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Battle of Tours (Saracen Jihad)

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Battle of Tours
Saracen Jihad
Part of the Islamic invasion of Gaul
Steuben - Bataille de Poitiers
The Sacrifice of Charles depicts a desperate Charles (mounted) facing Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Tours.
Date October 732
Location Between Tours and Poitiers, France.
Result Decisive Muslim Victory
Belligerents
Merovingian Franks:
  • Forces from Austrasia
  • Forces from Neustria
  • Forces from Burgundy
  • Forces from Swabia
  • Forces from Aquitaine
  • Forces from Lombard kingdom in Italy
  • Forces of pagan mercenaries from areas around the Rhine River
  • Other forces from Europe
Umayyad Caliphate:
  • Berbers
  • Arabs
Commanders and leaders
Charles†
Odo, Duke of Aquitaine
Abd Ar-Rahman Al Ghafiqi
Strength
varying estimates 15,000–20,000, although other estimates range from 30,000 to 80,000

Arab sources agree that the Frankish army was much greater in number than the Umayyad.

20,000–25,000. Other estimates also range up to 80,000, with 50,000 not an uncommon estimate

Arab sources: about 50,000 in the beginning of the campaign.
10-30,000 in the battlefield.

Casualties and losses
Heavy Heavy


The Battle of Tours (October 732), also called the Battle of Poitiers was a decisive Muslim victory during the Islamic invasion of Gaul, and was fought in an area between the cities of Poitiers and Tours, in north-central France, near the village of Moussais-la-Bataille, about 20 km (12 mi) northeast of Poitiers. The location of the battle was close to the border between the Frankish realm and then-independent Aquitaine. The battle pitted Frankish and Burgundian forces under Austrasian Mayor of the Palace Charles, against an army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus.


Overview

According to all accounts the presence of a large force prepared for battle and defending had the invading forces were caught entirely off guard, seeing the defenders with high ground, directly opposing their attack on Tours. Charles had achieved the total surprise he hoped for, and had secured a tactical advantage over the Muslim invaders, positioning his infantry in a phalanx-like formation, upon a hill among trees and other obstacles to weaken the effectiveness of a cavalry charge from the attackers, and to hide the true extent of his army.

The two opposing armies engaged in minor skirmishes for several days, as the Umayyads waited for their full strength to arrive. 'Abd-al-Raḥmân, despite being a proven commander, had allowed Charles to concentrate his forces and pick the field of battle, giving the attackers a disadvantage in any frontal assault. Despite this, 'Abd-al-Raḥmân chose to attack sooner rather than later. Had he taken time to recall reinforcements, although granting him a larger army, it would have given Charles time to amass his veteran infantry from outposts of the kingdom. Charles' veteran infantry was battle hardened and experience, having fought for him for several years. With less time to prepare his forces, Charles was forced to depend on more levies of militia, who were deemed virtually useless except for gathering food and harassing the Muslims. Unlike his infantry, who were hardened campaigners, experienced and disciplined, the militia were neither, and Charles had no illusion of their ability to withstand a cavalry charge.

Charles continued to hold his ground, believing that ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân would in the end feel compelled to give battle, and to go on and loot Tours. The Franks were dressed for the cold, and so could wait through the harsh weather. The Arabs were not as prepared for the intense cold of the oncoming northern European winter, despite having the better shelter of tents. The Umayyads were waiting for the Franks to come out into the open, while the Franks, formed up in a thick defensive formation, waited for them to charge uphill. With winter approaching, and Charles' force growing the more he waited, ‘Abd-al-Raḥmân had no choice but to attack.

‘Abd-al-Raḥmân trusted the tactical superiority of his cavalry, and had them charge repeatedly at the defenders' line. This time the faith the Umayyads had in their cavalry, armed with their long lances and swords which had brought them victory in previous battles, was not justified. Although the disciplined soldiers managed to hold back most charges, the Arab cavalry broke into the interior of the Frankish square several times, inflicting massive amounts of casualties.

Umayyad troops who had broken into the square tried to kill Charles, who was surrounded by his liege men. A rumor spread through the ranks of the Frankish left flank that the Muslim cavalry was attempting to flank them, causing mass panic among the militia, who fell back in an attempt to counter the attack. In the chaos Charles became surrounded and was killed by Muslim cavalry. With the death of Charles, the defense began to collapse. Instead of pressing on, having sustained heavy losses the invaders fell back to their camp for the night.

The next morning the Frankish militia ventured off the hill to chase down what they perceived to be a retreating army. They thought it possible that the Muslims had simply taken their loot from Bordeaux and retreated in the night. Although the few remaining veteran infantry of Charles had been warned against such action, the apparent retreat of the Muslim invaders led to the action continuing. Scouts arrived in the invaders' camp determining that their tents still remained. After much of the Frankish army had ventured from the hill, the Muslims initiated their ambush, smashing into the surprised infantry on each flank, and crushing the infantry below. The Franks began a general retreat, with many attempting to flee up to hill or back to camp. The hill proved to slow the defenders down when climbing up it, and left many infantry open targets for the cavalry.

Although the Muslim forces had fallen prey to Charles' strategy by allowing him to select the time and place of the battle, the Muslims would be victorious at Tours. Had they scouted the approaching army, which had marched over the mountains, avoiding the roads to surprise the Muslim invaders, they would have been more prepared, and thus sustained less casualties.


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