Prehistory to 999 A.D.
History


Attila the Hun
(? 406 A.D., Hajdúböszörmény - d. 453),

The chief authorities for the life of Attila are Priscus, Jordanes, the Historia Miscella, Apollonius Sidonius and Gregory of Tours.

More frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, Attila became king of the Hunnic Empire along with his brother Bleda in 433 (or 434?), on the death of his uncle Roua. The Hunnic empire stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea,  We hear but little as to Bleda, who died about 445, possibly slain by his brother's orders.

His own special kingdom comprised the countries which are now called Hungary and Transylvania, his capital being possibly not far from the modern city of Buda-Pest {now Budapest]; but having made the Ostrogoths, the Gepidae and many other Teutonic tribes his subjectallies, and having also sent his invading armies into Media, he seems for nearly twenty years to have ruledas one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires,  practically without a rival, from the Caspian to the Rhine

Very early in Attila's reign, Honoria, grand-daughter of the emperor Theodosius II., being subjected to severe restraint on account of an amorous intrigue with one of the chamberlains of the palace, sent her ring to the king of the Huns and called on him to be her husband and her deliverer. Nothing came of the proposed engagement, but the wrongs of Honoria, his affianced wife, served as a convenient pretext for some of the constantly recurring embassies with which Attila, fond of trampling on the fallen majesty of Rome, worried and bullied the two courts of Constantinople and Ravenna.

Another frequent subject of complaint was found in certain sacred vessels which the bishop of Sirmium had sent as a bribe to the secretary of Attila, and which had been by him, fraudulently, as his master contended, pawned to a silversmith at Rome. There were also frequent and imperious demands for the surrender of fugitives who had sought shelter from the wrath of Attila within the limits of the empire. One of the return embassies from Constantinople, that sent in 448, had the great advantage of being accompanied by a rhetorician named Priscus, whose minute journalistic account of the negotiations, including as it does a vivid picture of the great Hun in his banquet-hall, is by far the most valuable source of information as to the court and camp of Attila. What lends additional interest to the story is the fact that in the ambassador's suite there was an interpreter named Vigilas, who for fifty pounds of gold had promised to assassinate Attila. This base design was discovered by the Hunnish king, but had never been revealed to the head of the embassy or to his secretary. The situations created by this strange combination of honest diplomacy and secret villainy are described by Priscus with real dramatic power.

In 450 Theodosius II, the incapable emperor of the East, died, and his throne was occupied by a veteran soldier named Marcian, who answered the insulting message of Attila in a manlier tone than his predecessor. Accordingly the Hun, who had something of the bully in his nature, now turned upon Valentinian the trembling emperor of the West, and demanded redress for the wrongs of Honoria, and one-half of Valentinian's dominions as her dowry.

The first eight years of his reign Attila was chiefly occupied in the wars with other barbarian tribes. Allying himself with the Franks and Vandals, he crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans, but was unable to take Constantinople. In the spring of 451, he also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul (modern France). He led his vast many-nationed army to the Rhine, crossed that river, and sacked, apparently, most of the cities in Belgic Gaul.

Most fortunately for Europe, the Teutonic races that were already settled in Gaul rallied to the defence of the empire against invaders infinitely more barbarous than themselves. Prominent in this new coalition was Theodoric, king of the Visigoths, whose capital city was Toulouse. His firm fighting alliance with the Roman general Aetius, with whom he had had many a conflict in previous years, was one of the best auguries for the new Europe that was to arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire. Meanwhile Attila had reached the Loire and was besieging the strong city of Aurelianum (Orléans). The citizens, under the leadership of their bishop Anianus, made a heroic defence, but the place was on the point of being taken when, on the 24th of June, the allied Romano-Gothic army was seen on the horizon. Attila, who knew the difficulty that he should have in feeding his immense army if his march was further delayed, turned again to the north-east, was persuaded by the venerable bishop Lupus to spare the city of Troyes, but halted near that place in the Catalaunian plains and offered battle to his pursuers Aetius and Theodoric. The battle which followed - certainly one of the decisive battles of the world - has been well described by the Gothic historian Jordanes as "ruthless, manifold, immense, obstinate." It lasted for the whole day, and the number of the slain is variously stated at 175,000 and 300,000. All such estimates are, of course, untrustworthy, but there is no doubt that the carnage was terrible. The Visigothic king was slain, but the victory, though hardly earned, remained with his people and his allies. Attila did not venture to renew the engagement on the morrow, but retreated, apparently in good order, on the Rhine, recrossed that river and returned to his Pannonian home.

