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The story of the crazy Attila the Hun

 This man, described as "the curse of God" and whose name is Attila the Hun, is one of the most famous historical figures, known for his extreme brutality. This terrified the Romans.

This man, described as "the curse of God" and whose name is Attila the Hun, is one of the most famous historical figures, known for his extreme brutality.

In the 5th century AD, he imposed his control over a vast area of territory and threatened the Roman Empire. However, this terrifying ruler who wanted to rule the entire world ultimately failed to embody his military exploits in the form of a prosperous and unshakable empire, and despite what Attila was described as saying that he "came in this world to destabilize nations,” he will eventually give in to diplomacy with the Romans.

What do you know about this man and his terrifying reputation?

Historians Miles Russell and John Mann explore with us the life of Attila the Hun and the legacy he left to the world, through this material published in the British journal History Extra.

First of all, who is Attila the Hun?

Attila the Hun was the ruler of an ancient nomadic people known as the Huns from 434 to 453 AD. The Hun peoples are Asian-European peoples, originating from Central Asia, and they are related to the Turkic race which crawled from Central Asia to Europe. But this has nothing to do with present-day Turkey, but rather with the Turkic race in general, which has spread across Asia and Europe since the 4th century CE.

The Huns formed a huge empire that occupied most of the territory of present-day Russia and half of Europe (the eastern and northern parts of it). It was an undisputed power at that time, but it was a tribal military force and not a cohesive state, which ultimately led to its disintegration.

Returning to Attila the Hun, one of the most famous kings of the Hun Empire, he was a powerful military leader and seasoned politician, maintaining a confederation of diverse and diverse tribes for decades. He was a successful “crime boss,” extorting money from his adversaries with more brutality than any mob boss who followed him, according to Miles Russell.

But we know little about the man himself, given the failure of the Huns to write their own version of history. "Attila" may not be his real name. His name can be translated as: "At-Yala", meaning (the little father), and perhaps it is similar to the title "Ata-Turk", meaning (the Father of the Turks), which was later given to Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the first president of modern Turkey.

Ultimately, to obtain information about the life of Attila the Hun, historians are forced to rely on the writings of his greatest enemies: the Romans, whom he terrorized for many years.

He got rid of his older brother to take control of the empire!

Attila and his older brother, Bleda, were born into a family of the Hunnic "noble" class in the early 5th century, and they were nephews of the Hunnic king Rogila.

The Huns were a nomadic society of warlike herdsmen and their westward migration to the Roman Empire began in the fourth century AD. Growing up, Bleda and his younger brother Attila learned to ride horses from their first steps.

They were also trained as archers, as the Huns were famous for their ability to aim arrows with great precision from horseback in battle. He was also known to have had many wives, as polygamy helped strengthen bonds between random Hun tribes.

On the death of King Rogelle in 434, his two nephews succeeded him in power. No one knows how well the brothers Bleda and Attila got along, but at least they tolerated each other and managed to rule the Huns together for over a decade.

But in 445, Bleda died suddenly. Some historians allude to Attila's involvement in his death. Although there is no clear evidence that this is true, there is no doubt that the fact that he got rid of his brother in an attempt to seize power is consistent with what we later learn about his character.

How did Attila the Hun acquire his terrifying reputation?

Attila the Hun was known as one of the worst characters in history, earning nicknames such as "The Ghost Man" and "The Curse of God." He was also known in Roman history as an expression of brutality embodied in the form of a human being and as the most despicable of the barbarians who destroyed the structure of the crumbling Roman Empire in the mid-5th century.

However, given what he accomplished, it is difficult to understand the reason behind this image of him, according to John Mann. His empire was at its peak for only eight years and comprised only a few acres of Roman territory, only to suddenly disappear after his death in 453. It was ultimately a failure, so what was the reason for its fearsome reputation?

Part of the answer lies in the fundamental elements underlying Attila's rise. The Hun people emerged from oblivion at the gates of Central Asia in the 4th century. Their ancestors were likely a people called Xiongnu – the Hunu in Mongolian – who ruled a huge empire in Mongolia for 300 years, until they were dispersed by China in the second century AD.

In 378, they joined with the Goths (Eastern and Northern Europeans) to destroy the Roman army at Adrianople (now known as Edirne in Turkey).

Rome's glory days were already long gone. For a century, the empire collapsed. Conflicts between the western and eastern halves of the empire (Rome and Constantinople) have continued to grow since Constantine the Great founded the city of Constantinople - New Rome - in 330.

