Attila the Hun
Born probably in 406 AD, Attila the Hun was a fifth century military man who is best remembered for his role in spearheading the unification of Hun Kingdom, at an area which is now Hungary. He was the king of Hunnic Empire and he devastated lands ranging from Black Sea all the way to Mediterranean and inspired great fear throughout the Roman Empire.
Attila was dubbed the ‘Flagellum Dei’, translated to mean ‘Scourge of God’. The warrior consolidated power after he murdered his brother and became the sole recognized king of Huns. During his reign, he expanded the Huns’ rule and included many Germanic tribes in it. He engaged in extraction wars and mainly focused his attacks on Eastern Roman Empire. During his time in power, he didn’t at any time invade Rome or Constantinople and he died in 453 leaving behind a divided family.
Taking control of Hunnic Empire
Attila’s actual birth place is believed to be in Pannonia, a small province of Roman Empire, which is Transdanubia, Hungary in present day. The historical records cite that the Huns people were initially found in East of Rome. Their ancestors in fact are probably believed to be probably nomadic peoples of Mongolian steppe that were referred to as the Xiongnu by the Chinese. Historical data says that Xiongnu launched highly devastating raids among the Chinese and in fact motivated construction of initial sections of Great Wall of China. By around 85 AD, resurgent Han Chinese failed to inflict realistic/ heavy defeats on their attackers, Xiongnu.
By C. 406, the time that Attila was born, the Huns had such a loose organization coalition of the nomadic herder clans and each had a separate king. Rua, Attila’s uncle seized power and became the rule of all the Huns after he killed all other kings. The political change majorly resulted from the increasing reliance of Huns on mercenary payments and tribute from Romans and their reduced dependence on pastoralism. In return Rome paid Rua to fight on their behalf and he also received 350 Ibs worth of gold as an annual tribute from Eastern Roman Empire that was based in Constantinople. As the gold based economy was soon crippling in, people really didn’t find it necessary to follow herds and it was easy to centralize power.
In 434, Rua died and this paved way for Attila to come to power. Together with Bleda, his brother, they were named as co- rulers of Huns in 434. Attila and Bleda were both nephews of Rua. It is not very clear why Bleda, being older than Attila couldn’t take power solely and succeed his uncle. History speculates that Attila was probably more popular and stronger than his brother. When he murdered his brother about a decade late, Attila declared himself to be the undisputed king of 5th Century Hunnic and the only ruler of Huns. As a king, Attila made significant efforts in uniting different tribes of Hun kingdom. History notes that he was a very just king to his people. However, it is also said that Attila was a very ruthless and aggressive leader.
The wrath of Attila
According to many historians like Edward Gibbon, Attila was quite notorious for the fierce gaze he had and he rolled his eyes frequently as if he was enjoying the terror inspired by him. Attila also scared other people by making a claim that he owned the real sword of Mars, Roman god of war.
Being the sole king of Huns, Attila started to exercise his power by invading Eastern Ronan Empire and sieved the Balkans and in 447 threatened an earthquake ravaged Constantinople. Later, the emperor of Romans sued for peace and handed more than 6, 000 pounds of gold as tribute and agreed to be paying an annual tribute of 2100 pounds annually. Fugitive Huns that had earlier on fled to Constantinople also returned back home. These refugees are probably believed to be the nephews or sons of kinds that Rua had killed and Attila impaled them.
Due to the many attacks that Attila was revenging on the Romans, they at one time tried to assassinate him. This happened in 449 when Constantinople sent Maximunus, an imperial ambassador probably to hold negotiations with Attila about the possibility of creating a buffer zone for separating Roman lands and Hunnic lands and also to have more refugees return back home. The preparations were done for a month and Priscus, a historian by then went along with them and recorded the events of the journey.
After the trains of Romans that was gift laden finally reached the lands of Attila, they were rebuffed rudely. Priscus and the ambassador never realized that their interpreter, Vigilas had been sent actually by the Romans to assassinate Attila after they colluded with Edeco, Attila’s counselor. Edeco soon revealed all the details to Attila who then disgraced the Romans and sent then back home.
In 450, a year after Attila had gotten too close to brushing with death; she was sent a ring and a note by Honoria, a Roman Princess. Honoria was the sister of the reigning emperor Valentinian III who had been promised to be married off to a man that she never liked. The princess wrote to Attila requesting him to rescue her. However, Attila interpreted this to mean a proposal for marriage and accepted happy and promised to pay a dowry of a nice prize that included half the provinces in Western Roman Empire. The Roman emperor never accepted the arrangement and as expected of Attila he put his army together and sent his men out to get his new wife. Quickly, the Huns overran most of the modern day Germany and France.
Theodosius II, the Roman Emperor paid a tribute to Attila for money protection in 434. However, Attila never honored the peace treaty and broke it a few years later when he destroyed towns that were located along Danube River and later moved into the interior of the Roman Empire where he obliterated Serdica/ Sofia and Naissus/ Nis. Later, he extended his wrath towards Constantinople, Istanbul in modern day and defeated Roman forces on the Eastern front in several battles.
When Attila reached the sea, both south and north of Constantinople, he however realized that it was impossible for his army to launch an attack on great wall of the capital. His army largely consisted of horsemen. To shield himself from the threat posed by Attila, Theodosius II built these great walls specifically to defend his empire from him. Subsequently, Attila then retargeted and changed his plans only to destroy what remained of Eastern forces of Roman Empire.
Attila later invaded Balkans in 441. Theodosius begged Attila for terms and he had his tribute tripled by the emperor. He however struck the Roman Empire again in 447 and negotiated with the emperor for a new treaty. After Marcian, the new emperor for Eastern Roman and his counterpart Valentinian III failed to pay tribute to him, Attila put together an army of about half a million warriors and launched an invasion on Gaul, present day France. However, Attila defeated him in 451 at Chalons after he banded together with Visigoths.
Legacy and final years
Attila died mysteriously after fighting the battle of Catalonian Fields and invading Italy. After returning from Italy, he married a teenage girl by the name Ildiko and the 453 marriage was greatly celebrated with plenty of alcohol and a great feast. After dinner was served, the new couple as usual retired for the night at the wedding chamber. The following month, Attila never showed up and his servants became nervous and opened the door to the chamber. The king lay on the floor dead and some accounts state that he was covered by blood and his new wife was huddling at the corner in great shock. Even though it is unlikely, some accounts say that Attila was murdered by Ildiko.
Attila’s empire fell soon after his death. His three sons quickly divided the empire and they were constantly fighting on who was going to become the high king and this led to a streak of losses in battles that followed. History portrays Attila to be a blood thirsty, barbaric and cruel ruler but it is good to keep in mind that most of the accounts of his life come from Eastern Romans who were his enemies. Priscus, the historian who went to the court of Attila during the fateful embassy notes that Attila also was humble, merciful and wise.
He was amazed of the fact that despite being the king of Huns, Attila used some simple wooden table implements and his guests and coutiers drank and ate from gold and silver dishes. Amazingly, Attila never killed the Romans who had come to assassinate him and instead sent them back home in disgrace. In this regard, it is in order to point out that Attila was a more complex king unlike what is revealed by his modern reputation.