The hammer and the crescent: Contacts between Andalusi Muslims, Franks, and their successors in three waves of Muslim expansion into Francia

William Ernest Watson, University of Pennsylvania


Three distinct waves of Muslim expansion reached Francia in the eighth through the tenth centuries. A careful examination of the primary sources indicates that these expeditions were not undertaken merely for the acquisition of plunder (although brigandage attended each wave of expansion), but for specific political and strategic considerations. The nature of the contacts between Arab and Berber Muslims and the Latin Christian populations of Languedoc, Aquitaine, and Provence varied in each century. The need to eliminate the threats to the security of al-Andalus (Iberia) posed, respectively, by Septimanian Visigoths in the remanant Visigothic Kingdom, and by the indigenous Aquitanian leadership centered at Toulouse, provided the justification for the first wave of Muslim expansion north of the Pyrenees in the decade of the 720s. The continuing threat posed by the Aquitanians caused the Muslims to launch a second wave of invasion (732), in which they first encountered the Franks in the Battle of Tours/Poitiers. As a result of this contact, the Franks were drawn south into Aquitaine, Languedoc, and the Rhone valley to eliminate the Muslim presence in those areas. Frankish dominion was established in the south specifically because of the Muslim threat to the Franks and their allies. The third wave of Muslim expansion occurred as Frankish power declined in the second half of the ninth century, and the failure of the central authority in Provence to provide adequate protection (his attention being diverted to Italy) accounts for the successful establishment of a Muslim base on the southern Provencal coast (Fraxinetum/ jabal al-Qilal). This base is frequently called a "pirate lair" in the secondary literature because the principal occupation of the garrison was brigandage. Fraxinetum was different in nature from the bases established in the first wave of Muslim expansion, such as Narbonne ('Arbuna), where a mosque was constructed as a sign of the permanence of the Muslim community (and which city was considered to be a part of al-Andalus). The Muslims, however, did indeed leave behind a number of place-names in the Rhone valley and Provence attesting to their short-lived military presence.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|European history

Recommended Citation

Watson, William Ernest, "The hammer and the crescent: Contacts between Andalusi Muslims, Franks, and their successors in three waves of Muslim expansion into Francia" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9112639.