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Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun was the man who would be later called the “scourge of God” because of his extreme cruelty. He is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History between 434 and 453 AD. Attila was born in Pannonia (modern Transdanubia in Hungary). Pannonia, at that time, was ceded by the Roman Emperor to the Huns. It was the seat of the short-lived Hunnic Empire ruled by Attila. In his book Getica (The Origin or Deeds of the Goths), the Gothic bureaucrat and historian Jordanes stated that Attila was the son of a man named Mundiuch (Mundzuk) by an unnamed woman. He had an older brother named Bleda (Buda), and he was the nephew of the Hunnic brother-rulers named Rugila (or Ruga) and Octar. Jordanes described him as a short man with a broad chest, large head, small eyes, and a thin beard; indeed, it was clear that the Gothic historian was in awe of Attila and he described the warlord as “a man born into the world to shake the nations, the scourge of all lands, who in some way terrified all mankind by the dreadful rumors noised abroad concerning him. He was haughty in his walk, rolling his eyes hither and thither, so that the power of his proud spirit appeared in the movement of his body. He was indeed a lover of war, yet restrained in action, mighty in counsel, gracious to suppliants and lenient to those who were once received into his protection.”

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The Huns, just like other steppe nomads, had a reputation for excellent horsemanship. It was rumored that they were taught how to ride a horse even before they could walk. They also learned archery, as well as how to wield weapons such as the sword and the Scythian ax. All the Hunnic preparation for warfare was received by Attila as well as his brother. He would use these with full efficiency and ruthlessness against the Romans and other enemies.

One Empire, Two Kings

Attila spoke Latin and Gothic as these were the languages of trade and negotiations at that time. The frequent wars between the Romans, Huns, and Goths became very destructive by the time the boys had grown up. When their uncle Ruga died, the kingship passed on to Bleda and Attila, and Roman rulers were forced to sign the Treaty of Margus in 439 AD to prevent the brothers from leading another invasion into the Roman territory. The treaty also required Rome to return all the Hun refugees who fled to Roman territory, a fair trade agreement, and an annual tribute. Moreover, Rome was forbidden to enter into any treaties with the enemies of the Huns.

Attila_the_Hun
Attila the Hun

This treaty gave the Romans a break from the constant threat of the Huns. They focused on defending their territories from the invasion of the Vandals and the Sassanid Empire. It was breached years later when Attila and Bleda decided there was more to be gained in warfare than in peace. The cunning brothers claimed that Rome did not honor the treaty and did not return all Hun refugees to them. They also claimed that a bishop desecrated Hun graves. Attila demanded that the said bishop be sent to him for punishment. Since there was no evidence of the crimes, the Roman envoy refused to hand over the bishop.

In 441 AD, the brothers led a large-scale invasion of Roman territories. The Huns, led by Attila and Bleda, invaded Illyricum, Margus (the city was betrayed by the bishop who desecrated the Hun graves, and he opened the gates to the invaders himself), Naissus, and other cities that were near the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. To protect their territories from further destruction, Valentinian III of Western Roman Empire and Theodosius II of the Eastern Roman Empire paid off the Huns with a heavy tribute. Attila and Bleda agreed to withdraw—but not for long.

Invasion of Balkan Provinces

Some time later, Attila emerged as the single ruler of the Huns. It was rumored that he became the sole king after he killed Bleda. Attila proved to be a more-than-capable leader without Bleda. He unified the Huns under his leadership and led the invasion of the Balkan provinces sometime between 446 and 447 AD. This ended in the large-scale destruction of cities including Marcianople, Illyricum, Moesia, Thrace, and Scythia. The Huns were so relentless in their attacks that they came near and threatened Constantinople itself. This forced Emperor Theodosius to enter into a new treaty with Attila in 448 AD and pay a hefty tribute to prevent further invasions.

Honoria: An Unfortunate Wedding Proposal

Honoria, the sister of Emperor Valentinian, sent Attila a letter in 450 AD along with her engagement ring. She wanted to escape a marriage arranged by her brother to a man she did not want to marry. Attila took this as an offer of marriage from Honoria. Flattered, he sent back a message and demanded a dowry of half of the Western Roman Empire; however, Valentinian was understandably angry with his sister. He sent a message to Attila to take back Honoria’s marriage proposal.

Invasion of Gaul

The Huns, led by Attila, invaded Gaul in 451 AD and sacked Gallia Belgica (modern Belgium) as well as the cities of Trier in Germany and Metz in France. The rampage went on until the combined troops of Visigoths led by King Theodoric (who was killed in battle) and Romans (led by General Aetius) stopped the Huns in the Battle of Chalons (Catalaunian Plains). The result of the war was indecisive, and the Huns went home soon after an agreement was made.

Invasion of Italy and Death

It seemed Attila was not done yet and needed even the slightest reason to invade the Western Roman Empire. He remembered Honoria’s offer of marriage and in 452 AD, he invaded Italy to “claim” his bride. He destroyed cities as he neared Rome and severely sacked the city of Aquileia. When the people heard that Attila and his troops were about to invade, they fled to the marshy regions of northern Italy into what is now Venice and hoped that Attila would bypass them (the gamble paid off, and they were spared).

Attila and his warriors stopped at the banks of the Po River probably because of famine, lack of supplies, superstition (Alaric I, king of the Visigoths, died after he besieged the city of Rome), or the negotiations with Pope Leo, who was sent by Valentinian. He and his troops went back to Hungary, and there he took a younger wife named Ildico. According to legend, Attila died on his wedding night after he suffered a severe nosebleed which choked him to death.

References:
Picture By Mór Than – Fine Arts in Hungary: , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23831
Maenchen-Helfen, Otto. The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973
http://people.ucalgary.ca/~vandersp/Courses/texts/jordgeti.html
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