Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun

Overview
Attila more frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

 from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire
Hunnic Empire
The Hunnic Empire was an empire established by the Huns. The Huns were a confederation of Eurasian tribes from the steppes of Central Asia. Appearing from beyond the Volga River some years after the middle of the 4th century, they first overran the Alani, who occupied the plains between the Volga...

, which stretched from the Ural River
Ural River
The Ural or Jayıq/Zhayyq , known as Yaik before 1775, is a river flowing through Russia and Kazakhstan. It arises in the southern Ural Mountains and ends at the Caspian Sea. Its total length is 1,511 mi making it the third longest river in Europe after the Volga and the Danube...

 to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

. During his reign he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans
Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

, but was unable to take Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

.
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Encyclopedia
Attila more frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

 from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire
Hunnic Empire
The Hunnic Empire was an empire established by the Huns. The Huns were a confederation of Eurasian tribes from the steppes of Central Asia. Appearing from beyond the Volga River some years after the middle of the 4th century, they first overran the Alani, who occupied the plains between the Volga...

, which stretched from the Ural River
Ural River
The Ural or Jayıq/Zhayyq , known as Yaik before 1775, is a river flowing through Russia and Kazakhstan. It arises in the southern Ural Mountains and ends at the Caspian Sea. Its total length is 1,511 mi making it the third longest river in Europe after the Volga and the Danube...

 to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

. During his reign he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans
Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

, but was unable to take Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. He also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul
Roman Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule in the Roman Empire, in modern day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and western Germany. Roman control of the area lasted for less than 500 years....

 (modern France), crossing the Rhine in 451 and marching as far as Aurelianum (Orléans
Orléans
-Prehistory and Roman:Cenabum was a Gallic stronghold, one of the principal towns of the Carnutes tribe where the Druids held their annual assembly. It was conquered and destroyed by Julius Caesar in 52 BC, then rebuilt under the Roman Empire...

) before being defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Subsequently he invaded Italy, devastating the northern provinces, but was unable to take Rome. He planned for further campaigns against the Romans but died in 453.

Appearance and character


There is no surviving first-person account of Attila's appearance. There is, however, a possible second-hand source, provided by Jordanes
Jordanes
Jordanes, also written Jordanis or Jornandes, was a 6th century Roman bureaucrat, who turned his hand to history later in life....

, who cites a description given by Priscus
Priscus
Priscus of Panium was a late Roman diplomat, sophist and historian from Rumelifeneri living in the Roman Empire during the 5th century. He accompanied Maximinus, the ambassador of Theodosius II, to the court of Attila in 448...

. It suggests a person of Asian
Asian people
Asian people or Asiatic people is a term with multiple meanings that refers to people who descend from a portion of Asia's population.- Central Asia :...

 features.

Etymology


The origin of Attila's name is unclear. Pritsak considers it to mean "universal ruler" in a Turkic language related to Danube Bulgarian. Maenchen-Helfen suggests an East Germanic origin and rejects a Turkic etymology: "Attila is formed from Gothic or Gepidic atta, "father", by means of the diminutive suffix -ila." He suggests that Pritsak's etymology is "ingenious but for many reasons unacceptable". However, he suggests that these names were "not the true names of the Hun princes and lords. What we have are Hunnic names in Germanic dress, modified to fit the Gothic tongue, or popular Gothic etymologies, or both. Mikkola thought Attila might go back to Turkish atlïg, "famous"; [127] Poucha finds in it Tokharian atär, "hero." [128] The first etymology is too farfetched to be taken seriously, the second is nonsense."

The name has many variants in modern languages: Atli and Atle in Norse, Attila/Atilla/Etele in Hungarian
Hungarian language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

 (all the three name variants are used in Hungary; Attila is the most popular variant), Etzel in German Nibelungenlied
Nibelungenlied
The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge....

 and Attila, Atila or Atilla in Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

.

Background



The Huns were a group of Eurasian nomads
Eurasian nomads
Eurasian nomads are a large group of peoples of the Eurasian Steppe. This generic title encompasses the ethnic groups inhabiting the steppes of Central Asia, Mongolia, and Eastern Europe. They domesticated the horse, and their economy and culture emphasizes horse breeding, horse riding, and a...

