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Jazz Lindquist

Professor Garcia
Western Civilization 1
10 December 2014
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun. A name still known by many, over 1500 years after his death. A renowned
leader, Attila was a man who changed the course of history through warfare. Little is known
about his personal life, for the only accounts we have of him are written from his enemies. His
foes were more concerned with describing his military onslaught than writing about the humane
side Attila may or may not have possessed. As such, these accounts paint Attila as a barelyhuman machine built to lead the Hunnish army on a mission to spread chaos throughout all
lands. Brutal, savage, and barbaric are three words that one could use characterize this historic
figure. But one question is still debated to this day: would Attila have conquered the Roman
Empire and, eventually, all of Italy if he had not been stopped by his untimely death? The answer
is a resounding "Yes", for Attila would most certainly have gone on to conquer the known world
if he had not succumbed to the allure of liquor (or poison from an agent of the Byzantine Empire,
or a knife from his wife, take your pick of the different theories). The strength of his character
would have enabled him to ensure success. In particular, three facets of his character would have
contributed to his overall victory. The first trait that Attila possessed was that of an indomitable
will. He would have stopped at nothing to obtain what he wanted, and at the same time would
have let no one stop him from doing so. Secondly, Attila had a self-assurance that not only belied
his abilities and supported his conquest, but it would have also given him the ability to see it
through to completion. Verging on the edge of haughty pride, this confidence in his own

competence will enable him to bounce back from as defeats as many times as it took for him to
eventually turn things to his favor. Finally, Attila was blessed with the in-born ability to lead.
Men would have followed him into the pits of hell itself, and Attila would have had the
leadership skills to lead them right back out. It is these three qualities that would have let Attila
take over Rome and the rest of the Italian peninsula along with it.
Attila was, to put it bluntly, one hell of a man, and a brief history of Attila's life and
triumphs show that his indomitable will would have gone caused him to go on to conquer Rome.
Nicknamed "Flagellum Dei," which is Latin for "The Scourge of God," by his foes, Attila first
came to attack the Roman Empire midway through the 5th Century. At that time Rome had
already split, more or less, into the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. The two Empires were
developing their own cultures, but still shared many close ties. Both identified themselves as
distinctly Roman, and they also sent aid in the form of troops between the two empires, when
such aid was needed. The Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire was the first to encounter the wrath of
Attila. Attila had just assumed control of the Huns with his brother Bleda, and the two of them
worked out a new treaty with the Byzantines. This treaty heavily favored the Huns, as one
historian notes: "By the terms of the treaty the Romans undertook to double the subsidies they
had been paying to the Huns and in future to pay 700 pounds (300 kilograms) of gold each year"
(Thompson, "Attila, King of the Huns"). 700 pounds of gold was, and still is, a large amount of
money. But this was not all, according to another historian. The Romans also had to pay for the
return of any prisoners, adding insult to injury (Mabry, "Attila the Hun and the Battle of
Chalons). This shows just how much the Romans feared the Huns, and this fear would only grow
as the years progressed. Once the exact terms of the treaty were hammered out, the Huns left,
seemingly for good.

But this was not to be the case. Afterwards, the two brothers launched an unsuccessful
campaign against the Sassanid Empire. After being defeated, one would think that the Huns
would retreat to their home to lick their wounds. But the signs of the greed for fame Attila
possessed were already beginning to manifest themselves through his actions. To this end, they
returned to the Byzantines with a thirst for blood. This time around, the Huns were done with
discussing peace treaties. They immediately attacked and pillaged all along the Danube river,
putting the fear of the Huns into every city they encountered. At the same time, the Vandals
(another barbaric group of warriors) were invading the Western Roman Empire's province in
Northern Africa. Normally, this would be of no concern to the Byzantine Empire, but Carthage, a
major city of this province, provided a hefty portion of the food supply to all Romans. Troops
were pulled from every part of the empire to mount a counterattack against the Vandals. This
would turn out to be a tragic mistake. It allowed Attila and Bleda to push all the way to
Constantinople, plundering Italy all along the way. Although they failed to take the city of
Constantinople, they were only appeased when a new treaty was struck, this one more binding
than the last.
Attila would later return to Rome to as sole ruler of the Huns to claim his wife. Honoria,
as she was called, had been betrothed to a Roman senator. She was the sister of Emperor
Valentinian, the emperor of Rome, and had been caught in an affair. Consequently, she was kept
almost as a prisoner, and her lover was executed. Out of blind rage, she snuck a message to
Attila. Accompanied by a ring, this message implored Attila to become her savior. Attila used
this message as an excuse to reinvade the Roman Empire, claiming that she was proposing a
marriage. To solidify the marriage, Attila asked for half of the Western Empire as her dowry, and
his new conquest was merely him seeking to take what was rightfully his. Again, Attila struck

