He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns , Ostrogoths , and Alans among others, in Central and Eastern Europe. During his reign, he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans , but was unable to take Constantinople. His unsuccessful campaign in Persia was followed in by an invasion of the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire, the success of which emboldened Attila to invade the West. He subsequently invaded Italy , devastating the northern provinces, but was unable to take Rome.
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He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns , Ostrogoths , and Alans among others, in Central and Eastern Europe. During his reign, he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans , but was unable to take Constantinople.
His unsuccessful campaign in Persia was followed in by an invasion of the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire, the success of which emboldened Attila to invade the West. He subsequently invaded Italy , devastating the northern provinces, but was unable to take Rome. He planned for further campaigns against the Romans , but died in After Attila's death, his close adviser, Ardaric of the Gepids , led a Germanic revolt against Hunnic rule, after which the Hunnic Empire quickly collapsed.
There is no surviving first-hand account of Attila's appearance, but there is a possible second-hand source provided by Jordanes , who cites a description given by Priscus. He was a man born into the world to shake the nations, the scourge of all lands, who in some way terrified all mankind by the dreadful rumors noised abroad concerning him.
He was haughty in his walk, rolling his eyes hither and thither, so that the power of his proud spirit appeared in the movement of his body. He was indeed a lover of war, yet restrained in action, mighty in counsel, gracious to suppliants and lenient to those who were once received into his protection. 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 swarthy skin, showing evidence of his origin.
Some scholars have suggested that this description is typically East Asian, because it has all the combined features that fit the physical type of people from Eastern Asia, and Attila's ancestors may have come from there.
Many scholars have argued that Attila derives from East Germanic origin; Attila is formed from the Gothic or Gepidic noun atta , "father", by means of the diminutive suffix -ila , meaning "little father". Other scholars have argued for a Turkic origin of the name.
Althof considered it was related to Turkish atli horseman, cavalier , or Turkish at horse and dil tongue. The historiography of Attila is faced with a major challenge, in that the only complete sources are written in Greek and Latin by the enemies of the Huns. Attila's contemporaries left many testimonials of his life, but only fragments of these remain. He was obviously biased by his political position, but his writing is a major source for information on the life of Attila, and he is the only person known to have recorded a physical description of him.
He wrote a history of the late Roman Empire in eight books covering the period from to Only fragments of Priscus' work remain. It was cited extensively by 6th-century historians Procopius and Jordanes ,  : especially in Jordanes' The Origin and Deeds of the Goths , which contains numerous references to Priscus's history, and it is also an important source of information about the Hunnic empire and its neighbors.
He describes the legacy of Attila and the Hunnic people for a century after Attila's death. Marcellinus Comes , a chancellor of Justinian during the same era, also describes the relations between the Huns and the Eastern Roman Empire.
Numerous ecclesiastical writings contain useful but scattered information, sometimes difficult to authenticate or distorted by years of hand-copying between the 6th and 17th centuries. The Hungarian writers of the 12th century wished to portray the Huns in a positive light as their glorious ancestors, and so repressed certain historical elements and added their own legends.
The literature and knowledge of the Huns themselves was transmitted orally, by means of epics and chanted poems that were handed down from generation to generation. Attila is a major character in many Medieval epics, such as the Nibelungenlied , as well as various Eddas and sagas. Archaeological investigation has uncovered some details about the lifestyle, art, and warfare of the Huns. There are a few traces of battles and sieges, but the tomb of Attila and the location of his capital have not yet been found.
The Huns were a group of Eurasian nomads , appearing from east of the Volga , who migrated further into Western Europe c. Their main military techniques were mounted archery and javelin throwing. They were in the process of developing settlements before their arrival in Western Europe, yet the Huns were a society of pastoral warriors  : whose primary form of nourishment was meat and milk, products of their herds.
The origin and language of the Huns has been the subject of debate for centuries. According to some theories, their leaders at least may have spoken a Turkic language , perhaps closest to the modern Chuvash language. Attila's father Mundzuk was the brother of kings Octar and Ruga , who reigned jointly over the Hunnic empire in the early fifth century. This form of diarchy was recurrent with the Huns, but historians are unsure whether it was institutionalized, merely customary, or an occasional occurrence.
Attila grew up in a rapidly changing world. His people were nomads who had only recently arrived in Europe. They were a very mobile people, whose mounted archers had acquired a reputation for invincibility, and the Germanic tribes seemed unable to withstand them. In , the Goths crossed the Danube, initially submitting to the Romans but soon rebelling against Emperor Valens , whom they killed in the Battle of Adrianople in The Roman Emperors, both East and West, were generally from the Theodosian family in Attila's lifetime despite several power struggles.
The Huns dominated a vast territory with nebulous borders determined by the will of a constellation of ethnically varied peoples. Some were assimilated to Hunnic nationality, whereas many retained their own identities and rulers but acknowledged the suzerainty of the king of the Huns.
