War and Conflict

Attila the Hun

Was Attila the Hun really a savage?

While Attila (c. 406–453) may have possessed some of the worthwhile qualities of a military leader, the king of the Huns was no doubt a ruthless and fierce figure. He is believed to have ascended through the ranks of the Hun army, coming to power as the leader of the nomadic group in 434. By this time, the Huns (who originated in central Asia) had occupied the Volga River valley in the area of present-day western Russia.

At first, like his predecessors, he was wholly occupied with fighting other barbarian tribes for control of lands. But under Attila’s leadership, the Huns began to extend their power into central Europe. He waged battles with the eastern Roman armies, and, after murdering his older brother and co-ruler Bleda in 445, went on to trample the countries of the Balkan Peninsula and northern Greece—causing terrible destruction along the way. As Attila continued westward with his bloody campaigns, which each Hun fought using his own weapons and his own savage technique, he nearly destroyed the foundations of Christianity.

But the combined armies of the Romans and the Visigoths defeated Attila and the Huns at Châlons (in northeastern France) in June 451, which is known as one of the most decisive battles of all time. From there, Attila and his men moved into Italy, devastating the countryside before Pope Leo I (c. 400–461) succeeded in persuading the brutal leader to spare Rome. (For this and other reasons, Leo was later canonized, becoming St. Leo.) Attila died suddenly—and of natural causes—in 453, just as he was again preparing to cross the Alps and invade Italy anew.


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