CHAPTER VII. THE BATTLE OF TOURS, A.D. 732,
"The events that rescued our ancestors of Britain, and our
neighbours of Gaul, from the civil and religious yoke of the
Koran." - GIBBON.
The broad tract of champaign country which intervenes between the cities of Poictiers and Tours is principally composed of a succession of rich pasture lands, which are traversed and fertilized by the Cher, the Creuse, the Vienne, the Claine, the Indre, and other tributaries of the river Loire. Here and there, the ground swells into picturesque eminences; and occasionally a belt of forest land, a brown heath, or a clustering series of vineyards, breaks the monotony of the wide-spread meadows; but the general character of the land is that of a grassy plain, and it seems naturally adapted for the evolutions of numerous armies, especially of those vast bodies of cavalry which, principally decided the fate of nations during the centuries that followed the downfall of Rome, and preceded the consolidation of the modern European powers.
This region has been signalized by more than one memorable conflict; but it is principally interesting to the historian, by having been the scene of the great victory won by Charles Martel over the Saracens, A.D. 732, which gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization, and re-established the old superiority of the Indo-European over the Semitic family of mankind.
Sismondi and Michelet have underrated the enduring interest of this great Appeal of Battle between the champions of the Crescent and the Cross. But, if French writers have slighted the exploits of their national hero, the Saracenic trophies of Charles Martel have had full justice done to them by English and German historians. Gibbon devotes several pages of his great work to the narrative of the battle of Tours, and to the consideration of the consequences which probably would have resulted, if Abderrahman's enterprise had not been crushed by the Frankish chief. [Vol, vii. p. 11, ET SEQ. Gibbon's remark, that if the Saracen conquest had not then been checked, "Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomat," has almost an air of regret.] Schlegel speaks of this "mighty victory" in terms of fervent gratitude; and tells how "the arms of Charles Martel saved and delivered the Christian nations of the West from the deadly grasp of all-destroying Islam;" [Philosophy of History, p. 331.] and Ranke points out, as "one of the most important epochs in the history of the world, the commencement of the eighth century; when, on the one side, Mahommedanism threatened to overspread Italy and Gaul, and on the other, the ancient idolatry of Saxony and Friesland once more forced its way across the Rhine. In this peril of Christian institutions, a youthful prince of Germanic race, Karl Martell, arose as their champion; maintained them with all the energy which the necessity for self-defence calls forth, and finally extended them into new regions." [History of the Reformation in Germany, vol. i. p. 5.]
Arnold ranks the victory of Charles Martel even higher than the victory of Arminius, "among those signal deliverances which have affected for centuries the happiness of mankind." [History of the later Roman Commonwealth, vol ii. p. 317.] In fact, the more we test its importance, the higher we shall be led to estimate it; and, though the authentic details which we possess of its circumstances and its heroes are but meagre, we can trace enough of its general character to make us watch with deep interest this encounter between the rival conquerors of the decaying Roman empire. That old classic world, the history of which occupies so large a portion of our early studies, lay, in the eighth century of our era, utterly exanimate and overthrown. On the north the German, on the south the Arab, was rending away its provinces. At last the spoilers encountered one another, each striving for the full mastery of the prey. Their conflict brought back upon the memory of Gibbon the old Homeric simile, where the strife of Hector and Patroclus over the dead body of Cebriones is compared to the combat of two lions, that in their hate and hunger fight together on the mountain-tops over the carcass of a slaughtered stag: and the reluctant yielding of the Saracen power to the superior might of the Northern warriors, might not inaptly recall those other lines of the same book of the Iliad, where the downfall of Patroclus beneath Hector is likened to the forced yielding of the panting and exhausted wild boar, that had long and furiously fought with a superior beast of prey for the possession of the fountain among the rocks, at which each burned to drink.