previous next


(in German, Etzel). The son of Mundzuck, or, as he is less correctly called, Mandras, a Hun of royal descent, who succeeded his uncle Rugilas in A.D. 433, and shared the supreme authority with his brother Bleda. These two leaders of the barbarians who had settled in Scythia and Hungary threatened the Eastern Empire, and twice compelled Theodosius II. (q. v.) to purchase peace. Their power was feared by all the nations of Europe and Asia. The Huns themselves esteemed Attila their bravest warrior and most skilful general; while he gave out that he had found the sword of their tutelar god, the Scythian Mars, the possession of which was supposed to convey a title to the whole earth. He caused his brother Bleda to be murdered (A.D. 444); and when he announced that it had been done by the command of God, the murder was celebrated as a victory. Being now sole master of a warlike people, his unbounded ambition made him the terror of all nations; and he became, as he called himself, “the Scourge of God” for the chastisement of the human race. In a short time he extended his dominion over all the people of Germany and Scythia, and the Eastern and Western emperors paid him tribute. The Vandals, the Ostrogoths, the Gepidae, and a part of the Franks united under his banners, so that some historians assure us that his army amounted to 700,000 men. His portrait, as given by Jornandes, was that of a modern Calmuc, with a large head, swarthy complexion, flat nose, small sunken eyes, and a short square body. His looks were fierce, his gait proud, and his deportment stern and haughty; yet he was merciful to a suppliant foe, and ruled his own people with justice and lenity.

Having heard a rumour of the riches and power of Persia, he directed his march thither, but was defeated on the plains of Armenia, and fell back to satisfy his desire for plunder in the dominions of the Emperor of the East. He found a pretext for war, went over to Illyricum, and laid waste all the countries from the Euxine to the Adriatic. The emperor Theodosius collected an army to oppose his progress; but in three bloody battles Fortune declared herself for the barbarians, and Constantinople was indebted to the strength of its walls and to the ignorance of the enemy in the art of besieging, for its preservation. Theodosius was at the mercy of the victor, and was compelled to purchase peace. A scheme was laid in the court of Theodosius to assassinate Attila under the cover of a solemn embassy, which intention he discovered; and, without violating the laws of hospitality in the persons of the ambassadors, wisely preferred a heavy ransom for the principal agent in the plot, and a new treaty at the expense of fresh payments. On the accession of Marcian, Attila demanded tribute, which was refused; and, although much exasperated, he resolved first to turn his arms against the Western emperor Valentinian, whose licentious sister Honoria, in revenge for being banished for an intrigue with her chamberlain, sent an offer of herself to Attila. The Hun, perceiving the pretence this proposal supplied, preceded his irruptions into Gaul by demanding Honoria in marriage, with a share of the imperial patrimony. Being refused, he affected to be satisfied, and pretended he was only about to enter Gaul to make war upon Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths. He accordingly crossed the Rhine, A.D. 450, with a prodigious host, and marked his way with pillage and desolation, until completely defeated by Theodoric and the famous Aëtius in the bloody battle of Châlons (451 A.D.). He, however, recruited his forces, and passed the Alps the next year, invading Italy and spreading his ravages over all Lombardy. This visitation was the origin of the famous republic of Venice, which was founded by the fugitives who fled at the terror of his name. Valentinian, unable to avert the storm, repaired from Ravenna to Rome, whence he sent the prelate Leo with a solemn deputation to avert the wrath of Attila, who consented to leave Italy on receiving a vast sum as the dowry of Honoria and an annual tribute. He did not much longer survive these transactions; and his death was singular, he being found dead, in consequence of suffocation from a broken bloodvessel, on the night of his marriage with a beautiful young virgin named Hilda (453 A.D.). His body was enclosed in three coffins—the first of gold, the second of silver, and the third of iron. The captives who had made the grave were strangled, in order that the place of interment might be kept concealed from his foes. See Thierry, Histoire d'Attila (4th ed. 1874); and Hunni.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: