Wednesday, January 1, 7406

Attila the Hun (406-453) - Hungarian Dance

Attila (406 – 453), also known as Attila the Hun or the Scourge of God, was leader of the Huns from 434 until his death.

He was leader of the Hunnic Empire which stretched from Germany to the Ural River and from the River Danube to the Baltic Sea.

[Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Hungarian Dance No. 5 (1869)]

During his rule he was one of the most fearsome of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires' enemies: he invaded the Balkans twice, he marched through Gaul (modern France) as far as Orleans before being defeated at the Battle of Chalons. He refrained from attacking either Constantinople or Rome.

In much of Western Europe, he is remembered as the epitome of cruelty and rapacity. In contrast, some histories and Chronicles lionize him as a great and noble king, and he plays major roles in three Norse sagas.

In 450 Attila had proclaimed his intent to attack the powerful Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse, making an alliance with Emperor Valentinian III in order to do so. He had previously been on good terms with the Western Roman Empire and its de facto ruler Flavius Aëtius. Aëtius had spent a brief exile among the Huns in 433, and the troops Attila provided against the Goths and Bagaudae had helped earn him the largely honorary title of magister militum in the west. The gifts and diplomatic efforts of Geiseric, who opposed and feared the Visigoths, may also have influenced Attila's plans.

However Valentinian's sister was Honoria, who, in order to escape her forced betrothal to a Roman senator, had sent the Hunnish king a plea for help -- and her engagement ring -- in the spring of 450. Though Honoria may not have intended a proposal of marriage, Attila chose to interpret her message as such. He accepted, asking for half of the western Empire as dowry.

When Valentinian discovered the plan, only the influence of his mother Galla Placidia convinced him to exile, rather than kill, Honoria. He also wrote to Attila strenuously denying the legitimacy of the supposed marriage proposal. Attila, not convinced, sent an emissary to Ravenna to proclaim that Honoria was innocent, that the proposal had been legitimate, and that he would come to claim what was rightfully his.

The general path of the Hun forces in the invasion of Gaul, leading up to the Battle of Chalons.
Attila also interfered in a succession struggle after the death of a Frankish ruler. Attila supported the elder son, while Aëtius supported the younger.

Attila gathered his vassals (Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugians, Scirians, Heruls, Thuringians, Alans, Burgundians, among others) and began his march west. In 451 he arrived in Belgica with an army exaggerated by Jordanes to half a million strong. J.B. Bury believes that Attila's intent, by the time he marched west, was to extend his kingdom -- already the strongest on the continent -- across Gaul to the Atlantic Ocean.

On April 7, he captured Metz. Other cities attacked can be determined by the hagiographic vitae written to commemorate their bishops: Nicasius was slaughtered before the altar of his church in Rheims; Servatus is alleged to have saved Tongeren with his prayers, as Saint Genevieve is to have saved Paris.

Lupus, bishop of Troyes, is also credited with saving his city by meeting Attila in person.

Aëtius moved to oppose Attila, gathering troops from among the Franks, the Burgundians, and the Celts. A mission by Avitus, and Attila's continued westward advance, convinced the Visigoth king Theodoric I (Theodorid) to ally with the Romans. The combined armies reached Orleans ahead of Attila, thus checking and turning back the Hunnish advance. Aëtius gave chase and caught the Huns at a place usually assumed to be near Catalaunum (modern Châlons-en-Champagne). The two armies clashed in the Battle of Chalons, whose outcome is commonly considered to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Visigothic-Roman alliance. Theodoric was killed in the fighting and Aëtius failed to press his advantage, according to Edward Gibbon and Edward Creasy because he feared the consequences of an overwhelming Visogothic triumph as much as he did a defeat. From Aëtius' point of view, the best outcome was what occurred: Theodoric died, Attila was in retreat and disarray, and the Romans had the benefit of appearing victorious.

Attila returned in 452 to claim his marriage to Honoria anew, invading and ravaging Italy along the way. The city of Venice was founded as a result of these attacks when the residents fled to small islands in the Venetian Lagoon. His army sacked numerous cities and razed Aquileia completely, leaving no trace of it behind. Legend has it he built a castle on top of a hill north of Aquileia to watch the city burn, thus founding the town of Udine, where the castle can still be found. Aëtius, who lacked the strength to offer battle, managed to harass and slow Attila's advance with only a shadow force.

[The Po at Turin, Italy]

Attila finally halted at the River Po.

By this point disease may have broken out in Attila's camp, thus helping to stop his invasion.

At the wish of Emperor Valentinian III (419-455),

Pope Leo I, accompanied by the Consul Avienus and the Prefect Trigetius,

[Chronicum Pictum, 1360]

met Attila at Mincio in the vicinity of Mantua,

[Rafael (1483-1520)]

and obtained from him the promise that he would withdraw from Italy and negotiate peace with the emperor.

