Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun

(c. 406-453)

No military name conjures up as much sheer terror as that of Attila the Hun. The Huns were a warlike, nomadic people from Central Asia who swept into the Black Sea and Danube River regions around A.D.370. Their violent arrival displaced many of the Visigothic and Ostrogothic tribespeople, who were less of a threat to Rome than the Huns.

In A.D. 433, he and his brother Bleda jointly inherited leadership of the tribe from their uncle. The Huns, who had already experienced success, were receiving an annual tribute pay¬ ment of 700 pounds of gold from the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople. Attila was occupied at first with cementing his control over the area around the Danube. Then he turned his attention to the Eastern Roman Empire.

Attila led an invasion of the eastern Balkan provinces in A.D. 441. Because many of the Roman soldiers were away in Sicily, he advanced rapidly and won concessions from the emperor. Attila raised the annual tribute to 2,100 pounds of gold and withdrew to the Danube. He had his brother Bleda killed around A.D. 443 and became sole leader of the Hunnish nation.

The Huns returned to the offensive in A.D. 447. Attila led his mounted troops in a cam¬ paign that was stopped only at Thermopylae in Greece. Attila then turned east and went all the way to Constantinople, where he was halted. Even the ferocity of his men could not overawe the Romans, safe behind the great walls of the city.

Deciding to attack the Western Roman Empire, Attila raised an enormous army com¬ posed of Huns, Ostrogoths, Gepids, Heruli, and Alan tribespeople. He led them west into Gaul in A.D. 451. There his army clashed with forces led by Roman general Aetius and Visigothic king Theodoric. The two armies collided at the Battle of Chalons. Although King Theodoric was killed in the fighting, the Huns and their allies suffered heavy losses.

In A.D. 452, Attila invaded northern Italy. The Huns pillaged several northern Italian cities and seemed poised to march on Rome itself when Attila received a diplomatic visit from Pope Leo I. The substance of their con¬ versation remains a mystery. It is an indis¬ putable fact that afterward Attila ceased his march and, with his army, left Italy. The great question remains — did Pope Leo persuade Attila to do so, or did the lack of food for his horses convince Attila to retire?

Attila died in A.D. 453. Popular legend claims he burst a blood vessel on the night of his wedding to the Gothic maiden, Hilda. Deprived of his leadership, the Huns broke into smaller groups and their nation never regained the prominence it had held under Attila, the terror of the western world.