early, when they issued from their retreat, the men of Europe saw the
Arab tents ranged still in order, in the same place where they had set up their camp.
Unaware that they were utterly empty, and fearful lest within the phalanxes of the
Saracens were drawn up for combat, they sent out spies to ascertain the facts. These spies
discovered that all the squadrons of the "Ishmaelites" had vanished. In fact,
during the night they had fled with the greatest silence, seeking with all speed their
home land. The Europeans, uncertain and fearful, lest they were merely hidden in order to
come back [to fall upon them] by ambushments, sent scouting parties everywhere, but to
their great amazement found nothing. Then without troubling to pursue the fugitives, they
contented themselves with sharing the spoils and returned right gladly to their own
Chronicle of St. Denis
The Muslims planned to go to Tours to destroy the Church of St. Martin, the city, and
the whole country. Then came against them the glorious Prince Charles, at the head of his
whole force. He drew up his host, and he fought as fiercely as the hungry wolf falls upon
the stag. By the grace of Our Lord, he wrought a great slaughter upon the enemies of
Christian faith, so that---as history bears witness---he slew in that battle 300,000 men,
likewise their king by name Abderrahman. Then was he [Charles] first called
"Martel," for as a hammer of iron, of steel, and of every other metal, even so
he dashed: and smote in the battle all his enemies. And what was the greatest marvel of
all, he only lost in that battle 1500 men. The tents and harness [of the enemy] were
taken; and whatever else they possessed became a prey to him and his followers. Eudes,
Duke of Aquitaine, being now reconciled with Prince Charles Martel, later slew as many of
the Saracens as he could find who had escaped from the battle.
From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts
from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the
West, pp. 362-364.
Scanned in and modernized by Dr. Jerome S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998