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Introduction. Origin of the Huns; fabulous account.- Language of the Huns. Habits and manners of the Huns in the 4th Century.5 Chinese accounts of the Huns. Hunnish kingdom from 210 BC, till the 4th Century.



Nations bordering on the Huns before they entered Europe. Entrance of the Huns into Europe. Reign of Balamer. King Box. Bela, Cheve, Cadica, kings of the Huns. Mundiuc. Huldin. Radagais . Charato. Aetius. Rhuas. Rhuas and Octar. Obarses.



Burgundians. Exploits of Aetius. Death of Rhuas. Attila (his accession, his age)Treaty of Margus. Mama and Atakam. Princess Honoria. Sorosgi. Litorius. Capture of Margus, Viminacium, Ratiara. Comet and pestilence in 44. Defeat of Arnegisclus at the Chersonese. Peace concluded by Anatolius



Resistance of the Azimunthians. Sword of the War-God. Second Moses in Crete. St. Patric. Murder of Bleda. Attila overruns all Thrace. Arnegisclus slain in battle. Attila chastises the Acatzires. Curidach. Embassies to Constantinople to redemand the refugees. Embassy of Maximin accompanied by Priscus and Bigilas.



They cross the Danube, and reach the tents of Attila. Harsh reception of Bigilas, who is sent back with Eslas to Constantinople. Attila marries Eskam. Situation of the residence of Attila. Hrings of Avares or Huns which were destroyed by Pepin under Charlemagne. Observations of a Hun on the state of the empire. Onegesius. Kreka. Extent of Attila’s power in the North, extending to the confines of the Medes. Banquet to which the ambassadors were invited by Attila.



Rekan. Constantius. Berich accompanies the ambassadors on their return. Return of Bigilas. Mission of Nomus and Anatolius. Terms obtained from Attila. Mission of Apollonius. Death of Theodosius. Marcian. Honoria. Views of Attila on Gaul. Court in Thuringia. Eudoxius. Bagauds. Meroveus. Alberon.



Merovingians. Kingdom of Cameracum. Valentinian excites Theodoric against Attila. Attila advances against Gaul. Aetius prepares to oppose him—Note concerning Danes. Siege of Orleans. Retreat of Attila to the Catalaunian plain. A hermit declares him to be the Scourge of God. Soothsayers. Battle of Châlons. Retreat of the Visigoths. Sacrifice to the Sword-God. Entrance into Troyes.



Eutropia. St. Ursula and the tale of the slaughtered virgins. Return to Pannonia. He advancesagainst Italy. Enters Carnia. Aquileia. Siege. Construction of Hunnium. Capture of Aquileia. Surrender of Ravenna. Marullus the Calabrian poet. Florence. Brescia. Embassy from Rome.Honoria. Retreat of Attila.



Erroneous statement of Jornandes. Particulars thereof. Nibelungenlied.Attila identified with Odin. Identified with Sigurd. Scandinavian legends.Fundinn Norregur, or Norwegian origins, a political forgery. Funeral of Attila. Attila identified with the king Arthur of romance. Conclusions





The world of the Huns; studies in their history and culture


Early Empires of Central Asia--study of the Scythians and Huns


Histoire d'Attila et de ses successeurs jusqu'à l'établissement des Hongrois en Europe v1


Histoire d'Attila et de ses successeurs jusqu'à l'établissement des Hongrois en Europe . v2 EMPIRE DES AVARS


The Empire of the Huns




The nation of the Huns, scarcely known to ancient documents, dwelt beyond the Maeotic marshes beside the frozen ocean, and surpassed every extreme of ferocity.

AMMIANUS makes no attempt to derive the Huns from the depths of Asia. He offers no wild equation of them with any of the barbarous peoples who had been known long ago. In the course of his wide reading he had rarely, if indeed ever, come across their name. He may have had his private view as to their origin, but, if so, he could base it on no satisfactory evidence, and be therefore says simply that they dwelt in that region in which they had been living when they first became known to history. For him their story began in eastern Europe, north or north-east of the Sea of Azov, and they lived near the Northern Ocean. Why they left this home he does not even conjecture.

Where Ammianus had feared to tread, Eunapius did not hesitate to rush in. There is a story, professing to explain the first appearance of the Huns, which can be read in every age of East Roman historical literature. It is to be found in Sozomen and Zosimus, in Priscus, and, after him, in Jordanes. It reappears in Procopius and Agathias. Its course was not stopped by the Arab invasions. It may be read in Simeon the Logothete, both in the Slavonic version and in the Greek venions of Leo Grammaticus and Theodosius of Melitene. Thence it passes to Cedrenus and is finally found at the beginning of the fourteenth century in the Ecclesiastical History of Nicepborus Callistus Xanthopoulos. Few stories of equal value have had so long a life.

According to this tale, the Goths and the Huns had long lived side by side without either knowing of the other’s existence. They were separated by the Straits of Kerch, and each nation thought that there was no land over the horizon. But one day it happened that a heifer belonging to the Huns was stung by a gadfly and fled through the marshy water to the opposite shore. Its herdsman followed it, and, finding land where it was believed that none existed, he came back and told his fellow countrymen. The story offered an alternative. According to the second version, tome Hunnic huntsmen in pursuit of a stag were led across the straits by the flight of their quarry. They were amazed by the mild climate and fertile soil of the land to which they had come, and returned with the good news of its existence to their fellow Huns. Whether a heifer or a stag were the guilty party, the Huns soon after crossed the straits in force and attacked the Gothic inhabitants of the Crimea.

Now this story originated in the history of Eunapius, and we are fortunate in possessing a fragment of the part of his work where he was discussing the origin of the Huns. He states frankly that no one can give any clear account of their origin or of the country in which they were living when they set out on the conquest of Europe. In these circumstances, he says, he had recourse at first to the ancients, and gave as plausible an account as he could at the beginning of his work. When Eunapius turned to the ancients, it was not the historians to whom he had recourse, but the poets. Vasiliev draws attention to a sentence which occurs in Sozomen’s version of the story: ‘And when it chanced that a heifer ran across the marsh stung by a gadfly, its herdsman followed it’ The word ‘stung by a gadfly’ is taken from Aeschylus in his story of Io, who had herself crossed this very strait ‘stung by a gadfly’. We must agree with Vasiliev that the story is merely an adaptation of the old tale of Io as Aeschylus had told it. Eunapius then had placed at the beginning of his work an invention of his own to explain the first appearance of the Huns, and there it remained and was read, although he himself subsequently changed his opinion in the light of the reports about the Huns which later reached him. It would be unnecessary to add that the tale throws no light on the Huns’ attack on the Crimea, were it not that some scholars assume from it that the nomads crossed over the Straits of Kerch in winter when the water was frozen. The only legitimate conclusion we can draw is that, even in the earliest years of the fifth century, no one knew precisely how the Huns had come to attack the Ostrogoths.

From later versions of Eunapius’ story we can see that he made several attempts to identify the Huns with various peoples known in antiquity. Thus Zosimus says on his authority that we must identify the Huns either with the ‘Royal Scyths’ or with the ‘Snub-nosed men’, both mentioned by Herodotus, or else we must simply suppose that they originated in Asia and crossed thence to Europe. Philostorgius reports an additional speculation which we can scarcely doubt is also drawn from Eunapius. He is inclined to equate the Huns with the Nebroi of old, whom Herodotus bad mentioned as an all but mythical people living at the extreme edge of Scythia. Of Eunapius we can say at any rate that he did his utmost for his readers. At least four suggestions as to the origin of the Huns—three of them based On Herodotus were offered by him, and those readers who were not satisfied by at least one of them must have been, by Eunapius’ historical standards, very difficult persons indeed.

The Eunapian theories, although they dominated later thought on the subject, did not entirely exclude other speculations. Quite apart from them stands the view of Orosius. He mentions the Huns as living in the neighbourhood of the Caucasus, and he believes that the reason for their descent upon the Goths and the Romans was no mystery but a thoroughly obvious and well-deserved punishment for the sins of the world. The Huns had long been shut up in inaccessible mountains, but God lent them forth as a punishment for our iniquities. Many Christians must have believed likewise, but a greater Christian than Orosius went back to Herodotus for information about the Huns. Jerome equates them with those Scythians who, according to Herodotus, held the East captive for twenty years and exacted an annual tribute from Egypt and Ethiopia. Procopius added to the cloud of conjectures by proposing that the new invaders were no others than the Cimmerians. This was exact historical inquiry in comparison with what was to come, for as time went on, scholarship went to more and more desperate lengths in its effort to solve the mystery. It was a small matter that Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos thought that Attila was the king of the Avars and that his conquests resulted in the foundation of Venice. But what of the report which reached Jordanes, that one tribe of the Huns at least had once been slaves in Britain—or some other island—and had been redeemed for the price of a single horse? Unfortunately Jordanes was unable to find a written account of this. Even more curious was the view of Constantine Manasses, himself a poet. According to Manasses, Sesostris, king of Egypt, made allies of the Huns, and, after subduing Asia, gave them the land of Assyria and changed their name to 'Parthians’. This train of thought was pushed to its logical conclusion by John Tzetzes in the twelfth century: according to this scholar the Huns fought in the Trojan war, for Achilles had come to Troy leading an army of Huns, Bulgars, and Myrmidons.

Leaving aside these later fancies, let us return to the earlier speculations, for they call for some comment. Did Eunapius and his followers really believe that the Huns were identical with the Nebroi, the Simoi, and the others? Did one of the most eminent bishops of the fifth century, whom we shall discuss presently, really believe that the Huns are their parents? It may be doubted. Greek inquirers at that time did not consider it their duty to venture out into the steppe and discover the exact truth about the ferocious barbarians who roamed there. An Ammianus or an Olympiodorus might have somewhat higher standards than their contemporaries; in general, however, neither the historians nor their public demanded the precise truth in descriptions of the northern nomads. But every writer considered it his duty to display his knowledge of the classics which were the heritage of his class. It was their possession of the classical authors which distinguished the educated class from the other inhabitants of the world. ‘You know well’, writes Libanius to the Caesar Julian in 358, ‘that if anyone extinguishes our literature, we are put on a level with the barbarians’, and a century later the same sentiments are current among the well-to-do. Sidonius writes to a correspondent; ‘When the grades of office have been taken away from us, by which the highest used to be distinguished from the lowest, then the only indication of nobility will be a knowledge of literature.’ To equate the Huns with the Massagetae, to believe of them what Herodotus had believed of the nomads of old, to decorate one’s account of their wan with the phrases of Thucydides, was not a sign of childish credulity or indescribable stupidity. It was an indication that the writer belonged to that social class which Sidonius equates with the community of Rome, ‘the only community in the whole world’, he says, ‘in which slaves and barbarians are the only strangers’.

Let us turn to the Goths. They did not possess the works of an Aeschylus or an Herodotus upon which to base their speculations. Instead there circulated among them a folk-tale which has survived in Jordanes. According to this tale there was once a Gothic king called Filimer, who ruled over his people in the fifth generation after they had emigrated from Scandinavia. Among his subjects he discovered certain witches, who were called in the Gothic language ‘Haliurunnae’. These he expelled from among his people and drove them far into the solitude of the Scythian desert. Some evil spirits, who were wandering about the wilderness, saw these witches and fell upon them, so that they brought forth this most ferocious of all races, ‘minutum tetrum atque exile quasi bominum genus’. Whatever the source of Jordanes, few will doubt that this was a story told by the horrified Goths, amazed at the ferocity of their masters.

