The battle of Poitiers in 732 and the victory of Charles Martel would have marked the confrontation between a “Merovingian Gaul” in full mutation and an Islam which is celebrating its first century of existence, but also the emergence of a new dynasty and the appearance of an “identity” that some consider to have been constructed “ in opposition ”to Muslims. We must therefore try to put this battle for Poitiers, its stakes and its consequences, into context, in order to analyze the impact it may have had subsequently, until today.
The Muslim expansion and the first raids
This attack on Frankish Gaul takes place as part of themuslim expansion in Ifriqiya (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria today) between 642 and 711, and of course in Visigothic Spain. It is conquered between 711 and 714, and becomes Al Andalus. Successive governors chose first to settle internal problems with the Visigoths, then to turn to Gaul, in particular Septimania, an extension on the other side of the Pyrenees from the Visigothic kingdom of Spain. The first raids began in 719, when Narbonne was taken. In 721, Frankish Septimania was conquered, with the exception of Toulouse, defended by the Duke of Aquitaine Eudes: it was the first defeat of the Muslims in the West (they had previously failed before Constantinople, in 717) since their problems against the Berbers at the end of the previous century.
There are then other short raids, including one that still goes as far as Autun in 725 [Editor's note 2011: H. Mouillebouche disputes this in the Annales Bourguignonnes, T.52]! In 732, Andalusian governor Abd al-Rahman al-Ghâfîqî decided to attack this time from the West. No source - especially Arab - speaks of a desire for conquest (only Paul Deacon possibly, but there is confusion in his chronology, where he seems to mix the battles of Toulouse and Poitiers), and the primary objective of the This expedition was probably the plunder of the rich abbeys and monasteries of Aquitaine, with Saint-Martin-de-Tours as the highlight.
The situation in the Frankish kingdom
The ancient kingdom of Clovis has exploded since the death of Pepin II. It is bursts into kingdoms, duchies or principalities such as Neustria, Austrasia or Aquitaine. It has been ruled since 681 by Eudes, who considers himself an independent king. Allied with the Neustria of Rainfroi and the Merovingian puppet king Chilperic II, he fought between 718 and 720 against the mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, Charles Martel. The latter, son of Pepin II, managed to get rid of his cumbersome mother-in-law Plectrude and his Frisian and Saxon allies. As soon as the Austrasian aristocracy rallied to his cause, he placed Clotaire IV on the throne but himself exercised power. He defeated Eudes and Rainfroi, and signed a treaty with them in 720. In 731, he got rid of Rainfroi for good and had his eye on the rich Aquitaine.
Hero of Toulouse, Eudes is not unaware that his situation is untenable. He is stuck between an increasingly aggressive Muslim Andalusia, and a Charles who will soon cross the Loire to get his hands on his province. He then decides to ally himself with a dissident Berber chief, Munnuza, to whom he would have married his daughter Lampégie in 729 (some historians dispute the reality of this marriage, the sources being very imprecise on the subject, which has not prevented the appearance of myths and fantasies around this union). But the governor of Al Andalus does not see it that way: according to some sources, Munnuza is beaten and beheaded, and Lampégie sent to the harem of the Caliph of Damascus! But this agreement with Munnuza is subsequently exploited by pro-Carolingian sources who accuse Eudes of treason, and thus justify Charles' expedition ...
The new Andalusian governor, Abd al-Rahman, decided to attack Aquitaine in 732. Poitiers was not his main destination, however. He repulsed the Duke Eudes on several occasions, beyond the Dordogne and the Garonne and plundered churches and monasteries on his way, in addition to cities like Bordeaux or Agen. He even managed to reach Poitiers, where he ransacked the Saint-Hilaire basilica. His next goal: Saint Martin-de-Tours, one of the sacred places of Merovingian royalty.
The Appeal to Charles and the Battle of ... Moussais?
Eudes has only one chance to save his kingdom: call on Charles Martel for help. This one does not need to pray, and crosses the Loire to meet the Muslim troops. The precise sources on the battle are very rare. The Mozarabic chronicle of 754, written by a Christian living under Islamic rule in Spain, is the most detailed and evokes the stopped charge of the Saracens on a "wall of ice" of the Franks. The Continuateur de Frédégaire, pro-Charles Martel, is less precise and welcomes the charge of Charles, while Paul Deacon notes the active participation of Eudes. Arab sources, very later, are content to note that the Andalusian Emir died a martyr.
