There is a lot we don’t know about the battle in which ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi died. We know that al-Ghafiqi was the governor of al-Andalus, leading a Muslim army into the lands of the Franks. We know that the Frankish army that defeated and killed him was led by Charles Martel (d. 741), Mayor of the Palace and the ancestor of the dynasty that would be called the Carolingians after him. But we don’t know where the encounter took place, except that it was somewhere on the road between Poitiers and Tours. As a consequence, the battle has been named after both cities, resulting in much confusion. Nor do we know for certain when the battle took place, with the traditional date of October 732 being open to challenge, as we shall see below.
Despite all these known unknowns, an awful lot has been said about this battle. Popular books compiled by writers with more industry than knowledge list ‘The Battle of Tours (732)’ among ‘The Decisive Battles of World History’. Excitable commentators on the internet identify this as the moment where Western Civilisation was saved from Islam. Edward Gibbon’s teasing aside that the Qurʿan would now be taught in Oxford were it not for Martel’s victory is earnestly repeated by those not blessed with his sense of irony.