In view of all this wild sea of speculation it is difficult not to admire the restraint of Ammianus: The nation of the Huns, scarcely known to ancient documents, dwelt beyond the Maeotic marshes beside the frozen ocean, and surpassed every extreme of ferocity.’


It was the practice then for those historians who wrote for an educated public to substitute the old familiar names given by Herodotus and Thucydides in place of the uncouth names of contemporary barbarians. The reverse was customary among those historians whose works were intended to be read only by humble monks and laymen. It was idle to speak to them of Nebroi and Simoi and Neuroi, of whom they had never heard. But everyone knew of the Huns, the Gepids, and the like, and so we often find John Malalas and other writers whose works were read by the uneducated catting earlier barbarian peoples by the names of tribes dreaded in their own day—even if the latter had been quite unknown at the time spoken of. This is why we read in John Malalas that Lucius Verus and the Emperor Carus met their deaths when fighting against the Huns. So, too, we hear from an anonymous popular writer that Constantine the Great crossed the Danube and conquered the land of the Huns. Such statements we may confidently ignore. But it used to be held by modern scholars that when Dionysius Periegetes mentions the Tocharoi, Phrounoi, and barbarous nations of Seres’ he means by Phrounoi the Hsiung-nu, who are often equated with the Huns. This view has now been exploded and abandoned. Dionysius, in his editions, also mentions the Ounnoi as living near the Caspian Sea, but it has now been proved that in fact he there wrote Ounnoi, a name which soon became meaningless and was altered by scribes to one of which the meaning was only too well understood. We are left with a passage of Ptolemy, where we read that ‘between the Bastarnae and the Roxolani [are] the Chuni’. On the basis of this text it is confidently asserted that early in the second century A.D. the Huns were already settled in the Pontic area, perhaps between the Bug and the Dniester. But it seems very doubtful whether they could have survived there for two hundred years without becoming known in any way to the Romans. If, in fact, they were close neighbours of the Bastarnae and Roxolani, why did their appearance towards the close of the fourth century cause so much surprise? Again, they are placed by Ptolemy in a very unexpected area if in fact they were the ancestors of the Huns, who, beyond all question, were settled in or near the basin of the Kuban when they first became known to the Goths. It may be suggested that the similarity of the names Chuni and Huni is merely a coincidence; and it should be noted that, although West Roman writers often refer to the Chum or Chuni, no East Roman ever has the guttural at the beginning of the name.

Whatever be the truth of Ptolemys Chuni, we need have little hesitation in rejecting Seeck’s suggestion that the Persians and the Romans had already encountered the Huns in the year 363. In that year Jovian signed his notorious truce with Sapor, the Persian king, and in the treaty it was stipulated that the Romans and the Persians should unite in building fortifications in the passes of the Caucasus so as to prevent Armenia being overrun by the incursions ‘of those barbarians who are unknown both to us and to the Persians’. These barbarians were not the Huns who later invaded Europe, nut the Kidarites or Black Huns who were to preoccupy the Persian kings throughout the course of the following century. Not only the origin of the true Huns, but also their movements and activities before the last quarter of the fourth century, remain as profound a mystery to us as they were to Ammianus.


In the year 376 reports reached the Roman officers commanding the Danube garrisons that new and unusually large movements bad begun among the northern barbarians. It was said that all the peoples between the Theiss and the Black Sea were in commotion. A savage people of great ferocity had struck the nations with terror and sent them fleeing from their homes. The officers received the news with indifference. They rarely beard of barbarian wars beyond the great river until the fighting bad completely died down or had at least come to a temporary close. Their experience told them that no exceptional events could be expected. But the rumours persisted, and then the first refugees appeared on the northern bank, begging to be taken into the safety of the Empire. The first fugitives were joined by others and yet others, until an immense multitude crowded on the bank of the river.1 The officers had been mistaken. The Gothic kingdom of Ermanarich had fallen before the Huns.

Ermanarich was not the first victim. Before him, the Alans had been reduced to subjection. The western frontier of this people was the river Don; the eastern lay beyond the knowledge of Roman inquirers and was said to be outside Europe altogether. The Alans were typical nomads, and drove their flocks and herds to new pastures every spring and autumn. They had no temples, but won hipped a naked sword stuck in the ground. Otherwise they were not remarkable, except that at one time they had not known the institution of slavery. They had often attacked Bosporus in the Crimea, and even Armenia and Media, so that the Romans knew them, like other nomads, as unconquerable warriors. But they bad been conquered now. At a date and in circumstances which have not been recorded, they became the subjects of the Huns. We only know that vast numbers of them were slaughtered before the nation submitted.

It seems to have been soon after the year 370 that the Huns, accompanied by contingents of their Alan subjects, began their assault on the rich villages of the great Ostrogothic kingdom. This newly built empire stretched from the Don to the Dniester and from the Black Sea to the Pripet marshes. It was attacked first by small parties of the Huns, but soon had to bear their full assault. While the bulk of the Hun forces drove straight across the steppes along the north coast of the Black Sea, a smaller party entered the Crimea from the east, drove the Gothic inhabitants into the mountains, and then proceeded through the isthmus to join the main mass of their companions, leaving perhaps a small group to exploit the peninsula. The aged Gothic king, Ermanarich, although unnerved by the rumours of the Huns’ savagery which had reached him, was able to maintain himself for a considerable time, but then in despair he committed suicide and was succeeded by his great-nephew Vithimiris. The Alans were being made to fight in the van of the Huns, and Vithimiris met them with an army composed partly of some Huns whom he had hired to fight for him against their countrymen. With these and his own followers he went into battle again and again, but each time met with a severe and bloody defeat. Finally, in a battle said to have been fought on a certain river Erac, somewhere between the Dnieper and Dniester, when he had reigned only about a year, he was killed. Most of the Gothic nation now submitted to the nomads, but the story that was told afterwards, that they voluntarily abandoned the struggle, is only a Gothic fable designed to explain away their crushing defeat.

The remainder were now ruled by Vithimiris’ son Viderichus, but, as he was still a child, the command of the army was entrusted to Alatheus and Saphrax. Now, the name Saphrax is said not to be Germanic and may he Hunnic. If Saphrax was a Hun, it would seem that the mercenaries hired by Vithimiris had won such authority with those who paid them that their leader had actually obtained a share in the Gothic high command. At any rate, despite the skill and courage of Alatheus and Saphrax, the Goths were gradually forced back behind the river Dniester.

This brought the Huns to the frontiers of Athanaric, the chief (iudex) of the Visigoths, whose country had been devastated by the Emperor Valens in three successive campaigns a few years previously. Athanaric determined to resist the new invaders if he too should be attacked, and he established himself on the banks of the Dniester not far from Alatheus and Saphrax. His first move was to send some of his chief men, led by one Munderich, at the head of a considerable force, some twenty miles beyond the river, with instructions to report on the movements of the enemy and to screen the main body of the army as it prepared its defences. The Huns at once realized that Munderich’s force was but a fraction of the Gothic army, and decided to ignore it. Riding hard through a moonlit night, they completely outmanoeuvred and eluded Munderich, and, before he could even discover their whereabouts, they had forded the Dniester twenty miles in his rear. Athanaric had no suspicion of his danger. He and his army were stunned by the surprise of the Huns’ attack. There was no resistance: the Goths scattered to the Carpathian root-hills behind them with slight losses. Alatheus and Saphrax appear to have been crushed simultaneously.

Athanaric next decided to build and defend a wall between the Gerasus (Pruth) and the Danube. The work was hurried on with skill and vigour; but again the troops were surprised and would have been massacred, had it not been for the weight of the Huns’ booty, which prevented them from carrying out their usual swift manoeuvres.

The Goths were panic-stricken: they could resist no longer. They melted away from Athanaric, and with their families and their goods began to stream towards the Danube. In the fertile fields of Thrace, secured by the broad Danube and the strength of the Roman garrisons, they would escape from this ‘race of men, which had never been seen before, which had arisen from some secret comer of the earth, and was sweeping away and destroying everything that came in its way’.

As more and more of them reached the Danube, the Roman officers on its southern bank began to realize that the reports, which they had heard with contempt, were nothing more than the truth.


In the autumn of 376 the Goths, said by contemporaries to number 200,000, were permitted to cross the Danube, and two years later, on 9 August 378, they engaged the Emperor Valens on the plains outside Adrianople. Did the Huns take any part in this greater Cannae?

In the autumn of 377 the Goths were penned in among the defiles of Mount Haemus in Thrace by a Roman army. Their position was desperate. They had no food, and all their efforts to break through the ring formed by the Romans had been beaten back. When they were reduced to the last extremities some of their number managed to slip through the enemy lines and arrange an alliance with a body of Huns and Alans who were roaming the land north of the Danube. The Gothic emissaries held out hopes of immense booty if the nomads would rescue them from their critical position in Thrace. The effect of this alliance was striking. As soon as the Roman commanders heard of it, they at once began to withdraw their men cautiously. The Goths escaped from the trap in which they had been caught, and began once again to devastate the unlucky country-side of Thrace.

Now the hand of Huns which thus dramatically rescued the Goths is not reported to have left them before the battle of Adrianople. Immediately after the battle, when the Goths had made a vain effort to surprise Adrianople itself, we hear of these same Huns again: a few days after the great victory they are found still in the company of the Goths. We cannot doubt that they had been with them all the time, and it is not impossible that the cavalry charge which decided the greatest disaster in Roman military history was headed, not by Goths, but by Huns. That our sources say nothing of this is not surprising: the Roman disaster was so complete that no one could afterwards give a clear or accurate account of what had happened.

We hear little of the Huns in the years which immediately followed. We are assured explicitly, however, that they took their full share in the plundering and devastation of the north Balkan provinces in the period after Adrianople. Theodosius I was proclaimed emperor on 19 January 379, and in his first year, we are told, he defeated several bands of Huns, Alans, and Goths, who were still devastating the Balkans, and was able to proclaim considerable victories on 15 November. It would seem that companies of the Sciri and Carpodacae were serving in a subordinate position, like the Alans, under the Huns, who themselves behaved with their usual ferocity: they were omni penicie atrociores, according to a contemporary. It is said by a latter authority that in the year 417 the Huns had been in occupation of Pannonia for fifty years. The statement has been vigorously denied, but if we remember that a few years after the accession of Theodosius I a company of Huns is found approaching the frontiers of Gaul, it seems reasonable to suppose that on the morrow of Adrianople great tracts of Pannonia, especially the eastern regions, had already fallen under their sway.

