12. The Hun and the Saint

The Huns Part IV

450-453 CE

Attila unleashed his fury on the Western empire in two back to back campaigns. The first culminated in the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields. The second ended with the famous meeting between Attila the Hun and Pope Leo I.

“Attila, in an effort to bring about the wars … instigated by … Gaiseric, sent ambassadors to Italy to the emperor Valentinian to sow strife between the Goths and Romans, seeking to shatter by civil discord those he could not crush in battle. He declared that he was in no way violating his friendly relations with the Empire, but that he had a quarrel with Theodoric, king of the Visigoths. As he wished to be kindly received, he had filled the rest of his letter with the usual flattering salutations, seeking to win credence for his falsehood. In like manner he dispatched a letter to Theodoric, king of the Visigoths, urging him to break his alliance with Rome and reminding him of the battles to which they had previously provoked him. Beneath his great ferocity he was a subtle man, and fought with craft before he made war.”

That’s how old Jordanes explained the beginning of Attila’s war in Gaul in 450. The war that ended episode five of this podcast, at the battle of the Catalaunian fields. Frankly, I rushed that a bit, and didn’t really make the early stages of the war very clear. I’ll try to correct that in this episode, as we talk about the two campaigns that Attila undertook against the western empire in 450 and 451. In the second one, Attila threatened Rome itself, but stopped short. We’ll talk about that and his famous meeting with Pope Leo I on the bank of the Mincius River. Lots of politics in this episode, no time to waste.

By 450 Attila’s relationship with Aetius seems to have broken down. Exactly why this was the case is not really clear. Priscus relates a scandal involving an arranged marriage with one of Attila’s retainers which is so convoluted and tedious that I’m not going to go into it, but that kind of friction may have been eroding the relationship. Exactly why Attila chose to turn to war in the west we can’t ever really know. Publicly he put out that his intention was to wage war on the Theodoric of the Visigoths in Aquitaine as an ally of the Romans – very specifically as an ally of the emperor, not of Aetius.

But what reason would Attila have had to go to war with the Visigoths, you ask? Go ahead, ask. Thanks. Well, reason number one was probably that it might play in Ravenna, and give him some time to position himself. Second, he was apparently being courted by Gaiseric in Carthage, with gifts and promises, and Gaiseric had his own grievances against Theodoric, which we’ll get to when we discuss his time as king in Africa. Third, it is possible, though I find it unlikely, that Attila may have had some idea to make the honorary title of Magister Militum a practical reality, which would give him actual legal power inside the empire. 

Not knowing the reason for the break with Aetius is a little maddening, since Aetius’ entire policy had been to focus on the maintenance of Roman power in Gaul, at the expense of other provinces, with Hun mercenaries and auxiliaries as a key part of that strategy. It’s a part of the trajectory of the Roman decline, as pointed out by historian Roger Collins, that after about 408, the resources available to Ravenna had dwindled to a point where choices had to be made, and some provinces could simply no longer be defended, beginning with Britain. Aetius’ focus in Gaul had been on putting down bagaudae rebellions and preventing the Visigoths from getting too expansionist and gaining too much power. He was supported politically by the Gallic aristocracy who had the most to lose if either of those two were successful, and militarily by his long standing relationship with the Huns. So on the surface, Attila attacking the Visigoths would seem to be perfectly in line with Aetius’ policies. But Aetius was clearly excluded from the messages of friendship that Attila was sending to emperor Valentinian III, and he must have had some inkling that this war against the Visigoths was a smokescreen for something else. Both Priscus and Jordanes make clear that Attila felt that he could not achieve his objectives in the west, whatever they were, unless Aetius was removed from his path.

And then the emperor’s sister dropped a gift in Attila’s lap. 

The Honoria incident is a great bit of gossip, though its actual significance is debatable. Dear Galla Placidia had two children by Constantius III, Valentinian III and his older sister, Justa Grata Honoria. Honoria, continuing the tradition of Theodosian women, appears to have had some fire in her, and an unwillingness to bend to the wishes of her equally fiery mother. 

