Attila, You Are on the Wrong Side of History

Artist’s rendition of Huns crossing a river, 451 A.D.


The Huns are largely forgotten now but in the 5th Century after Christ they were the terrorists of Europe.

They didn’t strap bombs to themselves nor were they motivated by a fanatical brand of Islam but they were terrorists and briefly, empire builders.

The Huns emerged from the Eurasian Steppe and were welded together in a coalition of sorts under their most famous leader; a leader known in history as Attila THE Hun, with the emphasis on the definite article “the” as if there were no other Huns.

The Huns were a horse people and as such were renown as horse archers. Under Attila’s leadership the Huns turned their considerable talents with the bow into a loose empire that consisted not only of themselves but of also a number of subjected German tribes. By 451 they were well into Gaul (modern France).

Hun Horse Archers

Hun Horse Archers

The Roman Empire was but a shadow of it’s former self. In fact the official end of the western Roman Empire would come in 476 A.D. when the last emperor was deposed by a Germanic warlord known as Odoacer, a chieftain who had spent considerable time with the Huns.

At times, the Huns could be bought off with gold but usually it took strong military intervention to stop their depredations and ideas of conquest.

As the Huns and their German allies entered Gaul the Germans already there (Visigoths or West Goths mostly) realized they best make common cause with a man known as “Last of the Romans” or Flavius Aetius.

Aetius had spent time with the Huns and knew their tactics well. Aetius was also an able general in his own right and for twenty years he had single-handily held together what remained of the western empire.

Aetius realized that the Huns had to be stopped and so made common cause with the Visigoths who were sometimes friends and sometimes enemies of the late Roman Empire. The Visigoths realized it was in their best interest to ally with Aetius.

The two armies faced each other at the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields a battle better known as The Battle of Chalons.

The battle itself was in the Duke of Wellington’s words as he described Waterloo, “a near run thing.” It was hard fought, the outcome doubtful until the Visigoths enraged by the death of their king rallied under the king’s son and launched a devastating cavalry charge against their Ostrogothic (east Goths) cousins collapsing the Hun flank and forcing them to retreat or be destroyed.

The Huns were turned back and shortly after their great leader Attila died from a nose bleed.

With Attila dead the Hunnic Empire quickly fell apart because no leader emerged to bring back the cohesion that Attila had supplied.

Historians are divided as to the significance of the Battle of the Chalons. Some say had the Romans and Visigoths lost it just would have meant an earlier collapse of the western Roman Empire and a degree of savagery that would have exceeded previous degrees of savagery in a savage period of history.

Other historians say that The Battle of Chalons was one of the most significant battles in western history because it turned back invaders from the east who had little in common with the developing west.

My amateur opinion is that both camps have something say but one thing is clear, the Battle of Chalons was a battle between civilizations, one far more destructive than the other, one far more vicious than the other, one more motivated than the other (looting, raping, killing, etc. as a way of life) to achieve their goals.

At some point Aetius and his Romans and their Visigoth allies had to decide whether or not to risk their entire way of life in a single battle. They could not afford to try and negotiate with a leader whose ultimate goal was to carve out his place in history and no amount of telling him he was on the wrong side of history would stop him. Romans and West Goths had to fight or disappear from history.

Whatever the considerable faults of the west there comes a point where nations have to decide if their way of life and values are worth protecting from those who would take them away. Putin’s Russia and his dreams for a renewed Soviet Empire is an obvious example but another is the Islamic threat of ISIS, now a state within two states. The brutality of ISIS is well-known and they are not going to listen to lectures on how they are on the wrong side of history.

3 comments on “Attila, You Are on the Wrong Side of History

  1. What is even more interesting to me is that after Chalons the Huns’ Germanic allies reversed course and deserted them. Perhaps it was after Attila died that they smelled blood and figured out how weak the Huns were without a strong ruler. Or maybe they took Roman gold to betray their former friends. So just three years later in 354 the Huns were defeated at the Battle of Nedao by most of their former allies – the Ostrogoths, Gepidae, Sciris, Heruli, and Rugii. So much for ‘lasting alliances’.

    • Thanks for stopping by Mike and taking the time to comment. The Hunnic coalition sure did fall apart quickly after Attila’s death. I don’t remember who said it but it goes something like this; victory has many fathers and defeat is an orphan. I think the Germans smelled blood and didn’t care much for the Huns in the first place.

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