Battle of Toulouse (721)
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The Battle of Toulouse (721) was a victory of an Aquitanian Christian army led by Duke Odo of Aquitaine over an Umayyad Muslim army besieging the city of Toulouse, and led by the governor of Al-Andalus, Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani. The victory checked the spread of Umayyad control westward from Narbonne into Aquitaine.
|Battle of Toulouse|
|Duchy of Aquitaine||Umayyad Caliphate|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Odo of Aquitaine||Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani|
Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, the wali (governor) of Al-Andalus, built up a strong army from Umayyad territories to conquer Aquitaine, a large duchy in the southwest of modern-day France, formally under Frankish sovereignty, but in practice almost independent in the hands of the dukes of Aquitaine. Ian Meadows states that Al-Samh's aim was to take the Garonne River valley, capture Toulouse and open up a vast territory stretching all the way to the Atlantic and back south through Andalusia to the Mediterranean and the Maghrib.
Al-Samh's army included siege engines, infantry, a few horsemen and a number of mercenaries, as well as Basque slingers. He besieged the city of Toulouse, then Aquitaine's most important city, and Duke Odo of Aquitaine, also known as Eudes, immediately left to find help. He asked the assistance of Charles Martel, who in turn preferred to wait and see rather than help his southern rival.
Odo returned three months later with Aquitanian and Frankish troops, and just as the city was about to surrender, attacked the Umayyad invasion force on June 9. The exact origin of the Frankish troops is not certain, but they may have hailed from southern Aquitanian areas, e.g., in the Lower Rhone, where naturalized Franks had settled down decades or centuries before. The Aquitanian victory was essentially the result of a classic enveloping movement by Odo. After Odo originally fled, the Umayyads became overconfident, and instead of maintaining strong outer defenses around their siege camp, and continuously scouting, did neither. Thus, when Odo returned, he was able to launch an almost total surprise attack on the siege force, scattering it with the first attack, and slaughtering units that were resting or fled without weapons or armour.
Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani managed to get away with a fraction of his forces, but died shortly thereafter, leaving Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi (721-725) as governor. The number of soldiers who engaged in the battle has been grossly inflated to about 300,000 on Odo's side (Al-Maqqari), and a death-toll of 375,000 on the assaulting Umayyad troops. At any rate, the figures give a rough idea of the dimensions of the confrontation.
Arab historians agree that the Battle of Toulouse was a total disaster. After the defeat, some Umayyad officials and soldiers managed to escape, among them Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi. However, the clash halted indefinitely the Umayyad expansion northwards. Al-Andalus was at the time re-organising into a new after-Gothic order. The Umayyads kept the military initiative raiding several times the south of Gaul (up to Autun in 725), but avoided new serious campaigns into the north-west.
Odo's victory earned him widespread renown in Aquitaine and recognition abroad, he came up reinforced. He was hailed as champion of Christianity by the Pope in Rome, and was even presented with gifts. Charles steered clear of the political and military developments in the south of Gaul for another 10 years, until 732.
The fateful engagement, the so-called Balat Al Shuhada of Toulouse, would be still remembered in memorials by Al-Andalus Muslims for the following 450 years, as opposed to the Battle of Poitiers, held as a minor battle.
Some historians[who?] believe that the Battle of Toulouse halted the Muslim conquest of Europe even more than the later—and more celebrated—Battle of Tours (10 October 732, between Tours and Poitiers), but this is highly problematic: for even had the Arabs won at Toulouse, they still would have had to conquer the Franks to retain control of the region. However, nearly all historians agree that the Christian victory at Toulouse was important in a macrohistorical sense in that it gave Charles Martel badly needed time to strengthen his grip on power and build the veteran army which stood him in such good stead eleven years later at Tours. The eleven years between Toulouse and Tours without question gave him time to fully secure power, inspire the loyalty of his troops, and, most importantly, drill the core of veterans who stood so stoutly in 732.
While Odo faded into history after his horrific defeat at Bordeaux, the Battle of Toulouse is important as it bought time for Martel to prepare for the invasion mounted by Abd al Rahman in 732. However, others (e.g. Archibald Lewis, Roger Collins, etc.) hold that Umayyad attacks were raids or razzias, like the one reaching as far north as Autun in 725, and not real attempts to conquer Francia. Ironically, while Odo is forgotten, Martel was hailed in later times as the "savior of Europe" by many Western and European authors and academic figures.
- Ian Meadows, "The Arabs in Occitania", Arab and Islamic Cultures and Connections, Saudi Aramco World
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