, appearing from east of the Volga, who migrated into Europe c. 370 and built up an enormous empire there. Their main military techniques were mounted archery and javelin
Javelin
A Javelin is a light spear intended for throwing. It is commonly known from the modern athletic discipline, the Javelin throw.Javelin may also refer to:-Aviation:* ATG Javelin, an American-Israeli civil jet aircraft, under development...

 throwing. They were possibly the descendants of the Xiongnu
Xiongnu
The Xiongnu were ancient nomadic-based people that formed a state or confederation north of the agriculture-based empire of the Han Dynasty. Most of the information on the Xiongnu comes from Chinese sources...

 who had been northern neighbours
History of the Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty , founded by the peasant rebel leader Liu Bang ,From the Shang to the Sui dynasties, Chinese rulers were referred to in later records by their posthumous names, while emperors of the Tang to Yuan dynasties were referred to by their temple names, and emperors of the Ming and Qing...

 of China three hundred years before and may be the first expansion of Turkic people across Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

. The origin and language of the Huns
Hunnic language
The Huns were a heterogenous, multi-ethnic tribal confederation during the 4th and 5th centuries. A contemporary reports that the Hunnic Empire had a "Hunnic language", or "Hunnish", which was spoken alongside Gothic and the languages of other tribes subjugated by the Huns The literary records for...

 has been the subject of debate for centuries. According to some theories, their leaders at least may have spoken a Turkic language, perhaps closest to the modern Chuvash language
Chuvash language
Chuvash is a Turkic language spoken in central Russia, primarily in the Chuvash Republic and adjacent areas. It is the only surviving member of the Oghur branch of Turkic languages....

. One scholar suggests a relationship to Yeniseian.

Shared kingship



The death of Rugila
Rugila
Rugila also referred to as Rua, Ruhas, Ruga and Rona , was a warlord who was a major factor in the Huns' early victories over the Roman Empire. He served as an important forerunner to Attila the Hun during the fifth century AD. Initially he had ruled together with his brother Octar , who died ca....

 (also known as Rua or Ruga) in 434 left the sons of his brother Mundzuk
Mundzuk
Mundzuk was a Hunnic prince and brother of Hunnic rulers Optar and Rugila . Mundzuk was also father of Attila the Hun and Bleda...

, Attila and Bleda
Bleda
Bleda was a Hun ruler, the brother of Attila the Hun.As nephews to Rugila, Attila and his elder brother Bleda succeeded him to the throne. His reign lasted for eleven years until his death. While it has been speculated throughout history that Attila murdered him on a hunting trip, no one knows...

 (Buda), in control of the united Hun tribes. At the time of two brothers' accession, the Hun tribes were bargaining with Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II
Theodosius II
Theodosius II , commonly surnamed Theodosius the Younger, or Theodosius the Calligrapher, was Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. He is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople...

's envoys for the return of several renegades (possibly Hunnic nobles who disagreed with the brothers' assumption of leadership) who had taken refuge within the Eastern Roman Empire.

The following year Attila and Bleda met with the imperial legation at Margus (present-day Požarevac
Požarevac
Požarevac is a city and municipality in eastern Serbia. It is the administrative center of the Braničevo District of Serbia...

) and, all seated on horseback in the Hunnic manner, negotiated a successful treaty
Treaty
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms...

. The Romans agreed to not only return the fugitives, but to also double their previous tribute
Tribute
A tribute is wealth, often in kind, that one party gives to another as a sign of respect or, as was often the case in historical contexts, of submission or allegiance. Various ancient states, which could be called suzerains, exacted tribute from areas they had conquered or threatened to conquer...

 of 350 Roman pounds (ca. 115 kg) of gold, to open their markets to Hunnish traders, and to pay a ransom of eight solidi
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

for each Roman taken prisoner by the Huns. The Huns, satisfied with the treaty, decamped from the Roman Empire and returned to their home in the Hungarian Great Plain, perhaps to consolidate and strengthen their empire. Theodosius used this opportunity to strengthen the walls of Constantinople
Walls of Constantinople
The Walls of Constantinople are a series of defensive stone walls that have surrounded and protected the city of Constantinople since its founding as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire by Constantine the Great...

, building the city's first sea wall, and to build up his border defenses along the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

.