Honoria was about seven when her older brother took the purple in 426. Placidia knew from her own experience that marriage to a woman of the Theodosian dynasty was a tempting prospect for an ambitious man, and Placidia had enough ambitious men to deal with. We talked in King of Africa about the triad of Aetius, Felix, and Bonifacius. Honoria had been forbidden to marry, to prevent more ambitious men from making inroads into the inner circle of power. When it was discovered in 449 that she was having an affair with her chamberlain, though, an arrangement had to be made, and quickly. To keep her free-spirited Honoria away from the wrong kind of man and to prevent any scandal, she was married to a senator named Bassus Herculanus.

Herculanus was wealthy, well respected, and utterly without ambition. He was a perfect match for Honoria, as long as you had no interest in what Honoria thought about it, which nobody did. To save herself from a life of continued pampered inaction, Honoria wrote a letter to Attila the Hun, begging him to come and save her. In return she promised money and favor and enclosed her ring along with the message. Whether she actually promised herself in marriage to Attila, or whether he just seized on the idea as a matter of convenience, is an open question, and really irrelevant. 

Her brother the emperor threw a right old fit when the situation came to light. He tortured and executed the man who had delivered the message, and would have executed Honoria too, according to Priscus, if Placidia hadn’t interceded. She was certainly confined for some period of time, and the whole story must have made its way back to Attila, who milked it for all it was worth. Now, in addition to his beef with the Visigoths, Attila now could argue that he was fighting for his rights as her soon to be husband and the honor of his beloved … or something. Attila sent a message to Ravenna saying that he accepted Honoria’s proposal, that his fiancee should be released immediately, and that he would accept as a dowry, say, half the western empire. 

We don’t actually know, annoyingly, what happened to Honoria after this incident. She was given to her mother’s custody and disappeared from the historical record, but the damage was done. She’s not on the list of royals who were captured during the Vandal’s sack of Rome just five years later, but she may have simply been elsewhere. The actual quote from Priscus is that Placidia’s intervention saved Honoria from danger at that time, which is certainly open to interpretation. But we simply can’t know for sure. 

When he heard about the matter, Theodosius II advised his western counterpart to go ahead and send Honoria to Attila, which highlights just how firm a grip Attila had on Constantinople’s delicate bits. Theodosius didn’t get to see how it all worked out, though, since he fell from his horse and died that July.

It occurs to me that a family tree wouldn’t be a terrible thing. It’s certainly easy to find one of the Theodosian dynasty online, I’ll find one and put it in the show notes.

I said at the end of the last episode that the succession crisis that was triggered by Theodosius II’s death was a useful distraction for Attila’s designs on the Western half of the empire. That was momentarily true, but it was short-lived. The succession fell to Marcianus – usually called Marcian in English, who took a much harder line against the Huns than his predecessor. We don’t know much about Marcian’s life before he ascended, other than that he was a soldier in the service of Aspar who may have had some hand in his elevation. He sealed his imperial deal with a marriage to Theodosius’ ferocious sister Aellia Pulchera, though he had to agree to respect her vow of virginity. This is where I again tease an episode about the two great Theodosian women, Placidia and Pulcheria. I’ll get to it sooner or later.

Marcian immediately reversed Theodosius’ conciliatory stance toward the Huns, stopping the payment of tribute and letting it be known that Attila could expect much firmer treatment going forward. He also, as a side note, executed Chrysaphius, who had been the official most associated with the soft approach to the Huns, in spite of his dabbling in farcical assasination plots. So now Attila had a decision to make. He was set to launch himself into Gaul, but now it seemed the new boy in the eastern palace may need to be taken down a notch. What to do, what to do. He sent ambassadors to both courts. The western embassy carried his demands pertaining to Honoria, and were told bluntly that Honoria was already engaged to another man and that even if she did marry Attila, the Roman throne did not pass through the female line. The Eastern ambassadors sought resumption of tribute payments, but were sent away with ears ringing. There would be no further gold sent across the Danube. There may be the occasional “gift”, but Marcian was determined to free his delicate bits from Attila’s grasp.

