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Southern France

According to the reports by Muslim historians, once Musa b. Nusayr and Tariq b. Ziyad rejoined their forces, they marched toward the land of the Franks (Afranjah), up the valley of the Rhone, i.e. they passed through the Pyrenees (al-Burtat, in Arabic sources) until they arrived at the borders of the Frankish territory. 

The existence of the Spanish state of Septimania on the other side of the Pyrenees, together with the state of Aquitaine to its west and northwest, in the Gaul (Ghaliyya, or Ghaliya, in the Arabic sources) territory, which was ruled by Duc d’Eudes and which was threatened by the ever-increasing might of the Carolingian Franks, were among the factors which incited the Muslim conquerors of Spain to extend their reach into that region. The Merovingian state, ruled by the sons of Clovis and surviving on the good will of the people and the political considerations of the Carolingian vassals who were increasing their power as a result of the ineptitude of their Merovingian overlords, was on the brink of annihilation. In fact, the Carolingian rulers were intent on the transfer of power to themselves and the removal of the Germans and the independent dukes. At the time of the Muslim conquest of Spain, the Carolingian dynasty was headed by the powerful Pepin de Herstal, who died in 96 AH (715 AD). After several years of family feuds, in 102 AH (720 AD), his son, Charles Martel, ascended to the leadership of the Franks. 

Duc d’Eudes, who, in the course of the Carolingian infightings, was called upon for support by various contenders to the thrown, was eventually defeated by Charles Martel and concluded a peace treaty with him. In 100 AH (718 AD), Samh b. Malik Khawlani was appointed as the governor of Andalus by the caliph, `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz. After organizing the affairs of the state, Hams launched an attack on the province of Septimania and occupied its capital. He continued up to Tarsunah (Tarascon), Tulushah (Toulouse) and, the center of, Aqtaniyyah (Aquitaine). Duc d’Eudes, surrounded by the remnants of the Goths and the people of Navarra, came to engage the Muslims, in the course of which Samh was killed and Muslims returned to Septimania (the Day of `Arafah, 102 AH / January 10, 721 AD). The inhabitants of the region of Languedoc, near Toulouse, took heart from the news and rose in revolt against the Muslims. The Muslims, however, still held Arbunah (Narbonne) and received reinforcements from Andalus (Shakib Arsalan, p. 72). Owing to his ability in reorganizing the Muslim forces, a commander by the name of `Abd al-Rahman b. `Abd Allah Ghafiqi was elected by his troops as the governor and commander-in-chief, but he was soon replaced by `Ansabah b. Sahim Kalbi, who was appointed by the ruler of Ifriqiyyah. 

`Ansabah arrived in Andalus in the Safar of 103 AH (721 AD). Toward the end of his four-year governorship, he launched an attack on the Frankish territory and captured the city of Qarqashunah (Carassonne) after a siege and ensuing negotiations. Next, he took control of the city of Nimes. He continued unopposed up to the valley of the Rhone and the Saone River, where he captured Autun, in Bourgogne. He, then, marched toward Sens, thirty kilometers south of Paris, a move which concerned Duc d’Eudes so much that he sued for peace. `Anbasah was fatally wounded in a battle with the Franks, en route from his return to the south. This put an end to Muslim invasions of the region for some time to come. During the governorship of Haytham b. `Ubayd Kilabi, or Kinani (111 – 112 AH / 729 – 730 AD), military operations were resumed beyond Septimania, in the valley of the Rhone, up to the shores of the Saone River, and in the southern Bourgogne. The success of these operations was undermined by the internecine conflicts among the Arabs and the Berbers, which caused them to lose all the conquered territories. In fact, the disarray besetting the Umayyad administration and its provincial leadership had spelled the de facto end to the era of major conquests, and the efforts of commanders like `Anbasah may only be characterized as impromptu excursions rather than systematic operations. This is borne out by the fact that no attempt was ever made to establish a base of operations in the Gaul region of southern France as a means of consolidating Muslim presence in the area. 