The Huns remained out of Roman sight for the next few years while they invaded the Sassanid Empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

. When defeated in Armenia
Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

 by the Sassanids, the Huns abandoned their invasion and turned their attentions back to Europe. In 440 they reappeared in force on the borders of the Roman Empire, attacking the merchants at the market on the north bank of the Danube that had been established by the treaty. Crossing the Danube, they laid waste to the cities of Illyricum
Illyricum (Roman province)
The Roman province of Illyricum or Illyris Romana or Illyris Barbara or Illyria Barbara replaced most of the region of Illyria. It stretched from the Drilon river in modern north Albania to Istria in the west and to the Sava river in the north. Salona functioned as its capital...

 and forts on the river, including (according to Priscus) Viminacium
Viminacium
Viminacium was a major city and military camp of the Roman province of Moesia , and the capital of Moesia Superior. The archeological site occupies a total of 450 hectares. Viminacium is located 12 km from Kostolac, was devastated by Huns in the 5th century, but rebuilt by Justinian...

, a city of Moesia
Moesia
Moesia was an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans, along the south bank of the Danube River. It included territories of modern-day Southern Serbia , Northern Republic of Macedonia, Northern Bulgaria, Romanian Dobrudja, Southern Moldova, and Budjak .-History:In ancient...

. Their advance began at Margus, where they demanded that the Romans turn over a bishop who had retained property that Attila regarded as his. While the Romans discussed turning the Bishop over, he slipped away secretly to the Huns and betrayed the city to them.

While the Huns attacked city-states along the Danube, the Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

 led by Geiseric captured the Western Roman province of Africa and its capital of Carthage
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. Carthage was the richest province of the Western Empire and a main source of food for Rome. The Sassanid
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 Shah
Shah
Shāh is the title of the ruler of certain Southwest Asian and Central Asian countries, especially Persia , and derives from the Persian word shah, meaning "king".-History:...

 Yazdegerd II invaded Armenia
Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

 in 441. The Romans stripped the Balkan area of forces needed to defeat the Vandals in Africa which left Attila and Bleda a clear path through Illyricum into the Balkans, which they invaded in 441. The Hunnish army sacked Margus and Viminacium, and then took Singidunum
Singidunum
Singidunum is the name for the ancient city in Serbia which became Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. It was recorded that a Celtic tribe Scordisci settled the area in the 3rd century BC following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans. The Roman Empire conquered the area in 75 BC and later garrisoned...

 (modern Belgrade
Belgrade
Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans. According to official results of Census 2011, the city has a population of 1,639,121. It is one of the 15 largest cities in Europe...

) and Sirmium
Sirmium
Sirmium was a city in ancient Roman Pannonia. Firstly mentioned in the 4th century BC and originally inhabited by the Illyrians and Celts, it was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC and subsequently became the capital of the Roman province of Lower Pannonia. In 294 AD, Sirmium was...

. During 442 Theodosius recalled his troops from Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and ordered a large issue of new coins to finance operations against the Huns. Believing he could defeat the Huns, he refused the Hunnish kings' demands.

Attila responded with a campaign in 443. Striking along the Danube, the Huns, equipped with new military weapons like the battering ram
Battering ram
A battering ram is a siege engine originating in ancient times and designed to break open the masonry walls of fortifications or splinter their wooden gates...

s and rolling siege towers, overran the military centres of Ratiara and successfully besieged Naissus (modern Niš
Niš
Niš is the largest city of southern Serbia and third-largest city in Serbia . According to the data from 2011, the city of Niš has a population of 177,972 inhabitants, while the city municipality has a population of 257,867. The city covers an area of about 597 km2, including the urban area,...

).

Advancing along the Nisava River
Nišava
The Nišava or Nishava is a river in Bulgaria and Serbia, a right tributary, and with a length of 218 km also the longest one, of the Južna Morava.- Bulgaria :...

, the Huns next took Serdica
Sofia
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and approximately at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.Prehistoric settlements were excavated...

, Philippopolis
Plovdiv
Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia with a population of 338,153 inhabitants according to Census 2011. Plovdiv's history spans some 6,000 years, with traces of a Neolithic settlement dating to roughly 4000 BC; it is one of the oldest cities in Europe...

, and Arcadiopolis. They encountered and destroyed a Roman army outside Constantinople but were stopped by the double walls of the Eastern capital. They defeated a second army near Callipolis (modern Gallipoli). Theodosius, stripped of his armed forces, admitted defeat, sending the Magister militum per Orientem
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

 Anatolius to negotiate peace terms. The terms were harsher than the previous treaty: the Emperor agreed to hand over 6,000 Roman pounds (ca. 2000 kg) of gold as punishment for having disobeyed the terms of the treaty during the invasion; the yearly tribute was tripled, rising to 2,100 Roman pounds (ca. 700 kg) in gold; and the ransom for each Roman prisoner rose to 12 solidi.