Yet another complication arose in the autumn of 450. The king of the Ripuarian Franks – don’t worry, we’ll get to the Franks eventually – had died, and his two sons were fighting over the inheritance. One had the support of the empire, in fact Priscus saw him while he was visiting Rome, the other sought Attila’s support in his play for the Frankish throne. Aetius went so far as to adopt the first son, and there was no sign of a break between him and the emperor. By November it was becoming clear that a complete break with Attila was nearly inevitable. I wonder how much tension there was around the issue among those in the know? I’m thinking a lot about tension in international relations at the moment, for obvious reasons.

Attila had his own tensions to deal with, and the historians tell us that he found it difficult to make up his mind which path to take. War in the west seemed unavoidable, though it did not necessarily have to happen immediately. Meanwhile the new situation in Constantinople would need correcting, probably soon, or Marcian might think that he had the initiative in the relationship and that would never do. Eventually, Attila settled on his original plan, to strike at the West, on the principle that it’s better to tackle the more difficult things on your to-do list first. He probably set out from Pannonia shortly after New Years, 451. He was still declaring himself a friend and protector of the emperor’s interests in his quarrels with the Visigoths, but I doubt anyone was buying it by then.

The force on the move was, by the slightly hysterical accounts of the chroniclers, enormous. They confidently offer numbers all the way up to half a million, which is obviously ridiculous. Modern scholars like Thompson and Wolfram place Aetius and his allies’ strength between 60 and 80 thousand, and most sources agree that the two sides were fairly equal in number. Even with the modern numbers, the coming confrontation would be massive.

While on the move, the Hun sent another ambassador to Valentinian, insisting that Honoria be handed over to him, that Valentian had stolen half of the empire from his sister, and must now correct this misdeed by handing it over to Attila, her husband. Which is … really something. It was, obviously, rejected, but the imperial court still clung to the hope that Attila would restrict his hostilities to the Visigoths. That hope imploded with the arrival of Attila’s last messenger. In light of the Romans’ continued refusal to grant any of his proposals, the ambassador declared, “Attila, my master and your master, orders that you should make your palace ready for him.” Clear enough, yes?

The scale of the threat seemed at last to penetrate, and Aetius scrambled to mount a response. Historian E.A. Thompson, in reconstructing the timeline of these events, suggests that if the messengers were sent while Attila’s army was on the move, it is probable that the last one arrived in Ravenna when the army was massed along the Rhine, and perhaps had already begun to cross it. There was very little time, and the task was a daunting one. 

There was no way, even if he stripped every soldier from Italy, Aetius could raise an army capable of stopping Attila, much less getting them into Gaul on time. Without the Huns to call on, he had very limited options. Even more limited, since famine was ravaging Italy at the time, further depleting Aetius’ potential manpower. The only thing Aetius could do was somehow convince Theodoric to forget the 20 years Aetius had spent making sure the Visigoths knew their place. Theodoric, for his part, had been awaiting the Huns’ arrival with grim determination. He was as well informed of goings-on as anyone else, and resigned to face the threat alone. Aetius had another problem in approaching Theodoric as well, Theodoric had only to defend Aquitania, while Aetius had to protect all of Gaul. The Gothic king would have to be persuaded to move his army far out of his home territory in order to be of any use to the province’s defense. 

He obviously couldn’t go himself, and instead sent a man named Avitus, who had negotiated with Theodoric successfully in the past, and now carried Aetius’ letter to Theodoric, and somehow talked him into coming to the aid of his lifelong enemy.

It was very nearly too late. 

Attila had already crossed the Rhine and his host spread out across northern Gaul when Aetius linked up with Theodoric. Aetius was leading “a meager force of auxiliaries without legionaries” according to Jordanes. More allies were gathered as they went, Burgundians from Savoy, along with Alans, Salian Franks, who had been settled on Roman territory for some time now, and Saxons, who were beginning to appear in small settlements north of the Loire. These all joined Theodoric’s Visigoths and moved to meet the invaders.