They exchanged ambassadors and hostages, the alliance lasting from to and permitting the Romans numerous military victories. The Huns had become a great power by the time that Attila came of age during the reign of his uncle Ruga, to the point that Nestorius , the Patriarch of Constantinople, deplored the situation with these words: "They have become both masters and slaves of the Romans".
The death of Rugila also known as Rua or Ruga in left the sons of his brother Mundzuk , Attila and Bleda , in control of the united Hun tribes. The Romans agreed to return the fugitives, to double their previous tribute of Roman pounds c. The Huns, satisfied with the treaty, decamped from the Roman Empire and returned to their home in the Great Hungarian Plain , perhaps to consolidate and strengthen their empire.
Theodosius used this opportunity to strengthen the walls of Constantinople , building the city's first sea wall , and to build up his border defenses along the Danube. The Huns remained out of Roman sight for the next few years while they invaded the Sassanid Empire. They were defeated in Armenia by the Sassanids, abandoned their invasion, and turned their attentions back to Europe. In , they reappeared in force on the borders of the Roman Empire, attacking the merchants at the market on the north bank of the Danube that had been established by the treaty of Crossing the Danube, they laid waste to the cities of Illyricum and forts on the river, including according to Priscus Viminacium , a city of Moesia.
Their advance began at Margus, where they demanded that the Romans turn over a bishop who had retained property that Attila regarded as his. While the Romans discussed the bishop's fate, he slipped away secretly to the Huns and betrayed the city to them.
While the Huns attacked city-states along the Danube, the Vandals led by Geiseric captured the Western Roman province of Africa and its capital of Carthage.
Carthage was the richest province of the Western Empire and a main source of food for Rome. The Romans stripped the Balkan area of forces, sending them to Sicily in order to mount an expedition against the Vandals in Africa. This left Attila and Bleda a clear path through Illyricum into the Balkans, which they invaded in During , Theodosius recalled his troops from Sicily and ordered a large issue of new coins to finance operations against the Huns.
He believed that he could defeat the Huns and refused the Hunnish kings' demands. Attila responded with a campaign in Priscus said "When we arrived at Naissus we found the city deserted, as though it had been sacked; only a few sick persons lay in the churches. We halted at a short distance from the river, in an open space, for all the ground adjacent to the bank was full of the bones of men slain in war. They encountered and destroyed a Roman army outside Constantinople but were stopped by the double walls of the Eastern capital.
They defeated a second army near Callipolis Gelibolu. Theodosius, unable to make effective armed resistance, admitted defeat, sending the Magister militum per Orientem Anatolius to negotiate peace terms.
The terms were harsher than the previous treaty: the Emperor agreed to hand over 6, Roman pounds c. Their demands were met for a time, and the Hun kings withdrew into the interior of their empire. Bleda died following the Huns' withdrawal from Byzantium probably around Attila then took the throne for himself, becoming the sole ruler of the Huns.
The Roman army , under Gothic magister militum Arnegisclus , met him in the Battle of the Utus and was defeated, though not without inflicting heavy losses. The Huns were left unopposed and rampaged through the Balkans as far as Thermopylae. Constantinople itself was saved by the Isaurian troops of magister militum per Orientem Zeno and protected by the intervention of prefect Constantinus , who organized the reconstruction of the walls that had been previously damaged by earthquakes and, in some places, to construct a new line of fortification in front of the old.
Callinicus, in his Life of Saint Hypatius , wrote:. The barbarian nation of the Huns, which was in Thrace , became so great that more than a hundred cities were captured and Constantinople almost came into danger and most men fled from it. And there were so many murders and blood-lettings that the dead could not be numbered. Ay, for they took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers.
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 had sent the Hunnish king a plea for help—and her engagement ring—in order to escape her forced betrothal to a Roman senator in the spring of Honoria may not have intended a proposal of marriage, but 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 Honoria, rather than killing her. He also wrote to Attila, strenuously denying the legitimacy of the supposed marriage proposal.
Attila 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. Attila interfered in a succession struggle after the death of a Frankish ruler. The location and identity of these kings is not known and subject to conjecture.
Attila gathered his vassals — Gepids , Ostrogoths , Rugians , Scirians , Heruls , Thuringians , Alans , Burgundians , among others—and began his march west. In , he arrived in Belgica with an army exaggerated by Jordanes to half a million strong.
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 said to have saved Paris.
Attila decided to fight the Romans on plains where he could use his cavalry. The two armies clashed in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains , the outcome of which is commonly considered to be a strategic victory for the Visigothic-Roman alliance. Attila returned in to renew his marriage claim with Honoria, invading and ravaging Italy along the way. Communities became established in what would later become Venice 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 so completely that it was afterwards hard to recognize its original site. Attila finally halted at the River Po. By this point, disease and starvation may have taken hold in Attila's camp, thus hindering his war efforts and potentially contributing to the cessation of invasion.
Priscus reports that superstitious fear of the fate of Alaric gave him pause—as Alaric died shortly after sacking Rome in
Attila und die Hunnen.
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