Their demands were met for a time, the Hun kings withdrew into the interior of their empire. Following the Huns' withdrawal from Byzantium (probably around 445), Bleda died. Attila then took the throne for himself, becoming the sole ruler of the Huns.

Solitary kingship



In 447 Attila again rode south into the Eastern Roman Empire through Moesia
Moesia
Moesia was an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans, along the south bank of the Danube River. It included territories of modern-day Southern Serbia , Northern Republic of Macedonia, Northern Bulgaria, Romanian Dobrudja, Southern Moldova, and Budjak .-History:In ancient...

. The Roman army under the Gothic
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 magister militum
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

Arnegisclus met him in the Battle of the Utus
Battle of the Utus
The Battle of the Utus was fought in 447 between the army of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Huns led by Attila at what is today the Vit river in Bulgaria...

 and was defeated, though not without inflicting heavy losses. The Huns were left unopposed and rampaged through the Balkans as far as Thermopylae
Thermopylae
Thermopylae is a location in Greece where a narrow coastal passage existed in antiquity. It derives its name from its hot sulphur springs. "Hot gates" is also "the place of hot springs and cavernous entrances to Hades"....

. Constantinople itself was saved by the Isaurian troops of the magister militum per Orientem Zeno
Zeno (consul 448)
Flavius Zeno was an influential general and politician of the Eastern Roman Empire, of Isaurian origin, who reached the ranks of magister militum per Orientem, consul and patricius.- Biography :...

 and protected by the intervention of the prefect Constantinus, who organized the reconstruction of the walls that had been previously damaged by earthquakes, and, in some places, to construct a new line of fortification in front of the old. An account of this invasion survives:

The barbarian nation of the Huns, which was in Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

, became so great that more than a hundred cities were captured and Constantinople almost came into danger and most men fled from it. ... And there were so many murders and blood-lettings that the dead could not be numbered. Ay, for they took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers. (Callinicus, in his Life of Saint Hypatius)

In the West


In 450, Attila proclaimed his intent to attack the Visigoth
Visigoth
The Visigoths were one of two main branches of the Goths, the Ostrogoths being the other. These tribes were among the Germans who spread through the late Roman Empire during the Migration Period...

 kingdom of Toulouse
Toulouse
Toulouse is a city in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern FranceIt lies on the banks of the River Garonne, 590 km away from Paris and half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea...

 by making an alliance with Emperor Valentinian III
Valentinian III
-Family:Valentinian was born in the western capital of Ravenna, the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. The former was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, and the latter was at the time Patrician and the power behind the throne....

. He had previously been on good terms with the Western Roman Empire and its influential general Flavius Aëtius
Flavius Aëtius
Flavius Aëtius , dux et patricius, was a Roman general of the closing period of the Western Roman Empire. He was an able military commander and the most influential man in the Western Roman Empire for two decades . He managed policy in regard to the attacks of barbarian peoples pressing on the Empire...

. Aëtius had spent a brief exile
Exile
Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

 among the Huns in 433, and the troops Attila provided against the Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 and Bagaudae
Bagaudae
In the time of the later Roman Empire bagaudae were groups of peasant insurgents who emerged during the "Crisis of the Third Century", and persisted particularly in the less-Romanised areas of Gallia and Hispania, where they were "exposed to the depredations of the late Roman state, and the great...

 had helped earn him the largely honorary title of magister militum in the west. The gifts and diplomatic efforts of Geiseric, who opposed and feared the Visigoths, may also have influenced Attila's plans.

However, Valentinian's sister was Honoria
Justa Grata Honoria
Justa Grata Honoria, commonly referred to during her lifetime as Honoria, was the older sister of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III. Coins attest that she was granted the title of Augusta not long after the ascension of her brother in 426....

, who, in order to escape her forced betrothal to a Roman senator
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

, had sent the Hunnish king a plea for help – and her engagement ring – in the spring of 450. Though Honoria may not have intended a proposal of marriage, Attila chose to interpret her message as such. He accepted, asking for half of the western Empire as dowry. When Valentinian discovered the plan, only the influence of his mother Galla Placidia
Galla Placidia
Aelia Galla Placidia , daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, was the Regent for Emperor Valentinian III from 423 until his majority in 437, and a major force in Roman politics for most of her life...

 convinced him to exile, rather than kill, Honoria. He also wrote to Attila strenuously denying the legitimacy of the supposed marriage proposal. Attila sent an emissary to Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

 to proclaim that Honoria was innocent, that the proposal had been legitimate, and that he would come to claim what was rightfully his.