The invader’s army was no less diverse. In addition to the Ostrogoths and various smaller tribes that had been made subjects of Attila and his forebears, other German groups had been swept up as the invasion force moved westward, including Thuringians and those Burgundians who still lived east of the Rhine, along with Ripuarian Franks.

Many northern cities fell to the Huns, some may have opened their gates voluntarily, having bought the propaganda that Attila was coming as an ally against the Goths. Their naivety was quickly remedied. It’s extremely difficult to provide an accurate list of cities that fell to the Huns, and that’s because the invasion left a significant psychological mark on the population, which found expression in myriad stories of this city or that town’s ravaging by or miraculous escape from Attila’s horde. Saints figure in a lot of these legends, as the Huns serve as a convenient vehicle for martyrdom or other acts of Christian heroism. The most obvious is Saint Genvieve of Paris, whose marathon of massed prayer supposedly turned the Huns away, but Orleans, Troyes, Cologne, and Metz all have these kinds of stories associated with them. Some may have indeed been taken by the Huns, others may have simply adopted stories involving them as a way of integrating themselves into a shared Christian history and experience.

Metz fell on the 7th of April, 451, and Attila turned his forces westward, making for Orleans.

I mentioned in passing that an Alan king named Goar had broken with the Vandal alliance and made his own arrangements in Gaul around 408. He’d made Orleans his seat of power. Now his successor sent word to Attila that he was willing to betray the city to him. It was this message that turned the Huns away from Paris, though I’m sure Saint Genvieve’s prayer marathon helped too. Aetius and Theodoric caught wind of this, and now the race was on to reach Orleans before Attila did. They barely made it. Some sources tell us that they had actually entered the city before the arrival of the allied armies forced their withdrawal. Though we know no details, the Huns seem to have suffered enough of a defeat at Orleans to withdraw back northeast, where they were caught by Aetius and Theodoric near Chalons on the Catalaunian Fields. I went into detail about the battle of the Catalaunian field at the end of episode five, Five kings and a reckoning – it was the reckoning. So I’m not going to do that again, though I am sorely tempted. There’s too much to cover yet.

The battle of the Catalaunian Fields was certainly the most significant engagement of Attila’s invasion of Gaul. But how significant, really, is still very much up for debate. The writers of the time eagerly paint it apocalyptic terms, with massively inflated numbers and the implication that the battle broke the Hun’s will. But Attila would be back in the west less than a year later, so if he was broken, he healed quickly. More significant to my mind is what Aetius did in the aftermath of the battle. Theodoric was killed, remember, providing Tolkien with source material, and command of his army fell to his son Thorismund. Aetius suggested to Thorismund that rather than pursue Attila and avenge his father, he should return home and ensure that none of his relatives seized the throne of the Visigoths in his absence. He likewise suggested to his adopted son, the Frankish prince, that he should see to his lands as well, since without Attila’s support, his rival brother was now supremely vulnerable and rule of the Franks could be assured. Both men agreed with him, and the allied army dissolved. 

Aetius must have been confident of Attila’s defeat, but the utter destruction of the Huns would not have been to Aetius’ advantage, as he calculated it. It seems that, incredibly, he still thought that he could use Hunnic mercenaries in pursuit of his goals in Gaul. Indeed, without the threat of the Huns, the Visigoths would inevitably continue to push against their boundaries and threaten Ravenna’s control over the province. It was a delicate balance, but Aetius was still confident that he could return to the situation as it had been in the late 440s.  He would be disappointed.

Attila was in a foul mood when he returned to his base in Pannonia. Marican had sent a new ambassador from Constantinople, but Attila wouldn’t even grant him an audience. He was furious to hear that this new man came with no tribute, and ordered him to hand over whatever gifts he had brought with him and be gone. The ambassador, named Apollonius and who has to be given credit for his courage, said that he would present his gifts when he was received as an ambassador should be. The Hun could kill him if he wanted, but then they  would not be gifts, only the rewards of banditry. Attila ordered him back to Constantinople, having achieved nothing except keeping his organs in all the right places.