Although we hear once or twice of the raga Chunorum feritasuin the years which followed, it was not until 395 that the new barbarians launched their first great invasion of the Roman Empire, and their raids of that year seem to have been conducted on a bigger scale than any others until the days of Attila. In the winter of 395 the Danube was frozen, and the Huns took the opportunity of crossing into the Roman provinces and renewing the devastation which Theodosius had barely managed to check. Once again Thrace bore the brunt of the suffering, but Dalmatia, too, feared an invasion. Claudian maliciously suggests that the Huns were actually invited into the Empire by the praetorian prefect Rufinus, whose position was being violently assailed by Stilicho. But this is merely the propaganda of the poet in favour of his patron, and we know that Rufinus did what he could to alleviate the fearful hardships of the peasants of Thrace.

The Huns put out their greatest effort, however, far to the east. Pouring over the passes of the Caucasus, their bands overran Armenia and made for the richest provinces of the Eastern Empire. The smoke rose from the villages of Cappadocia. The invaders were said to have approached the Halys. Areas of Syria itself were devastated, and Antioch looked to her defences

Assttetumque choris et laeta plebe canorum 

Preterit imbellem sonipes hostilis Orontem.

Crowds of captives and great herds of cattle were led away north of the Caucasus.

Extra Cimmerias, Taurorum claustra, paludes

Flos Syriae servit.

In Armenia the Huns reached the city of Melitene; thence they overran the province of Euphratesia and even galloped into Code Syria and Cilicia. Jerome writes vividly of this raid:

“Behold, the wolves, not of Arabia, but of the North, were let loose upon us last year from the far-off rocks or Caucasus, and in a little while overran great provinces. How many monasteries were captured, how many streams were reddened with human blood! Antioch was besieged, and the other cities washed by the Halys, Cydnus, Orontes, and Euphrates. Flocks of captives were dragged away; Arabia, Phoenicia, Palestine, and Egypt were taken captive by their terror.

Non mihi si linguae centum sint oraque centum,

Ferrea vox,

Omnia poenarum percurrere nomina possim.


And again:

“Lo, suddenly messengers ran to and fro and the whole East trembled, for swarms of Huns had broken forth from the far distant Maeotis between the icy Tanais and the monstrous peoples of the Massagetae, where the Gates of Alexander pen in the wild nations behind the rocks of Caucasus. They filled the whole earth with laughter and panic alike as they flitted hither and thither on their swift horses. The Roman army was away at the time and was detained in Italy owing to the civil wars... May Jesus avert such beasts from the Roman world in the future! They were at hand everywhere before they were expected: by their speed they outstripped rumour, and they took pity neither upon religion nor rank nor age nor wailing childhood. Those who had just begun to live were compelled to die and, in ignorance of their plight, would smile amid the drawn swords of the enemy. There was a unanimous report that they were making for Jerusalem and that they were converging on that city owing to their extreme greed for gold. The walls of Antioch, neglected in the idle time of peace, were hastily patched up; Tyre wished to break away again from the land and looked for her ancient island. Then we ourselves were forced to make ships ready, to wait on the shore, to take precautions against the enemy's arrival, to fear the barbarians more than shipwreck even though the winds were raging”.

As Jerome says, there was no regular army to meet them: Theodosius, at his death, had left the armies of the Empire in the West. An important officer in the East was suspected of cowardice and of indifference to the lot of the country under his command. At any rate, the invasion was unopposed until the eunuch Eutropius, hastily assembling a few Gothic troops, and whatever Roman soldiers he could lay hands on, succeeded in taking the field against them. He failed to recover the booty they had taken, but peace was restored to the East at the end of 398, and the world saw a eunuch as consul in 399.

For some thirteen years the Huns do not appear to have raided the Eastern provinces again, but in the first years of the new century they seem to have undertaken a tremendous drive through central Europe towards the West from their recently conquered homes in the northern Balkans. Scenes similar to those of 376 were witnessed again. In the closing months of 405 Radagaisus broke into Italy, and terrified contemporaries said that he headed 400,000 men, though more sober judgements put the figure far lower. On 31 December 406 swarms of Vandals, Sueves, and Alans broke the Rhine frontier forever and crowded into Gaul. These movements, it is agreed, were caused by a westward expansion of the Huns, but only one hint has survived in our authorities of the fierce battles by which the Germans were dislodged from their homes and sent fleeing into the provinces of the Roman Empire. Orosius, in reference to this period, write: ‘taceo de ipsarum inter se barbarorum crebris dilacerationibus, eum se invicem Gothorum cunei duo, deinde Alam atque Huni variis caedibus populabantur.’

Attacks on the lower Danube provinces were resumed in 408. In that year a certain Uldis, the first Hun whom we know by name and one whom we shall have to mention frequently again, crossed the Danube and captured Castra Martis, a fortress lying well back from the river in the province of Moesia. He took this place by treachery, and unhappily we do not know who it was that co-operated with him and betrayed the fort. Uldis then proceeded to overrun Thrace, and, when the Romans tried to buy him off, he rejected their offer: when the Roman officer commanding the army in Thrace made his proposals to him, the Hun merely pointed towards the rising sun and said that, if he so wished, he would find it easy to subdue all the land which the sun looked upon. He demanded an impossible sum as the price of peace, but the Roman officer was not at a loss. He prolonged his conversations with Uldis, and entered into secret negotiations with the subordinate leaders io the enemy’s army. He emphasized the great humanity of the Roman Emperor and the very acceptable gifts which that Emperor was accustomed to offer to brave men. His suggestions were agreeable. Many of Uldis’ followers deserted, and he himself only escaped across the Danube with difficulty. He lost many Huns and a considerable number of Sciri who were serving under him in much the same capacity as we have seen the Alans serving in other Hun armies.

We have more than one memorial of the East Roman government’s efforts to repair the damage done by Uldis and to prevent the recurrence of such raids as his. Herculius, the praetorian prefect of Illyricum, a patron of letters and the arts, was instructed to force everyone, without distinction of rank, to take part in the rebuilding of city walls and in the collection and transport of food to the ruined areas. The Emperor, instructed by his praetorian prefect Anthemius, expected that many would endeavour to evade this work, and he therefore repeats: ‘a summit sarcina ad infimos usque decurrat’. The raid may be repeated: the moment is critical. Anthemius issued further orders. Every possible method of entering the Eastern Empire is to be scrutinized; every place where the provinces can be approached—‘omnes stationes navium portus litora, rants abscessus provinciarum, abdita etiam loca et insulae’—is to be guarded closely because of the barbarica feritas. Specific measures were taken for the strengthening of the Danube fleet. A seven-year programme of shipbuilding was published on 28 January 412. In the provinces of Moesia and Scythia, which bordered on the great river, a stated number of vessels, both warships and supply ships (naves agrariensis, as they are called), were to be built every year and a stated number of old ships to be repaired. Over two hundred vessels were to be in service at the end of seven years, and local officials were to be heavily fined if the programme was not fully carried out each year. But Anthemius’ greatest achievement in these years was the construction of the Theodorian walls on the land side of Constantinople, which had long since extended beyond the original wall of Constantine. The need for them had been felt as early as the time of Theodosius I, but it was not until 4 April 413 that the government could refer to the completion of the new wall, ‘qui ad munitionem splendidissimae urbis extructus est’. Who can doubt that it was Uldi’ raid that impressed upon Anthemius the urgent necessity of the defence of the capital? Bury justly says that ‘in planning the new walls of the capital, he was preparing consciously for the Hunnic war which he foresaw’.

After the defeat and disappearance of Uldis we come to one of the obscurest incidents in the history of the Huns. Priscus heard of it from a West Roman, Romulus, whom he met in Attila’s encampment in 449 and of whom he held a high opinion. Romulus told him that the Huns had once sought to attach Persia at a time when famine prevailed in their own country and the Roman were engaged in a war. Under two leaders named Basicb and Cursich, who afterwards went to Rome to obtain an alliance, a large Hun army entered a desert country, passed a certain lake, which Romulus thought might be the Maeotic Sea, and after fifteen days crossed some mountains and found themselves in Persia. After devastating the land, they encountered a Persian army which filled the air over their heads with arrows. The Huns were beaten back and recrossed the mountains with only a little of their booty, for the Persians succeeded in recovering most of it. Fearing a pursuit, Basich and Cursich returned home by a different route, which appears to have led them past the oil country of Baku. This expedition seems to have taken place about the period 415-20 or a little later.

In 420 the Eastern Roman Empire went to war with Persia. The Persians had been taking the merchandise from the Roman traders in their dominions and had refused to return the Roman gold-miners whose services they had hired. In addition, they had begun a general persecution of the Christians in Persia. As the Roman armies became more and more deeply involved in the East, the northern frontier seems to have been stripped of its defenders, and this was doubtless the reason why the Huns in 422, after a long interval, again launched a plundering raid on Thrace. We have no details and know nothing of how they were expelled. We hear of no further hostilities on the northern frontier of the Eastern Empire before the appearance of Rua, the uncle of Attila.


The little that our authorities enable us to say about the wars between the Romans and the Huns before the days of Attila has been summarized above. But in the early days of their life in Europe the Huns by no means appear exclusively as the enemies of the Romans, Goths, or Persians. We have already seen that, although Huns destroyed the kingdom of the Ostrogoths, Huns also fought in its defence. In their first great achievement in Europe the new barbarians were divided against themselves. So it continued throughout the entire period at present under review, a fact which was noted by contemporaries with surprise and satisfaction.

We have seen that Theodosius I, in his first year as Emperor, managed to drive the Hun raiders from the northern Balkans and that his reign was frequently troubled by them thereafter. But he also used them as allies. When be engaged the army of the usurper Maximus on the river Save in 388, his very swift cavalry victory was won by Hunnic horsemen serving in his army. It may well be, as Seeck suggests, that, after the victory over Maximus’ brother Marcellinus at Poetovio in that same year, it was Hunnic cavalry that inflicted the heavy losses suffered by the fleeing enemy. Again, towards the end of the eighties officers of Valentinian II beat back a party of Huns who were approaching Gaul, while at the same time Bauto, the Master of the Soldiers, succeeded in inducing an army of Huns to attack the Juthungi, who were then devastating the Roman province of Raetia.

We have already mentioned the defeat of Uldis in 408. But Uldis' history had a beginning and a middle as well as an end. In the year 400 the German rebel Gainas attempted to cross into Asia Minor, but was deterred by the warships of the Imperial fleet. He therefore retreated northwards and crossed the Danube with a small body of followers. Here he was met by Uldis, who decided to attack him for two reasons. He did not wish an independent barbarian army to roam at large north of the Danube, and he believed that, by destroying Gainas, he would do a service to the Eastern Emperor. He therefore collected his forces and fought the German, not once but many times, before he succeeded in slaying him. Gainas’ head was displayed to view in Constantinople on 3 January 401, and in return Uldis demanded ’gifts’, which, in fact, he received. An alliance was thereupon concluded between him and the East Romans, and it maybe supposed that it involved the payment of an annual tribute to this body of the nomads. The credit for the overthrow of Gainas did not belong exclusively to the Hun. The reason why the Germans had to turn northwards towards the Danube in the first place lay in the initiative of the local city magistrates and of the urban population of Thrace. Foreseeing the arrival of Gainas’ band, the citizens hastily repaired the defences of their cities, and themselves manned them with their weapons in their hands. 'Owing to previous raids’, says our authority, ‘they were not unpractised in warfare, and applied themselves to the struggle with all their strength. Gainas found nothing outside the walls except grass,’ he goes on, ‘for everyone had taken care to bring inside the walls all the crops and the livestock and all the furniture and equipment of the farmsteads.’ Evidently the events of 395 had taught the townsmen of Thrace a lesson which they were not slow to learn. Neither were they quick to forget it, as Attila many years later had good reason to observe when his horsemen were beaten back by the initiative and courage of the citizens of Asemus.