Attila interfered in a succession struggle after the death of a Frankish ruler. Attila supported the elder son, while Aëtius supported the younger. Attila gathered his vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

s—Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugians
Rugians
"Rugi" redirects here. For the Romanian villages by this name, see Păltiniş, Caraş-Severin and Turcineşti.The Rugii, also Rugians, Rygir, Ulmerugi, or Holmrygir were an East Germanic tribe migrated from southwest Norway to Pomerania around 100 AD, and from there to the Danube River valley...

, Scirians, Heruls, Thuringians, Alans
Alans
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.-Name:The various forms of Alan —...

, Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

, among others and began his march west. In 451, he arrived in Belgica with an army exaggerated by Jordanes to half a million strong. J.B. Bury believes that Attila's intent, by the time he marched west, was to extend his kingdom – already the strongest on the continent – across Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

 to the Atlantic Ocean.

On April 7, he captured Metz
Metz
Metz is a city in the northeast of France located at the confluence of the Moselle and the Seille rivers.Metz is the capital of the Lorraine region and prefecture of the Moselle department. Located near the tripoint along the junction of France, Germany, and Luxembourg, Metz forms a central place...

. Other cities attacked can be determined by the hagiographic vita
Biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

e
written to commemorate their bishops: Nicasius
Nicasius of Rheims
Saint Nicasius of Rheims was a bishop of Rheims from 400 until his death. He founded the first cathedral of Rheims. He prophesied the invasion of France by the Vandals....

 was slaughtered before the altar of his church in Rheims; Servatus is alleged to have saved Tongeren with his prayers, as Saint Genevieve
Genevieve
St Genevieve , in Latin Sancta Genovefa, from Germanic keno and wefa , is the patron saint of Paris in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition...

 is to have saved Paris. Lupus
Lupus of Troyes
Saint Lupus was an early bishop of Troyes. Born at Toul, he was brother-in-law to Hilary of Arles, as he had married one of Hilary's sisters, Pimeniola. Lupus worked as a lawyer. However, after being married for six years, he and his wife parted by mutual agreement.Lupus renounced all of his...

, bishop of Troyes
Troyes
Troyes is a commune and the capital of the Aube department in north-central France. It is located on the Seine river about southeast of Paris. Many half-timbered houses survive in the old town...

, is also credited with saving his city by meeting Attila in person.

Aëtius moved to oppose Attila, gathering troops from among the Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

, the Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

, and the Celts. A mission by Avitus
Avitus
Eparchius Avitus was Western Roman Emperor from July 8 or July 9, 455 to October 17, 456. A Gallic-Roman aristocrat, he was a senator and a high-ranking officer both in the civil and military administration, as well as Bishop of Piacenza.A representative of the Gallic-Roman aristocracy, he...

, and Attila's continued westward advance, convinced the Visigoth king Theodoric I
Theodoric I
Theodoric I sometimes called Theodorid and in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Teodorico, was the King of the Visigoths from 418 to 451. An illegitimate son of Alaric, Theodoric is famous for defeating Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451, where he was mortally wounded.-Early...

 (Theodorid) to ally with the Romans. The combined armies reached Orléans
Orléans
-Prehistory and Roman:Cenabum was a Gallic stronghold, one of the principal towns of the Carnutes tribe where the Druids held their annual assembly. It was conquered and destroyed by Julius Caesar in 52 BC, then rebuilt under the Roman Empire...

 ahead of Attila, thus checking and turning back the Hunnish advance. Aëtius gave chase and caught the Huns at a place usually assumed to be near Catalaunum (modern Châlons-en-Champagne
Châlons-en-Champagne
Châlons-en-Champagne is a city in France. It is the capital of both the department of Marne and the region of Champagne-Ardenne, despite being only a quarter the size of the city of Reims....

). The two armies clashed in the Battle of Châlons
Battle of Chalons
The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains , also called the Battle of Châlons sur Marne, took place in AD 451 between a coalition led by the Visigothic king Theodoric I and the Roman general Flavius Aëtius, against the Huns and their allies commanded by their leader Attila...

, whose outcome is commonly considered to be a strategic victory for the Visigothic-Roman alliance. Theodoric was killed in the fighting and Aëtius failed to press his advantage, according to Edward Gibbon and Edward Creasy, because he feared the consequences of an overwhelming Visigothic triumph as much as he did a defeat. From Aëtius' point of view, the best outcome was what occurred: Theodoric died, Attila was in retreat and disarray, and the Romans had the benefit of appearing victorious.