In the spring Attila launched a few incursions into Illyricum, presumably to remind Marcian what he was still capable of. They were serious enough to prompt a change of venue for a great church council from Nicaea to Chalcedon, where the emperor could more easily monitor the situation. But Attila’s mind was elsewhere. He had been stung by the way things had gone in Gaul. More than anything, I think, his legend had been tarnished. The story of the sword of Mars, if it came about even slightly as Jordanes related it, shows that Attila was very aware of the PR side of his role. The battle of the Catalaunian Fields put a crack in his mask, and Atilla needed to repair it. The Visigoths were forgotten, Attila knew who the architect of his defeat had been. Punishing Marcian could wait. He readied his forces to fall on Italy. 

The army that moved across the mountains from Pannonia into Northern Italy in the spring of 452 was as large as the one that had invaded Gaul. So, clearly, the Huns ability to make war had not been seriously affected by their defeat.

The first city on the road into Italy was the great fortress of Aquileia, at the head of the Adriatic Sea. It had, in the many centuries of its existence, never been taken, by storm or surrender. Attila took no notice of the city’s reputation and marched his army right up to its walls. The first few attempts at assault were repelled, with enough force that murmurs began in Attila’s camp that the attack should be called off. Attila sent messages back to his mustering grounds for troops with experience in siegecraft. With the engines they built, on July 18, 452 he broke through the walls. The full scale of Attila’s fury manifested in the plunder and complete destruction of Aquileia. A hundred years later, it was difficult to find the original footprint of the great fortress. Some portion of the population fled into the marshes south of the city and may have become the seed for the founding of Venice. Aquileia would be refounded, though it never recovered its importance.

Now, wait a second, I can hear you through the intertubes, where the hell is Aetius while all of this was happening? Good question. The phrase, “caught with his pants down” does not even begin to describe Aetius’ state in the spring of 452. He had been so confident that he could open negotiations with Attila and simply re-boot their partnership that he hadn’t even posted garrisons in the Julian Alps. The Huns were completely unopposed when they entered Italy, and when he heard the news only one plan came into the mind of Flavius Aetius. Run. Take the emperor and get out of Italy.

“The Huns revelled their way through the cities of Venetia,” many in their path were simply captured and led off into slavery, they were too terrified of the invaders to resist. Cities like Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo, were all burned to their foundations. I feel a map coming on. Pavia was taken. Eventually Attilla reached Milan and entered it as well, but for some reason it was not plundered nor the people massacred.

By the time Attila had reached Milan Aetius had recovered a little bit. The disgrace of leaving Italy would assuredly mean his own personal destruction and would probably expose the emperor to unnecessary dangers. But there seemed to be nothing to stop Attila from turning south through the Apennines and attacking Rome itself. So Aetius sent a delegation to beg for peace, what else could he possibly do?

It was an odd group that set out to meet with Attila, there was an ex-prefect by name of Trygetius, who in 435 had been involved in negotiations with Gaiseric – so not a brilliant track record. Second there was Gennadius Avienus, and I’m just going to quote E.A. Thompson about him, “a man of vast wealth… his opinions, which he was always painfully ready to advance, were in the judgment of those who knew him, singularly worthless.” And lastly, leading this rather motley embassy, was the bishop of Rome, Pope Leo I.

Leo, or to give him his full honorifics: Pope Saint Leo the Great, had been bishop of Rome for twelve years when he met Attila on the Mincius. He was born in Tuscany around 400, and by the time he was 30 was a respected scholar and lawyer, and was wired into the imperial power structures – he had been asked to settle disputes between Aetius and other court officials, and to give opinions on various church matters. After his election to the bishopric, he was a driving force in the centralization of church hierarchy and the creation of the papacy as we understand it now. It was during his tenure that the word “pope” began to be applied exclusively to the bishop of rome, before him it had simply meant any bishop. He was the first pope to be recognized by an imperial authority as Patriarch of Rome, and emphasized his special status as the heir of Saint Peter. As secular authority in the west crumbled, Leo placed himself at the center of the church’s bureaucracy, which was beginning to supplant the imperial mechanisms, partly by ensuring the well being of the citizens of Rome as best he could through charity and public works. There’s lots more to say about Leo, but hopefully for now it’s clear that he was a profoundly forceful and impressive man of unshakable self-confidence. Even more so when contrasted with his two ambassadorial colleagues.

