#13. Charles Martel

“From the hammer of Charles Martel to the sword of Sobieski, Christianity owed its safety in Europe to the fact that it was able to show that it could and would fight as well as the Mohammedan aggressor. . . . The civilization of Europe, America and Australia exists today at all only because of the victories of civilized man over the enemies of civilization.” President Theodore Roosevelt

It was among the most fragile moments in Western history. The year: 732. The location: southwest France, somewhere on the road between Tours and Poitiers. The combatants: Christian Europeans and Muslim Arabs.

If the battle were a boxing match, Christianity hobbled in as the declining veteran, far from its heyday as Master of the Mediterranean. In contrast, Islam, just one century removed from its founder, bounded into the ring as the hungry up-and-comer, indomitable in its spread across west Asia, north Africa, and into the Iberian Peninsula. An Arab victory on this random patch of French land, Europe’s last realistic choke-point of defense, would likely precipitate the whole of Europe falling. Islam, it seemed, was the fate of the Western world.

It should come as no surprise that fate was thwarted that day. Christianity has been the world’s largest religion for some time. If, however, the Battle of Tours had resolved differently, that would almost certainly not be the case.

Yet, few people have heard of this battle, nor do many know of the man who led the victorious Christian defense. His name was Charles of Herstal. Chroniclers gave him the nickname Martel—“the Hammer.” He’s the man who saved Christianity, and in the process he became the 13th most influential figure in Western history.

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