Invasion of Italy and death


Attila returned in 452 to claim his marriage to Honoria anew, invading and ravaging Italy along the way. The city of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

 was founded as a result of these attacks when the residents fled to small islands in the Venetian Lagoon
Venetian Lagoon
The Venetian Lagoon is the enclosed bay of the Adriatic Sea in which the city of Venice is situated. Its name in the Venetian language, Laguna Veneta— cognate of Latin lacus, "lake"— has provided the international name for an enclosed, shallow embayment of saltwater, a lagoon.The Venetian Lagoon...

. His army sacked numerous cities and razed Aquileia completely, leaving no trace of it behind. Legend has it he built a castle on top of a hill north of Aquileia to watch the city burn, thus founding the town of Udine
Udine
Udine is a city and comune in northeastern Italy, in the middle of Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, between the Adriatic sea and the Alps , less than 40 km from the Slovenian border. Its population was 99,439 in 2009, and that of its urban area was 175,000.- History :Udine is the historical...

, where the castle can still be found. Aëtius, who lacked the strength to offer battle, managed to harass and slow Attila's advance with only a shadow force. Attila finally halted at the River Po
Po River
The Po |Ligurian]]: Bodincus or Bodencus) is a river that flows either or – considering the length of the Maira, a right bank tributary – eastward across northern Italy, from a spring seeping from a stony hillside at Pian del Re, a flat place at the head of the Val Po under the northwest face...

. By this point disease and starvation may have broken out in Attila's camp, thus helping to stop his invasion.
Emperor Valentinian III
Valentinian III
-Family:Valentinian was born in the western capital of Ravenna, the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. The former was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, and the latter was at the time Patrician and the power behind the throne....

 sent three envoys, the high civilian officers Gennadius Avienus
Gennadius Avienus
Gennadius Avienus was an influential politician of the Western Roman Empire.- Biography :Avienus was member of an ancient and noble Roman family, which traced back its origins to the Consul of year 59, Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus...

 and Trigetius, as well as the Bishop of Rome Leo I
Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I was pope from September 29, 440 to his death.He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy...

, who met Attila at Mincio
Mincio
Mincio is a river in the Lombardy region of northern Italy.Called the Sarca River before entering Lake Garda, it flows from there about 65 km past Mantua into the Po River....

 in the vicinity of Mantua
Mantua
Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy and capital of the province of the same name. Mantua's historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family, made it one of the main artistic, cultural and notably musical hubs of Northern Italy and the country as a whole...

, and obtained from him the promise that he would withdraw from Italy and negotiate peace with the Emperor. Prosper of Aquitaine
Prosper of Aquitaine
Saint Prosper of Aquitaine , a Christian writer and disciple of Saint Augustine of Hippo, was the first continuator of Jerome's Universal Chronicle.- Life :...

 gives a short, reliable description of the historic meeting, but gives all the credit of the successful negotiation to Leo. Priscus reports that superstitious fear of the fate of Alaric
Alaric I
Alaric I was the King of the Visigoths from 395–410. Alaric is most famous for his sack of Rome in 410, which marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire....

—who died shortly after sacking Rome in 410—gave him pause.

In reality, Italy had suffered from a terrible famine in 451 and her crops were faring little better in 452; Attila's devastating invasion of the plains of northern Italy this year did not improve the harvest. To advance on Rome would have required supplies which were not available in Italy, and taking the city would not have improved Attila's supply situation. Therefore, it was more profitable for Attila to conclude peace and retreat back to his homeland. Secondly, an East Roman force had crossed the Danube under the command of another officer also named Aetius—who had participated in the Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

 the previous year—and proceeded to defeat the Huns who had been left behind by Attila to safeguard their home territories. Attila, hence, faced heavy human and natural pressures to retire "from Italy without ever setting foot south of the Po." As Hydatius
Hydatius
Hydatius or Idacius , bishop of Aquae Flaviae in the Roman province of Gallaecia was the author of a chronicle of his own times that provides us with our best evidence for the history of the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century.-Life:Hydatius was born around the year 400 in the...

 writes:
After Attila left Italy and returned to his palace across the Danube, he planned to strike at Constantinople again and reclaim the tribute which Marcian had stopped. (Marcian was the successor of Theodosius and had ceased paying tribute in late 450 while Attila was occupied in the west; multiple invasions by the Huns and others had left the Balkans with little to plunder). However, Attila died in the early months of 453. The conventional account, from Priscus, says that at a feast celebrating his latest marriage to the beautiful and young Ildico (if uncorrupted, the name suggests a Gothic
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 origin) he suffered a severe nosebleed and choked to death in a stupor. An alternative theory is that he succumbed to internal bleeding
Internal bleeding
Internal bleeding is bleeding occurring inside the body. It can be a serious medical emergency depending on where it occurs , and can potentially cause death and cardiac arrest if proper medical treatment is not received quickly....

 after heavy drinking or a condition called esophageal varices
Esophageal varices
In medicine , esophageal varices are extremely dilated sub-mucosal veins in the lower esophagus...

