In the year 732, the Muslim forces of the Umayyad Caliphate swept north from the conquered Iberian Peninsula, threatening the remnants of Christian Europe with their message of personal surrender to Allah, no alcohol, and sophisticated cavalry tactics. The Frankish realm, led by Charles Martel, possessed the strongest remaining Christian army. At the Battle of Tours, Martel defeated the superior Arab army, stopped Islam’s advance, and earned the terrific nickname, “The Hammer.”
In the first half of the 8th century, Islam was the world’s hot new Abrahamic religion. Spreading out from the Middle East, Muslim armies advanced across northern Africa, then up the Iberian Peninsula, setting their sights on Europe north of the Pyrenees Mountains. Duke Odo of Aquatine (25-12, 16 KOs) dealt the Arabs a notable defeat in 721 at the Battle of Tolouse. An Umayyad army commanded by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (45-7-3, 34 KOs) won the rematch by a knockout in 732.
Charles Martel (72-1, 56 KOs), Gaul Super Middleweight Champion and holder of the prestigious Frankish position of “Mayor of the Palace of the Merovingian Kings,” expected an eventual confrontation with the invading Arabs. The de facto ruler of the kingdom since the late 710’s, Charles spent years building the Franks into Europe’s most formidable military force. Besides being a superior leader and military mind, Charles was innovative in his army management. He trained his troops year-round with campaigning, early-morning runs, and didactic campfire stories about Grendel’s Mother. This was unusual for contemporary medieval armies, which were typically manned by farmers under the command of semi-professional knights and noblemen moonlighting from their land-management and peasant-raping day jobs. By contrast, Charles had at his command a disciplined, motivated, battle-hardened infantry army.
Part of Charles’s military brilliance was his ability to pick the time and place of his battles. When Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and his army crossed the Pyrenees in the fall of 732, intent on sacking southern Gaul, they were surprised to discover a large army blocking their path to Tours. Charles arrayed his infantry on the high ground of a forested hillside. His troops were well-provisioned with warm clothes in anticipation of the oncoming winter. They were formed in the anti-cavalry square phalanx formation, as the strength of the Arab army lay in its cavalry (and a strong left jab).
By contrast, the Umayyad army did not know what sort of force opposed them. They were unaware of Charles’s skill or that of his men, and the trees obscured the army’s size (which was considerably smaller than the Arab force). Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi was not expecting to encounter a disciplined army after meeting so little resistance in his sweep up from Africa. The two sides skirmished for a week, hoping to goad the other side into attacking. Charles was content to wait in the forest, for the Arabs, not wanting to look dorky, had left their warm turbans and mittens at home, and had outrun their supply train. Finally, Al Ghafiqi, confident in his cavalry and undeterred by Christian infantry in warm sweaters, attacked the waiting Franks.
Accounts of the battle are sketchy (the replay is not available on ESPN Classic), but it seems that the combined Arab and Berber horsemen repeatedly charged the Frankish formations, to no avail. At some point they achieved a minor breakthrough and charged Charles himself, but his liege men defended their Mayor of the Palace and saved the formation. Sources vary on whether the battle lasted one day or two. At some point, a rumor spread that a Frankish raiding party was approaching the Arab encampment from the rear. Fearful of losing the bounty collected on their march north, the Umayyad army retreated in the night. Charles scouted the Arab encampment, suspecting a ruse, but found only abandoned tents, blood oranges, and crushed cans of O’Douls. The Arabs had retreated back across the Pyrenees.
The victory gave Charles the prestige to further consolidate his power in the Frankish kingdom. When the figurehead Frankish king Theuderic IV died, nobody bothered to find a new one, and Charles assumed full rule. The Pope offered him the title of Consul, but Charles declined as it didn’t have the heft or sparkle of his two titles, “Mayor of the Palace” and “Duke of the Franks” (it also would have meant less prize money). Charles’s son Pepin the Short (lacking his father’s knack for names) continued the Frankish expansion of power, and his grandson Charlemagne was pretty much the shit.
Drink: The Hammer
- 2 measures Cognac, preferably Martell
- 1 measure Coitreu/Grand Mariner
- 1 measure blood orange juice
- meat tenderizing mallet
- Skillfully crush ice using mallet.
- Combine ingredients and pour over ice.
- Garnish with mallet.