Uldis next appears in the service of West Rome. At the end of 405 Radagaisus and a huge throng of Germans, fleeing before the Huns, as we have seen, descended into Italy. The cities of the peninsula were panic-stricken, but Stilicho, as well as mobilizing the forces at his disposal in Italy, managed to make an alliance with a body of Huns and Alans: these Huns were the followers of Uldis. In the battle of Faesulae early in 406 they showed their mettle. They first prevented the Germans from collecting provisions, and then in the conflict itself a swift outflanking movement by their cavalry enabled Stilicho to encircle the enemy and destroy them with the utmost carnage. Uldis’ men sold off their prisoners at one solidus a head. They had rendered considerable service, then, to both Eastern and Western Rome before they invaded Thrace in 408.

The measures which the Western government took against its German mercenaries after the fall of Stilicho in 408 rendered it essential to obtain military assistance from some non-Germanic source in future. They therefore turned to the Huns and obtained assistance from them by a treaty which seems to have involved the giving of hostages: one of the hostages was a young man named Aetius. Many years later his panegyrist magnified the results of Aetius’ life among the Huns:

dedit otia ferro

Caucasus et saevi condemnant proelia reges.

Indeed, Rome would otherwise have fallen before the ‘shafts of the North’:

            cum Scyducis Succumberet ensibus orbis

telaque Tarpeias premerent Arctoa secures, 

hostilem fregit rabiem pignusque superbi 

foederis a mundi pretium fuit

Al any rate, we find that when Athaulf, the brother-in-law of Alaric, appeared south of the Julian Alps in 409, leading an army which included a number of Huns, Honorius’ minister Olympius was able to meet him at the head of a little band of 300 Huns, and at a cost of 17 dead slew 1,100 of the enemy. Later in that same year, 409, as the relations of the West Roman government with Alaric grew steadily worse, a force of 10,000 Huns was brought into Italy from Dalmatia by the Imperial government. Their presence seems to have weighed with Alaric, who at once abandoned his plan of an immediate march on Rome. More than thirty years after their first appearance in Europe the name of the Huns struck terror even into the bravest of those who heard it.

In 412 we find the East Roman government again in diplomatic relations with the Huns, or at any rate with some of them. We learn from a fragment of Olympiodorus that in that year he himself served on an embassy which was sent out from Constantinople to the barbarians. In order to reach their destination the ambassadors had to sail northwards across the Black Sea and were almost lost in a storm on the way. They eventually reached a Hun king named Donatus, whose sphere of activity was obviously far from that in which Uldis had held sway. On their arrival the ambassadors successfully achieved what one of Priscus’ companions failed to do in similar circumstances many years later: after exchanging oaths of friendship with Donatus they treacherously murdered him. Perhaps his realm had recently grown to dangerous strength and the East Roman government, which was still controlled by the prefect Anthemius, saw a cheap way of dispelling the danger. But a certain Charato was chosen to succeed Donatus, and, not without reason, be entertained feelings of some hostility towards Olympiodorus and his friends. But the ambassadors had come prepared to deal with such a situation, and costly presents given in Theodosius’ name induced the barbarian to remain at peace.

In 425, when the usurper John was fighting for his life against East Roman forces at Ravenna, he sent Aetius to the Huns to hire an army and bring it to Italy as quickly as possible. But Aetius returned too late. When he appeared in Italy John had been three days dead. Nevertheless, he engaged Aspar, the commander of the Eastern forces, in a stubborn but apparently indecisive battle, and finally induced the Huns to leave Italy and return home. The Huns, we are told, laid aside their anger and their arms for gold, gave hostages, and exchanged oaths. Aetius’ achievement in getting rid of them was considered to be so great that Placidia and Valentinian III made their peace with him and gave him the rank of Count. It was said that the number of Huns whom he had sent home was 60,000.


 Thus the Huns were not only the foes of the Romans towards the close of the fourth century and in the opening years of the fifth; also to some extent they were their friends, and served not without effect as mercenaries in the Imperial armies.

It was not only the Roman government which profited from their services: wealthy private individuals did so too. We hear of only two cases, but there is no reason to doubt that in fact there were others. Claudian tells us that Arcadius’ praetorian prefect Rufinus maintained a personal guard of barbarians, and we hear from another source that this guard was composed of Huns. Rufinus’ great rival Stilicho also sought to ensure hit own safety by hiring a private army of Huns, and before his enemies could set about murdering him they had to deal with these retainers. Consequently, at the head of an army they made a sudden descent upon them while they were asleep and slew them as they lay. Since Rufinus’ Huns are mentioned in one of our meagre chronicles, it would seem that the force was of considerable dimensions, although we need not believe that it was as vast as the private armies maintained by some subjects of the Empire in later days.

If a few of the great potentates of both the East and the West relied on Huns for their personal security, many of the population were willing to believe the new barbarians capable of the utmost atrocities. Claudian does not hesitate to tell his readers not only that the Huns slew their parents but that they delighted to swear oaths by their bodies thus slain. This was a belief that did not soon die out: had not Herodotus said that the Massagetae sacrifice their old men? Indeed, half a century later, Theodoret is prepared to go considerably farther. According to him the ‘Massagetae’, as he terms the Huns, not only made a regular practice of killing off their old men but actually ate their bodies. All alike agreed that they lived the life of wild beasts. They descended upon the Goths like wolves, according to Priscus. Though by nature they lived the life of wild animals, writes an ecclesiastical historian, a missionary changed them to milder ways. Even the sober Ammianus says that you could take them to be two-footed animals, and to Jerome also they were wolves and wild beasts. In the sixth century Jordanes considered them to be ‘a race almost of men’, and Procopius notes that the Ephthalites, alone among the Huns, do not live the life of animals. Indeed, Zachariah of Mitylene at the end of the fifth century represents some Huns as referring to themselves as ‘barbarians, who, like rapacious wild beasts, reject God in the North-West region’.

Unspeakable hardships were caused to the people living in the actual areas devastated by the raids of the Hurts. We can say little of the sufferings of the Goths when this new nation of barbarians descended upon them as unexpectedly and suddenly, in Ammianus’ words, as a storm from the high mountains. But we have a little information from Thrace. During the raid of 395, when St Hypatius was twenty years of age, he visited the monks of that area and found that, since Hun bands were roaming the country-side and plundering everywhere without hindrance, the brethren had been compelled to build forts, wherein they might live in comparative security. Hypatius himself and eighty of the brethren proceeded to build a big fort for themselves so that they might continue their devotions without interruption. Evidently there was no organized defence left in the province. Many years afterwards Hypatius used to tell his disciples of how the Huns surrounded his fortress in Thrace, but God protected His servants and put their enemies to flight. ‘They had a hole, in the wall’, he said, ‘through which they hurled out a stone and dealt a blow to one of the foe, so that the others saw it, and, waving their whips, as a signal, they mounted their horses and retreated. When a stop had been put to the fighting, the people of the country-side, who had been plundered and had nothing left, ran to the monastery, seeking their sustenance.’ The head of the monastery, he went on, Jonas, an Armenian, thereupon went to Constantinople and told the great men there, that the poor in Thrace were starving. When this became known, Rufinus and the other officials ‘filled ships with grain and with pulse’—presumably communications by land were broken—‘and sent them to Jonas that he might distribute them to the poor.’ The central government no doubt did what it could to relieve the suffering, but its means were limited, and little or no help can have reached the most exposed districts immediately behind the frontier and far from the sea.

The Church was not daunted by the fury and savage reputation of the new invaders, and very soon after their first appearance on the frontier, Christian missionaries went among them. At the turn of the fifth century they were visited by Theotimus, bishop of Tomi. The Huns on the Danube held him in high respect, we are told, and called him ‘God of the Romans’. It was said that Theotimus had performed wondrous deeds among them, but the ecclesiastical historian who tells us of them seems to have had his doubts as to the truth of the stories. It was said that as he journeyed one day through enemy territory, Theotimus saw a band of Huns riding towards him on their way to Tomi. The bishop’s companions were dismayed and began to lament that they would be put to death at once; but Theotimus dismounted from his horse and began to pray, whereupon he and his companions and their horses became invisible and the Huns rode by without seeing them. On another occasion a Hun, who thought the bishop to be a rich man, plotted to take him prisoner and hold him to ransom. He therefore prepared a lasso, such as the Huns often used in warfare, and tried to entangle him in its coils. But as he raised his hand to cast the noose around the bishop, he became as it were petrified and could not lower his arm again. He remained as though tied by invisible ropes until, at the request of his companions, Theotimus prayed to God to release him from his predicament.

Despite such prodigious works Theotimus does not seem to have met with any success in converting the Huns. All that our authority can claim is that he changed them from their bestial manner of life to milder ways, and this he accomplished by the procedure, not unusual in a bishop of those times, of inviting them to banquets and presenting them with gifts.

At approximately the time when Theotimus was active, other missionaries were sent to work among the Huns, John Chrysostom, we are told, dispatched them to some ‘of the nomadic Scyths who were encamped along the Danube’. The term ‘nomadic Scyths’ is one which our authority uses elsewhere of the Huns and of no one else, and we can have no doubt that the great Patriarch of Constantinople had endeavoured to have the new barbarians converted. But again no claim is made that the missionaries met with the slightest success. One of their greatest difficulties must have been that of language. John Chrysostom himself could find an interpreter easily enough when he wished to preach to the Goths in the capital; but, as we shall see later, the number of Romans who knew the Hun language was exceedingly small, so that churchmen qualified to preach among them can only have been acquired with the utmost difficulty, if, indeed, at all.

None the less, there were not wanting enthusiasts within the Roman Empire who believed that the task of converting the Huns was all but accomplished. Huni discunt psalterium, cries Jerome in a letter written in 403, only eight yean after he had trembled in his cell in Bethlehem. Orosius in 417 observes that ‘the churches of Christ everywhere throughout the East and the West are filled with Huns, Suevi, Vandals, Burgundians, and innumerable other peoples of believers’. In the very hey-day of Attila, Theodoret considered that the Huns had abandoned with loathing the custom of eating their old men because they had now heard the gospel, and he mentions their name in a list of those who profit from the good works of the martyrs. Unhappily, more sober witnesses had to admit the complete failure of the Church’s efforts, and towards the middle of the fifth century, in the great days of Attila, Salvian classes them without qualification among the pagans. Prudentius, far away in Spain, although he thought that the ‘bloody ferocity’ of the Huns had been tamed somewhat—they no longer drink blood, ne says—can do no more than look forward to the day when they will drink the blood of Christ. Even in the sixth century their wanton cruelty, their readiness to rape nuns and to massacre those who had taken refuge at the altars of the churches, shocked even the barbarous armies of Justinian. It is possible that individual Huns, particularly among those living in the Roman Empire as captives or exiles, had been converted to Christianity; but if so, we hear of none of them until long after the death of Attila. Thereafter, those few whom we know to have been converted had especially close relations with the Romans, like that Sunica whom Zachariah of Mitylene describes as ‘a general, who was a Hun, and, having taken refuge with the Romans, had been baptized’. Zachariah, then, pictured only the truth when he made the Huns describe themselves as ‘barbarians, who, like rapacious wild beasts, reject God in the North-West region’.

