The Decisive Battle between Crescent and Cross
It was the eighth century, and the Saracens were over-running Western Europe; the Crescent was everywhere conquering before the Cross. Caliph Abderrahman Ibn Abdillah Alghafeki, governor of Spain, mighty soldier from Africa, conqueror in Europe, led an expedition into Gaul to carry his triumphs farther. The Arabs passed through like a cyclone; and then they met Charles Martel at Tours.
Charles, surnamed Martel from the hammer-like blows which his strong arm and his armies inflicted, was Duke of the Franks. And when the Saracen peril became too pressing, and the Christian leaders found themselves helpless to combat it, Charles was called to the command of the Franks.
These latter wished to tackle the Saracens at once; Charles advised prudence, telling his followers that in their passage through the country the Saracens had laid the land waste, had dismantled the monasteries of their riches and then given them to the flames; so that at every step they gained in wealth. They had, too, brought with them their families and goods to the intent to settle in the land they were about to conquer.
All these were encumbrances, as Charles knew, and he made his preparations as quickly as he could, gathering his irregular army round him, and when all was ready, marching with such haste that he came upon the Saracens between Tours and Poitiers before they expected him.
And then, in 732, was fought the Battle of Tours—the trial of strength between the Cross and the Crescent.
When Charles appeared, Abderrahman was engaged in storming Tours, intent on carrying out his pillaging and burning policy. Creasy, translating an Arab chronicler, says: "And Abderrahman and other prudent cavaliers saw the disorder of the Moslem troops, who were loaded with spoil; but they did not venture to displease the soldiers by ordering them to abandon everything except their arms and war-horses. Abderrahman trusted in the valour of his soldiers, and in the good fortune which had ever attended him. But such defect of discipline is always fatal to armies. So Abderrahman and his host attacked Tours to gain still more spoil, and they fought against it so fiercely that they stormed the city almost before the eyes of the army that came to save it; and the fury and the cruelty of the Moslems towards the inhabitants were like the fury and cruelty of raging tigers. It was manifest that God's chastisement was sure to follow such excess."
Then came the chastisement.
The Moslems were a mighty host. Infantry from the conquered land of Spain, and wild, dashing cavalry from the deserts of Africa, veterans in the art of war, fresh from victories which had swelled their heads and filled their coffers, they looked forward to the battle with confidence. Memories of glorious battlefields filled their minds, burning towns marked their path behind them, visions of yet greater conquests rose before them; they were out to carry the Crescent throughout Europe.
As for the army of Charles Martel, it was composed of hardy men from the left bank of the Rhine, warriors from among the Franks, who had fought many a sanguine battle with the tribes who opposed the overlordship of the Hammer. Behind them lay the land which the Saracens had come to conquer; before them lay the Moslem army, and farther on, the devastated country through which the infidels had come; and each man knew that if, in the trial of strength, the Arabs won, the future held little good for the soldiers of the Cross.
Flushed with past victories, the Moslem hosts went into the fight with a rush, giving Charles no time to make the first attack. The dark-faced, white-robed horsemen from the desert sands swept down upon the serried ranks of Frankish warriors like a tornado. Gleaming scimitars flashed in the sun, swept round and round, and laid many a Frank low; yet still the mass held to its place, and back the Arabs were forced.
For six days did the battle thus rage, the solid wall of northmen receiving the charging cavalry at the point of the sword, "standing firm as a wall, and impenetrable as a zone of ice," but nevertheless suffering much themselves from the trampling horses and the masses of African infantry who poured down upon them and sent in their clouds of arrows. For six days neither side gained much advantage; but on the seventh day things changed.
That day the Moslems penetrated the Christian ranks, the cavalry hewing their way into the very centre of the army, wielding their scimitars with deadly effect, the footmen whirling their swords round or short-thrusting them, so that Franks fell on all sides.
But weight told at last; those warriors from the north were men of iron whose battle-axes crashed through skull and body; and chief among them all was Charles the Hammer. All day the battle raged, but the Moslems could not get right through the soldiers of the Cross; they even began to doubt the issue of the battle, began to fear for the hard-won treasure in the camp.
"A false cry arose from their ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; whereupon several squadrons of the Moslem horsemen rode off to protect their tents. But it seemed as if they fled; and all the host was troubled. And while Abderrahman strove to check their tumult, and to lead them back to battle, the warriors of the Franks came round him, and he was pierced through with many spears so that he died. Then all the host lied before the enemy, and many died in the flight." So says the Arab chronicler.
It was an ignominious retreat. Their leader slain, their treasure, so it would seem, in peril, their foe pressing hard upon them, the Arabs forgot their valour, forgot their past triumphs, forgot the purpose of their coming; and the retreat turned to a rout. Dismay seized upon their hearts; panic spread through the fleeing ranks; and, losing their heads completely, some of the Arab tribes turned their weapons upon each other.
Then the sun went down upon the scene of carnage, and the Franks drew off to wait until the morrow.
Morning came. Away in the Moslem camp not a sound was heard. What was happening? Were the Arabs lying low to lure the Franks out? Charles Martel at once sent out spies to reconnoitre. Carefully they made their way to the camp—and lo! it was deserted!
Under shelter of the night of the rout, the Saracens, defeated and demoralised, had fled from the field where-on they had left so many of their noblest warriors. The Cross had triumphed over the Crescent; the Hammer had swept down upon the Moslem hosts and stayed their progress through Northern Europe.