Prosper of Aquitaine gives a short, reliable description of the historic meeting. The later anonymous account, a pious "fable which has been represented by the pencil of Raphael and the chisel of Algardi" (as Gibbon called it) says that the Pope, aided by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, convinced him to turn away from the city, promising Attila that in case he leaves in peace, one of his successor will receive a Holy Crown. Priscus reports that superstitious fear of the fate of Alaric -- who died shortly after sacking Rome in 410 -- gave him pause.

After Attila left Italy and returned to his palace across the Danube, he planned to strike at Constantinople again and reclaim the tribute which Marcian had cut off. (Marcian was the successor of Theodosius and had ceased paying tribute in late 450 while Attila was occupied in the west; multiple invasions by the Huns and others had left the Balkans with little to plunder.)

However Attila died in the early months of 453. The conventional account, from Priscus, says that at a feast celebrating his latest marriage to the beautiful and young Ildico (if uncorrupted, the name suggests a Gothic origin) he suffered a severe nosebleed and choked to death in a stupor. An alternative theory is that he succumbed to internal bleeding after heavy drinking or a condition called esophageal varices, where a hemorrhoid in the lower part of the esophagus ruptures leaving the person to choke on his/her own blood.

Another account of his death, first recorded 80 years after the events by the Roman chronicler Count Marcellinus, reports that "Attila, King of the Huns and ravager of the provinces of Europe, was pierced by the hand and blade of his wife."

The Volsunga saga and the Poetic Edda also claim that King Atli (Attila) died at the hands of his wife, Gudrun.

Most scholars reject these accounts as no more than hear-say, preferring instead the account given by Attila's contemporary Priscus. Priscus' version, however, has recently come under renewed scrutiny by Michael A. Babcock.

Based on detailed philological analysis, Babcock concludes that the account of natural death, given by Priscus, was an ecclesiastical "cover story" and that Emperor Marcian (who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from 450-457) was the political force behind Attila's death.

Jordanes says, "the greatest of all warriors should be mourned with no feminine lamentations and with no tears, but with the blood of men." His horsemen galloped in circles around the silken tent where Attila lay in state, singing in his dirge, according to Cassiodorus and Jordanes, "Who can rate this as death, when none believes it calls for vengeance?" then celebrated a strava (lamentation) over his burial place with great feasting. Legend says that he was laid to rest in a triple coffin made of gold, silver, and iron, along with some of the spoils of his conquests. His men diverted a section of the river Tisza, buried the coffin under the riverbed, and then were killed to keep the exact location a secret.

His sons Ellac (his appointed successor), Dengizich, and Ernakh fought over the division of his legacy, specifically which vassal kings would belong to which brother. As a consequence they were divided, defeated and scattered the following year in the Battle of Nedao by the Ostrogoths and the Gepids under Ardaric. According to Jordanes, Ardaric, who was once Attila's most prized chieftain, turned against the feuding brothers when he felt that they were treating the nations they ruled as slaves.

Attila's many children and relatives are known by name and some even by deeds, but soon valid genealogical sources all but dry up and there seems to be no verifiable way to trace Attila's descendants. This hasn't stopped many genealogists from attempting to reconstruct a valid line of descent for various medieval rulers. One of the most credible claims has been that of the tsars of Bulgaria (see Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans). A popular, but ultimately unconfirmed attempt tries to relate Attila to Charlemagne.

There is no surviving first-person account of Attila's appearance. There is, however, a possible second hand source, provided by Jordanes, who claimed Priscus described Attila as:

short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin, showing evidence of his origin.

Attila is known in Western history and tradition as the grim flagellum dei (Latin: "Scourge of God"), and his name has become a byword for cruelty and barbarism. Some of this may have arisen from confusion between him and later steppe warlords such as Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. All are considered to be cruel, clever, and blood-thirsty lovers of battle and pillage.

The reality of his character is probably more complex. The Huns of Attila's era had been mingling with Roman civilisation for some time, largely through the Germanic foederati of the border, so that by the time of Theodosius's embassy in 448 Priscus could identify two primary languages among the Huns, Gothic and Hunnic, with some people knowing Latin and Greek.

Priscus also recounts his meeting with an eastern Roman captive who had so fully assimilated into the Huns' way of life that he had no desire to return to his former country, and the Byzantine historian's description of Attila's humility and simplicity is unambiguous in its admiration.

According to Jacques Le Goff, the women of Attila's time were fascinated by him and often fantasised about him, thus Attila became something of a 5th-century sex symbol.

Attila has been portrayed in various ways, sometimes as a noble ruler, sometimes as a cruel barbarian.

Giuseppe Verdi made him the title character of his like-named opera.

In an episode of the early 1960's sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, the character Rob Petrie belts out a ditty called I'm In Love With Attila the Hun which he co-wrote with an old army buddy.

[7476 The Fall of Rome / 7406 Attila the Hun]