Battle of Tours and Poitiers

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Battle of Tours and Poitiers
date October 18 or 25, 732
place Between Tours and Poitiers
output Franconian victory
Parties to the conflict

Franks and allies



Karl Martell

Abd ar-Rahman

Troop strength
15,000 men 20,000 men

1000–2,000 dead,
about 4,000 wounded

about 5,000 dead
about 5,000 wounded

In the battle of Tours and Poitiers in October 732, the Franks, under the command of Karl Martell , defeated the Muslim Arabs who had advanced into Gaul and stopped their advance in the west (→  Islamic expansion ). In Arabic the battle is also called Battle of the balāṭ asch-shuhadāʾ ( بلاط الشهداء) ("Battle of the Martyrs Street") called.

After a fierce battle, the Franks won, supported by Lombard , Saxon and Frisian troops. Duke Eudo of Aquitaine , an old adversary of Karl Martell, also stood by the Franks in the battle. The general of the Moors and Arabs, Abd ar-Rahman , fell during the battle, and the remnants of his army withdrew to the Iberian Peninsula . According to some sources, the Franks had expected to have to continue the fight the next day, but found the Arab camp abandoned the morning after the battle .

Karl Martell was later elevated as the savior of the West because of the victory . However, the battle was not regarded as an outstanding event in contemporary sources, but only mentioned incidentally, which makes it very difficult to reconstruct the processes. The battle was only stylized into a world historical event in modern times . The most recent historical research is mostly more cautious about the meaning of the battle. In general, the battle is seen today as part of the consolidation of the rule of Karl Martell, who in the first time still had to assert himself against a nobility opposition in the Frankish Empire. This is due to the fact that the predominance of the (later so called) Carolingians was initially established in the caretaker's office due to the weakness of the Merovingians .

place and date

Likely battlefield near Poitiers
Sarcophagus of Karl Martell in St. Denis (12th century)

To this day, the exact location and the exact date of the Battle of Tours and Poitiers are not known beyond any doubt. As far as the place is concerned, the area between the Clain and Vienne rivers south of Châtellerault can be assumed; Old Poitiers was also located here on the old Roman road , which the Arabs had to take on their advance, while the Franks should initially have taken a position at the crossing over the Vienne at today's Cenon-sur-Vienne . The actual battlefield will then be somewhere between this crossing and the three kilometers distant places Vouneuil and Moussais-la-Bataille . Today a memorial with panorama boards near Moussais commemorates the battle.

The date of the battle is considered to be one of the Saturdays in October 732, with October 18 or October 25 being the most likely.

Course of the battle

Not too much is known about the course of the battle. But it is said that Karl and his Frankish troops spent the first seven days of the battle waiting for allies; there was only banter . When Saxon troops and a little later also Lombard troops arrived, the Arabs had already brought their booty south.

On the eighth day, the Arabs probably attacked the Lombards first. However, like the Franks, these joined together to form a phalanx , and the Saxons and Franks enclosed a large part of the Arab mounted archers and destroyed them. A counterattack by the allies in the direction of the Arab camp probably followed. The Arabs rushed towards them, and the main act of battle broke out. It occurred Abd ar-Rahman in the fight against Franks or Saxons. The Arabs withdrew to their camp because of their fallen leader and the high losses. Charles's troops also broke off the battle when it was dawn and they feared they would be ambushed in unknown territory.

The next day the allies advanced into the Arab camp, but the Arabs had already evacuated it, but left their fallen leader and some flags behind.

In research it was traditionally assumed that heavily armored Franconian cavalry had been used for the first time in the battle and decided the battle. On the other hand, researchers like Hugh N. Kennedy have recently emphasized that the oldest reports do not mention such a thing; on the contrary, the contemporary Mozarabic Chronicle (see below) speaks of the Lombards and Franks fought as a phalanx and worked “like a glacier”, which should hardly indicate mounted fighters, but rather armored foot troops in closed formation. Contrary to popular belief, the Arabs also often fought on foot in the 7th and 8th centuries; in the great field battles their riders usually dismounted and fought as infantry. Whether this was also the case in 732 cannot be determined based on the sources. It remains to be noted, however, that the assumption that it was a battle between mounted Muslims and heavy Frankish cavalry is not supported by the oldest sources. It could well have been an infantry battle with the participation of cavalry.

From an Arab point of view, the daily stages of the battle are divided into the “morning of the dog barking”, the “day of help” and the “evening of the shock”. The withdrawal of the Muslims took place at night via the "path of the martyrs".

Importance of the battle

Islamic expansion up to the Battle of Tours and Poitiers

The battle must be seen in the context of the further fighting between Franks and Aquitaine on the one hand and Arabs on the other. There had been Muslim advances across the Pyrenees since 719 , in 725 the Arabs even sacked Autun in Burgundy, and the fighting in Gaul was far from over with the victory of 732. In the former Visigothic Septimania around Narbonne , the Arabs stayed until 739 and 759, respectively, before Karl Martell and after his death in 741 his son Pippin the Younger , again with Longobard help, forcibly expelled them from there, both of them proceeding with great severity .