Such was the impression which the Huns, in their early days, left upon those Romans whose literary works have come down to us. But they, the educated, the comparatively well to do, were a small minority in the Empire. We cannot doubt that this impression was shared by all, high and low alike, who lived in the areas actually devastated, who saw their hovels burnt and their sons and daughters led away into a bitter slavery. We shall try in later pages to discover the sentiments of the vast bulk of the population of the European provinces, that is, the peasants living far from the frontiers, both those who sweated in the fields of their masters, and those who had been entirely expropriated and lived as brigands in the mountains and forests. Attila, it has been said, was only the Scourge of God for the Roman priests and administrators interested in keeping the nations under the domination of Rome.



The Byzantine History of Priscus began with the year 434, the  year in which Attila acceded to the leadership of the Huns. In this chapter, then, we have the invaluable aid of bis work. But his book has survived only in fragments, so that in our journey through the history of these years we pass in rapid succession from periods of bright sunshine to periods of almost complete darkness. When discussing incidents related in his fragments we can enter into great detail; when his help is lacking we are reduced to conjecture or to blunt confession of our ignorance. Moreover, it could probably be shown that his work did not include a consecutive narrative of Western affairs; our runny moments, then, are restricted to the frontier history of the Eastern Empire.


In the later twenties of the fifth century a certain Rua obtained the military leadership of the last and greatest of the Hun confederacies. He was not its only leader, for we hear that he shared the position with his brothers Mundiuch and Octar. Presumably each of the brothers ruled over a specific portion of the Huns and their subject nations, for joint rule of a common territory seems to have been a principle unknown to this people. We have no information as to the father or forebears of RuaMundiuch, and Octar, nor do we bhar how they came to acquire their positions of authority. We can only say that Octar and Mundiuch died some years before their brother, for Rua was the sole military leader of the confederacy when he first appears in history in the year 43e.

In that year Aetius bad been defeated by Boniface, Count of Africa and Master of the Soldiers, in a battle fought at the fifth milestone from Ariminum. After the battle Aetius had retired to one of his estates, where he was too strong to be attacked openly; but Sebastian, Boniface’s son-in-law, made an unexpected and unsuccessful attempt to have him murdered. Aetius realized his insecurity, went to Rome, and embarked on a ship bound for the Dalmatian coast, he then travelled through the provinces of Pannonia and reached the Huns, whom he had long counted as his friends: he had been their hostage more than twenty years before and they had helped him in the crisis of 445. The Huns, who were now led by Rua, proved faithful to him once again, but at a price. In 427 Pannonia Secunda, including the great city of Sirmium, had been recovered from the Huns by the forces of East Rome, which now occupied all the powerful Danube fortifications lying in that province; but during the year 433, as a result of a treaty between Aetius and the Huns, Pannonia Prima was surrendered to the latter by the Western government. The province was in a difficult position: there were no natural boundaries between it and the even more exposed Valeria, and its less was in any event merely a matter of time. The fact remains that Aetius voluntarily surrendered to the barbarians a province of the Roman Empire. It may have been in connexion with this agreement that his son Carpilio followed in his footsteps by serving as a hostage among the nomads.

Whatever the precise terms of the treaty, Aetius was able to re-establish his position in Italy with the aid given him by Rua. It may well be that he once again led a force of Huns into Italy, but our sources do not indicate that he found it necessary to fight a battle with the Gothic troops whom Sebastian and the Empress Placidia had summoned to their help from Gaul. Aetius became a patrician and Sebastian fled to Constantinople. For a decade and a half thereafter Italy and the Western Empire remained undisturbed by the Huns, and it was contingents of their cavalry that enabled Aetius and the Gallo-Roman landlords to maintain themselves with such success in Gaul throughout the years which followed. The enemies whom the Huns, supplied by Rua, helped them to withstand in Gaul were threefold, and it was the Burgundians who first engaged their attention.

The Burgundians seem to have been among the Germanic peoples driven across the Rhine by the great westward expansion of the Huns in 405-6. They were a powerful nation, numbering, according to Jerome, no less than 80,000 souls and stated by Ammianus to be a terror to their neighbours. In 413 they had been settled on the left bank of the middle Rhine as foederati of the Romans, and their new kingdom, centred on Worms, seems to have included the territories of Mayenece and Speyer. For over twenty years we hear little of them, but at the beginning of the thirties their vigorous and growing population seems to have demanded an increase of land, and, taking advantage of the weakness of the Romans, they followed their king Gundahar in 435 in an invasion of Upper Belgica (the area around Trier and Metz). But they underestimated their adversary. They were crushed in a battle by Aetius and begged for a peace which they obtained but did not enjoy for long. In 437, for a reason which can no longer be determined, Aetius induced his Hun friends to assail them. The result was devastating. According to one authority 20,000 Burgundians were massacred. Another says that almost the whole race was destroyed, and we know that the king Gundahar was among the slain. This was the end of the Burgundian kingdom of Worms: it had lasted less than a generation, and in 443 its survivors were settled in Savoy. The destruction of their realm caught the imagination of contemporaries. Alone among the events of this period of Burgundian history it is mentioned by no less than four of the chroniclers, and it provided the historical basis of the epic of the Nibelungen. It was indeed a bellum memorabile: yet the reason for it is, to us, an utter mystery.

It may be, however, that the Huns had an account to square with the Burgundians. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates tells a curious tale which is sometimes neglected by modem writers. Some of the Burgundians, he says—and here he is supported by independent sources—had remained east of the Rhine when the majority of their nation had fled into Gaul in 406. The eastern Burgundians appear to have lived on the right bank of the Rhine, between that river, the Main, and the Neckar, in the neighbourhood of the Odenwald. ‘These men’, Socrates goes on, ‘always live an idle life, for they are practically all carpenters and they support themselves by their earnings from this craft.’ (The East Romans held many curious beliefs about the West.) The Huns used to assail them continually, and devastate their land, and often slay large numbers of them. As a counsel of despair the Burgundians embraced Christianity, for they understood that the Christian God helped those who feared Him. They were not disappointed, and the immediate result of their conversion was striking: the king of the Huns, Uptar by name, burst open during the night as a consequence of his gluttony, and left his men without a leader. They numbered about 10,000, but were routed by 3,000 Burgundians. 'As a result’, Socrates concludes, ‘the nation of the Burgundians became ardent Christians.’

What are we to make of this tale? Fortunately, Socrates dates it with some precision to the year 430. The name Uptar therefore takes on a new interest: as Valesius pointed out in the seventeenth century, Uptar is none other than Octar, the brother of Rua, who outlived him, as we have seen. The purpose of Socrates’ story, of course, is to explain the conversion of the eastern Burgundians, but it is nevertheless unlikely that every incident of the tale is a fabrication. The details are too plausible: the fact that Huns and Burgundians are fighting immediately east of the Rhine, the name of Uptar and the date of his death, the numbers of those engaged in the battle—none of these matters bear the stamp of an ecclesiastical historian’s invention. We may safely conclude that seven years before the destruction of the kingdom of Worms Rua’s brother Octar had been operating somewhat east of the Rhine, that he died in the middle of a campaign, and that some thousands of his men were surprised and defeated by the eastern Burgundians. The Huns who fell upon the kingdom of Worms, then, must have done so with particular relish; but, of course, that does not explain why Aetius unleashed them in the first place.

One of the officers who fought under Aetius against the Burgundians was Avitus, the future Emperor of the West. After the campaign he retired to his estate of Avitacum, in Auvergne near Clermont-Ferrand. But his repose was soon rudely interrupted. Litorius, the principal lieutenant of Aetius and perhaps Master of the Soldiers in Gaul, marched hastily past the future Emperor’s estate on his way to Narbonne. This city was being besieged by the Visigoths of Theodoric I, who were making full use of Aetiu’ difficulties with the Burgundians in Upper Belgica. Litorius’ army consisted of Huns—presumably those lent by Rua—and as they passed by the estate of Avitacum they behaved as though they were the enemies rather than the friends of the Gallo-Romans.

One of them, more savage than his companions, cut down one of Avitus’ servants for no reason that has been recorded. The news was brought to Avitus, busy with the defenses of his estate, the inhabitants of which had been thrown into a panic by the news of their allies’ approach. Avitus put on his armour, mounted bis horse, galloped after the host of Litorius, and in single combat avenged his murdered servant. None the less, Litorius proceeded to Narbonne, where the Huns, each of whom had been directed to carry two bushels of wheat with him, drove away the Visigoths after a vigorous charge and replenished the starving town. In the years which followed, Litorius and his Huns maintained their offensive against the Visigoths. In 437, we are told, the war was continued. Roman successes in 438 are also recorded, and, although the Huns are not mentioned, we need have no doubt that the successes were due to them. Aetius himself, now freed from his entanglements in the north, slew 8,000 Goths in this year; but we have no information as to the nationality of the troops he was leading. The crisis was reached in 439, when the Huns of Litorius laid siege to Theodoric’s capital at Toulouse. The Goths had been discouraged by their losses in three successive years. They sent certain bishops as ambassadors to Litorius to beg for terms; but, says a contemporary, ‘while they laid their hopes in God, we laid ours in Huns’. Litorius, anxious to eclipse the glory of Aetius, contemptuously rejected their embassy. Outside the city walls he made a concession to his pagan troops: for the last time in Roman history a Roman general performed the ancient sacrifices and consulted the soothsayers on the result of the forthcoming battle. But the gods betrayed him when he engaged the army of Theodoric. At first the Huns inflicted fearful laoses on the Visigoths, but at the height of the battle Litorius himself was taken prisoner by the enemy. The scales were turned and the Huns were destroyed to a man. Litorius was brought into Toulouse and put to death. After a few months Aetius arrived upon the scene and engaged in a drawn battle with the exhausted Visigoths, after which peace between the Romans and Goths was arranged by Avitus, and the patrician returned to Italy to deal with a greater crisis.