The gap widened when each half of the empire became its own emperor in 364. The family and historical ties between the two parts of the empire were not enough to defend it against the threats of the Germanic tribes who were besieging them . Threats intensified after the Hun people, of very different Turkic origins, also left what is now known as Ukraine.

Their skills led them to the country now known as Hungary. Attila the Hun saw the right opportunity and killed his brother and co-ruler, Bleda, to gain absolute power in 444 or 445.

He quickly cooperated with other tribes as allies, allowing him to deploy forces like no one had ever seen before. His warrior knights were equipped with infantry weapons and siege equipment.

How big was Attila the Hun's empire?

By the mid-5th century, Attila had established an empire that stretched from the Baltics (the regions of Lithuania and Latvia) to the Balkans (Albania, Serbia, and northern Turkey), and from the Rhine in Austria to the Black Sea in Ukraine.

From his headquarters in southern Hungary, he then launched large-scale attacks against Rome's eastern and western regions in four main campaigns, as well as several secondary campaigns.

In reality, however, this immense empire was nothing more than a loose coalition of tribes held together by Attila's genius and military prowess, explains Miles Russell.

When the Emperor of Constantinople's envoy met him face to face, he noted that "he was a very wise advisor, merciful to those who sought his advice and loyal to those he accepted as friends."

In fact, he was so generous to his followers that many of them found life with the Huns better than life in the Roman Empire, which was more advanced than the Huns. They did not experience corruption, injustice or taxes like the Romans.

The Huns soon discovered that they could extract enormous sums of money from the Roman Empire through direct and implicit threats alone. During the 5th century, the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II paid the Huns 158 kg of gold per year simply to stay away from their attacks.

By 442, this quantity had increased to approximately 453 kg of pure gold. When Theodosius refused to pay in 447, Attila took his army and headed straight to the Balkans and began burning the cities. Theodosius quickly announced his surrender and immediately agreed to settle the arrears and resume payment, so Attila increased the annual tribute to 952 kg of pure gold.

Clearly, the Hunnic king was a man not to be underestimated!

Recognizing the potential impact of the luxury and extravagances of Roman life on his primitive people, Attila the Hun imposed strict control on all cross-border movements. He issued a decree forbidding any Hun from settling within the borders of the Roman world or serving in the Roman army, and that the subject Roman state was to hand over all "fugitives" to them for punishment.

By instructing Emperor Theodosius to grant him free land along the border between them, Attila the Hun was able to distance his people from any form of direct contact with the Romans.

The Emperor's envoy to Attila noticed his simplicity. After keeping the envoy waiting for several days, he noticed that the ambassadors were invited to a banquet in the main hall. Then Attila, dressed in modest, unadorned clothing, sits in his high chair and presides over his company. All guests will enjoy a sumptuous meal, served on a silver platter. However, Attila, fully aware of the theatrical nature of the feast, "only ate the meat served on a simple wooden plate." His cup was also made of wood, while his visitors drank from cups of gold.

Was it a personal ambition or a political necessity?

Based on the few facts we can prove, one thing is clear: we are dealing with an extraordinary and fascinating character, says John Mann. Driven by enormous ambition and an addiction to plunder and the hunt for loot, Attila sought to achieve far beyond the limits of his abilities.

Determined to control as many people as possible, his ambition has led him to risk everything to face the enormous difficulties that this ambition faces.

In 447, he reached the imposing and impregnable walls of Constantinople, perhaps hoping to profit from the damage inflicted on them by an earthquake. But it was too late, the city walls being already fortified, he returned to his country.

But historical evidence indicates that his ambition did not stem solely from a personal goal of expanding the circle of his rule. Rather, it was a political necessity, as he had to plunder again and again to obtain the satisfaction of his ever-motivated tribal leaders. This meant first raids, then wars, and finally large-scale territorial conquests to expand his empire.

But the nature of this expansion requires governance and management skills different from those found among the Huns. In order to rule the Romans, the Huns had to learn the arts of administration, taxation, record keeping, etc. Until now we do not have before us the simplest of these arts, namely historical documents.

In the year 450, Attila the Hun decided to embark on a special adventure: invade Rome!

This invasion has an interesting story, which is that Honoria, the sister of Emperor Valentinian III, was a young and ambitious woman who was jealous of her brother, the emperor. Even though she had her own rooms and her own entourage, she did not have actual authority.