There is no eyewitness account of the meeting between Attila the Hun and Saint Leo the first. The fact is that afterward, the Huns withdrew from Italy. Contemporary and medieval writers gave most of the  credit to Leo. Prosper of Aquitaine, who was one of the Pope’s secretaries, said that the Hun was impressed by Leo personally, and was swayed by the force of his personality. Priscus was slightly more pragmatic, and attributed the Hun’s withdrawal to superstition: Attila’s men were nervous about attacking Rome because they knew of Alaric’s almost immediate death after he had done so. Later writers, all of them churchmen, layered mystical significance onto the meeting. Gregory of Tours wrote of the appearance of a giant man with a sword who appeared only to Attila and threatened him. A later anonymous vita of Leo expanded on that to bring in the forces of sacred history:

“And lo, suddenly there were seen the apostles Peter and Paul, clad like bishops, standing by Leo, one on the right the other on the left. They held swords stretched out over his head, and threatened Attila with death if he did not obey the pope’s command. Wherefore he was appeased, as one who had raged mad. He, by Leo’s intercession, straightaway promised a lasting peace and withdrew beyond the Danube.” 

This scene became a popular one for artists, from medieval miniaturists to Raphael, understandably. But I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb if I doubt the literal appearance of the saints at Leo’s side. And to doubt that Attila, who unlike Alaric was a thoroughgoing pagan, would have had any more respect for Leo than he had for any other Roman emissary. The modern analysis of the situation is much more practical. There were three factors putting pressure on Attila to withdraw from Italy.

First, I mentioned in passing that Aetius had had little success in raising an army to take to Gaul the previous year, due to famine. Italy would have still been in the grips of those shortages in the summer of 452, since the grain harvest wouldn’t have been collected yet.  So foraging for supplies in the Po Valley would have been difficult for Attila’s army. Second, famine is always followed by disease, and disease was beginning to appear among the army, which would only get worse as time went on. Third, Marcian had not been idle in the east, he had sent an expedition to Panonia to attack the forces Attila had left behind, with some success. That success meant there was no strong hand keeping the Huns’ Germanic subjects in line, and the state of Attila’s empire could become precarious. 

There is also the fourth possibility that Leo may have been carrying bribes along with him to sweeten the deal. The fact was that Attila agreed to leave Italy, though he reiterated his demand that Honoria be delivered to him, along with her share of imperial wealth. By the time he returned to his homeland in the fall, there was little time to do anything but reassert his authority, but his mind was obviously on Marican and devising an appropriate punishment, he had put it off for too long. He sent a message to Constantinople to that effect: there was no ultimatum, no conditions. There would be war, and the inhabitents of the East would be added to the long ledger of Attila’s slaves.

Before the campaign season of 453 began though, Attila added to another long list, and took a new wife. We don’t know how many wives he had, though it was certainly more than a handful. The lucky bride on this occasion was named Ildico, and she was apparently very beautiful. Beyond that we can say nothing about her, other than that her name implies she was of Germanic origin. At the feast celebrating the wedding, Attila drank late into the night, which certainly agrees with Priscus’ experience, but did not appear the following day. Eventually his men became concerned and forced the door. Inside they found Ildico crying at the side of the bed, which was soaked with blood. There was no wound on their chief’s body, and the conclusion was that he had had a nosebleed – apparently he was prone to them – and because he was so drunk, had choked to death on the blood. Modern interpretations tend to suggest an aneurism or some other kind of internal hemorrhage. Either way, Attila the Hun was dead.