When Litorius led his undisciplined army past the estate of Avitus on his way to Narbonne he was coming from an encounter with the third of Aetius’ enemies in these years. This third enemy was greater and of more interest than the Burgundians of Gundahar or Theodoric’s Visigoths, for it consisted of the peasants, slaves, and brigands of north-western Gaul, the Bagaudae. As usual, our authorities tell us practically nothing of them, but two entries in a Gallic chronicle indicate the immense extent of their movement in these yean. We are told that in 435 the Bagaudae of the tractus Armoricanus detached themselves entirely from the Western Empire and proclaimed themselves an independent state. Now it must be remembered that the tractus Armericanus covered a far greater area than the modern Brittany. It consisted of the vast stretch of land between the mouth of the Garonne and that of the Seine, including the provinces of Poitou, Brittany, Anjou, and Normandy, with the cities of Tours, Orleans, and even Auxerre. In this enormous tract of land then the slaves and peasants rose in rebellion against the oppression of their Roman and Gallic masters. Even in the third century the Gallic Bagaudae had succeeded in setting up two emperors of their own, Aelianus and Amandus, a fact which suggests that the political, like the social, organization of their independent state was a mere replica of that from which they seceded. It is mere prejudice to characterize it as a Räuberstaat, a term which would more aptly describe the Empire which they sought to leave. At any rate, that the Bagaudae should have sought independence was, save in the case of newly conquered territories, an almost unique event in Roman Imperial history: the closest parallel was furnished by their ancestors in the third century who, before setting up Aelianus and Amaodus, seem to have supported Postumus and Tetricus.

In 435 the leader of the Bagaudae was Tibatto, of whom we know nothing: even his name is unique. We can only say that, soon after he rose, he was joined by practically every slave in Gaul. For two years Tibatto’s men held their own, but in 437 Litorius and his Huns fell upon them. We have no details of the struggle which ensued. The chronicler merely tells us that ‘when Tibatto had been captured, and some of the other leaders, principes, of the uprising had been thrown into chains, and others slaughtered, the disturbances of the Bagaudae came to rest’. Litorius, the proud conqueror, had seen himself compelled, as Bury puts it, ‘to reimpose upon them the liberty of Imperial rule’.

Litorius thereupon galloped light-heartedly at the head of his unruly followers towards Narbonne, but the road led him in the end to Toulouse. We shall see in the sequel that a solitary Hun campaign had not been sufficient to crush the Bagaudae of the tractus Armoricanus: the economic condition of the Empire called for something more constructive than a massacre of the peasants. We shall also sec that the Huns were not to continue for ever in the role of benchmen to the Gallic landlords.

From the time when Aetius negotiated his treaty with Rua in 433 until Litorius' disaster before Toulouse in 439, the Huns were the main prop of the vanishing dominion of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy in Gaul. But in 439 they were massacred: brutal and senseless oppression exercised in the interests of great landowners is rarely successful for long. The Huns do not appear to have reinforced Aetius after 439, for their forces were required elsewhere. It is time now to return to Rua and to consider events on the lower Danube frontier of the Eastern Empire.


In the opening months of the year 434 Esla, the principal diplomat of Rua, appeared in Constantinople. He came with a blunt demand. The Romans must return to Rua’s dominions certain peoples who had fled from it; otherwise, Rua would declare war.

The Hun had chosen his time well. The great raids of 395 were only carried out when the Roman armies were assembled in Italy and the East was helpless. The attack of 422 was launched when the Eastern armies were at grips with the Persians. Now too, in 434, the East was denuded of troops. Five years before, East Rome had been alarmed by the news that large tracts of Africa had been conquered by the Vandals. The loss of Africa was to the Roman Empire—so men said in Constantinople—what the Sicilian expedition had been to Athens. So steps were taken at once to help the Western government. Aspar commanded the combined Eastern and Western forces in North Africa, but suffered a grievous defeat and lost the entire province, apart from the cities of Carthage and Cirta. When Boniface went home to Italy in 432 to fight Aetius, Aspar and the Eastern forces continued the struggle alone, and the commander was appointed Western consul for the year 434. It was a golden moment for an enemy on the Danubian frontier, and Rua was prepared to use it.

The peoples whose return Esla demanded were the Amilzuri, Itimari, Tunsures, Boisci, and others whose names are not given by our authorities. Their habitation seems to have lain near the Sea of Azov, but otherwise nothing is known of them. It seems very reasonable to suppose, however, as several scholars have done, that they were Hunnic tribes who refused to recognize the overlordship of Rua. He had doubtless sought to compel them to join his confederacy, but the old freedom of the steppe was strong in them, and they had preferred the comparative independence of service under their own chiefs in the Imperial army. In any event, it is clear that the Huns were not yet a political unit.

The Eastern government, always glad of recruits for its army, and especially so when its regular forces were away in Africa with Aspar, prepared to negotiate, and two diplomats showed some anxiety to undertake the task of appeasing Rua. In 418 Plintha, a Goth, had suppressed a rebellion in Palestine and had been made consul for the following year. He was quickly appointed Master of the Soldiers, and, despite his ardent Arianism, was at one time recognized as the most powerful person in the court of Theodosius. He and a certain Dionysius, the consul of 427 and Master of the Soldiers in the East, volunteered to travel to Rua, and Plintha sent out one of his henchmen named Sengilachus to urge the Hun to open negotiations with himself and not with any other Romans. It would seem that it was a sort of Gothic clique in East Rome which tried to monopolize these negotiations with Rua; but it is not easy to sec who were the ‘other Romans’ whom they wished to exclude from the negotiations. This is one of our tantalizing glimpses into the internal political struggles of Theodosius’ reign upon which we have too little information to pass a judgement.

Whatever the intrigues which lay behind Plintha's moves, in the event it proved unnecessary to send any embassy to Rua; for, on the eve of the campaigning season of 434, the Hun leader suddenly died. His death gave great relief to the East Romans, who had been thoroughly alarmed by his warlike attitude, and the Patriarch Proclus (434-47) preached a sermon of thanksgiving when the news arrived, taking as his text Ezekiel XXXVIII. 2 and 22,

‘Son of Man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Rosh, Mashech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon hit bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.’

The archbishop was highly commended for his adaptation of Ezekiel’s words, and the sermon became the universal topic of conversation in Constantinople. But men soon became somewhat confused as to the precise order in which the events had taken place. It was believed that, when the people were still expecting the attack, Proclus had assured them that God had expressly announced his intention of destroying Rua with a thunderbolt, and his people with fire and brimstone from heaven. It was further believed that the prediction had been confirmed in as much as Rua had never come near the capital. The final stage in the growth of the miracle was that which is still preserved in three of our sources, two Greek and one Ethiopian. Socrates, Theodoret, and John of Nikiu combine to tell us that, when Rua was about to launch an attack on the Eastern Empire, God destroyed him and his followers in accordance with the prophecy contained in Ezekiel. But no miracle prevented the ominous event which followed: Rua was succeeded by his two nephews, of whom the elder was named Bleda, and the younger Attila.


We know little of the rough, boisterous character of Bleda, except that it was very different from his brother’s. After the great invasion of 441 we find him in possession of a Moorish dwarf named Zerco, the very sight of whom Attila was unable to endure. But Bleda was amused beyond all measure, not merely by Zerco’s stammering talk, but particularly by his twisted and painful walk. He kept him by his side both at his banquets and on his campaigns: he even made him a little suit of armour to increase the grotesqueness of his figure. Once Zerco escaped with a number of other Roman prisoners. Bleda cared nothing for the others, but he was wild with rage at the loss of Zerco. Horsemen scoured the country-side until the dwarf was found, and Bleda roared with laughter when he saw him brought back in chains. He asked him why he had tried to escape. Zerco, in his strange, halting speech, said that it was because Bleda had never given him a wife. The Hun laughed more loudly than ever. He swore that he would give him one of the ladies-in-waiting from the Empress’s palace in Constantinople.

No one could have formed a greater contrast to Attila. When we follow Maximinus and Priscus to his camp in a later chapter, we shall see something of his unbending, but not pitiless, character. The portrait of him which has survived in Jordanes is based on Priscus, who had seen him more than once, and Gibbon’s paraphrase of it has rendered it famous. No period of his manhood is as obscure as his first years after he and Bleda had succeeded Rua. We know only the circumstances and terms of his first treaty with the East Romans, and then for some five years all is dark. The Senate decided that Plintha’s embassy should be sent, notwithstanding the death of Rua and the accession of new rulers among the barbarians. Plintha brought with him a certain Epigenes, who was a noted speaker and whose eloquence, it was hoped, might prove effective with the Huns: he had until recently been engaged on the commission which drew up the Theodosian Code.

Plintha and Epigenes travelled to the city of Margus in Moesia Superior, where, more than o century and a half before, an obscure soldier named Diodes had sprang to fame by defeating the Emperor Carinus. Its situation near the mouth of the river Morava made it an important trading-centre, and its bishop was soon to play an ignominious part in the wars of the Huns and Romans. Bleda and Attila met the Roman ambassadors outside the walls, and throughout the conversations which followed remained seated on their horse. The Romans considered that it would be unsuited to their dignity to stand on the ground and took up at the Huns as they talked, and they therefore sat painfully on horseback throughout the negotiations. But an agreement was eventually reached. The Romans were to receive no further fugitives from the dominions of the Huns, and they were at once to return those whom they had already admitted into the Empire. They were also to send back escaped Roman prisoners or were instead to pay 8 solidus for each of them, a sum which, in this period, in normal times and places, would buy almost too modii of corn. It was further stipulated that the Romans should make no alliance with any people with whom the Huns went to war. Attila and Bleda then turned to an old treaty with Rua which the Romans had signed at an unknown date. This treaty had guaranteed to the Huns trading rights in certain Roman market towns. These rights were now reaffirmed: the Huns were to trade on equal terms with the Roman merchants and in complete security. Rua’s treaty had also bound the East Roman government to pay him the sum of 350 lb. of gold per annum, a fact which perhaps explains the peace that prevailed on the Danube frontier for the first few years after Aspar had departed to Africa with large Eastern forces in 431: it may well have been in that year, and as a result of Aspar’s departure, that Rua had extorted this treaty. At any rate, Attila’s price was higher. Plintha was obliged to agree that the annual tribute payable to the Huns should be doubled, and that henceforth 700 lb. of gold should cross the Danube every year. On these conditions the Roman government signed what we may call the Peace of Margus in the year 435.

At this point the darkness descends. What occupied Attila between the yean 435 and 439? A sentence in Priscus seems to hint at the answer. After signing the Peace of Margus, says the historian, Bleda and Attila went on subduing the nations in Scythia and made war upon the Sorosgi. It would seem then that in these obscure years Attila completed the task of extending his frontiers to the limits which they finally attained.

These limits cannot be exactly determined, and the direction in which Attila now turned cannot even be guessed at, for the Sorosgi are mentioned nowhere else. The western boundary of the Huns did not reach the Rhine, for, as we have already seen, the independent eastern Burgundians lay between them and the great river. Nor did the Burgundians stand alone: the Ripuarian Franks were also independent, and there were doubtless many others. Octar had clearly ruled the easternmost territories of the Huns in the early days of Rua, and at the end of his life he had apparently been thrusting towards the Rhine, but he died before his task was finished. Towards the north there is no doubt that the Huns reached the Baltic. Priscus heard from a very reliable authority that Attila ruled ‘the islands in the Ocean’. Historians now agree that the islands ruled by Attila were those of the Baltic Sea, but Mommsen  thought that Britain was intended. In fact, Priscus himself may well have thought that his informant meant Britain: probably the historian’s knowledge of the geography of north-western Europe was so limited that, knowing certain islands to be subject to Attila, he assumed them to be the British Isles. It is just possible that the coins throw some light on the problem. Roman solidi dating from the period before Valentinian III and Theodosius II are very rare in the islands of Bornholm, Ocland, and Gotland. (Ooly inconsiderable numbers have been found on the Scandinavian mainland.) But these islands have produced several solidi of Valentinian III, Majorian, Libius Severus, and Anthemius, and a much larger number of Eastern solidi of Theodosius II, Marcian, Leo, and Zeno. Later emperors in both cases are scarcely represented. How are we to explain the sudden appearance of Roman solidi in the islands precisely in the opening years of the fifth century and their rather abrupt disappearance with Zeno? It may be that the answer lies in Priscus’ words that Attila ruled the islands in the Ocean. It seems reasonable to suggest that the stability provided by the Hun empire produced a rapid and extensive growth of trade between these three islands and continental Europe, and that, in the confusion which followed Attila's death, this trade soon withered away. Gibbon believed very plausibly that the Huns derived a tribute of furs from these northern regions.

