The Frankish king Charlemagne was a devout Catholic who maintained a close relationship with the papacy throughout his life. In 772, when Pope Adrian I was threatened by invaders, the king rushed to Rome to provide assistance. Shown here, the pope asks Charlemagne for help at a meeting near Rome.

Charles Martel had achieved much more than merely defeating a large-scale Islamic raid by his victory north of Poitiers in AD 732. Prince Eudes of Aquitaine was now his vassal while the powerful bishops of Burgundy were mere satellites of the Frankish Kingdom. But instead of taking military advantage of his new position, Charles Martel acted with moderation, forming local alliances with the Burgundians as he tried to extend Frankish control down the Rhone Valley. Only two years later in AD 734, however, the Frankish representatives were expelled from Lyon and the Burgundian ‘sub-kingdom’ reasserted its independence. The death of Eudes of Aquitaine early the following year, and the succession of his more assertive son Hunald, meant that Charles could not immediately punish the Burgundian ‘rebellion’ Instead he launched a campaign against Prince Hunald of Aquitaine before, in autumn AD 737, he again arrested the ‘unreliable’ bishops of Orleans and Auxerre as a prelude to the reconquest of Burgundy. Such problem s closer to home meant that the affairs of Islamic al-Andalus hardly concerned Charles Martel at all.

The impact of the Poitiers campaign on Aquitaine was much more serious, despite the Christian victory. The year AD 732 had witnessed Prince Eudes’ first major defeat and had prevented him from becoming a serious rival to Charles Martel. To paraphrase the renowned medieval historian Henri Pirenne, without Abd al-Rahman crushing Eudes, Charlemagne’s rise as ruler of the greater part of Western Europe would not have been possible.

Eudes had accepted his new position as Charles’ vassal, but his successors Hunald I, Waifer and Hunald II did not. As a result Aquitaine would remain the Franks’ bitterest enemy within what eventually became France. In fact the Aquitainians resisted repeated Frankish invasions, most of which penetrated only a short distance to plunder and besiege fortresses. Eventually, however, the much greater military potential of the Franks triumphed, Hunald II was defeated and Lupus, prince of the Gascons’ as he was known in Frankish sources, handed over his lands to Charlemagne.

The Muslim presence in Septimania was, of course, a factor in this struggle and Prince Waifer is said to have unsuccessfully attacked Narbonne, perhaps in AD 749 when a famine in al-Andalus was expected to have weakened its Muslim garrison. Eventually the Franks rather than the Aquitainians overthrew Umayyad rule in Septimania in AD 759, their success and occupation of Narbonne making Waifer feel even more vulnerable now that he was almost surrounded by hostile Frankish forces.

The long-term impact of the Poitiers campaign upon northern France, the Low Countries and Western Germany is harder to decipher. Nevertheless, this victory would eventually enable Charles Martel’s Carolingian successors to dominate the entire region, attracting further support as success bred success. Before that, the death of Charles Martel in AD 741 once again fragmented the Frankish Kingdom with his eldest son Carloman becoming mayor of the palace in Austrasia, Alemannia and Thuringia, while his younger son Pepin the Short became mayor in Neustria, Burgundy and Provence. Yet this was temporary and Pepin soon emerged as the sole, if still only nominal, ruler of the Franks.

It has been suggested that Charles Martel’s campaigns were conservative and defensive whereas those of Pepin became expansionist and aggressive, Pepin’s wars against the Muslims in Septimania being the best known. Even so, Pepin’s wars in Italy would eventually prove more important for the course of European history. What Charles Martel and the Carolingians gained from their various successes against the Muslims was huge international prestige. This they skilfully used in their dealings with the papacy, not least as an excuse to interfere in Italian affairs.

The impact of Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi’s defeat in AD 732 had a much more profound impact upon those northern regions of the Iberian Peninsula that were either under only nominal Umayyad authority or were already effectively independent. Here the indigenous Christian population was encouraged by the Muslim defeat and some rose in rebellion. Nevertheless the new Umayyad wall, Abd al-Malik, reacted swiftly with military campaigns in Catalonia, Aragon and Navarre where he subdued the lowland Basques in AD 733. Farther west and south, in the Duero Valley and what is now Galicia, the superficially Muslim Berbers who had settled these regions similarly rose in revolt of AD 740 or 741 Although this was not a direct result of the Muslim defeat in Gaul, the events of AD 732 had weakened Muslim authority and undermined Arab prestige. A more immediate cause is likely to have been Berber sympathy with the current Berber revolt in North Africa. Whatever the motivation, it reportedly resulted in Andalusian Berber forces marching against Toledo, Cordoba and even Ceuta on the northern tip of Morocco, thus gravely weakening an already tenuous Islamic military hold upon what is now north-western and northern Spain. One of the leaders of the Berber revolt within the Iberian Peninsula was Kulan al-Yahudi whose name indicates that he was of Jewish Berber origin or even, perhaps, still an adherent of Judaism. He is said to have attempted to drive the Arabs from al-Andalus but, with the failure of his coup, most of the Jewi sh Berbers who had accompanied the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula appear to have returned to North Africa, many settling in the Temesma area.

These developments enabled King Alfonso I of Asturias to take over large areas. Despite many myths associated with this earliest phase of the so-called ‘Reconquista , it is highly unlikely that these events made much difference to the indigenous population for whom it was merely a change of rulers. The 8th century AD would also see the still small Christian kingdom of Asturias making an almost total break with its pre-Islamic, Visigothic past and begin evolving into something new and strongly influenced by the emerging culture of Islamic al-Andalus.

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