the Inglorious end to the Hun King….ATTILA
Known to the Romans as the "Scourge of God', Attila devastated much of Europe between AD 433 and AD 453. He created one of the most formidable armies Asia has ever seen but died not on the battlefield but in his nuptial bed.
Probably the only person who ever knew the truth about Attila the Hun's mysterious death was IIdico, his wife. On the morning after their wedding, Atilla was discovered lying dead in his bed in a pool of blood. IIdico, whom he had almost certainly married for political reasons, became a window on the first day of what otherwise would have been her honeymoon.
RUMOURS AND SUSPICIONS
On the face of it, the great king's sudden death was decidedly suspicious and rumours swiftly spread. Could Ildico herself have had a hand in the affair? She had made no attempt to call for help during the night. She also came from a tribe Attila had conquered and he may even have personally ordered that her close relatives be put to death.
Or was it an assassination? Attila had many enemies, both at home and further afield. More than a few of them were capable of organising his murder. If they did, it was probably by bribing one of his bodyguards, possibly one bearing a grudge against his master. But key questions defied answer. If Attila had been murdered, how had this been managed without leaving a single mark on his body? Or what mysterious poison could have produced such results?
A TRAGIC ACCIDENT
In the heated debates that followed, calmer heads raised the possibility that Attila might simply have died of natural causes. He had already celebrated his 50th birthday - a ripe old age for the time. But following a reconstruction of Attila's final hours and intensive questioning of the bride, the conclusion was that Attila's death was an accident. The evening before, the king had been celebrating his wedding. He was not known as a heavy drinker but, on this occasion, he had been drinking heavily before he went to bed. It was the last time he was seen alive.
What followed necessarily remained conjecture. Attila's doctors agreed that his death was caused by a haemorrhage. After retiring, he had suffered one of his frequent heavy nosebleeds. In his drunken stupor, Attila fell asleep on his back. When his nose started to bleed, the king did not awaken. Instead, he breathed in the blood, which blocked his windpipe and suffocated him. Attila literally drowned in his own blood.
The news of Attila's unexpected and sudden death shocked the known world. There was disbelief that such a tempestuous figure should have died in bed rather than on the battlefield. Feelings of relief soon tempered astonishment for, over the preceding decades, Attila and his ferocious Huns had terrorised peoples across Asia and Europe.
A PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
The Huns originally lived as nomads on the steppes of Central Asia. Around AD 1, they began to drift west - perhaps in search of new pastures - eventually settling in the area between the Rivers Volga and Don. Then, around AD 375, they made their presence felt again. It was almost certainly economic forces that forced the Huns to migrate further to the west, displacing other peoples, such as the Visigoths, who were driven across the River Danube and into the Roman Empire. The migration sparked off what might be described as a migratory chain-reaction.
Their victims' readiness to take flight was doubtless due to the fearsome reputation the Huns had already acquired. Ammiannus Marcellinus, a Roman historian, noted: 'This people, who are well versed in the arts of war, are impelled by a burning desire for plunder.' As the panic spread, few thought to ascertain the truth of the rumours. There is no doubt that some of the most blood-curdling accounts of their deeds were greatly exaggerated. Archaeologists have demonstrated that the Huns were far from being the uncivilised barbarians of popular legend.
ACCOMMODATION WITH THE ROMANS
Undoubtedly, the land-hungry Huns showed no mercy to anyone who opposed them. After reaching the Lower Danube region in around AD 400, they stood at the threshold of the Roman Empire itself. At this point Rome's days of glory were past. The empire had been split in two. The Byzantine Emperor reigned over the eastern half of the Empire from Constantinople, while
(As a result of their victories in many devastating battles - the Huns are seen triumphing over the Alans in 372 - this warrior race steadily extended its dominion across much of Europe)
another ruled the Western Empire, having abandoned Rome as its capital in favour of Ravenna. Faced with the overwhelming might of the Huns, the Roman rulers decided to pay them off and agreed to give them substantial amounts of gold in annual tribute. They received assurances that they would be left alone. The citizens of both parts of the empire were able to continue living in peace, while the Huns could consolidate their rule over the Hungarian lowland plain east of the River Tisza without fear of attack.
But this lasted only until Attila became sole ruler of the Huns. He and his brother Bleda had jointly succeeded to the throne in 433 after the death of their uncle. Bleda died in 445, and it is widely assumed that Attila had a hand in his death. In any event, Attila now had a free rein. He used the increased Roman tributes to establish a highly organised empire, which stretched as far as the Ukraine in the east to - for a while at least - the Rhine in the west. At the same time, the king regularly dispatched his horse archers across the Danube to add military weight to the repeated financial demands that he was making on the Romans.
DEFEAT IN GAUL
In late 450, Marcian, on his succession to the imperial throne in Constantinople, ordered the tribute payments to stop. Attila's response was to turn west, rather than east. Probably this was because he had fallen out with Flavius Aetius, the chief military commander of the Western Empire, over which of the two rival claimants to the Frankish throne to support. Attila backed the elder son of the dead king and Flavius the younger. So Attila launched an attack on Gaul in AD 451 with a 500,000-strong force, his ambition now being to extend his kingdom across Gaul to the Atlantic coast. The threat he posed led Theodoric I, the ruler of the Visigoths, to ally himself with the Romans. Their combined forces defeated Attila at Chalons-sur-Marne, though Theodoric and many others perished on the field.
Despite this crushing blow, the following year Attila led his army into northern Italy. Much of the Po Valley, including Milan, Verona and Padua, was laid waste and depopulated, while Aquileia, on the tip of the Adriatic, was wiped off the face of the Earth. Its survivors are believed to have fled into the lagoons of the Adriatic, where they were to build a new city - Venice. Rome itself soon came under threat as well.
According to legend, Pope Leo the Great tried to persuade Attila to spare Rome and leave Italy. The saints St Peter and St Paul appeared in support of the Pope's plea. They told the superstitious Attila that he would die at once if he ignored the Pope's urgings. Attila withdrew. A more prosaic explanation is that, as a result of famine, Attila's men were short of supplies, while they were also threatened by an outbreak of plague. Attila also had to deal with Marcian, who had sent his army across the Danube unopposed to strike into the heartland of his domains. Before he embarked on this new adventure, he was determined to marry a new, young wife. Which is where his story ends.
The kingdom Attila had created did not long survive his death. In 454, the Ostrogoths and other Germanic tribes revolted against the Huns' domination and Attila's sons proved incapable of dealing with the resulting crisis. The Huns were scattered to the winds. Their great empire came to an end even more swiftly than it had arisen.