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Battle of Toulouse
Date June 9, 721
Location Toulouse, France
Result Aquitanian victory
Belligerents
Aquitanians Umayyad Caliphate
Commanders
Odo of Aquitaine Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani

The Battle of Toulouse (721) was a victory of a Frankish army led by Duke Odo of Aquitaine over an Umayyad army besieging the city of Toulouse, and led by the governor of Al-Andalus, Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani. The victory hindered the spread of Umayyad control westward from Narbonne into Aquitaine.

The battle

Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, the wali (governor) of Al-Andalus, built up a strong army from Umayyad territories to conquer Aquitaine, a large duchy in the southwest of modern-day France, formally under Frankish sovereignty, but in practice almost independent in the hands of the dukes of Aquitaine. He besieged the city of Toulouse, then Aquitaine's most important city, and Duke Odo of Aquitaine, also known as Eudes, immediately left to find help. He returned three months later—just before the city was about to surrender—and attacked the Muslim invaders on June 9.

The victory was essentially the result of a classic enveloping movement by Eudes. After Eudes originally fled, the Muslims became overconfident, and instead of maintaining strong outer defenses around their siege camp, and continuously scouting, did neither. Thus, when Eudes returned, he was able to launch an almost totally surprise attack on the siege force, scattering it at the first attack, and slaughtering units which were resting, or fled without weapons or armour. Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani managed to get away with a fraction of his forces, but died shortly thereafter, leaving Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi (721-725) as governor.

Aftermath: the battle of Tours

When Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi became governor of Al-Andalus in 730 he rebuilt the army, again raising levies from North Africa, Yemen, and Syria and invaded Gaul in strength in 732. This time Eudes tried to stop him in a bloody massacre at Bordeaux, but was defeated, and Bordeaux was plundered. The slaughter of Franks at the Battle of the River Garonne was evidently horrific; Isidorus Pacensis commented that "solus Deus numerum morientium vel pereuntium recognoscat", 'God alone knows the number of the slain' (Chronicon). The Muslim horsemen then utterly devastated that portion of Gaul, their own histories saying the "faithful pierced through the mountains, tramples over rough and level ground, plunders far into the country of the Franks, and smites all with the sword, insomuch that when Eudo came to battle with them at the River Garonne, and fled." Eudes appealed to the Franks for assistance, which Charles Martel only granted after Eudes agreed to submit to Frankish authority.

Some historians believe that the Battle of Toulouse halted the Muslim conquest of Europe even more than the later—and more celebrated—Battle of Tours (October 10, 732, between Tours and Poitiers), but this is highly problematic: for even had the Arabs won at Toulouse, they still would have had to conquer the Franks to have retained control of the region. However, nearly all historians agree that the Christian victory at Toulouse was important in a macrohistorical sense: it gave Charles Martel badly needed time to strengthen his grip on power and build the veteran army which stood him in such good stead eleven years later at Tours. Edward Gibbon and other historians believe that Charles Martel was well aware of the growing storm from Muslim Spain and his primary focus in the decade between the battles of Toulouse and Tours was to prepare for the latter.

Charles Martel's controversial seizure of church property to buy supporters, secure power, and settle his northern frontier by any means necessary (including bribery in some cases) allowed him to fund his army and prepare for the coming danger. This earned great enmity from the Church at the time; but, after Tours, Rome swiftly saw the necessity of the Frankish Army. The eleven years between Toulouse and Tours without question gave him time to fully secure power, inspire the loyalty of his troops, and, most importantly, drill the core of veterans who stood so stoutly in 732.

While Eudes faded into history after his horrific defeat at Bordeaux, the Battle of Toulouse carries macrohistorical importance as it bought time for Martel to prepare for the greater invasion mounted by Abd al Rahman in 732. Ironically, while Eudes is forgotten, Martel became hailed as the savior of Europe, and of the Church itself. While both are debatable, these events and Martel's later campaigns against the Muslims in 736-7 almost certainly assured the development of Europe and of the Roman Catholic Church as we know them today.

External links

  • From a Christian context:

Watson, William E., "The Battle of Tours-Poitiers Revisited", Providence: Studies in Western Civilization, 2 (1993)

  • Poke,The Battle of Tours, from the book Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World From Marathon to Waterloo by Sir Edward Creasy, MA
  • Edward Gibbon, The Battle of Tours, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Richard Hooker, "Civil War and the Umayyads"
  • Arabs, Franks, and the Battle of Tours, 732: Three Accounts from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook
  • The Battle of Tours 732, from the "Jewish Virtual Library" website: A division of the American-Israeli Cooperative.
  • Tours,Poiters, from "Leaders and Battles Database" online.
  • Robert W. Martin, "The Battle of Tours is still felt today", from about.com

Santosuosso, Anthony, Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels ISBN 0-8133-9153-9

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