Priscus says that Attila ruled ‘all Scythia’. How far did his dominions extend towards the east? Kiessling supposes that the Alans between the Don and an area somewhat west of the Aral Sea also recognized without qualification the overlordship of Attila. This seems scarcely likely to be correct. True, the Alans had never won their independence, but they would appear to have been ruled by Huns who owed little, if any, allegiance to Attila. We shall see that the Hun tribe of the Acatziri, who lived cast of the Black Sea, were leading an independent life under their own chieftains until the year 448, and there is no reason to suppose that they stood alone.

We may conclude then that all the Germanic and other nations between the Alps and the Baltic, and between the Caspian (or somewhat west of it) and a line drawn an unknown distance cast of the Rhine, recognized Attila and Bleda as their masters. Although the two brothers always acted in concert, so far as we know, and regarded their empire as a single property, they divided it between them and ruled separately; but we do not know which portion was allotted to each.

In the years from 435 to 440 East Rome seems to have enjoyed an uneasy peace on her northern frontier. In the case of the Western Empire Attila, it will have been observed, continued the policy of his uncle. The troops whom Rua had lent to Aetius continued to serve the landowners of Gaul until the Visigoths destroyed them outside Toulouse in 439. But Litorius’ force was not replaced, for by the year 440 a critical position had come about on the Danube.

When Theodosius ratified the treaty which Plintha had negotiated in 435, it would seem that he did to with little intention of carrying out its terms. True, bis government did not hesitate to make a show of doing so. They at once surrendered the barbarians who had fled to them for refuge, among them two boys of Attila’s own family named Mama and Atakam, who are otherwise unknown. They had been kept imprisoned by the Romans in a fort called Carsum in the Dobrudja near Troesmis, and, as soon as they had been handed back, they were crucified without delay. Yet it would seem that, in the years which followed, Theodosius omitted to pay the 700 lb. of gold which he had stipulated to send across the Danube. It is quite certain that be found the fugitive tribes far too valuable as soldiers in his army to send them back to their master. He must have realized fully the danger of his policy, for in 439 he took a significant step. We have seen that after Uldis’ raid into Thrace in 408 the prefect Anthemius had refortified Constantinople, building the great Theodosian wall some distance to the west of that of Constantine. But this did not fully secure the capital, for the sea-shore at either end between the two walls remained open, and these two gaps would be a standing invitation to Vandal sea-raiders, who might well become the allies of the Huns. Therefore, in 439 Theodosius instructed the prefect Cyrus to complete the fortification of the capital. The Imperial government was not without its internal troubles. At some date in these years a certain Valips, a chieftain of a body of Rugi settled within the Empire, who had caused trouble before, now rose in open rebellion, and, appealing to the innumerable discontented persons in the European provinces to join him, managed to seize the city of Noviodunum on the Danube, and compelled the government to give him terms. None the less, the forces of East Rome were substantially unimpaired: the forts were manned and Anthemius’ warships still actively patrolled the Danube. There was no chance for Attila, still busy with his conquests in the north, to collect the 700 lb. of gold which each year failed to arrive. The East was too strong: the opportunities of 395, 422 and 434 seemed unlikely to recur. But in fact an unparalleled chance presented itself in 440.


In the year 440 the resources of East Rome were as severely strained as they had ever been hitherto during the long reign of Theodosius II. Shortly before, the tremendous news had arrived in Constantinople that Carthage had fallen to the Vandals on 19 October 439, and that the citizen population— but not the slaves—of Italy had been armed for the defence of the peninsula. Sigisvult, the Master of the Soldiers, was organizing a watch on the Italian coasts. Aetius was on his way from Gaul. A proclamation was issued by Valentinian’s government on 24 June 440 to reassure the people of Rome and to inform them that assistance from the Eastern Empire was already on the way.

Was it necessary for Theodosius to send help to the West? In view of the danger which his northern policy invited, should his armed forces show any weakness, ought he not to have left the West to fend for itself? Such a course would have been impossible, for the defence of North Africa was as vital to Constantinople as to Italy. A hostile fleet based on Carthage could ruin New Rome almost as easily as Old. Already, it would seem, Vandal raiders had made a descent on Rhodes, aiming at the interruption of the grain route from Egypt, and not many years later a panic was caused in Constantinople by the rumour that Geiseric proposed to assail Egypt itself. In the spring of 440 then, a huge naval expedition, said to consist of 1.100 ships and commanded by five Germanic generals, sailed from Constantinople to rescue Carthage from the Vandals. Its setting forth was not a sign of criminal rashness on the part of Theodosius and his ministers. It was one of many indications that the political history of the fifth century, in the East and in the West alike, was dominated by the loss of North Africa. Before this crowning disaster all other considerations had to take a secondary place.

By coincidence, a further misfortune occurred at approximately the same time. A Persian army under Yezdegerd II (438—53) launched an invasion of Roman Armenia for reasons which cannot now be recovered. Although the Persian forces soon had to retire because they were menaced in the rear by an attack of the Ephthalites or ‘White Huns’, a considerable Roman army must have been deployed to meet their threat. The northern frontier was thus still further stripped of its defenders. Attila’s chance had come, and be made full use of it

The first indication Theodosius received that trouble was at hand was the news that a Roman fort lying north of the Danube bad been surprised and captured by the Huns. This fort was one where the Huns had trading rights under the Treaty of Rua. The enemy descended upon it at market-time, outmanoeuvred whatever Roman troops were at hand, and slew many of the merchants. The Roman government at once protested against the capture of the fort and the breach of the Treaty of Margus, in which it had been stipulated that the markets should be conducted on fair terms for both sides and without danger to either. But the Huns only revealed some additional grievances. They stated that the bishop of the city of Margus—the city outside which Plintha bad signed the treaty of 435—had crossed the Danube into Hun territory, had robbed the royal Hun graves on the opposite bank, and stolen the treasure buried there with their kings. This was a charge which the Roman ambassadors do not appear to have been able to deny: the bishop had in fact provided the nomads with an excellent pretext. The Huns went on to allege that the Romans had retained possession of a considerable number of fugitives from the Hun empire contrary to the terms of Plintha’s treaty. Here again the Huns had the right upon their side. They therefore demanded the immediate surrender both of the bishop of Margus and of the fugitives. The Roman envoys could do no more than feebly and falsely deny the truth of both charges, and the Huns continued their military operations. Crossing the Danube at an unspecified point they devastated a considerable number of towns and fortresses lying on the river’s southern bank, and gained their first major success when the great city of Viminacium fell into their hands. The fate of Viminacium (the modem Koslolacz) warned the Romans of what was in store for their frontier cities. It was razed to the ground, and when Procopius had occasion a century later to mention the site, he says simply that ‘the old city of Viminacium stood there, but long ago it was destroyed from the very bottom of its foundations.’ For a hundred years the site was desolate, until Justinian rebuilt it. When the catastrophe was imminent the local magistrates found time to bury the city exchequer, but they never returned to recover the money, and a find of no less than 100,000 coins has rewarded recent archaeologists. Those citizens who survived the storm of the city were led away into captivity, and later in our story we shall meet a Greek merchant of Viminacium who was marched away among the prisoners.

The morale of the frontier towns was shaken by this calamity. Men began to protest that the bishop of Margus should be handed over: why should entire provinces be endangered for the sake of a single man? The force of their plea was not lost on the prelate. He suspected that he would be given up, and, as Hodgkin puts it, ‘determined to be beforehand with Fate’. He therefore slipped out of Margus, deserted to the Huns, and ensured his safety by promising Attila to hand over to him his city and his flock. Attila accepted the offer. A force of Huns was posted outside the town by night, the bishop managed to have the gates opened, and Margusfell into the hands of the enemy. It met the same fate as Viminacium: but it was never rebuilt, and Procopius knows nothing of it The fate of its bishop is unknown.

We have no detailed record of the rest of this campaign, but the main successes of the Huns can be discovered in our shattered authorities. At the same time as they took Margus the fortress of Constantia, directly across the Danube, fell into their hands. The major disasters of the year, however, were still to come. Singidunum (Belgrade) was razed io the ground, and, like Viminacium, was left utterly desolate until the days of Justinian. The worst calamity of all was the loss of the vitally important city of Sirmium, the hinge upon which the defence of the whole Danube frontier turned. Sirmium was destroyed and its inhabitants enslaved.

With the capture of Sirmium the campaign of 441 came to an end. In the midst of walled cities and fortresses the manoeuvres of the Hun cavalry were cramped and restricted, and no deep penetration had been made into Roman territory. Nevertheless, the season’s achievement bad been immense. An enormous gap had been broken in the fortifications of the Danube frontier, and the Balkans lay at the mercy of the Hun squadrons the following year.

Yet, surprisingly enough, there were no military operations in 442. In circumstances of which we know nothing whatever, Aspar, the Master of the Soldiers, managed to arrange a truce for one year at the beginning of the campaigning season of 442. As soon as they learnt that a major Hun attack had developed, Theodosius and his ministers recalled the fleet from Sicily, where, owing to the subtle diplomacy of Geiseric, it had achieved nothing against the Vandals and had served only to oppress the Sicilians. Aspar had come home ahead of the fleet, which was unable to reach East Rome in time to allow the soldiers on board to take part in the operations of 441. Consequently the government had been unable to organize any defence whatever against the attack on the frontier towns. We are assured explicitly that throughout the campaign Attila had met with no opposition from the Roman field army. The reason was, of course, that he had chosen his time so well, when the campaigns in Persia and the central Mediterranean had absorbed all the available Roman forces. Whatever hope may have existed—and it must have been very slight—was ruined by a highly obscure incident which occurred in Thrace, the area which should have served as a base for a counter-attack on the Huns. A chronicler tells us, in his laconic style, that John, the Master of the Soldiers, a Vandal by race, was killed in Thrace by the treachery of Anregisclus’. Arnegisclus was a member of that clique of Germans which controlled the East Roman armies in these years; and after the murder he succeeded to John’s office of Master of the Soldiers. What personal or even nationalist rivalry lay behind this murder we have no means of saying. Only one thing is clear; when the commanding officer was liable to be murdered and hit place filled by the murderer, no organized Roman defence was possible.

