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All information gathered first-hand, since 1995

Barbarian Invasions (3-6 c AD)

Different non-Roman raiders attacked and plundered across the South of France. During the 4th and 5th centuries AD, along with the Vandals, Visigoths, Burgundians, Ostrogoths and the Franks, Christianity arrived in the region.


In the first half of the 8th century AD it was the turn of the Saracens, who sacked the entire coast, followed by Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor of the West in 800. [ See also Route du Sel ]

The Saracens invaded France at the beginning of the 8th century and occupied the country for a century. The name, however, is used locally to apply to the Arabs, Berbers, Moors and Turks who attacked, occupied or harassed the country until the 18th century. Charles Martel defeated the Saracens at Poitiers in 732, after which they moved to Provence in southeastern France. They were defeated in several battles there, but retained control of part of the Massif des Maures. They built a fortress on the heights overlooking the current village of la Garde-Freinet, about 20 km northwest of St Tropez. From their fortress, the Saracens raided the surrounding Provence for another two hundred years, until 973 when Count William, the Liberator, defeated and expelled them.

During their stay, the Saracens taught the local people about medicine and how to use pine resin and cork-oak bark.

Some Details

In 711, Muslims came to Spain from North Africa. They were called "Arabs" although they were mostly Berbers. (We'll now refer to them as Saracens, for the sake of consistency.) The Spanish Visigoths, with large minorities of Jews and Arians, welcomed the arrival of the Saracens. In 720 the Saracens occupied La Septimanie, the capitol of Narbonne in the ancient Visigoth Provence. In 721 al-Samah, the Muslim governer of Spain led an attack on Toulouse, and was repulsed by Eudes, the Duke of Aquitaine.

In 724-725 the Saracens pillaged the valley of the Rhone as far as Autun [map]. Around 730, Eudes made an alliance with Othman ben Abi Nassa, an Aragon Emir, against the Muslim Sultan Abd el-Rahman. Abd defeated Othman, and attacked Aquitane.

In June of 732 he conquered Bordeaux, layed seige to Poitiers and marched on Tours [map]. In October of 732, Abd el-Rahman was defeated and killed by Charles martel (and Eudes), at Moussais-la-Bataille (Vienne), 20 km from Poitiers (the Franc's heavy cavalry wiped out the Saracen's light cavalry).

The Narbonnaise Saracens attacked Provence and the Rhone valley from 732 to 739. In 739, Pepin, soun of Charles Martel, and Liutprand, king of the Lombards, crushed the Saracens at Marseille and threw them out of Narbonne.

From the start of the 9th century there were numerous maritime attacks of Saracens from Spain and North Africa. The Carolingian states were too spread out to resist simultaneous attacks by Normands and Saracens. In 838 and 842 the Saracens raided Marseille. IN 842 and 850 they raided Arles. In 869 they established a base in the Camargue.

From 870 to 890 the Vikings pushed back the Saracens. In 890 the Saracens founded a base in La La Garde-Freinet. In 972 they captured Saint Mayeul, Abbey of Cluny, on the road to Mont-Genèvre. In 983, Guillaume, Count of Provence, captured la Garde-Freinet.

By 990 the Saracen domination of Provence was over, although raids continued until the 13th century (Lerins Islands (Iles de Lérins)] in 1047, 1107, 1197; Toulon [map] in 1178 and 1197).