The Battle of Chalons took place in 451 AD where it is located on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History, as a result of the Huns‘ conquest of Gaul. According to historians, this battle was fought in June 451, but there are some sources that consider September 451 as the date of the battle. The Hun army was led by Attila, where he was supported by about 30,000 to 50,000 soldiers. On the other hand, Flavius Aetius and Theodoric led the Roman army, which was made up of roughly the same number of men as with the Huns.
Cause of the Battle
Prior to 450 AD, the Romans’ control over Gaul (including its surrounding province) had weakened due to invasions from numerous powerful opponents. In that same year, the sister of Emperor Valentinian III agreed to marry Attila, as she believed it would enable her to obtain at least half of the Roman Empire in the West as her dowry.
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Attila accepted that offer made by Honoria. However, Valentinian was against their marriage and stood in between Attila and Honoria’s decision. With such refusal by Valentinian, Attila was deeply angered and began to prepare for a battle against the Romans.
King Gaiseric, a Vandal, encouraged Attila’s decision to wage a war against the Roman Empire. In the early months of 451, a group of men joined Attila as they headed across the Rhine. His first attempts to conquer several nearby towns were successful as he sacked various areas including Reims, Cologne, Strasbourg and Amiens. Then, they proceeded to Aurelianum, but Attila was not able to enter as the inhabitants of the city closed the gate.
Meanwhile, Flavius Aetius was gathering his forces in Northern Italy to prevent Attila from advancing to the city. He further moved into southern Gaul, where he was accompanied by a small military force made up of auxiliaries.
Thus, he asked for help from the king of Visigoths named Theodoric I, yet without much support at all. This prompted Aetius to turn to Avitus, who agreed to help him. The two collaborated and convinced Theodoric to take part in their plan including several local tribes.
Accounts of the Battle
Aetius moved towards the north, where he planned to stop Attila while the latter was situated near Aurelianum. Attila’s men learned about Aetius’ plan, and they immediately reported this to their leader. This left Attila without any choice but to head northeast to find a suitable terrain for his army. Eventually, they arrived at the Catalaunian Fields, where they prepared for the battle.
While Romans headed towards the battle ground, Attila ordered his men to assemble for battle the following day. The Huns left their camp and moved to a ridge, which crossed the fields.
Attila ordered his men to advance to their opponents later during the day, as he believed this could give his men a chance to retreat easily after nightfall in case they were defeated. The Huns approached the right portion of the ridge, along with the Gepids and Ostrogoths. Aetius’s army, on the other hand, went to the left side of the ridge, including the Romans, Alans, and Visigoths. As the Huns headed to the peak of the ridge, Aetius successfully arrived first at the crest.
During the battle, Theodoric’s son was killed, while Attila’s army was attacked as they were retreating from the fight. By nightfall, the fight came to an end, and the two parties prepared for another battle the next day.
Attila was still expecting the Romans to attack his army. After waiting awhile, he finally decided to head back with his men across the Rhine. The fight stopped as Aetius contradicted Thorismund’s decision to assault the Huns once more.
Although the actual casualties remained unclear, historians are only certain that the battle damaged Attila’s reputation as a powerful conqueror. However, the Romans’ successful performance at that battle was also one of the few victories gained by the Roman Empire in the West.
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