Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column


October 25, 2001 - Battle of Poitiers

Just the thought of sitting around with Monsieur Jean, Maurice and Marcel drinking tea and eating camel riders sends a chill up my spine. But this could have very easily been the case if Charles Martel had not stopped the Islamic army of Abd al-Rahman in 732 at the Battle of Poitiers just a few miles south of here. I always entended to visit the battlefield one day. After watching Islamic terrorist destroy the World Trade center in New York, I decided to go ahead and make the one hour drive to this famous battlefield. It all started about 1300 years ago and does not appear to be ending soon.

There are three great battles that carry the name of the Battle of Poitiers and none of them actually occured at Poitiers. The one that I am interested in was fought October 25, 732 on a plain twenty kilometers north of Poitiers called Moussais-la-Bataille. In this battle, Charles Martel defeated the Islamic forces led by Abd al-Rahman and effectively stopped the Muslim expansion into Europe. Several years earlier, Islamic armies from Spain had seized and pillaged the Rhone Valley and Burgundy. The Frankish kingdom was weak and divided at this time but it seemed to find a common goal in stopping the Islamic army and recapturing Bordeaux which the arabs had seized along with the Aquitaine. Perhaps it was the thought of loosing the grands crus of Bordeaux that finally united the French.

The monument at Moussais-la Bataille tells the story of the battle, the history of the two religions and the motivations of the opposing forces. It is the history of the two religions that is most interesting to me. At the time of this battle, Christianity was over seven hundred years old and the predominant religion of Europe. Islam was barely a hundred years old but had already spread from the Middle East, across North Africa and into Europe. Christianity, on the other hand, spread slowly and left a trail of martyrs who were canonized after being tortured, decapited or fed to the lions. There were so many Christian martyrs that it is hard to say that it didn't have true believers but the people of Gaul seem to have converted gradually. So many chruches are built on top of dolmens, menhirs and old Roman temples, one gets the impression that Christianty bred with the ancient beliefs rather replacing them. Indeed, the traditions and doctrines of the church have so many pagan foundations that the flexibility of early Christianity seems to have been the key to its success.

The explosive growth of Islam is a different story. In the year 610, a forty year old man from Mecca named Mohammed made several visits to nearby Mont Hira where the angel Gabriel appeared and made certain revelations. These revelations were later recorded and became the Koran, the word of Allah. Mohammed tried to convert the Meccans to his new monotheistic religion but it didn't go over well with the rich merchants who viewed him as a troublemaker. Mohammed and his small clan sought refuge in the oasis of Medina 350 kilometers to the northwest. He was able to organize the two Yeminite and three Jewish tribes of Medina into a community. In an attempt to convert the Jews, he adopted their law of fasting on Yom Kippour and praying in the direction of Jerusalem. But the Jews never accepted the Koran and he later exterminated those remaining in Medina. Afterwards, he changed the day of fasting to Ramadan and the direction of prayer changed from Jeruselem to the Ka'ba in Mecca. The Ka'ba is a cube shaped building built by Abraham and Ishmael that contains a black stone supposedly delivered by the angel Gabriel. After years of war with Mecca, he gained control of the city in the year 630 and destroyed all the pagan idols in the Ka'ba. He declared Abraham the only one true prophet and erased all the frescos of all the other prophets. Mohammed believed that Allah favored his war against the unbelievers and he continued his struggle in Syria. He died suddenly in 632 without designating a successor. His achievements seem rather ordinary compared to other religious figures but within one century Mohammed's follows were close to dominating the world.

There is no record of how many men died at the Battle of Poitiers but ten years earlier, the Duke of Aquitaine defeated a Muslim army near Toulouse and over 350,000 Sarrasins died. The Battle of Poitiers was an even greater defeat for Islam and eventually led to their retreat behind the Pyrenees. They were eventually pushed out of Spain (1492) but they are still the dominant religion of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The last census shows that there are over one billion Muslims and two billion Christians. Both religions worship the same God and have their roots in the Old Testament and Judiasm but there are only fifteen million Jews in the world today.

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 August 22, 2001 - Confrerie
 August 15, 2001 - Liberation
 August 8, 2001 - Le Cyclop
 August 1, 2001 - The Finger
July 25, 2001 - La Resistance
July 18, 2001 - System D
July 11, 2001 - The Accident
July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou
June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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