Islamic invasion of Gaul

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Muslim invasion of Gaul
Part of Muslim Conquest
Steuben - Bataille de Poitiers.png
The Battle of Tours in 732, depicts a triumphant Charles Martel (mounted) facing Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi (right) at the Battle of Tours. Painting (1837) by Charles de Steuben.
Date 719-759
Location Southern Gaul (now France)
  • Frankish victory
  • The Ummayad retreat permanently to Iberia
Francia annexes Septimania
Umayyad Caliphate Visigoths Kingdom of the Franks

Kingdom of the Lombards

Commanders and leaders
Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani 
Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi 
Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri
Ardo  Odo of Aquitaine
Charles Martel
Pépin le Bref

The Islamic invasion of Gaul followed the Islamic conquest of Hispania by the Muslim Commander Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711. During the 8th century Muslim armies conquered the region of Septimania, the last remnant of the Visigothic Kingdom.[1]

The Umayyad conquest was stopped at the Battle of Toulouse in 721, but they sporadically raided Southern Gaul as far as Avignon, Lyon, and Autun.[2] After the 732 Battle of Tours-Poitiers, the Franks checked Aquitanian sovereignty, and reasserted their authority over Burgundy, but only later in 759 did they manage to take the Mediterranean region of Septimania, due to Andalusi neglect and local Gothic disaffection.[3]

Ummayad conquest of Septimania[edit]

Muslim Hispania in 732, Septimania is to the North East, around Carcassonne.

By 716, under the pressure of the Muslims from the south, the Kingdom of the Visigoths had been rapidly reduced to the province of Septimania, a region which corresponds approximately to the modern Languedoc-Roussillon, and present-day Catalonia. By 717, the Umayyads under al-Hurr ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Thaqafi started to cross the eastern Pyrenees into Aquitanian territory and Septimania as a continuation to their Iberian conquest, but the commander failed to advance further.

After being replaced by al-Samh, Islamic forces seized Barcelona and the Septimanian city of Narbonne (Arbouna for the Arabs) in 719 despite local resistance. A sizable number of the town defenders and inhabitants were killed in the aftermath by the victorious Umayyad forces. From 720 on, Narbonne became the capital city of Muslim Septimania, and used as a base for razzias. A mosque was established in Narbonne, inside the church of Sainte-Rustique.

However, the Umayyad tide was temporarily halted in the large-scale Battle of Toulouse (721), when Emir al-Samh (the "Zama" of Christian chronicles) was killed by Odo of Aquitaine. In general terms the Gothic Septimania surrendered to the Muslims in favourable conditions for them, allowing the Umayyads to rule the region with the conditioned support of the local population and the Gothic nobles.

In 725, his successor, Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi, besieged the city of Carcassonne, which had to agree to give half of its territory, pay tribute, and make an offensive and defensive alliance with Muslim forces. Nimes and all the other main Septimanian cities fell too under the sway of the Umayyads. In the 720s the savage fighting, the massacres and destruction particularly affecting the Ebro valley and Septimania unleashed a flow of refugees who mainly found shelter in southern Aquitaine across the Pyrenees, and Provence.[4]

Later, Munuza became governor of the Cerdanya (also including a large swathe of present-day Catalonia), but rebelled against Cordovan central rule. The Berber leader allied with the Aquitanian duke Odo, who was eager to stabilize his borders, and married his daughter.

Arabic words were borrowed, such as qamis for "chemise" (shirt); quffa ("couffin" in Provence language); tordjman (translator) which became drogoman in Provençal, and is still in use in the expression "par le truchement de"; charaha (to discuss), which became "charabia".

Raid into Aquitaine and Poitou[edit]

By 731, all of Septimania was under Islamic rule. Munuza, the Pyrenean Berber lord ruling on the eastern Pyrenees, was killed by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, who went on to attack Odo, vanquishing him in the Battle of the River Garonne in 732. The Muslim force then moved north to invade Poitou in order to plunder the Basilica of Saint-Martin-de-Tours.

Battle of Tours (732)[edit]

Muslim forces were defeated in the Battle of Tours in 732, considered the turning point of Muslim expansion in Gaul. With the death of Odo in 735 and after putting down the Aquitanian detachment attempt led by duke Hunald, Charles Martel went on to deal with Burgundy and the Mediterranean south of Gaul.

Expansion to Provence and Charles Martel[edit]

Muslim troops leaving Narbonne to Pépin le Bref, in 759, after 40 years of occupation.

Still, in 734, Islamic forces under Abd el-Malik el Fihri, Abd al-Rahman's successor, received without a fight the submission of the cities of Avignon, Arles, and probably Marseille, ruled by count Maurontus. The patrician of Provence had called Islamic forces in to protect his strongholds from the Carolingian thrust, maybe estimating his own garrisons too weak to fend off Charles Martel's well-organised, strong army made up of vassi enriched with Church lands.

Charles faced the opposition of various regional actors: Firstly, the Gothic and Gallo-Roman nobility of the region, who feared his aggressive and overbearing policy.[5] Charles decided to ally with the Lombard King Liutprand in order to repel the Muslims and regional nobility of Gothic and Gallo-Roman stock. In 737 Charles captured and reduced to rubble Avignon, besides destroying the Islamic fleet. The brother of Charles, Childebrand failed however in the siege of Narbonne.

Charles attacked several other cities which had collaborated with the Muslims, and destroyed their fortifications: Beziers, Agde, Maguelone, Montpellier, Nimes. Before his return to the northern Francia, Charles had managed to crush all opposition in Provence and Lower Rhone. Count Maurontus of Marseille fled to the Alps.

Loss of Septimania[edit]

Muslims reasserted their authority over Septimania for another 15 years. However, in 752, the newly proclaimed king Pepin, led a new campaign into Septimania, when regional Gothic allegiances were shifting in favour of the Frankish king. That year, Pepin conquered Nimes and went on to subdue most of Septimania up to the gates of Narbonne. In his quest to subdue the Muslim Gothic Septimania, Charles found the opposition of another actor, the Duke of Aquitaine. The Duke Waiffer, aware of the expansionist ambitions of Charles' heir Pépin le Bref, is recorded attacking him on the rearguard with an army of Basques on his siege of Narbonne (752).

It was ultimately the Frankish king who managed to take Narbonne in 759, after vowing to respect the Gothic law and earning the allegiance of the Gothic nobility and population, thus marking the end of the Muslim presence in southern Gaul. Furthermore, Pépin directed all his war effort against the Duchy of Aquitaine immediately after subduing Roussillon.

Pépin's son, Charlemagne, fulfilled the Frankish goal of extending the defensive boundaries of the empire beyond Septimania and the Pyrenees, creating a strong barrier state between the Umayyad Emirate and Francia. This buffer zone known as the "Spanish March" would become a focus for the Reconquista.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tricolor and crescent: France and the Islamic world by William E. Watson p.1
  2. ^ Tricolor and crescent: France and the Islamic world by William E. Watson p.1
  3. ^ Tricolor and crescent: France and the Islamic world by William E. Watson p.1
  4. ^ Collins, Roger (1989). The Arab Conquest of Spain 710-797. Oxford, UK / Cambridge, USA: Blackwell. p. 213. ISBN 0-631-19405-3. 
  5. ^ Collins, Roger (1989). The Arab Conquest of Spain 710-797. Oxford, UK / Cambridge, USA: Blackwell. p. 92. ISBN 0-631-19405-3.