fear into the hearts of all Romans. With an army numbering between 300,000 and 700,000, the
Huns were like the sea overrunning any that stood in their way (Mabry, "Attila the Hun and the
Battle of Chalons"). This final adventure into Italy would be his last, as Attila dies before he can
finish what he started.
In this brief summary of Attila's actions, it is evident that the Huns, driven by Attila, had
a penchant for picking a fight. They were relentless, returning to places they had already made
peace with to fight again. Rome had tried to appease them with treaties, but the treaties only
placated them while they moved from one empire to the next with dreams of absolute
dominance. Attila was not content with reigning over just the Huns. His very nature would not let
him rest until he succeeded in what he said out to do. He attacked the Romans once and was
repelled, but he did not that stop him from returning a second time. Attila's will would have
drove him to return to Italy a third, final time to finally claim what he was trying to obtain.
Another historical fact that lends credence to Attila's immovable will is the death of
Attila's brother. Soon after leaving Italy for the second time, Attila's Bleda would pass under
mysterious circumstances. Many at the time thought that his death was not accidental, a fact put
forward in the writings of Jordanes. A Roman bureaucrat who lived in the 6th Century, Jordanes
wrote an extensive history of the Goths called the Getica. Even though it is comprised of
embellished fiction as well as facts, the Getica does provide an accurate description of Attila and
his actions. Concerning the death of Bleda, Jordanes writes, "In order that he [Attila] might first
be equal to the expedition he was preparing, he sought to increase his strength by murder. Thus
he proceeded from the destruction of his own kindred to the menace of all others" (XXXV, 180).
Here Jordanes writes of Attila as the type who did what he had to do to continue his pursuit of
power. Going so far as to commit fratricide only shows the depth of the resolve Attila had to be

the "menace of all others." A man willing to kill his own brother is a man who will not and
cannot be stopped.
At the same time, Attila was so assured in his competence, and rightly so, that he would
not have let himself stop until he had conquered all of Rome. Take, for example, how Jordanes
describes Attila: "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" (XXXV,
182). This vivid description only emphasizes Attila's character. From birth, Attila was meant to
shake nations, and he fully intended to do so. "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," ready to
lay to waste any who stood in his way (Jordanes, XXXV, 182). Pride, in most cases, is usually a
detrimental quality to have, but here it is a beneficial feature Attila has. This was a man so
assured of his own prowess that he surely would have taken Rome if given a few more years of
life. Mabry's account of Attila agrees with what Jordanes writes. He says that "the haughty step
and demeanor of the king of the Huns expressed the consciousness of his superiority above the
rest of mankind" ("Attila the Hun and the battle of Chalons). So confident was he in his abilities
that the very act of walking exuded that confidence. Someone who walks and acts as if they are
of a higher stature than the rest of mankind must have a reason for doing so. A certain degree of
confidence is a necessary to accomplish any great deed, and Attila's confidence showed that he
had the ability to take over Rome.
The final trait that Attila possessed that would have led to his conquering of the Roman
people was the intrinsic quality of a leadership. It was in his very being to lead men, and men
wanted to follow him. One can be a mighty warrior, but leading men is an entirely different
ballgame. Once Attila assumed the throne, he exhibited the wisdom required to organize a war