The place and the date continue to be debated. If there is a memorial of the battle at Moussais, near Chatellerault, other sites are sometimes advanced, such as Ballan-Miré. The battle undoubtedly took place between Poitiers and Tours, difficult to know more. For the date, Philippe Sénac affirms that October 25, 732 puts almost all historians in agreement, but translations from Arabic sources also speak of 733 ...
The victory is in any case real and total for the Franks, but who will it benefit from and what will be the consequences?
Charles victorious in Poitiers
The real winner of the "Battle of Poitiers" is obviously Charles: he defeated the Arabs, and supplants Eudes, previously champion of the Church, thanks to his victory at Toulouse. He took the opportunity to turn him into a client, and would eventually get his hands on Aquitaine after the duke's death in 735 (even if Aquitaine became truly Frankish only under Charlemagne).
Charles continued his fight against the Arabs in the following years. They avoid Aquitaine, but continue their forays further east. Taking advantage of an alliance with the Provençals, they took Arles and Avignon in 735, but the second was taken over in 737 by Charles' brother, Childebrand. The two brothers failed in front of Narbonne in 737 (taken by Pépin le Bref in 751), but crushed a large Muslim army near Berre, in Sigean, the same year. Therefore, the Arabs will almost cease their attacks in these regions.
In the meantime, Charles has become a model champion of the Church and the kingdom. He does not end up king, however.
The consequences and recoveries
The term "European "(Europenses) is used in one of the best-informed sources on the battle of Poitiers, the Mozarabic Chronicle (written by a cleric from Cordoba, mid-8th century). The Europeans are assimilated there to the Franks (or people of Austrasia, of the North), in opposition to the Arabs, also called "Saracens" or "Ishmaelites". Contrary to what some have asserted later, the cleavage is not primarily religious: Islam, very little known, is then considered only as a simple heresy, in the same way as Eastern Monophysism or Nestorism, and more like paganism. The cleavage is therefore very political.
The posterity of the battle and of Charles is quite relative.
First, Poitiers was not considered a major battle for a long time, particularly in the Middle Ages. It reappears sporadically, depending on the context, but it is especially in the 19th century that it really begins to be used for ideological purposes, in particular by Chateaubriand, who sees in it an opposition between Christianity and Islam, or during the conquest of the Algeria. During the Third Republic, it had a nationalist scope, but was not seen as a symbol of a clash between two religions. It was not until the end of the 90s for that, with Huntington, the theorist of the clash of civilizations. His theses are taken up by part of the French far right which, in the context of a rise in Islamophobia, has found its historical symbol.
As for Charles, he has long been considered a usurper, and especially the despoiler of Church property, far from the image of defender of Christendom that we are trying to stick to him today. This relative place of Charles and the Battle of Poitiers in history is logically verified in school curricula. If man and event are present, it is always much less than other figures and events like Saint Louis, or even for a time, Bouvines. Only the concise formula remains today: "In 732, Charles Martel arrested the Arabs in Poitiers", which does not say much about the facts and their context, and is only a formula to be learned by heart. like 1515-Marignan.
- W. Blanc, C. Naudin, Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers. From history to identity myth, Libertalia editions, 2015.
- By Salah Guermiche: Abd er-Rhaman against Charles Martel, The true story of the battle of Poitiers. Editions Perrin, May 2010.
- F. MICHEAU, "The battle of Poitiers, from reality to myth", in History of Islam and Muslims in France from the Middle Ages to the present day, ed. by M. Arkoun, Paris, Albin Michel, 2006, p. 7-15.
- P. SENAC, The Carolingians and Al-Andalus (8th-9th centuries), Maisonneuve-Larose, 2002.
- F. MICHEAU, "732, Charles Martel, chiefs of the Franks, wins the battle of Poitiers over the Arabs", in 1515 and the Great dates in the history of France, Seuil, 2005.