In the early 113 AH (731 AD), `Abd al-Rahman Ghafiqi acceded to the governorship of Andalus. An impulse for revenge, together with some acts of treason, prompted him to embark on a military campaign in the southern regions of France, in the early 114 AH. The city of Arles was taken by Muslim forces, after a fierce battle, after which they crossed the Garonne River and captured Bordeaux, defeating the forces of Duc d’Eudes and bringing under Muslim control the entire region of Aquitaine. `Abd al-Rahman returned to the Rhone valley, while some Muslim forces subdued the army of Besancon and others advanced to Saone, near Paris. Thus, within the span of a few months, `Abd al-Rahman succeeded in conquering half of southern France, from the east to the west. His troops then proceeded toward Tours, the second major center of the region, capturing it and destroying its famous cathedral. At this time, Charles Martel, who was both concerned about his survival and intent on expanding his domain, mustered a huge army made up of Franks, Germans and the barbaric tribesmen of the north and headed for the south. The location where the two sides first clashed remains unclear, though it must have lied somewhere between the two cites of Poitiers and Tours, toward the end of the Sha`ban of 114 AH (October, 723 AD). Muslim historians provide scarce information with regard to the details of the event. In spite of their religious fervor, there appears to have been several factors which pointed to a less than successful outcome for the Muslim troops. The main battle took place after several days of scattered skirmishes. The second day saw a rupture in the Muslim ranks, who retreated to Septimania under the cover of the night. The huge number of Muslim casualties caused the event to be referred to by Muslim historians as Balat al-Shuhada’, what their European counterparts call the battle of Poitiers. The latter attach immense significance to this event, the majority of who consider it as the means through which Europe and Christianity were freed from the domination of Islam and the Arabs. 

The news of the Muslim defeat incited the populations of northern Gaul and northern Spain to revolt. `Abd al-Malik b. Qatan Rafihri was promptly put in charge of Andalus by the governor of Ifriqiyyah. He immediately embarked on a plan to consolidate Muslim control over the region. He launched attacks on Navarre and Aragon in the southern Pyrenees and traversing the pass arrived at Longdoc, where he reestablished the position of the Muslims. The inhabitants of Septimania who were apprehensive about the domination of both Duc d’Eudes and Charles Martel appealed to the Muslims for help. However, `Abd al-Malik refused to enter the Frankish territory, owing to the insufficient number of his troops, and chose instead to turn south toward Cordoba, during the course of which he suffered major losses as a result of attacks by local militia. `Abd al-Malik was relieved of his duties in the Ramadhan of 116 AH (October, 734 AD) and replaced by `Aqabah b. Hajjaj Saluli, who took over in the Shawwal of the same year. `Aqabah as a commander of great eminence reestablished Muslim domination over the northern provinces and Gaul, as well as strengthening Muslim positions in the valley of the Rhone and `Arbunah, which became a focal point of military operations. Throughout this period, Charles Martel chose to remain inactive. However, with the death of Duc d’Eudes in 117 AH, he rushed to Aquitaine, where he placed the diseased king’s son on the thrown, while securing his loyalty. 

