Friday, October 06, 2006

Charles Martell, saviour of western civilisation?

from the wiki of Charles Martel :-

(I couldn't wait until 10th of Oct )

Leadup and importance
The Cordoban emirate had previously invaded Gaul and had been stopped in its northward sweep at the Battle of Toulouse, in 721. The hero of that less celebrated event had been Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine, who was not the progenitor of a race of kings and patron of chroniclers. It has previously been explained how Odo defeated the invading Muslims, but when they returned, things were far different. The arrival in the interim of a new emir of Cordoba, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, who brought with him a huge force of Arabs and Berber horsemen, triggered a far greater invasion. Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi had been at Toulouse, and the Arab Chronicles make clear he had strongly opposed the Emir's decision not to secure outer defenses against a relief force, which allowed Odo and his infantry to attack with impunity before the Islamic cavalry could assemble or mount. Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi had no intention of permitting such a disaster again. This time the Muslim horsemen were ready for battle, and the results were horrific for the Aquintanians. Odo, hero of Toulouse, was badly defeated in the Muslim invasion of 732 at the Battle of the River Garonne—where the western chroniclers state, "God alone knows the number of the slain"— and the city of Bordeaux was sacked and looted. Odo fled to Charles, seeking help. Charles agreed to come to Odo's rescue, provided Odo acknowledged Charles and his house as his Overlords, which Odo did formally at once. Thus, Odo faded into history while Charles marched into it. Charles was pragmatic; his former enemy Odo and his Aquitanian nobles formed the right flank of Charles' forces at Tours.
The Battle of Tours earned Charles the cognomen "Martel", for the merciless way he hammered his enemies. Many historians, including the great military historian Sir Edward Creasy, believe that had he failed at Tours, Islam would probably have overrun Gaul, and perhaps the remainder of western Christian Europe. Gibbon made clear his belief that the Muslims would have conquered from Rome to the Rhine, and even England, with ease, had Martel not prevailed. Creasy said "the great victory won by Charles Martel ... gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, [and] preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization." Gibbon's belief that the fate of Christianity hinged on this battle is echoed by other historians including William E. Watson, and was very popular for most of modern historiography. It fell somewhat out of style in the twentieth century, when historians such as Bernard Lewis contended that Arabs had little intention of occupying northern France. More recently, however, many historians have tended once again to view the Battle of Tours as a very significant event in the history of Europe and Christianity.
In the modern era, Matthew Bennett and his co-authors of "Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World", published in 2005, argue that "few battles are remembered 1,000 years after they are fought...but the Battle of Poitiers, (Tours) is an exception...Charles Martel turned back a Muslim raid that had it been allowed to continue, might have conquered Gaul." Michael Grant, author of "History of Rome", grants the Battle of Tours such importance that he lists it in the macrohistorical dates of the Roman era.
Another contemporary historian, William Watson, believes that a failure by Martel at Tours would have been a disaster, destroying what would become western civilization after the Renaissance. Certainly all historians agree that no power would have remained in Europe able to halt Islamic expansion had the Franks failed. While some modern assessments of the battle's impact have backed away from the extreme of Gibbon's position, many modern historians such as William Watson and Antonio Santosuosso generally support the concept of Tours as a macrohistorical event favoring western civilization and Christianity, though Santosuosso believes Martel's victories in the campaigns of 737-737 were considerably more vital. (Watson believes Tours was the decisive historial event) Military writers such as Robert W. Martin, "The Battle of Tours is still felt today," also argue that Tours was such a turning point in favor of western civilization and Christianity that its after-effect remains to this day.

