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Attila the Hun - Famous and Infamous Rulers
3802    Dibyendu Banerjee    22/04/2018

Attila the Hun

Living in the Great Hungarian Plain, the Huns were nomadic fierce warriors, who struck terror into the hearts of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. Born in Pannonia, a province of the Roman Empire (present-day Transdanubia, Hungary), circa 406, Attila the Hun (reigned 434-453 CE) was the leader of the Huns and the ruler of the Hun Empire. The name of his mother is unknown, but Mundzuk was his father. His uncle, Rugila, also known as Rua and Ruga, was king of the Huns. After the death of Rugila, while on his campaign against Constantinople in 433 CE, Attila the Hun and his brother, Bleda, were named co-rulers of the Huns in 434. In 445, Attila killed his brother and became the 5th century king of the Hunnic Empire, and the sole ruler of the Huns.

Attila united the tribes of the Hun kingdom and was said to be an ideal ruler of his own people. In fact, he was the sole leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths and Alans. He was ruthless and aggressive. He crossed the Danube twice, plundered the Balkans and expanded his rule over a vast territory of the Central and Eastern Europe. He invaded the Eastern Roman Empire time and again in the wars of extraction, destroyed many cities, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, inspired awe and fear throughout the late Roman Empire, but could never conquer Rome or Constantinople.

In 441, Attila claimed the Romans had violated their treaty and led a devastating series of attacks through Eastern Roman cities. As the Hun forces were just 20 miles away from Constantinople, Roman Emperor Theodosius found no other way, but to make terms in 443, agreed to pay Attila a huge sum of gold every year in exchange for peace and the Huns returned to the Great Hungarian Plain. However, in 447 Attila led another, even more ambitious assault on the Eastern Roman Empire. The invincible Huns furiously assaulted through the Balkans and into Greece. However, the Romans finally managed to stop them at Thermopylae, after which the Huns and Romans negotiated another complicated treaty with even harsher terms for the Romans.

Mor Than painting The Feast of Attila.
Mór Than's painting The Feast of Attila.

In 451 CE Attila began his conquests with a huge army, conquered Gallia Belgica province (modern-day Belgium) easily and moved on to ravage the land. As he moved through Gaul, his reputation for slaughter and invincibility preceded him and that was enough to send the people of the land fleeing for their lives. Finally, he faced the combined forces of the Romans under Flavius Aetius and the Visigoths under Theodoric I, on the Cataluanian Plains. This Battle, known as the Battle of Chalons, has been described as one of the bloodiest military conflicts in history and this is the first time that Attila's forces were forced to halt in an invasion of Europe.

However, Attila had been stopped in his invasion, but he had hardly been defeated. He invaded North Italy again in 452 and completely destroyed the city of Aquileia. This time, Aetius did not have sufficient force to stop Attila and the whole population fled their cities and villages to take refuge in the watery regions of Venice, as they thought that, Attila's forces would avoid the lagoons and would march on toward more attractive grounds. Thus, the city of Venice came to rise from the marshes, to become the city of canals.

But, this time the city of Rome was spared, as Attila stopped at the Po River. Probably, by that point, disease and starvation may have taken hold in Attila's camp. Moreover, a famine had been plaguing Italy for the better part of two years, and quite possibly Attila had simply run out of supplies. By that time, the Roman Emperor Valentinian III sent two high civilian officers, as well as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo I, for a peace treaty and their mission was successful due to the diplomacy of Pope Leo I. Legend says that, St. Peter and St. Paul appeared to Attila the night before and threatened to strike him dead if he did not settle with Pope Leo I. Anyway, Attila did abandon the invasion, and Italy was saved.

Pope St Leo and Attila -by Raphael
Pope St Leo and Attila -by Raphael

Attila died the next year, while celebrating his marriage to a new, young wife. It is said that, he had burst a blood vessel, and the blood in his throat had choked him to death. It is said that, it was an accidental death by alcohol poisoning or esophageal hemorrhage from drinking too much.

The Empire of the Huns and subject tribes at the time of Attila.
The Empire of the Huns and subject tribes at the time of Attila.

Attila was a man born into the world to shake the nations. The world has seen many barbarian leaders, and yet Attila is said to be one of the few names that still prompt instant recognition, likes Alexander, Caesar, Cleopatra and Nero. He was a savage destroyer, of whom it was said that, the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod. After his death, there was a Germanic revolt against the Hunnic rule, after which the Hunnic Empire collapsed quickly, as Attila left no strong leader to properly replace him.

Bust of Attila the Hun, Attila's Hill, Kincsem Lovaspark, Hungary.
Bust of Attila the Hun, Attila's Hill, Kincsem Lovaspark, Hungary.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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