Whatever the terms of the truce—they certainly included demands for the fugitives and for the arrears of tributes— Theodosius made the utmost use of the year’s respite. His efforts to finance the preparations for a renewal of the war and to provide for the pay of hit men have left an interesting memorial in an issue of golden solidi dating from the first nine months of 442. The coins, which were issued in considerable numbers and in great haste, show the bust of Theodosius wearing his helmet and his cuirass and holding a lance and shield. On the reverse Constantinople is shown also belmeted, with her left foot on the prow of a vessel: she holds the world inker right hand, and in her left the cross. Behind her a shield lies upon the ground. A small number of the coins show, instead of Theodosius, his wife Eudocia and his sister Pulcheria. It would seem that they made personal contributions of valuables to enable the new issue to be brought out. Now, while many of Theodosius' coins are inscribed with boastful inscriptions, the crisis was too acute for idle words.

As a result of his hasty preparations and the return of the fleet from Sicily, Theodosius felt himself able to show a bolder front to Attila when the campaigning season of 443 came round. Attila assembled his army and demanded the fugitives and the tribute money. He added that if there were any delay, or if the Romans carried out any offensive strategical moves, he would no longer hold back the Huns. Theodosius’ ministers refused to hand over the fugitives, whom they had enrolled among the Imperial forces; but they undertook to send envoys who would attempt to reach an agreement satisfactory to both sides. It seems clear that, in spite of the events of 444, they had not yet realized what war with the nomads meant. They were soon to discover.’

When Attila heard the Emperor’s reply he began in great anger to devastate the Roman territory opposite him, and, driving eastwards along the Danube, captured a few forts of minor importance and then took the great and populous city of Ratiaria on the right bank of the Danube in Upper Moesia. This large city, the capital of the province of Dacia Ripensis, was a base of the Danube fleet and contained one of the state arms factories. It was utterly destroyed and the inhabitants earned off as slaves into the dominions of the Huns.

Their rear was now secure. No Roman attack could be launched on their communications when they turned to the interior of the Imperial provinces. Riding up the valley of the river Margus (Morava) they came to the city of Naissus (Nish), the strategic importance of which was as great in antiquity as it is today. It lay on the right bank of the river Nishava in Dacia Mediterranean and it too was the seat of an Imperial arms factory and was thickly populated. As the Huns rode away from it, the birthplace of Constantine lay desolate like Singidunum and Viminacium until Justinian restored it in the following century. It would seem that an encounter outside the walls had sufficed to seal the city’s fate.’

The Huns now turned south-west up the valley of the river Niscbava and devastated another great Balkan city, Sardica, the modern Sophia, and we need not doubt that it too was left almost uninhabited. The road to the capital was now largely cleared, and they galloped down the military highway which ran along the valley of the Hebrus (Maritza). When Philippopolis fell into their hands, the defence of the European provinces was rendered impossible, for at this ancient city the great north-south road from Oescus on the Danube to the Aegean Sea crossed the age-old highway running from the Bosphorus to the West. And, although Adrianople and Heraclea cither beat of their attacks or were by-passed, Arcadiopolis was taken also. The booty was enormous and the number of prisoners beyond counting.

At last they met the new army of Theodosius. It was commanded by Aspar, the Alan who had negotiated the truce of the previous year, and by the Germans Areobindus and Arnegisclus, the murderer of the Vandal John. They were beyond doubt the foremost generals in the East Roman service at that time, but they were no match for Attila, They engaged him in a succession of battles outside the capital, but suffered heavy defeats in them all, and, as a result of a rapid manoeuvre by the Huns, were cut off from Constantinople and forced back into the Chersonesus. The Huns now reached the sea at three points, at Callipolis and Sestus south of the capital, and at an unspecified place north of it. Athyras, a fortress dangerously close to the city walls, was also occupied. It was hopeless for the ill-equipped nomad squadrons to attack the new fortifications of Constantinople and no move seems to have been made against the capital itself Instead, Attila turned upon the remnants of Aspic’s army in the Chersonesus, and in a final battle there shattered the last remaining forces of the Romans. Only one success had been won by the Empire, and this had not been due to the regular army. A large squadron of Huns, under some of their most brilliant commanders, had been detached from the main body of the army to invade Lower Moesia. This force collected a large quantity of booty and a considerable number of captives before it approached the small but powerful town of Asemus, which lay on the frontier between Oescus and Ad Novas, where the little river Asemus (modern Osma) flows into the Danube at a point nine miles east of the Utus (Vid). The citizens boldly undertook their own defence, and resolved not to rely on the strength of their moat and walls. Accurately informed by spies of the movements of the enemy, now gravely handicapped by the weight of their booty and the number of their captives, the men of Asemus fell upon them when the Huns believed themselves secure. Although outnumbered, the citizens succeeded in killing a considerable number of the enemy with slight 1ms to themselves, and rescued the Roman prisoners.

This was a purely local success, and, after the defeat in the Chersonesus, Theodosius had no option but to beg for terms. The negotiations were entrusted to Anatolius, who had successfully closed the recent war with Persia and had been Master of the Soldiers in the East since 438. The terms granted by Attila, who had little to gain by prolonging the war, were harsh, but considerably less so than might have been expected. The fugitives were to be handed over at once. The arrears of tribute were calculated at 6,000 lb. of gold, and this sum was to be paid without delay. In addition, the annual tribute paid to the Huns under the Treaty of 435 was to be trebled, and Attila was now to receive a,100 lb. of gold per annum. Further, every Roman prisoner who escaped from the Huns was to be ransomed at is solidi a head in place of the 8 solidi stipulated in 435. No fugitive from the Hun empire was in future to be received by the Romans. This treaty was provisionally signed before 37 August 443, for on that date Theodosius returned from Asia Minor to Constantinople, which he would scarcely have done if hostilities had still been in progress in the neighbourhood of the capital.

When the terms of the treaty had been arranged, Scotta, one of the most eminent lieutenants of Attila, came to the Eastern capital to receive the gold and the fugitives. He was given the gold, but the Romans had massacred all the fugitives who had expressed unwillingness to return north of the Danube. Scotta appears to have shown no resentment at this, although some relatives of Attila, who refused to recognize his overlordship, had been among the slain. Scotta announced, however, that he had been instructed to add one to the number of articles in the treaty: the men of Asemus were to be surrendered together with all their prisoners, whether Roman or barbarian. Otherwise, the Hun army would not be withdrawn and the treaty would not be ratified. Anatolius, who was being assisted in the conduct of these negotiations by Theodulus, the Master of the Soldiers in Thrace, did not feel himself in a position to refuse this request. The two Romans did indeed attempt to persuade Scotta to forgo the demand, but their efforts only revealed the complete willingness of Attila to continue the war. They therefore wrote to the citizens of Asemus, instructing them either to hand over the Roman prisoners whom they had rescued or to pay 12 solidi for each of them, for Attila was willing to accept ransom money at the new rate. They also instructed them to set free any Huns whom they had captured. To this letter the men of Asemus replied that the rescued Romans had now dispersed to their homes and could not be reassembled, and, further, that they had already massacred the Huns whom they had captured, with the exception of two. They had retained these two with the intention of exchanging them for some children whom the Huns had captured outside the walls of their town. Attila, when he heard of this, made a search for the children in question, but could find no trace of them. The men of Asemus accepted his assurance that they were genuinely missing, and returned the two Huns whom they had spared. The first Peace of Anatolius was thereupon ratified in the autumn of 443.


No real tranquillity descended upon the Eastern Empire. Attila sent another embassy to Constantinople raising some difficulty about the return of the fugitives. This embassy was followed by a second and a third and a fourth. On each occasion Theodosius’ ministers presented the envoys with the handsome gifts which it was customary to bestow on ambassadors, but insisted that none of the fugitives now remained on Roman soil. This was probably the truth, for Attila merely sent the embassies so that those of his followers who served on them might reap the rich harvest of costly presents which the Roman government found it expedient to supply. One pretext after another brought fresh ambassadors to the capital. Innumerable minor complaints of the Hun were examined by Roman officials, and Attila’s lieutenants amassed greater and greater riches.

At precisely this time the East Roman frontiers were disturbed along their entire circuit. The Persians, although they had withdrawn from Armenia in 442, still kept their forces massed on the frontier, and since Anatolius had only succeeded in arranging a single year’s truce with them, hostilities might well break out anew. To make matters worse, the defences of the frontier of Armenia bad been weakened by the action of the local landlords, who had usurped some Imperial estates in the neighbourhood, so that bodies of men who had formerly garrisoned the frontier were now constrained to work the landowners’ newly acquired estates. Somewhat to the west of Armenia lived the nation of the Tzanni, ideally placed to overrun the Roman territory around Trapezes. Their land was barren, and, we are told, they lived only upon what they could steal. They were now raiding. The Isaurians had also broken out of their inaccessible mountains in the south of Asia Minor and were plundering the surrounding country-side. Saracen tribes from the desert were menacing some of the Eastern provinces, and trouble was expected even from the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum. Apart from the Persians’ failure to demobilize their troops, none of these incidents formed a serious threat to Theodosius’ security. But most of them demanded the presence of troops on the respective parts of the Roman frontier. And throughout 444, while Attila’s ambassadors came swarming to Constantinople, Roman forces were being dispersed to every corner of the Empire, and the government’s capacity to adopt a firm attitude towards the Huns was correspondingly weakened.

In these difficult circumstances, Theodosius took what measures he could to ensure the future safety of the northern frontier. On 12 September 443, within a month of the end of the fighting, stringent orders were given to Nomus, the Master of the Offices and one of the most trusted ministers of the Emperor, to fortify the exposed frontier along the Danube where Attila bad won his initial successes in 441, to repair the fortresses there, and to bring all military detachments posted in that area up to their full strength. That these tasks were carried out during the year 444. the satisfaction of the Emperor would seem to be indicated by the fact that Nomus was appointed to the consulship for 445. But while his work was still in progress, the government could do nothing save receive the unending stream of Attila’s ambassadors, reward them with handsome gifts, and deal with each irritating complaint as best they could.

After the conclusion of the Peace of Anatolius the plans and movements of the Huns are exceedingly obscure, for the relevant portion of Priscus’ work bas not survived. That internal dissensions of a most far-reaching character had broken out among their leaders is proved by the murder of Bleda, wbo fell by his brother’s band sometime in this period. Our various authorities date the event to 444,445, and 446, but there can be little doubt that Attila murdered his elder brother in the year 445. Of the origin of the dispute we know nothing. Its result was that the peoples formerly governed and exploited by Bleda now came under the direct control of Attila. From 445 until his death he had no rival among the Huns. He seems to have found it expedient, however, to base his supremacy on the solid foundations of his followers’ superstition, and for this purpose he had recourse to an old sword which had recently been discovered by one of his followers. A herdsman noticed one day that one of his cattle was lame and that its foot had been cut. Following the trail of blood to its source, the herdsman found an ancient sword buried in the grass. He pulled it up and brought it to Attila, who was not slow to observe its uses. It was the sword of the war-god, he declared; it was honoured by former leaden of the Huns, but had been lost long ago; now it would bring him success in his wars and make him triumphant over all his foes. Anyone who questioned bis right to unite the position of Bled a with his own would have to fight, not only himself, but the divine powers as well.