The Battle of Tours probably took place somewhere between Tours and Poitiers (hence its other name: Battle of Poitiers). The Frankish army, under Charles Martel, consisted mostly of veteran infantry, somewhere between 15,000 and 75,000 men. While Charles had some cavalry, they did not have stirrups, so he had them dismount and reinforce his phalanx. Odo and his Aquitanian nobility were also normally cavalry, but they also dismounted at the Battle's onset, to buttress the phalanx. Responding to the Muslim invasion, the Franks had avoided the old Roman roads, hoping to take the invaders by surprise. Martel believed it was absolutely essential that he not only take the Muslims by surprise, but that he be allowed to select the ground on which the battle would be fought, ideally a high, wooded plain where the Islamic horsemen, already tired from carrying armour, would be further exhausted charging uphill. Further, the woods would aid the Franks in their defensive square by partially impeding the ability of the Muslim horsemen to make a clear charge.
From the Muslim accounts of the battle, they were indeed taken by surprise to find a large force opposing their expected sack of Tours, and they waited for six days, scouting the enemy and summoning all their raiding parties so their full strength was present for the battle. Emir Abdul Rahman was an able general who did not like the unknown at all, and he did not like charging uphill against an unknown number of foes who seemed well-disciplined and well-disposed for battle. But the weather was also a factor. The Germanic Franks, in their wolf and bear pelts, were more used to the cold, better dressed for it, and despite not having tents, which the Muslims did, were prepared to wait as long as needed, the fall only growing colder.
On the seventh day, the Muslim army, mostly Berber and Arab horsemen and led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, attacked. During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and the emir was killed. While Western accounts are sketchy, Arab accounts are fairly detailed in describing how the Franks formed a large square and fought a brilliant defensive battle. Rahman had doubts before the battle that his men were ready for such a struggle, and should have had them abandon the loot which hindered them, but instead decided to trust his horsemen, who had never failed him. Indeed, it was thought impossible for infantry of that age to withstand armoured cavalry.
Martel managed to inspire his men to stand firm against a force which must have seemed invincible to them, huge mailed horsemen, who, in addition, probably vastly outnumbered the Franks. In one of the rare instances where medieval infantry stood up against cavalry charges, the disciplined Frankish soldiers withstood the assaults even though, according to Arab sources, the Arab cavalry several times broke into the interior of the Frankish square. The scene is described in a translation of an Arab account of the battle from the Medieval Source Book:
"And in the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like 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."
Both accounts agree that the Muslims had broken into the square and were trying to kill Martel, whose liege men had surrounded him and would not be broken, when a trick Charles had planned before the battle bore fruit beyond his wildest dreams. Both Western and Muslim accounts of the battle agree that sometime during the height of the fighting, with the battle still in grave doubt, scouts sent by Martel to the Muslim camp began freeing prisoners. Fearing loss of their plunder, a large portion of the Muslim army abandoned the battle and returned to camp to protect their spoils. In attempting to stop what appeared to be a retreat, Abdul Rahman was surrounded and killed by the Franks, and what started as a ruse ended up a real retreat, as the Muslim army fled the field that day. The Franks resumed their phalanx, and rested in place through the night, believing the battle would resume at dawn of the following morning.
The next day, when the Muslims did not renew the battle, the Franks feared an ambush. Charles at first believed the Muslims were attempting to lure him down the hill and into the open, a tactic he would resist at all costs. Only after extensive reconnaissance by Frankish soldiers of the Muslim camp—which by both accounts had been so hastily abandoned that even the tents remained, as the Muslim forces headed back to Iberia with what spoils remained that they could carry—was it discovered that the Muslims had retreated during the night. As the Arab Chronicles would later reveal, the generals from the different parts of the Caliphate, Berbers, Arabs, Persians and many more, had been unable to agree on a leader to take Abd er Rahman's place as Emir, or even to agree on a commander to lead them the following day. Only the Emir, Abd er Rahman, had a Fatwa from the Caliph, and thus absolute authority over the faithful under arms. With his death, and with the varied nationalities and ethnicities present in an army drawn from all over the Caliphate, politics, racial and ethnic bias, and personalities reared their head. The inability of the bickering generals to select anyone to lead resulted in the wholesale withdrawal of an army that might have been able to resume the battle and defeat the Franks.
Martel's ability to have Abd er Rahman killed through a clever ruse he had carefully planned to cause confusion, at the battle's apex, and his years spent rigorously training his men, combined to do what was thought impossible: Martel's Franks, virtually all infantry without armour, withstood both mailed heavy cavalry with 20 foot lances, and bow-wielding light cavalry, without the aid of bows or firearms. [2] This was a feat of war almost unheard of in medieval history, a feat which even the heavily armored Roman legions proved themselves incapable of against the Parthians, [3]and left Martel a unique place in history as the savior of Europe [4] and a brilliant general in an age not known for its generalship.


Notable about these campaigns was Charles' incorporation, for the first time, of heavy cavalry with stirrups to augment his phalanx. His ability to coordinate infantry and cavalry veterans was unequaled in that era and enabled him to face superior numbers of invaders, and to decisively defeat them again and again. Some historians believe the Battle against the main Muslim force at the River Berre, near Narbonne, in particular was as important a victory for Christian Europe as Tours. In Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, Antonio Santosuosso, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Western Ontario, and considered an expert historian in the era in dispute, puts forth an interesting modern opinion on Martel, Tours, and the subsequent campaigns against Rahman's son in 736-737. Santosuosso presents a compelling case that these later defeats of invading Muslim armies were at least as important as Tours in their defence of Western Christendom and the preservation of Western monasticism, the monasteries of which were the centers of learning which ultimately led Europe out of her Dark Ages. He also makes a compelling argument, after studying the Arab histories of the period, that these were clearly armies of invasion, sent by the Caliph not just to avenge Tours, but to begin the conquest of Christian Europe and bring it into the Caliphate.
Further, unlike his father at Tours, Rahman's son in 736-737 knew that the Franks were a real power, and that Martel personally was a force to be reckoned with. He had no intention of allowing Martel to catch him unawares and dictate the time and place of battle, as his father had, and concentrated instead on seizing a substantial portion of the coastal plains around Narbonne in 736 and heavily reinforced Arles as he advanced inland. They planned from there to move from city to city, fortifying as they went, and if Martel wished to stop them from making a permanent enclave for expansion of the Caliphate, he would have to come to them, in the open, where, he, unlike his father, would dictate the place of battle. All worked as he had planned, until Martel arrived, albeit more swiftly than the Moors believed he could call up his entire army. Unfortunately for Rahman's son, however, he had overestimated the time it would take Martel to develop heavy cavalry equal to that of the Muslims. The Caliphate believed it would take a generation, but Martel managed it in five short years. Prepared to face the Frankish phalanx, the Muslims were totally unprepared to face a mixed force of heavy cavalry and infantry in a phalanx. Thus, Charles again championed Christianity and halted Muslim expansion into Europe, as the window was closing on Islamic ability to do so. These defeats were the last great attempt at expansion by the Umayyad Caliphate before the destruction of the dynasty at the Battle of the Zab, and the rending of the Caliphate forever, especially the utter destruction of the Muslim army at River Berre near Narbonne in 737.


Blogger Nick said...

More than 800 years later came the similarly decisive Battle of Lepanto (at which Cervantes fought). At that rate we are due another World Historical showdown some time in the late 24th century which puts the turbulence of our own age in a little perspective.

9:49 am  

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