Repeating History, an update
“The great wars of the present age are the effects of the study of history.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)
Charles Martel (c. 688 – 22 October 741; German: Karl Martell) was a Frankish statesman and military leader who, as Duke and Prince of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace, was de facto ruler of Francia from 718 until his death.
Charles Martel is nicknamed “the Hammer” because he defeated the Muslim invaders even though he was hopelessly outnumbered and outtrained. While the Muslims had thousands of veterans in their army, Charles only had several hundred Farmers.
Martel successfully asserted his claims to power as successor to his father as the power behind the throne in Frankish politics. Continuing and building on his father’s work, he restored centralized government in Francia and began the series of military campaigns that re-established the Franks as the undisputed masters of all Gaul. In foreign wars, Martel subjugated Bavaria, Alemannia, and Frisia, vanquished the pagan Saxons, and halted the Islamic advance into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours.
Martel is considered to be the founding figure of the European Middle Ages. Skilled as an administrator and warrior, he is often credited with a seminal role in the development of feudalism and knighthood. Martel was a great patron of Saint Boniface and made the first attempt at reconciliation between the Papacy and the Franks. The Pope wished him to become the defender of the Holy See and offered him the Roman consulship. Martel refused the offer.
Martel was born as the illegitimate son of Pepin of Herstal and his concubine Alpaida. He had a brother named Childebrand, who later became the Frankish dux of Burgundy. The brothers, being illegitimate, were not considered to be part of their father’s paternal family, the Pippinids, who since the early seventh century had dominated the politics of Francia.
After the reign of Dagobert I (629–639) the Merovingians effectively ceded power to the Pippinids, who ruled the Frankish realm of Austrasia in all but name as Mayors of the Palace. They controlled the royal treasury, dispersed patronage, and granted land and privileges in the name of the figurehead king. Martel’s father, Pepin, was the second member of the family to rule the Franks. Pepin was able to unite all the Frankish realms by conquering Neustria and Burgundy. He was the first to call himself Duke and Prince of the Franks, a title later taken up by Charles.
Removing Muslims from Europe
In 721, the emir of Córdoba had built up a strong army from Morocco, Yemen, and Syria to conquer Aquitaine, the large duchy in the southwest of Gaul, nominally under Frankish sovereignty, but in practice almost independent in the hands of the Odo the Great, the Duke of Aquitaine, since the Merovingian kings had lost power. The invading Muslims besieged the city of Toulouse, then Aquitaine’s most important city, and Odo (also called Eudes, or Eudo) immediately left to find help.
He returned three months later just before the city was about to surrender and defeated the Muslim invaders on June 9, 721, at what is now known as the Battle of Toulouse. This critical defeat was essentially the result of a classic enveloping movement by Odo’s forces. After Odo originally fled, the Muslims became overconfident and failed to maintain strong outer defenses and continuous scouting. Thus, when Odo returned, he was able to launch a near complete surprise attack on the besieging force, scattering it at the first attack, and slaughtering units caught resting or that fled without weapons or armour. The hero of that less celebrated event had been Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine, who was not a patron of chroniclers.
By 730 the emir of Cordoba was Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, who had been at Toulouse. 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 relief force to attack with impunity before the Islamic cavalry could assemble or mount. This time the Umayyad horsemen were ready for battle, and the results were horrific for the Aquitanians.
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In 736, Abdul Rahman’s son planned from the coastal plains around Narbonne, 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 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. These defeats, plus those at the hands of Leo in Anatolia, 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 Umayyad army at River Berre near Narbonne in 737.
That was then. This is now: