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October 11, 2007




Whoa there, maestro. Charles Martel wasn't French. He wasn't even a Gaul. The Franks were Germanic. His mead-drinking buddies probably called him Karl.


Yeah, I know. Artistic license. I didn't know how to say "thank you" in 8th Century Frankish.

But hey, the name "France" comes from Franks.

Long-time politico

Danke. Your eclectic approach to this blog is inspired. The history lesson is highly relevant to our situation today.


The conflict may be older than you realize L-tp. Herodotus tells of the age-old struggle between autocratic "Asiatic" society and the Greek world in his history.

Arnold Toynbee elaborates on that theme and notes that the struggle was even engaged by a transplanted Syriac civilization (Carthage), and the late Roman Republic in the western Mediterranean basin.

As to the significance of Poitiers I have to confess that I've always had trouble assigning the significance to it that historians like Gibbon have done. The thing about the spires of Oxford being minarets is true literary license. Gibbon knew very well that the invaders had left behind a significant number of Christians in the Visigothic realms of Iberia - adversaries that were never displaced. It's hard for me to imagine a plan by the Moors to permanently hold territory north of the Pyrenees.

On the other hand, the battle did establish the grandfather of Charlemagne as the real power in the decrepit Merovigian dispensation. His son Pepin just took over.

The irony may be that as Islam consolidated its power in Spain it created the most intellectualy advanced society in Medieval Europe - just as the breakup of the Carolingian realm marked almost three hundred years of gloom for the Christian West.


"The history lesson is highly relevant to our situation today."

How So?

The claim "The spires of Oxford would be Minarets" , while an excellent sound bit, is pure bunk, obvious to anyone whose interest in history exceeds the mere "military".

Summarizing brutally, what we know call southern France wasn't "French" before the 13th century, so the idea that an 8th century battle is what made the region "French", and therefore "Christian", is exceedingly odd.

Not a lot would look different in the 20th century had the Umayyads won at Tours. The experiment was even done, two different ways: (1) the English did conquer Paris, but everyone south of the Channel still speaks French, and (2) the Umayyad war machine -- and make no mistake, it was fearsome -- failed to "convert" Northern Spain because the social structure behind the war machine was fundamentally Mediterranean.

The key difference from our perspective would have been that the Albigensian crusade that genocidally [*] welded what we now call southern France to the Paris-based nobility would have been conducted against European (Ummayyad) heretics instead of European (Cathar) heretics.

[*] And here is an interesting bit of history. This is where the expression "Kill them all -- let God sort them out" comes from.

The Cathars were good at building fortified cities (including the one where Cassoulet was invented). As Beziers was being put to the sword one of the military leaders pointed that the town about had a large number of Christians. Needless to say, the good Christian soldier was a little concerned about murdering large numbers of his fellow believers.

Arnaud Amaury, chief Abbot of the Cistercian Order, replied "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." — “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.”

The Mad Macedonian

Would, all that Western Civ has brought us be a part of our world, and would we all be praying toward Mecca today if the battle had another outcome?

Who knows?

Folks who love to write Speculative "Altertnative History" Fiction would, and may already, have, as far as I know, a field day with this idea. ;-D


I know, and the Germans conquered Paris as well and they don't sing Deutschland Uber Alles along the Champs Ellysees.

Somehow though I suspect that had Martel not stopped the Umayyad Juggernaut they would have hung around longer then the Saxons and the Werhrmacht. And reached the Rhine if not beyond.

It may well be that the Islamic invasion would have petered out leaving beyond some wonderful architecture. Or, on the other hand, Western Europe might have resembled the Balkans. It's wonderful to speculate but I'll settle for what actually happened and toast a St. Pauli Girl for the Frank that stopped the invaders.


Counter-factual history is a tricky if fascinating business, but to say nothing would have changed had the Franks lost at Tours -- as tylerh suggests -- is problematic, to be generous.

To my mind, that displays a predisposition to viewing history as being driven by huge, impersonal forces and individuals are merely agents of those forces.

I think that view is bunk, and individual actions and decisions can have enormous consequences.

For example, what if Spithridates had killed Alexander with a second blow at the Granicus River -- instead of being killed himself by one of Alexander's companions before Spithridates could deliver the death blow? Alexander's invasion would have ended without him to lead it. The Persian Empire would have survided for who knows how much longer. There would have been no Greek successor kingdoms nor Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean.

All because one of Alexander's bodyguards showed up at the right moment, instead of a few fatal seconds too late.

Back to Tours: the victorious Umayyads could could have continued northward to the Seine, or even the Rhine and repeated the Roman success in subduing and incorporating the province into their empire? There would have been no Charlemagne. No Holy Roman Empire.

And finally, who here claimed the Battle of Tours made Southern France French or Christian?


"Back to Tours: the victorious Umayyads could could have continued northward to the Seine, or even the Rhine and repeated the Roman success in subduing and incorporating the province into their empire? There would have been no Charlemagne. No Holy Roman Empire."

This is a possible sceanrio, but I think the speculation game can be played both ways. The Moors were running out of summer and a winter in Neustria trying to find forage for their animals might not have been in their plans.

I remain unsure whether the Islamic foray was an invasion to conquer, a summer rading expedition in force, a test of Frankish cohesiveness (unlikely), or some combination. Holding the Acquitaine may have been the real goal.

Christian Iberia had not been completely reduced - and never would be. It's generally a bad idea to launch out on new conquests with unconverted enemies in your rear.

Finally it could be argued that a Moorish presence north of the Loire would have done in the remnants of the corrupt Merovingian regime anyway - ultimately advancing real leaders - Pepin or his son Charlemagne.

(BTW, of all the western institutions worth saving from the horrors of Islam, the Holy Roman Empire would not be anywhere near the top of my list. It's also worth remembering that within a few generations of Charlemagne's death the Carolingian "renaissance" had been devastated by the various predations of the Northmen.)

Anyway, if it means getting a good bottle of beer out of BR, I'll drink to Carolus Martellus or Karl Martell for that matter. I'll also drink to the pointed arch and the translations of Aristotle made by the Arabs.


This is a possible sceanrio, but I think the speculation game can be played both ways.

Of course it can. That's part of the fun of counterfactual, "What If?" history, in addition to the educative value.

My recollection is the Muslim invasion wasn't designed, in itself, to conquer the whole of the Frankish Kingdom. But victory has a way of changing such plans. But again, who really knows?




1. I said not much would have changed _in the 20th century_. At lot would have been different from the 8th to the 13th centuries had the Umayyads won at Tours.

2. In an earlier discussion I made a big deal about an individual event that a huge impact on history: Harold Athelstane dying from a arrow shot at Hastings, giving William the Bastard his improbable success in seizing the British throne. That one had *huge* consequences the still affect you and I every day.

So we agree that individuals can matter and have mattered in history. But individuals act broader themes of their times, which limit or (rarely) magnify their actions; these larger themes tend to matter more than most personalities. If Isaac Newton had been at Cambridge in the 12th instead of the 17th century, he would not be known to history. But we'd still have Calculus, and celebrate it's inventor: Leibniz.

To return to your own example: Had Alexander died, the Greeks almost certainly would have conquered Asia minor, the Levant, and probably Egypt within a few decades for the simple reason that Alexander's invasion was but a step in a fifty year process that started with Xenophon's publication of the Anabasis. Just as the Christians kept crusades going after defeats, so the Greek world was committed to defeating Persia using the blueprint made plain by Xenophon.

and in closing -- thanks for the posts. We may not agree on the details, but having a group to BS with about history is blast. Keep it up!

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