, where dilated veins in the lower part of the esophagus
Esophagus
The esophagus is an organ in vertebrates which consists of a muscular tube through which food passes from the pharynx to the stomach. During swallowing, food passes from the mouth through the pharynx into the esophagus and travels via peristalsis to the stomach...

 rupture leading to death by hemorrhage.

Another account of his death, first recorded 80 years after the events by the Roman chronicler Count Marcellinus, reports that "Attila, King of the Huns and ravager of the provinces of Europe, was pierced by the hand and blade of his wife." The Volsunga saga
Volsunga saga
The Völsungasaga is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan . It is largely based on epic poetry...

and the Poetic Edda
Poetic Edda
The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems primarily preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. Along with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century...

also claim that King Atli (Attila) died at the hands of his wife, Gudrun. Most scholars reject these accounts as no more than hearsay, preferring instead the account given by Attila's contemporary Priscus. Priscus' version, however, has recently come under renewed scrutiny by Michael A. Babcock. Based on detailed philological analysis, Babcock concludes that the account of natural death, given by Priscus, was an ecclesiastical "cover story" and that Emperor Marcian (who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from 450 to 457) was the political force behind Attila's death.

Jordanes says: "The greatest of all warriors should be mourned with no feminine lamentations and with no tears, but with the blood of men." His horsemen galloped in circles around the silken tent where Attila lay in state, singing in his dirge
Dirge
A dirge is a somber song expressing mourning or grief, such as would be appropriate for performance at a funeral. A lament. The English word "dirge" is derived from the Latin Dirige, Domine, Deus meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam , the first words of the first antiphon in the Matins of the Office...

, according to Cassiodorus
Cassiodorus
Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator , commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname, not his rank.- Life :Cassiodorus was born at Scylletium, near Catanzaro in...

 and Jordanes: "Who can rate this as death, when none believes it calls for vengeance?"

Then they celebrated a strava (lamentation) over his burial place with great feasting. Legend says that he was laid to rest in a triple coffin made of gold, silver, and iron, along with some of the spoils of his conquests. His men diverted a section of the river, buried the coffin under the riverbed, and then were killed to keep the exact location a secret.

His sons Ellac
Ellac
Ellac was the oldest son and successor of Attila the Hun in the Hunnic Empire. His reign lasted only 2 years, from 453 to 454, when he was killed in the Battle of Nedao...

 (his appointed successor), Dengizich
Dengizich
Dengizich , ruler of the Akatziroi, was a son of Attila. The other forms of his name are Denzic and Dintzic...

, and Ernakh
Ernakh
Ernakh or Ernac was the 3rd son of Attila. After Attila's death in 453 AD, his empire crumbled and its remains were ruled by his three sons. Ernakh is considered to have succeeded Dengizich king of Akatziroi and reigned from 469 AD to 503 AD over the Huns who roamed a substantial part of the...

 fought over the division of his legacy, specifically which vassal kings would belong to which brother. As a consequence they were divided, defeated and scattered the following year in the Battle of Nedao
Battle of Nedao
The Battle of Nedao, named after the Nedava, a tributary of the Sava, was a battle fought in Pannonia in 454. After the death of Attila the Hun, allied forces of the Germanic subject peoples under the leadership of Ardaric, king of the Gepids, defeated the Hunnic forces of Ellac, the son of Attila,...

 by the Ostrogoths and the Gepids under Ardaric
Ardaric
Ardaric was the most renowned king of the Gepids. He was "famed for his loyalty and wisdom", one of the most trusted adherents of Attila the Hun, who "prized him above all the other chieftains"...

 who had been Attila's most prized chieftain.

