Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Attila
ATTILA, or Etzel, the famous leader of the Huns, surnamed the “Fear of the World,” or the “Scourge of God,” was born probably about 406 A.D. His father Mundzuk, king of the Huns, was succeeded by his brothers Octar and Rhuas ; and on the death of Rhuas, in 434, Attila and his brother Bleda together ascended the throne. They ruled not only over the Huns, but over nearly all the tribes north of the Danube and the Black Sea ; under their banners fought Ostrogoths, Gepidae, Alani, Heruli, and many other Teutonic peoples. Their dominions are said to have extended from the Rhine to the frontiers of China. Attila was superstitiously reverenced by his countrymen ; he was said to possess the iron sword of the war-god, Mars, and he proclaimed himself to be the man-child born at Engaddi, who was destined to rule over the whole world. In 441 and 442 the brothers ravaged Thrace and Illyria, defeated the troops of the Eastern Empire in three great battles, and penetrated as far as Thermopylae. Peace was made on the Romans agreeing to pay a heavy tribute. About this time Attila contrived to make away with his brother Bleda, and thus secured undivided supremacy. In 445 and the following years, he again directed his attacks against the Eastern Empire, and laid waste the whole country round Constantinople. Nowhere did he meet with resistance save from the brave little town of Azimus. The empire seemed about to succumb, when Theodosius entered into negotiations and made terms with his conqueror. While matters were being arranged, a plot was laid to assassinate Attila, in which the emperor was implicated. The conspiracy was discovered, and the barbarian upbraided the Christian monarch with his want of honour and manly courage. Theodosius died soon after, and his successor, Marcian, returned a firm refusal to Attila s demands for tribute. War seemed inevitable ; but at this time the attention of the Hun was drawn to the Western Empire. It is said that the Princess Honoria, sister of Valentinian, tired of her life of enforced celibacy, sent her ring and an offer of her hand to Attila, who upon this grounded his claim to a part of the empire. It is probable, however, that he merely used this as a pretext, and that his real designs were more comprehensive. He evidently thought it a favourable opportunity for taking advantage of the enmity between the Romans and the Visigoths ; and to this plan he was also induced by the proposals of Genseric, king of the Vandals, who offered to unite with him against his rival, Theodoric, king of the Visigoths. In 451 Attila assembled his forces, it is said 700,000 strong, led them through the centre of Ger many, probably by Franconia, and crossed the Rhine, at what place cannot be determined, He defeated the Burgundians, and pushed on through the heart of Gaul, until his centre was checked by the valiant resistance offered by Orleans. Meanwhile, Theodoric and Aetius, tlie Roman general, had collected and united their forces, and marching with all speed, arrived in time to raise the siege of Orleans. Attila retreated to a position in the plain of Chalons, and there concentrated his forces for a great engagement. A tremendous battle ensued one of the most gigantic as well as most important contests recorded in history. The Romans, who formed one wing, were driven back, and although they kept together, and at nightfall retired to the camp of the Visigoths, Aetius had given ip the day as lost. The Visigoths, who were on the other wing, had also been repulsed, and were discouraged by the fall of their leader Theodoric. But the fortune of the day was changed by the impetuous bravery of Thorismund, Theodoric's son, who, burning to avenge his father s fall, led on the infuriated Visigoths, and drove Attila back to his camp. He even penetrated into the fortifications, but was wounded and thrown from his horse, and his followers with difficulty carried him off. Next day, Attila remained in his camp in expectation of an attack, and having thrown all his baggage into a gigantic pile in the centre of the camp to be burned in case of defeat, resolved to sell his life dearly. But no attack was made ; for Thorismund was persuaded by Aetius to march to Toulouse in order to obtain his father s king dom. Attila was thus enabled to retire in perfect security. Next year he poured his forces through the defiles of the Alps, and laid waste the whole north of Italy. Rome itself seemed likely to fall before the invader, when his course was arrested by an embassy headed by Pope Leo. Attila at once withdrew from Italy, but the motive which led him to act thus is not known. At the time his retreat was ascribed to a miraculous interposition of Providence, Peter and Paul having appeared in the camp of the Huns along with the embassy. The whole matter is rather obscure ; and scarcely more credible is the story told by Jornandes that Attila invaded Gaul a second time and was completely defeated by Thorismund. No other historian mentions this circumstance. In the year 453, Attila died from the bursting of a blood-vessel on the night of his marriage with a beautiful Gothic maiden, called Ildiko, or Hilda. He was buried by his followers with great pomp and lamentation. The vast empire over which he had ruled broke up immediately after his death, no one chief being powerful enough to seize the supremacy. In person Attila is described as having been of true Hunnish type, short, but strongly made, with a large head, flat, wide spread nostrils, and small glittering eyes. His presence v/as majestic and imposing, and he excelled all his followersin military exercises.