by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the April 2001, A.S. XXXV issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.
Though history is usually studied by examining what did happen, a different perspective can be seen by examining what did not happen. This is a far more difficult proposition as, by definition, there can be no proof that the conclusions so reached are true. Thus historians usually stay away from what is in essence pure speculation. And so such exercises are more often done by novelists. The most popular of these exercises is what if Hitler won World War II. Next is what if the South won the Civil War. But these are no the only turning points in history that such speculation can turn on. And from time to time, historians will indulge themselves with such an effort. This small piece will exhibit on such effort centered on the battle of Tours.
To understand what might have been, one must first understand what was. The Battle of Tours occurred in 732 about midway between Poitiers and Tours. It was a clash between Muslims and Christians, with the usual interpretation that Charles Martelís victory there saved Western Europe from Muslim domination. As usual, the truth is not nearly so clear cut.
The Muslim force that was defeated was more of a raiding party, more interested in looting then conquering the lands it rode through. The campaign actually started out as an effort to put down a Berber revolt, and the raid was to punish their Christian allies. Their initial successes just encouraged them to keep going till they arrived at that fateful battlefield.
What was deceive about the battle was not that it destroyed the Muslim army, for it didnít, but that itsí leader had been killed. This man, Abd Al-Rahman was an effective and aggressive leader and responsible for much of the Muslim success in Southern France, where they held much of the Mediterranean coastline. With his death, ended large-scale Muslim actions within France. These developments were aided by the Berber Revolts in the 740s.
Far more important outcome of this battle is that it cemented the power and position of Charles Martel. His official position was Mayor of the Palace, a sort of prime minister. The Merovingian kings had become virtual figureheads. When the current king died in 737, he was not replaced. Tours assured the ascension of the Carolingians and all that it would mean medieval culture and development.
So what would have happened if the Muslims had won at Tours. Initially, not much. The battle took place in October, near the end of the fighting season. So even if they had won, they still would have soon afterward retreated back to the bases of operation. But the raids would have increased in frequency, size, and duration. Charles, if he survived the battle, his sons if he had not, would be increasingly hard-pressed to hold back his enemies, and the Carolingian dynasty would die aborning. The Berber revolts would likely not have occurred as they were partially the result of fiscal difficulties from the loss of Frankish booty. And somewhere around mid-century they would take the Frankish kingdom.
The most obvious change would be the replacement of Islam for Christianity as the dominant religion. Unlike the later Crusaders, the Moslem conquerors did not usually indulge in conversion or the sword dramatics. Instead, privileges and tax breaks were given to the followers of Mohammed, otherwise non-believers were left to their religion. With the result that the general population would gradually convert to Islam on their own. Thus Christianity would have been reduced to a minor religion, not unlike Judaism. And Islam over the centuries would become the global religion.
An Islamic Europe would have been a much different place, and not just with the change of religion. The culture the Muslims would have brought with them was more advanced, sophisticated, and urban then what was then existing in Europe. The changes that did take place in the 13th century would have occurred in the 9th. The sense of rebirth that fueled the Renaissance upon the re-discovery of the Greco-Roman literature would have never been felt for that literature never died in the Arab world.
But there would have been a dark side to the prosperity and intellectual fervor of this Europe. And that is the wide spread use of slaves. While the serfs of Christian Europe were not treated appreciably better than slaves elsewhere, they were not chattel and had a few rights, which they vigorously defended. And while salves in the Islamic world could and did rise to positions of great power, they were still slaves. The whys of this difference is for another essay.
It is in the course of modern history that the effects of the outcome of Tours would have been seen. For it was the initially barbaric Christian West that ultimately reign supreme and not the Islamic East. It was the West that birth the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment, and modern democracy. One speculative reason is that because the West was barbaric it was nearly ungovernable, allowing the individual to rise in importance, and free to question the established order. An importance and freedom that would not exist in Islamic Europe. Such a Europe would have been an elegant but frozen society.
Tours, of course, is not the only such turning point in the Middle Ages. An equally portentous point would have been the Mongol invasion of 1242. The advantage of such speculations is that they force one to see what is key and what is happenstance. To be able to extrapolate what changes that a different outcome would cause requires to fully understand the forces and tends that permeated that time and place. What one comes away with is a fuller appreciation of the difficulties and achievements of our ancestors.
Kennedy, Hugh. Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of Alí Andalus. New York: Longman, 1996.
Koch, H.W. Medieval Warfare. New York: Crescent Books, 1983.
Matthew, Donald. The Cultural Atlas of the World: Medieval Europe. Alexandria: Stonehenge Press, 1996. pp. 53-54.
Strauss, Barry S. "The Dark Ages Made Lighter." What If?. Ed. Robert Cowley. New York: G.P. Putnamís Sons, 1999.
Copyright © 1997 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.