In medieval historiography, the battle of 732 was ascribed less importance than in modern times. Christian contemporaries described the battle; an anonymous author from Spain (so-called Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 ) compared the Arabs with the Europenses . From the middle of the 11th century, memories of Karl Martell's victory faded in the empire ; Marianus Scottus and Frutolf von Michelsberg , the battle was not worth an annual entry. Edward Gibbon attached epoch-making importance to the battle in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , published in 1788 . According to Gibbon, without Charles' victory there would have been mosques in Paris and London long ago, and in Oxford the Koran would have been taught instead of the Bible .

Modern historians doubt this. On the one hand, it is believed that the Arabs were not interested in the then underdeveloped and cold Europe north of the Loire . It is believed that in 732 they only wanted to lead a plundering campaign against Tours , whose monastery had amassed some wealth and which had great symbolic importance for the Franks as the tomb of Saint Martin . If, on the other hand, one had wanted to establish oneself permanently in Gaul, the first thing to do would have been to dissolve a residual Christian rule in the Galician north-west Spain, which the Arabs did not succeed in because of the mountainous terrain. The Muslim armies were prevented from advancing further and cut off due to climatic obstacles and an ever longer supply route. In general, the campaigns of the Arabs were not comparable to modern warfare. It usually involved the rapid, raid-like marching of several hundred to thousands of soldiers through a sparsely populated landscape that such groups could hardly resist. Even in the case of military successes, these would not have been able to secure their local supremacy in the medium term, as was shown at the same time in Asia Minor . Due to the character of the Muslim expansion at that time as a “policy of pinpricks” and raids - the Arabic term for this, raid , has been preserved in a different meaning to this day - the significance of the events of 732 seems rather minor.

On the other hand, the defensive battles of Byzantium , which took place at the same time in Asia Minor and on the Mediterranean , were far more important than the Battle of Tours and Poitiers, which western historians hyped up to be a world-historical victory. Presumably the Arab defeat at Constantinople in 718 was decisive; the fall of the Byzantine Empire would have had far more far-reaching consequences than an Arab victory over the Franks. While Byzantium, which acted as a “protective shield” for Europe, had to defend itself for centuries from coordinated and organized attacks on land and sea, which followed one another at short intervals and behind which the heavyweight of the caliphate stood, the Franconian Empire had little more than raids fend off.

On the other hand, the battle is remembered by Muslims in later tradition as the "Battle of the Millions of Tears", among other things due to the death of the able military leader Abd ar-Rahman. Even today there is the notion among Muslims that at that time they almost succeeded in completely overrunning the Christian West; However, this assumption is based not least on the modern reception of events in Europe. This changed perception was due to historical reasons: on the one hand, the writers of the Enlightenment and Romanticism liked to portray the nations of the West as saviors of the West. On the other hand, it did not occur to the historians of the time to grant the decadent and meaningless reviled Byzantium , after Gibbons' groundbreaking work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a major role in the defensive fight against the Muslim threat, so that one can see As the savior of the West, Karl Martell liked to receive and decorate.


  • Paul Fouracre: The Age of Charles Martel. Longman, Harlow 2000, ISBN 0-582-06476-7 .
  • Pierre Guichard: Al-Andalus. Eight centuries of Muslim civilization in Spain. Wasmuth, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8030-4028-0 .
  • Hugh N. Kennedy: The Early Arab Conquests. Da Capo Press, Philadelphia 2007, ISBN 978-0-306-81585-0 .
  • Ulrich Nonn : 1. Poitiers, Battle of . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 7, LexMA-Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7608-8907-7 , Sp. 44.
  • Ulrich Nonn: The battle near Poitiers 732. Problems of historical judgment formation . In: Rudolf Schieffer (Ed.): Contributions to the history of the Regnum Francorum. Lectures at the Scientific Colloquium on the occasion of Eugen Ewig's 75th birthday on May 28, 1988. (Supplements of Francia 22), Sigmaringen 1990, ISBN 3-7995-7322-4 , pp. 37–56 ( online in the Munich Digitization Center ).
  • Annalena Staudte-Lauber: Carlus princeps regionem Burgundy sagaciter penetravit. About the battle of Tours and Poitiers and the intervention of Karl Martell in Burgundy . In: Jörg Jarnut, Ulrich Nonn, Michael Richter (eds.): Karl Martell in his time. (Supplements of Francia 37), Sigmaringen 1994, ISBN 3-7995-7337-2 , pp. 79-100 ( online in the Munich digitization center ).

Web links

Commons : Battle of Tours and Poitiers  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Ekkehart Rotter : Mohammed in Bamberg. The perception of the Muslim world in the German Empire of the 11th century. In: Achim Hubel, Bernd Schneidmüller (Ed.): Departure into the second millennium. Innovation and continuity in the middle of the Middle Ages. Ostfildern 2004, pp. 283-344, here: p. 306.