It’s oddly difficult to eulogize Attila. So little of his personality survives in the sources, and what does is either filtered through the reporters terror at his success or contempt for his barbarousness, a clear image is hard to come by. He was feared by his compatriots around him, and respected for his victories, and loved for the wealth that flowed from his successes. The terror of his children certainly doesn’t speak well of him personally, but I’m not sure that his personality is really very relevant. It was the idea of Attila that mattered. I think, though I’m just a nerd in a basement, that he understood that. He understood his power as an idea, which is why the setback near Chalon was so intolerable. I found a passage on a website while preparing this episode, which I can’t find now, that pointed out that his most defining characteristic was his ambition. No man in Europe matched it, maybe until Napoleon. That may be true. I can’t say I’ll miss him, but he is hard to let go. He was around 47 when he died, and had ruled the Huns with iron and gold for 19 years.

The Huns’ grief for their chief was extravagant. Priscus tells us that those who discovered him cut off their hair and slashed their faces, so that their great war leader would be mourned with blood and not tears. There are suggestions here and there that Ildico may have been involved in some kind of conspiracy to murder her new husband. Indeed later german poets related in the sagas that Attila had been murdered by a woman, but we find no mention of any kind of punishment for her, and I can’t imagine that the Huns would have been gentle if there were even a whisper of suspicion attached to her at the time.

Attila’s funeral was elaborate, and described by Priscus in the fragments of his work that were preserved in Jordanes. His body was laid in a silk tent out on the plains, and then, 

“The best horsemen of the entire tribe rode around him in a circle, in the manner of the circus games, and told of his deeds in a funeral dirge in the following words: The chief of the huns, king Attila, born of his father Mundiuch, lord of the bravest tribes, sole possessor of the Scythian and German kingdoms … and terrified both empires of the Roman world… He fell not by an enemy’s blow, nor by treachery of his own people, but in the midst of his people at peace, happy in his joy and without sense of pain. Who can rate this as death, when none consider that it calls for vengeance?”

A barrow was raised, and Attila’s body covered over with gold and silver, and finally iron, to symbolize the plunder he had taken and the means by which he had taken it. Supposedly those who had laid this treasure out were killed, and buried beside their chief. No trace of Attila’s grave has ever been found. 

News of the passing of the great man spread across his lands and into the empire, where it was greeted with joy. The emperor Marcian proclaimed that it had been announced to him on the very night by a divinely sent dream, which showed him Attila’s broken bow. It would be wrong to hold this little bit of personal mythmaking against him. 

The removal of Attila from the scene was the removal of a lynchpin. All the tribes that had been trampled by the hooves of Hun horses for seven decades now had an opportunity presented to them. When we get back to the political narrative, we’ll talk about what they did with that opportunity, and what it meant for the two halves of the empire. 

However, that will not be the next episode. The situation in the world right now, frankly, has got me a little down, and I’m not terribly enthusiastic about talking about more war and pillage. Given that the next episode will be dropping in the middle of March, I thought it might be fun to do a biographical episode about a certain saint. Nope, not that one. 

So look for that, and please do continue to rate, review, and share the podcast around. There were a couple new ratings on itunes, thank you very much for those. I feel I’m starting to get the hang of twitter a little, you can follow @darkagespod, or on instagram @darkagepod. And facebook remains facebook. And lastly there is the new website, redesigned, simpler, more attractive, and with the easier to remember address of www.darkagespod.com. That’s where I put maps, sources, and so forth. Take a look, if you would be so kind. Thank you very much for listening everyone, until next time, take care.

Map of Attila’s Invasion of Italy

The Theodosian Dynasty Family Tree


War dominates the scene on today’s episode, as it does on today’s headlines. The inevitable consequence of war is the displacement of those caught in its path. If you can, please donate to one of the organizations working to help Ukrainian refugees, and people all around the world who are victimized by the violence of the powerful and the greedy. Links to a few of them are below. Thank you.

The International Rescue Committee

Global Giving

Doctors Without Borders


“The Britons” by Kevin MacLeod (incomptech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: