Poitiers, Battle of

Poitiers, Battle of
   Battle fought by the Frankish mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, against invading Muslims from Spain on October 25, 732, somewhere between Tours and Poitiers. Although the military importance and technological impact of the battle has been questioned, it was regarded as a major victory for Charles by contemporaries and by the chroniclers of the ninth century who termed Charles "the Hammer" (Martellus).
   As a result of the Muslim conquest of Spain in the early eighth century, southern Gaul was plagued by frequent Muslim raids into its territory. Although conquest of the territory by the Muslims was unlikely, their raids into Aquitaine and surrounding areas were a serious problem. In the 720s when the Muslims attacked Autun and towns along the Rhone River, the brunt of the fighting was born by the duke of Aquitaine, Odo. In 732 a more serious raid was launched by the emir of Spain, Abd al-Rahman, that swept through Aquitaine and reached Bordeaux and Poitiers. Odo, who suffered defeat at the hands of the invaders, had requested aid from Charles Martel. After sacking the monastery of St. Hilary in Poitiers, the Muslim party moved toward the wealthy monastery of St. Martin of Tours. It was on the way to Tours that Charles Martel met Abd al-Rahman, and after a week of minor skirmishes, Charles and Odo defeated the invaders.
   The battle has acquired much fame, but generally for the wrong reasons. It has often been held that the victory at Tours "saved" Christian Europe from Muslim conquest in the eighth century. But conquest of Gaul and the larger Frankish kingdom by Muslim raiders from Spain was most unlikely to occur. The invasions were attempts to gain plunder but posed no long-term threat. The victory at Tours did end the raids by Muslims from Spain, and helped Charles Martel strengthen his hold on the kingdom. The battle also demonstrated the weakness of Odo, which Charles exploited after the duke's death in 735.
   The Battle of Tours is also supposed to have marked a great turning point in the history of military technology. According to the thesis of Lynn White, Jr., the battle marked the introduction of the stirrup to western Europe, and the use of the stirrup and the mounted shock troop guaranteed the victory of the Franks over the Muslims. This view, however, has been shown to be wrong; there is neither written nor archeological evidence to support White's conclusions.
   Although the military and technological importance of the Battle of Tours is often overstated, the battle remains an important moment in Carolingian history. Charles Martel's victory, recognized as a great achievement by those in the eighth and ninth centuries, was significant. The victory at Tours ended Muslim raids from Spain, and later Carolingian rulers were to extend the frontier into Muslim territory. The victory also further demonstrated the talents of Charles Martel as a military leader and allowed him to gain greater authority over the Frankish kingdom and the duchy of Aquitaine.
   See also
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. "Charles Martel, Mounted Shock Combat, the Stirrup, and Feudalism." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 7 (1970): 47-75.
 ♦ Contamine, Philippe. War in the Middle Ages. Trans. Michael Jones. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
 ♦ White, Lynn, Jr. Medieval Technology and Social Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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