Because she was bored with the wealthy life she lived, she had a romantic relationship with her treasurer. The affair was discovered, the treasurer was executed, and Honoria was engaged to a wealthy consul. So she decided to take revenge on her brother and seize power alone.

Knowing of Attila's plans to invade the country, she sent one of her loyal servants to Attila, asking him to save her from an unpleasant marriage and promising him money. Her servant carried her wedding ring to him as a show of good faith, implying her willingness to be Attila's wife.

Honoria's actions were discovered, and her servant was beheaded upon his return from Attila.

What happened next?

Meanwhile, Attila was preparing for an invasion, and had to act quickly to thwart an attack by the city of Constantinople, and found the perfect excuse in the offer of the Emperor's young sister, Honoria.

Attila sent a series of letters to Valentinian with bolder demands. In one letter he demanded that Honoria be a partner in ruling the empire, in another letter Valentinian demanded that half his kingdom be handed over to Honoria as her dowry, and the third envoy conveyed these insulting phrases: My lord commands you, through us, to prepare your palace for him.

Valentinian refused these demands, giving Attila a pretext to attack.

In the spring of 451, Attila crossed the Rhine River at the head of a huge army. Attila's habit was indirect blackmail, but this time he changed it to direct military intervention. The motives for this are not yet clear. This may be because his survival in power required him to demonstrate his military strength to his leaders.

On the other hand, this may be due to his feeling that the Western Roman Empire did not offer him enough respect or (gold). History tells us that the incentive was a letter from the Emperor's sister Honoria. Regardless of the real reason, the Huns were now inside the Roman Empire burning, plundering, and killing large numbers of civilians.

Attila's army had traveled two-thirds of the way across France when it was stopped by combined Roman and Gothic forces. By then Attila's army was too exhausted to fight. The army retreated until it was forced to go into battle.

On the morning of June 20, 451, the two sides clashed in northeastern France. More than 160,000 people died on both sides, and the Roman historian Jordanes points out that the squares were stacked with the bodies of the dead, and that the rivers were overflowing with blood. The Romans were on the verge of losing the battle, but it was the Huns who were defeated in the end.

During the loss, Attila was planning to sacrifice himself, when his opponent, the great Roman leader Aetius, let him go.

Why did he do that? Maybe because he felt like he could benefit from it despite everything. He may have feared that the fall of Attila would mean the reappearance of the Visigoths, Rome's former enemies and now allies. So he got rid of both of them, sending the Goths back to their homeland in southwestern France, and Attila to Hungary.

Letting Attila go was the worst mistake. The following year, Attila returned with a larger army and attacked northern Italy, targeting Rome itself. The Huns took control of many towns in the Po Valley, but disease and famine were the reason for their stop, not military defeat, and after that they returned to Hungary for the last time.

The emperor unconditionally accepted all of Attila the Hun's demands. He promised to marry Honoria on condition of giving her a dowry in gold. For his part, Attila was also eager to leave Italy, not only because of the heavy losses he had suffered as a result of the campaign (food was scarce and disease was spreading), but also because his army was on the verge of disintegration.

This is how Attila the Hun died, who terrorized the world!

The withdrawal from Italy marks the beginning of the end for Attila. In 453, shortly after his withdrawal from Italy, he took a new wife to add to his long list of wives.

Her name was Ildico and she was probably a Germanic princess. Attila suffered a heart attack on his wedding night when he “succumbed to an overdose of pleasure,” the Gothic historian Jordanes tells us.

In the morning, his entourage found him dead and Ildiko sat next to him, sobbing behind her hood. Jordanes refers to internal bleeding which appears to have filled the king's lungs and drowned him.

Other stories circulating suggest that he died from a drunken fit, a heart attack resulting from excessive sexual activity, or that he was killed by Ildiko's own hands.

But there is an alternative theory about his death. Miles Russell states: Given Attila's reputation for moderation, at least with regard to alcohol consumption, it is likely that he was murdered.

The death of Attila deprived the Hun people of a great and brilliant leader. In a few years, their empire disintegrated. It is true that it was only a violent and short-lived state, composed of warriors interested only in plundering gold, but the impact of the Hun Empire on the political, religious and cultural institutions of the Romans was deep.

The farewell words engraved on the tombstone of Attila the Hun sum up his character well. He plundered profusely and died “safe among his entourage, happy, joyful and painless.”

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