Battle of Toulouse (721)

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For other battles with the same name, see Battle of Toulouse.
Battle of Toulouse
Date June 9, 721
Location Toulouse, France
Result Aquitanian victory
Aquitaine Umayyad Caliphate
Commanders and leaders
Odo of Aquitaine Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani

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.

The battle[edit]

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. 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, just as the city was about to surrender, and attacked the Umayyad investing force on June 9.

The 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. The fateful date and 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. 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.


Some historians believe that the Battle of Toulouse halted the Muslim conquest of Europe even more than the later—and more celebrated—Battle of Tours (October 10, 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: 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. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) and other historians believe that Charles Martel was well aware of the growing storm from Umayyad Hispania and his primary focus in the decade between the battles of Toulouse and Tours was to prepare for the latter. On the other hand, others hold that Charles was busy subduing other Germanic peoples with his strong army, and only turned his attention to the faraway Umayyads when in 732 a defeated duke Odo warned him of the raiding Andalusi troops approaching Tours, a rich town on the outer fringes of his domains.

Charles Martel's controversial seizure of church property to buy supporters, secure power, and settle his northern frontier by any means necessary (including bribery in some cases) allowed him to fund his army and, according to some historians, prepare for the coming danger. This earned great enmity from the Church at the time, but after Tours, Rome swiftly saw the necessity of the Frankish Army. 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 carries macrohistorical importance as it bought time for Martel to prepare for the greater invasion mounted by Abd al Rahman in 732. However, others (e.g. Archibald Lewis, etc.) assume 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. Charles Martel was according to the Fredegar engaged in the consolidation of power north of the Loire and fighting the Frisians. Ironically, while Odo is forgotten, Martel became in later times hailed as the savior of Europe, and of the Church itself. While both are debatable, these events and Martel's later campaigns against Septimania and Provence under Umayyad sway in 736-7 almost certainly assured the development of Europe and of the Roman Catholic Church as we know them today.

External links[edit]

  • From a Christian context:

Watson, William E., "The Battle of Tours-Poitiers Revisited", Providence: Studies in Western Civilization, 2 (1993)

  • Poke,The Battle of Tours, from the book Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World From Marathon to Waterloo by Sir Edward Creasy, MA
  • Edward Gibbon, The Battle of Tours, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Richard Hooker, "Civil War and the Umayyads"
  • Arabs, Franks, and the Battle of Tours, 732: Three Accounts from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook
  • The Battle of Tours 732, from the "Jewish Virtual Library" website: A division of the American-Israeli Cooperative.
  • Tours,Poiters, from "Leaders and Battles Database" online.
  • Robert W. Martin, "The Battle of Tours is still felt today", from

Santosuosso, Anthony, Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels ISBN 0-8133-9153-9