Septimanie and the capture of Narbonne in the 8th century

The term of Septimania is used by Gregory of Tours biographer of Clovis to denote Visigothic Gaul. It was annexed in 719 following the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and thus becomes one of the five provinces of Al Andalus whose capital Narbonne becomes Arbûnah. It is therefore a part of the territory which until 2015 represented Languedoc Roussillon with Narbonne and Carcassonne as the main city.

Septimania under Al-Andalus

Narbonne from 719 is under the authority of the wali Al-Samh of Al-Andalus in other words the governor. In 721, the troops of Al-Samh passing by the Roman road the Via Aquitana move towards the city of Toulouse which they besiege. In June of the same year Toulouse was freed from the Muslims by the Duke of Aquitaine Eudes helped by the Vasconne armies. At the time of the victory in Poitiers on October 25, 732 there will be Frankish propaganda suggesting that Eudes had made an alliance with the Umayyads against Charles Martel so that the victory of Eudes and Charles against the Arabs is essentially for the benefit of Charles .

In fact, Eudes had made an alliance in 729 with Munuza, a Berber leader who was a rebel in power under Wali Abd Rahman Al Ghafiq. If we analyze this battle of Poitiers as such, it was important for the fate of Charles Martel, although historians like Philippe Sénac will qualify by recalling that the Muslims kept control over Septimania.

In 725, the Muslims took the city of Carcassonne which became with Narbonne one of their strategic territory. The inhabitants give half of their land and return prisoners and booty. The captured hostages are sent to Barcelona. The archaeological discoveries made in the region give us valuable information. Indeed, a corpus of coins found struck in Al-Andalus correspond to a sharing of licit booty shared in Narbonne. This confirms the idea of ​​a permanent settlement of a significant number of Muslims in Septimania during this period.

Although the clash took a religious turn with the intervention of the Pope, the Muslim minority managed to conquer Septimania without encountering great resistance from the local populations. According to Moissac's chronicle, Muslims allow the former Christian and Jewish inhabitants the freedom of religion in return for a tribute which was used for the functioning of the state and the army. They were protected, but had to recognize the superiority of Islam, it is the status of dhimmi. However in practice some Christians and Jews are appointed viziers and ruled over Muslims. The Jews, persecuted by the Visigoths, regain their rights with the arrival of Islam.

First siege of Narbonne

In 737 the Frankish army is split in two: the first will march on Arles and occupy Marseilles; the second is led by Charles Martel who will cross the Rhône and besiege Narbonne. However, the siege will be more complicated than expected because Narbonne is crossed by an arm of the Aude which flows into the Mediterranean near Sigean, which may allow Muslims to have outside help by boat. So Charles had forts built in Sigean to prevent any outside help for the Muslims. The Franks attacked the city night and day, which, by force, exhausted Charles Martel and his army. But, on the other side of the Pyrenees, the Wali of Spain has assembled an army under the leadership of Omar ibn Chaled.

This army arrives by boat and disembarks on the beach of Berre. Charles leaves part of his army, goes to meet them and pushes them back on the plateau of Cavettes, where Omar had established his headquarters. This is where the bloodiest episode of the battle, where the Franks launch successive attacks against the Muslim troops who cannot contain them and are annihilated, Omar is killed in the battle, the survivors try to flee to their boats, but many are slaughtered. Charles thought that this victory would force Narbonne to surrender, but the siege dragged on, considering instead devoting himself to the priority threats of the Duchy of Aquitaine or that of Saxony. He leaves again, leaving a small army to watch Narbonne.

Condition of the taking of Narbonne

The propaganda of the Abbasids insists that the Umayyads do not have good religious morals, they reproach them for having eliminated the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad and for exercising unjust and tyrannical power. In Narbonne even Abd Al Rahman the Umayyad Emir of Cordoba who had survived the Abbasid coup d'état in Damascus in 750 which had almost decimated all the Umayyads, is opposed to Yusuf Al Fihri, Umayyad governor since 753, he will take his place in 756 after defeating him. At the same time, the Franks are growing their influence around Aquitaine and on the Mediterranean shores. Pepin "the Short", who became a Frankish king, was afraid that the Duchy of Aquitaine would take too much power, which is why the Duke Waïfre's offensive in 751 on Narbonne decided him to intervene. The capture of Narbonne was a very strategic capture allowing access to the Mediterranean, knowing that the people of Aquitaine already had access to the Atlantic Ocean.