It appears that the memory of the battle of Poitiers was still fresh in his mind, dissuading him from engagement with the Muslims. Upon `Aqabah’s arrival in the Pyrenees, the Muslim forces who had captured a number of cities in Provence and established bases in the area joined him on his way toward Dauphine, where they captured and destroyed Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux and Donzaire and avenged the losses of Balat al-Shuhada’ by razing the churches throughout Vienne. Throughout the course of this expedition, the Muslim forces were under the supreme command of `Abd al-Rahman b. `Alqamah Lakhmi, known as the Commander of Andalus, who was accompanied by Moronet, the duke of Marseilles, the ruler of Provence, the lands lying between the Rhone River and the Alps, and the most powerful military commander of the region. The Muslims captured Lyon and, later, Bourgogne. In fact, they succeeded in recapturing all their lost territories in southern France, from the borders of northern Italy (Piedmont) to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, Charles Martel was forced into action. He sent a huge army to Avignon, headed by his brother, Childebrand. He also requested Luitbrand, the Lombard king of northern Italy, to attack the Muslims from the area of Mount Piedmont on the east. Childebrand failed in his attempt to take Avignon, owing to the strength of Muslim fortifications. Charles Martel himself marched to Avignon with a fresh army, where he was joined by the forces of Childebrand. The Muslims put up a brave defense but were eventually overcome by the Franks who slaughtered many of them. The Frankish forces attacked from Arbunah, while the inhabitants of the Pyrenees blocked Muslim communication with Andalus. The only means of contact between the Muslims of Gaul with those in Andalus was through the sea, however, the fleet dispatched by `Aqabah from Arbunah were captured by Charles Martel in the spring of 119 AH (737 AD). Charles, none the less, failed to gain any advantage from his siege of Arbunah, neither did he receive any support from the inhabitants of southern Gaul who viewed him as an enemy. Eventually, Charles returned to the north after taking a large number of Muslim prisoners as well as hostages from among the nobility of Gaul. 

In the spring of 120 AH (738 AD), `Aqabah returned to Septimania and took control of Arles, Avignon and a few other cities in Provence. However, soon he was forced to retreat in the face of the offensive mounted by the allied forces of Charles Martel and other Frankish rulers. In fact, he encountered great difficulty in taking his troops through the Pyrenees back to Cordoba. In the meantime, `Aqabah passed away and his successor, `Abd al-Malik b. Qatan was enmeshed in the unrest brought about by the Berbers and Arab dissident groups who succeeded in his murder, which prompted the Muslim forces in Arbunah to march to Cordoba to avenge his blood; a move that depleted the region of southern France of its best Muslim defenders and that resulted in their eventual defeat. With the accession of Pepin II, as successor to Charles Martel, and his attention to the south, major cities in Septimania, such as Beziers, Nimes and Maguelonne, were wrested from the Muslims and the affairs of the petty kingdoms of the Pyrenees, such as Cantabria and Navarre, fell into the hands of the local population; thus, `Abd al-Rahman b. `Alqamah returned to Arbunah as a result of his flimsy power base. 

After a few years, in 133 AH (751 AD), Pepin II transferred the throne from the Merovingians to the Carolingians. He also took a great force to Arbunah, assisted by a Goth ruler of southern Gaul named Ansmundos who put his territory under his control, and laid siege to the city, but failed to make any headway and decided to return. For the next seven years, Arbunah remained under the control of its occupant Muslims, who received no support from Andalus, owing to the disintegration of the Umayyad caliphate and the arrival of `Abd al-Rahman, nor were they subjected to any threat on the part of Pepin, who was enmeshed in hid own domestic problems. After consolidating his powerbase in Andalus, `Abd al-Rahman al-Dakhil, dispatched one of his commanders to Arbunah, in 140 AH (757 AD), whose forces were ambushed and destroyed by the local tribes in the Pyrenees. Once again, the Muslims of Arbunah were left to their own devices. Beginning in 141 AH, the Christians of the city began to persecute the Muslims and, finally, opened the city’s gates to the Franks. Pepin sent a force to support the insurgents, who succeeded to put an end to thirty years of Muslim presence in Septimania and southern Gaul region. Some pockets of Muslims continued to dwell in the dukedoms of Dauphine and Nice, in the western valleys of the Alps, up until the days of Charlemagne (151 – 198 AH / 768 – 814 AD), with occasional movements up to the vicinities of Grenoble. However, the fall of Arbunah marked the definitive end to the Muslim domination of southern France. The appeal made to Frankish leaders by a number of Muslim rulers of northern Andalus against its Umayyad rulers, and the amicable ties between the `Abbasids and the French government, which at the same time harbored animosity toward the Muslims of southern France and the Umayyad government of Cordoba, are examples of the long-standing historical tradition of sacrificing a unity based on common beliefs at the altar of economic and political interests.

* source: Rahimlou , Yousef "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.532 - 534

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