Attila's many children and relatives are known by name and some even by deeds, but soon valid genealogical sources all but dry up and there seems to be no verifiable way to trace Attila's descendants. This has not stopped many genealogists from attempting to reconstruct a valid line of descent
Descent from antiquity
Descent from Antiquity is the project of establishing a well-researched, generation-by-generation descent of living persons from people living in antiquity. It is an ultimate challenge in prosopography and genealogy....

 for various medieval rulers. One of the most credible claims has been that of the khans of Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

 (see Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans
Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans
The Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans is a short manuscript containing the names of some early Bulgar rulers, their clans, the year of their ascending to the throne according to the cyclic Bulgar calendar and the length of their rule, including the times of joint rule and civil war...

). A popular, but ultimately unconfirmed, attempt tries to relate Attila to Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

.

Later folklore and iconography



Later writers developed the meeting of Leo I and Attila into a pious "fable which has been represented by the pencil of Raphael
Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino , better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur...

 and the chisel of Algardi", reporting that the Pope, aided by Saint Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

 and Saint Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

, convinced Attila to turn away from the city. According to a version of this legend related in the Chronicon Pictum
Chronicon Pictum
The Chronicon Pictum Pictum, Chronica Picta or Chronica de Gestis Hungarorum) is a medieval illustrated chronicle from the Kingdom of Hungary from the fourteenth century...

, a mediaeval Hungarian chronicle, the Pope promised Attila that if he left Rome in peace, one of his successors would receive a holy crown (which has been understood as referring to the Holy Crown of Hungary).
Some histories and chronicles describe him as a great and noble king, and he plays major roles in three Norse sagas
Sagàs
Sagàs is a small town and municipality located in Catalonia, in the comarca of Berguedà. It is located in the geographical area of the pre-Pyrenees.-Population:...

: Atlakviða
Atlakviða
Atlakviða is one of the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. One of the main characters is Atli who originates from Attila the Hun. It is one of the most archaic Eddic poems. It is preserved in the Codex Regius and the same story is related in the Völsunga saga...

, Völsungasaga
Volsunga saga
The Völsungasaga is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan . It is largely based on epic poetry...

, and Atlamál
Atlamál
Atlamál in grœnlenzku is one of the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. It relates the same basic story as Atlakviða at greater length and in a different style...

. The Polish Chronicle represents Attila's name as Aquila.

In World War I, Allied propaganda referred to Germans as the "Huns", based on a 1900 speech by Emperor Wilhelm II praising Attila the Hun's military prowess.

In modern Hungary and in Turkey "Attila" and its Turkish variation "Atilla" are commonly used as a male first name. In Hungary, several public places are named after Attila; for instance, in Budapest
Budapest
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. As the largest city of Hungary, it is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre. In 2011, Budapest had 1,733,685 inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2,113,645 due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter...

 there are 10 Attila Streets, one of which is an important street behind the Buda Castle
Buda Castle
Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest, first completed in 1265. In the past, it was also called Royal Palace and Royal Castle ....

. When the Turkish Armed Forces
Turkish Armed Forces
The Turkish Armed Forces are the military forces of the Republic of Turkey. They consist of the Army, the Navy , and the Air Force...

 invaded Cyprus
Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

 in 1974, the operations were named after Attila (Atilla I and Atilla II).

Primary sources


Historiography

  • Babcock, Michael A. (2005). The Night Attila Died: Solving the Murder of Attila the Hun (Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 0-425-20272-0)
  • Blockley, R.C. (1983). The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire, vol. II (ISBN 0-905205-15-4). This is a collection of fragments from Priscus, Olympiodorus, and others, with original text and translation.
  • Gordon, C. D. (1960). The Age of Attila: Fifth-century Byzantium and the Barbarians (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0472061119). This is a translated collection, with commentary and annotation, of ancient writings on the subject, including Priscus.
  • Heather, Peter (2005). The Fall of the Roman Empire—A New History of Rome and the Barbarians (Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195159543)
  • Howarth, Patrick (1994). Attila, King of the Huns: The Man and the Myth (ISBN 0786709308).
  • Maenchen-Helfen, J. Otto (1973). The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture (Berkeley, University of California Press, ISBN 0520015967)
  • Man, John (2005) Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome (Bantam Press, ISBN 0-593-05291-9)
  • Thompson, E. A. (1948). A History of Attila and the Huns (London, Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

    , ISBN 0837176409). [This is the authoritative English work on the subject. It was reprinted in 1999 as The Huns in the Peoples of Europe series (ISBN 0-631-21443-7). Thompson did not enter controversies over Hunnic origins and considers that Attila's victories were achieved only when there was no concerted opposition.]

External links