Was Attila really defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains?
In 451, Attila led an invasion of Gaul. He first Gaul (modern France) and then his armies continued westwards to lay siege to Orleans. The Roman general Aetius formed an alliance with the king of the Visigoths Theodoric I to repel the Huns. He later also drew in other tribes into an alliance to defeat the Huns. These included Vandals and Franks. The decisive engagement between Attila and the Roman- barbarian alliance was the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. After fierce fighting in which the Gothic king was killed, the Visigothic-Roman alliance was able to force Attila to retreat back to non-Roman lands. This was Attila’s first and only defeat. This was the traditional view of the battle.
However, many historians do not agree with this. The Huns were forced back and they did suffer heavy casualties. However, so too, did the Romans and their copies. The Huns were able to return to their raids and they moved on into Italy and they did not face any opposition.
The great battle was not a great defeat but was only a setback. It seems that it was only at best a temporary setback for Attila.
In 452, Attila renewed his claim of marriage with Honoria. Once again he invaded Italy and destroyed several cities, including Aquileia, Patavium and, Milan. Aetius was not able to stop him. His allies the Goths and the Vandals would not advance into Italy and they had also suffered great losses in their last battle with Attila and his Hunnic army. Attila was heading for Rome when a desperate envoy sent Pope Leo I to negotiate with him. It was hoped that the Pope with his reputation for holiness could dissuade Attila from attacking Rome. The Huns were not Christians but followed a Shamanic religion. Attila decided to withdraw after listening to the Pope. Why he did so is not known with certainty. It shocked and delighted the Romans in equal measure. Many saw it as an act of God and a miracle. Much credit was given to the Pope and the prestige of the Papacy increased and many Christians saw him as the leader of Rome and not the Emperor. Earlier historians gave the credit to Pope Leo I for persuading Attila to withdraw from Italy. Modern historians have come up with several theories as to why Attila’s retreated from Italy. Among the theories was the hilly country of Italy was not suitable for cavalry and the Huns army was mostly cavalry. The Huns may also have been suffering from food shortages. They had also been away from home for a long period and trouble elsewhere in the empire may have needed Attila’s attention. Then there was also the fact that there was a plague in Italy. This may have persuaded Attila to withdraw from Italy and not to attack Rome.
The Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire died in 450 AD. His successor was the respected Roman general was succeeded by Marcian. He was a strong and determined ruler and above all he was determined to stand up to the Huns. In late 450 Marcian stopped paying tribute to Attila and he tore up all the previous treaties agreed between the two empires. Attila was enraged and he vowed to destroy the great city of Constantinople and to kill Marcian. Lucky for Marcian and the Eastern Roman Empire, Attila suddenly died.
In 453 AD on the wedding night of one of his numerous marriages, this time to a beautiful young woman named Ildico. She was to become another of his many wives. No one knows how many wives Attila had. That night after the wedding feast the newly-weds went to bed. The next morning it seems that Attila was found dead. There are various theories regarding how Attila died. Some have suggested that he died because of all the alcohol that he had consumed. The most popular one was that he suffered a severe haemorrhage from his nose which killed him while he slept.
However, there have been reports that the King of the Hund had been assassinated and that he had been poisoned or killed in his sleep.
Attila the Hun ruled a great Empire but it fell apart after his death.
Attila had taken the Hunnic Empire to unprecedented heights and is considered their greatest ruler. He almost brought the great Roman Empire to an end. However, the Hunnic Empire was largely kept together by the force of Attila’s personality. The Huns were not as strong as they appeared and after Attila’s death their Empire was to fall apart.
As was the custom after the death of a Hunnic King, the Hunnic Empire was divided among his sons. They did not have the capabilities of their father or their ancestors. They were not great warriors and they had not the political acumen of Attila. The subject peoples sensed that the Huns had been weakened. The Hunnic army had also been greatly weakened by the many wars of recent years. The Hunnic army had become dependent on the subject people for their soldiers and cavalry. The peoples of the Empire rose in rebellion after Attila’s death. They were led by the Goths. At an unknown location, the Huns were decisively defeated and their empire soon collapsed. In a ten year period, the Huns had gone from a great empire to a people without a land. Soon they have disappeared from history.
After his death, the king was taken to an unknown location. We have a description from the Gothic historian Jordannes about the funeral of Attila.
‘’His body was placed in the midst of a plain and lay in state in a silken tent as a sight, for men’s admiration. The best horsemen of the entire tribes of the Huns rode around in circles, after the manner of circus games, in the place to which he had been brought and told of his deeds in a funeral dirge””. (Jordannes, History of the Goths).
No one knows where Attila is buried. He was possibly buried in a river. The Huns dammed up a river and buried him, with much gold, in the river bed. Then they probably allowed the river to flow back again and this has concealed the grave of Attila ever since.
Many treasure hunters have tried to locate the burial spot of the Hun. It is assumed that he was buried somewhere in Hungary but no trace of his last resting spot has ever been found. The amount of gold and jewels it would contain would be enormous.