Beyond a fight against the Muslims, the conquest of Septimania is part of a confrontation between the Aquitaine and the Franks to unify Gaul. Thus in 752 Pépin resumed the siege of Narbonne, remembering that the lack of alliance had complicated the affairs of his father in Narbonne 15 years earlier, he began talks with the Visigoths. He instructs several goths including the goth count Ansemond to take possession of Narbonne. Ansemond was killed at the gates of the city in 754 by Ermenard, one of these servants appointed by a frank of the Goths hostile to the alliance with the Franks. The city being fortified it took 7 years for the Franks to seize the city because the Muslims were still supported by a part of the local Christian populations hostile to the Franks since the violent military interventions of Charles Martel.

They finally succeeded in 759 after repeated assaults in expelling the Muslims and their supporters who took refuge in the Emirate of Cordoba. Pépin promised the Goths that they could apply their laws and Narbonne was renamed Gothie. Philippe Sénac, taking up the analysis Evriste Levi-Provençal specifies that this capture was more decisive than that of Poitiers because it had the effect of pushing Muslims out of the Pyrenees, especially since Abd Al Rahaman had internal problems in his kingdom and was busy ending resistance against his authority. On the other hand Sénac questions the conclusion Évariste Lévi by specifying that the Muslims had not stopped their expansionist wishes outside the Pyrenees, the Arabs will indeed continue their attacks for a century.

Pépin le Bref's foreign policy after the conquest of Narbonne

Between 759 and 768, the Franks are busy facing the Aquitaine in very violent campaigns. In 762 Pépin sent a garrison to Narbonne under the command of 2 counts Anstraldus and Galénanius in order to protect the city from Muslims the same year, Duke Waïfre sent Matio his cousin and other counts to destroy the garrison. Waïfre thus becoming a circumstantial ally of the Muslims who were for him only “secondary enemies”. The Franks finally gain the upper hand, defeating Matio and his comrades in arms. From 765 to 768 the Frankish army recovers city after city and this conflict ends with the assassination of Waïfre betrayed by Waratton.

Taking advantage of the divisions within the Muslim world, the same period saw the start of diplomatic relations between Franks and Muslims, Pépin was also the very first to do diplomacy with Muslims which would give him a reputation beyond his kingdom. and it is also for this reason that historians Ivan Gobry and Pierre Riché find it more accurate to call him Pepin the great. Thus there will be an alliance of circumstance between the Abbasid Caliph Al Mansur and a dissident leader Sulayman wali of Barcelona with the objective of fighting against the Emir of Cordoba of Abd Al Rahman I, especially as Sulayman was a supporter of Yusuf Al Fihri the previous governor of AL Andalus. Pépin's untimely death will not bring diplomacy with the Abbasids to their ends.

Septimanie and Narbonne under Charlemagne

The reign of Charlemagne, marked by the failure of Roncesvalles against the Basques in 778, led to the creation of the kingdom of Aquitaine (781) and the kingdom of Septimania (789) in order to stabilize the border with Spain Al-Andalus . They accumulate success against the Arabs and move towards Barcelona, ​​but the Arabs enter Septimania, sack Narbonne and advance towards Carcassonne. This forced William the Marquis de Septimanie to intervene. He was defeated at the Battle of Villedaigne, but the Muslims seized the riches of the region and fell back to Spain. The withdrawal of the Muslims helps strengthen the power of the province. The rise of Septimania and Aquitaine allows Charlemagne to have a secure and stabilized border with Spain, where divisions within Muslims weaken Al-Andalus.

The conquest of Septimania under Arab domination was the trigger for Frankish expansion to the south. What at first appeared to be only a military alliance with the Duke of Aquitaine, quickly became a process of territorial conquest that was reinforced with the support of the papacy and the local aristocracy. The Franks then managed to conquer all of southwestern Gaul and the far north of the Iberian Peninsula. However, if the conquest was a success, the threat of raids from Al-Andalus remained present, notably in Narbonne in 842. The following year the partition of Verdun put a stop to Frankish expansion and would provoke the dislocation of the Carolingian Empire.


- Sénac P., Le monde carolingien et l’Islam, Paris, Editions l'Harmattan, 2006.
- Sénac P., Les Carolingiens et al-Andalus (8th-9th centuries), Paris, Maisonneuve and Larose, 2002.
- Sénac P., The medieval West facing Islam, the image of the other, Paris, Flammarion, 2000.

- Rebé I. Raynaud C. Sénac P. (ed.), The first middle ages in Ruscino, between Septimanie and al-Andalus (7th-9th century), UMR 5140 of the CNRS “Archéologie des societies Méditerranéennes”, 2014.
- Rouche M., From the Visigoths to the Arabs in Aquitaine 418-781 birth of a region, Paris,
editions E.D.H.E.S.S., 1979.

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