Attila the Hun


Attila the Hun is known as a destroyer rather than a builder of civilizations. The Hun nation, although it spanned the greater part of eastern Europe in its day, was relatively disorganized and uncultured, even compared to its German neighbors. The Germanic tribes varied in their relationship with the Roman Empire, but many, such as the Visigoths, were relatively civilized. The Huns were a long standing enemy and threat to the German tribes, and in many cases Germanic incursions into Roman territory during previous generations had been inspired by the desire to flee from the Huns to areas of greater safety and civilization. By the mid fifth century, much of Gaul had been settled by German tribes, and although they were independent from the emperor in Rome, they had assimilated much of Latin culture and, in some cases, become Christians. They were no longer "barbarian" in the same sense that the Huns were.

The central base of Attila's kingdom was north of the Danube in the region that was known during medieval times as Hungary. Attila came to power in 434 A.D. and ruled along with his brother, Bleda. Together they invaded the Balkans, and extracted tributes from Theodosius II, Emperor of the East. In 445 A.D. Attila murdered his brother and became sole ruler of the Huns. Shortly thereafter, he attacked the eastern empire again, and surrounded Constantinople. After failing to take the city, he collected even higher tributes, and withdrew. In 450 A.D., a new emperor came to power in the east, and decided to take a hard line with the barbarians, and cut off payment of tributes to the Huns. Shortly thereafter, Honoria, sister of the emperor in the West, attempted to make an alliance with Attila in order to improve her position within the empire. This inspired Attila to turn his attention to the western empire, which was weaker than the east, and already in considerable turmoil. It was at this point that he gathered his great army, allied himself also with several German tribes, and crossed the Rhine, in his infamous campaign of destruction and carnage. Many important Gallic towns were destroyed during this campaign, and Attila became known as "The Scourge of God" for his rapacious destruction.

The commander of the western forces at this time was Aetius. He made an alliance with the Visigoth kingdom in Gaul to oppose Attila, and the great battle was fought at Chalons. It was the largest battle in the western empire in over a century, with about 30,000 combatants on each side. At the end of the day, however, Attila was driven back. The next year, however, he descended into Italy and threatened Rome. An embassy including Pope Leo I, went out to meet him before he approached the city, and was somehow able to convince him to withdraw his forces. The reason he actually withdrew, however, is not known precisely, but is a subject of great speculation among historians. He eventually returned to his palace on the Danube, and died shortly thereafter.

Key events during the life of Attila the Hun:

Elevated to co-ruler of the Huns, along with his brother. Negotiated tribute from Theodosius II.
Invaded Balkans, eastern emperor increased his tribute.
Murdered his brother; became sole king of the Huns.
Attacked the empire again in hopes of increasing his tribute.
Emperors in east and west unite and refuse to pay more tribute to the Huns.
Honoria, sister of the western emperor attempts an alliance with Huns. Attila demands a great dowry.
Invades Gaul, but was repelled by Aetius at the battle of Chalons.
Invades Italy, but turned away from Rome after meeting with Pope Leo I.
Dies suddenly while celebrating marriage festival.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
King and His Hawk  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Three Deadly Blows  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
The Scourge of God  in  Old Time Tales  by  Lawton B. Evans
Sieges of Rome  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Attila the Hun  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Fall of the Western Empire  in  The Story of the Middle Ages  by  Samuel B. Harding
Attila  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/soldiers/_back.html
Attila the Scourge of God  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
King Attila  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Barbarians Invade the Roman Empire  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Huns at Orleans  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Attila the Hun is Defeated at Chalons  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

The Meeting of Attilla and Pope Leo
 in Stories from German History

Attila and Leo
 in Helmet and Spear

A Hunnic Invasion
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Attila and his terrible Huns
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

St. Leo halting Attila at the gates of Rome
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Court of the Huns
 in The Story of the Middle Ages

Attila's Huns Plundering a Roman Villa in Gaul
 in Greatest Nations - Germany

Attila the Hun
 in Back Matter

Attila, The Scourge of God
 in Back Matter

Attila the Hun
 in Barbarian and Noble

Attila's Banquet
 in Barbarian and Noble

Attila's Banquet
 in Barbarian and Noble

Attila before the Pope
 in Barbarian and Noble

Leo Interceding With Attila at the Gates of Rome.
 in European Hero Stories

Short Biography
Theodosius II Eastern Emperor who paid tribute to the Huns.
Marcian Eastern Emperor who refused to pay tribute to the Huns.
Valentinian Western Emperor who refused to pay tribute to the Huns.
Honoria Sister of Valentinian who negotiated with the Huns and undermined the emperor's position.
Leo I Pope who convinced Attila to turn away from Rome without attacking.
Aetius Last great General of the Western Empire. Defeated Attila the Hun at Chalons.
Genseric Leader of Vandals. Conquered Northern Africa and Sicily. Invaded and ransacked Rome.