From thence in the spring of 452 he again set forth to ravage or to conquer Italy. Her great champion Aetius showed less energy in her cause than he had shown in his defence of Gaul. After a stubborn contest, Attila took and utterly destroyed Aquileia.

March of Attila / Encounter of Leo the Great with Attila, by Raphael (see below)

Having devastated the northern provinces, he was unable to take Rome. He planned for further campaigns against the Romans but died unexpectedly in 453 before he could execute them. While legends have suggested that he was buried in Istria, it is said that he was was buried under a diverted section of the river known as the Tisia in antiquity, now Tisza. The Latin names for the river included Tissus, Tisia, Pathissus (Pliny, Naturalis historia, 4.25). In the Serbian- and Slovak languages, it is called Tisa. It may be referred to as the Theiss (German: Theiß) in older English references, after the German name for the river. In older French references (as for instance in relation to the naval battles on the Danube between the Turks and the German Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries), it is often referred to as the Tibisque.

Under his name of Etzel, Attila plays a great part in Teutonic legend (see Nibelungenlied) and under that of Atli in Scandinavian Saga, but his historic lineaments are greatly obscured in both. He was short of stature, swarthy and broadchested, with a large head which early turned grey, snub nose and deep-set eyes. He walked with proud step, darting a haughty glance this way and that as if he felt himself lord of all.

Painting sources:

  • http://www.udel.edu/ArtHistory/CourseGallery/pages/Wnineteenc.html - Vatican, Stanza d'Eliodoro, by Raphael, Fresco of Attila, King of the Huns, marching with his savage hordes towards Rome, is met by SS. Peter and Paul, patrons of the holy city, who appear in the clouds, sword in hand; this so terrifies Attila (on the black horse in the middle) that he submits to the terms of Leo I. Source: Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, edited by John Denison and Charles Callahan Perkins, C. Scribner's Sons (1887)

    http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/x-Select/30select/30select_09.html - The encounter between Leo the Great and Attila is the last fresco painted in this room. It was completed after the death of Julius II (pontiff from 1503 to 1513), during the pontificate of his successor Leo X (pontiff from 1513 to 1521). In fact the latter appears twice in the same scene, portrayed in the guise of Pope Leo the Great and as cardinal. According to legend, the miraculous apparition of Saints Peter and Paul armed with swords during the meeting between Pope Leo the Great and Attila (452 A.D.) caused the king of the Huns to desist from invading Italy and marching on Rome. Raphael situates the scene at the gates of Rome, identified by the Colosseum, by an aqueduct, an obelisk and other buildings, even if in fact the historical event took place in the north of Italy, near Mantua.The encounter between Leo the Great and Attila is the last fresco painted in this room. It was completed after the death of Julius II (pontiff from 1503 to 1513), during the pontificate of his successor Leo X (pontiff from 1513 to 1521). In fact the latter appears twice in the same scene, portrayed in the guise of Pope Leo the Great and as cardinal. According to legend, the miraculous apparition of Saints Peter and Paul armed with swords during the meeting between Pope Leo the Great and Attila (452 A.D.) caused the king of the Huns to desist from invading Italy and marching on Rome. Raphael situates the scene at the gates of Rome, identified by the Colosseum, by an aqueduct, an obelisk and other buildings, even if in fact the historical event took place in the north of Italy, near Mantua.

Text sources:

  • http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Attila
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attila

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Created: Sunday, May 12, 2013; Updated Sunday, January 08, 2017
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