effort. The various victories he obtained not only advocate this, but several accounts do as well.
For example, Jordanes writes that Attila was wise and fierce, not just fierce. As "a lover of war,"
Attila was gifted when it came to wielding weapons. A competent warrior, who could hold his
own with the mightiest champions. At the same time, Attila was" restrained in action, mighty in
counsel, gracious to suppliants and lenient to those who were once received into his protection,"
showing a kinder side to those who earned his favor (Jordanes, XXXV, 180). "Mighty in
counsel" was an extravagant way of saying wise, and this wisdom is exhibited by the word
immediately preceding it, "restrained in action." It is easy to act, especially when told to, but it
takes prudence to withhold yourself from acting. Wisdom is a key factor in being a good leader,
because it takes wisdom to command the very lives of other men. Well, wisdom is required if
you want to command them well.
Simultaneously, being lenient to those who were received into his protection also
exhibited the willingness of others to follow his lead. This can be gleaned from the account of
Priscus, simply titled Priscus at the Court of Attila. Priscus was a man who accompanied the
Byzantine embassy to Attila. While on a journey with Attila and his men, he meets a man who
used to be a Greek merchant, but now is living under the Huns. Originally captured in a battle
and enslaved, this man had seen first-hand both the efficiency and brutality of the Hunnic armies.
Instead of seeking to escape or leave the Huns once he earns his freedom, this man chooses
instead to assimilate into Attila's army. When Priscus asks this man why he chose to live among
the Huns, he replies:
"The Romans, on the other hand [compared to the Huns], are in the first place
very liable to perish in war, as they have to rest their hopes of safety on

and are not allowed, on account of their tyrants to use arms. And those

who use

them are injured by the cowardice of their generals, who cannot

support the

conduct of war. But the condition of the subjects in time of peace is

far more

grievous than the evils of war, for the exaction of the taxes is very

severe, and

unprincipled men inflict injuries on others, because the laws are

practically not

valid against all classes." (Priscus, "Priscus at the Court of Attila")

In times of peace as well as times of war, living with the Huns was better than living with
the Romans, and this was due to Attila's rule. Attila had shown him leniency to this individual by
first letting him live and then by allowing him to gain his freedom. What the man chose to do
with his freedom shows how Attila inspired men to follow him. This man, a foreigner, a former
slave, a refugee, "considered his new life among the Scythians better than his old life among the
Romans." If Attila could sway a conquered man to join him, his own men must have had an
unbounded loyalty to his cause.
Leading an impactful life, Attila the Hun was a man among men. Burning, pillaging, and
subjugating all who opposed him defined Attila's lifestyle. Yet his life came to an end all too
early, and if he had lived a while longer, he would have conquered the Roman Empire. Due to his
indomitable will, Attila would not have given up until he was Emperor of Rome. Due to his
confidence in his own competent abilities, he would have been able to see his conquest through.
And finally, due to his exceptional leadership skills, he would have brought his men to victory
with him.

Works Cited
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Translated by Lieutenant John Clark. "The Military
Institutions of the Romans". De Re Militari. Digital Attic. 4 December 2014.
Priscus. translated by J. B. Bury, edited by Halsall, Paul. "Medieval Sourcebook: Priscus at the
Court of Attila". New York City, New York: Fordham University. Digital. 4 December 2014.
Jordanes. Translated by Mierow, Charles, edited by J. Vanderspoel. "The Origin and Deeds of
the Goths". Getica. University of Calgary. Digital. 4 December 2014.
N.S. Grill. "Fall of Rome-Why Did Rome Fall?" abouteducation. Digital. 4 December 2014.
E.A. Thompson. "Attila, King of the Huns" brittanica. Edited 3 November 2014. Digital. 4
December 2014.
Donald J. Mabry. "Attila the Hun and the Battle of Chalons." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of
Military History. The Historical Text Archive. Digital. 4 December 2014.