Attila Biography

(Chieftain of the Hunnic Empire from 434 to 453)

Born: 406

Born In: Unknown

Attila the Hun was the king or chieftain of the Hunnic Empire from 434 until his death in March 453 and is considered one of the most powerful rulers in world history. He ascended the throne along with his older brother Bleda but ruled as a solo king since the latter’s death in 445. He led two great military campaigns against the Eastern Roman Empire, had crossed the Danube both times, and even plundered the Balkans, but was not able to take Constantinople. While his attempts to invade the Sassanid Empire had failed, he later invaded the Western Roman Empire and marched as far as Aurelianum (Orléans) before being defeated in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains by the Visigothic-Roman alliance. He also invaded Italy and was planning another campaign against the Eastern Empire when he died in 453.

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Quick Facts

Also Known As: Attila the Hun

Died At Age: 47

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Ildico, Kreka

father: Mundzuk

siblings: Bleda

children: Dengizich, Eitil, Ellac, Ernak, Erp, Prince Csaba

Emperors & Kings Ancient Roman Men

Died on: February 28, 453

place of death: Hungary

Childhood & Early Life

While very little is known about Attila, or even the Huns before his time, he is believed to have been born around 406 CE to Mundzuk, brother of the Hun king Rugila, a.k.a. Rua/Ruga. Some name Hungysung Vladdysurf as his mother, even though many believe it to be a recent fabrication, and his birth name is also unknown, as “Attila” is believed to be a title meaning “Little Father”.

Rugila was probably heirless and Mundzuk died when Attila was little, which is why Attila and his older brother Bleda were expected to inherit the throne and were taught horse-riding, archery and warfare early on. While it is unknown which language the Huns spoke, the brothers were taught Latin and Gothic languages so that they could conduct business with the Romans and the Goths.

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Joint Rule

Attila and his brother Bleda jointly took control of the united Hun tribes after the death of their uncle Rugila on campaign against Constantinople in 434. During their early reign, they bargained with envoys of Eastern Roman Emperor, Theodosius II, for the return of renegade Hunic nobles who opposed the brothers’ ascension and took refuge there.

In 435, they brokered the very advantageous Treaty of Margus with the Roman general Flavius Aetius which doubled the hefty 350-pound gold tribute the Romans were already paying to keep Hun attacks at bay. It further included returning of the fugitives, opening Roman markets to Hunnish traders, and set up a ransom of eight solidi for each Roman taken prisoner by the Huns.

The Huns then invaded the Sassanid Empire, which defeated them in Armenia and forced them back to their home base, the Great Hungarian Plain. However, as soon as the Roman soldiers were deployed to Sicily in 440, Attila and Bleda claimed that the Romans had breached the treaty by not sending all the renegade Huns taking refuge in the Eastern Roman Empire.

They further asked for a Roman bishop who had desecrated Hun graves of valuable goods, but Roman general Flavius Aspar declined as it was impossible to determine whose graves were robbed or who did it. Shortly after Aspar went back to Constantinople in 441, Attila mobilized his army through the border regions and sacked the cities of the province of Illyricum.

The Romans were forced to gather their forces in Sicily to mount an expedition against the Germanic Vandals in Africa, which allowed the Huns clear path to invade the Balkans through Illyricum. Theodosius recalled troops from Sicily in 442, but Attila responded with a massive army, equipped with battering rams and rolling siege towers, and massacred Roman military centers before advancing along the Nišava River.

The Hunnish army even defeated a Roman army outside Constantinople, and while they were stopped by the double walls of the Eastern capital, they defeated a second army near Callipolis (Gelibolu). Theodosius had to hand over 6,000 Roman pounds of gold for disobeying the previous treaty, apart from raising the annual tribute to 2,100 pounds of gold and the Roman prisoner ransom to 12 solidi.

Solo Rule

In 445, Bleda died, after being killed by Attila according to the classical sources, even though other sources claim that Bleda had tried to kill Attila first. As the sole Hunnic ruler, Attila launched another great attack against the Eastern Roman Empire through Moesia in 447 and defeated the Roman army in the Battle of the Utus.

While Attila had good relationship with the Western Roman Empire and its influential general Flavius Aëtius, who had spent a brief exile among the Huns, he expressed his intent to march westward in 450. He maintained that he had no quarrel with the Western emperor, Valentinian III, but wanted to attack the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse, which had conquered parts of the Roman Empire.

However, in spring 450, the emperor’s sister Honoria sent Attila a plea for help, as well as her engagement ring, to escape her forced betrothal to a Roman senator. While she may not have intended it to be a marriage proposal, Attila interpreted it as such and asked for half of the western Empire as dowry.


Upon discovering it, Valentinian exiled Honoria and denied the legitimacy of the supposed marriage proposal, but Attila sent an emissary proclaiming Honoria’s innocence and the legitimacy of the proposal. He reached Belgica in 451 and captured Metz without opposition, but Aëtius decided to oppose him by gathering troops from among the Franks, the Burgundians, and the Celts.

Visigoth king Theodoric I, who decided to ally with the Romans after witnessing Attila's devastating westward advance, died at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains while engaging with the Huns. Nevertheless, the Hun army was in disarray, which was considered a strategic victory by Aëtius, who failed to press the advantage presumably out of fear of an overwhelming Visigothic triumph.

In 452, Attila invaded Italy and sacked several cities, including Aquileia – which became unrecognizable, Patavium (Padua), Verona, Brixia (Brescia), Bergomum (Bergamo), and Mediolanum (Milan). However, his advance was halted as Italy was already ravaged by famine and pestilence that year, and new problems arose in the Eastern Roman Empire, where the new emperor Marcian refused to pay tributes.

Personal Life & Legacy

According to the conventional account from Priscus, Attila died of severe bleeding while reveling at a feast celebrating his latest marriage to the beautiful young Ildico. However, nearly 80 years later, Roman chronicler Marcellinus Comes recorded another account of his death: “pierced by the hand and blade of his wife”, suggesting assassination, even though most prefer to accept the contemporary account.

Attila was reportedly buried by his army in the river-bed of a diverted river, which later flowed over it and covered the exact location of his grave, while the people taking part in the burial were also killed. Ellac, Dengizich and Ernak, Attila’s three sons from his other wife Kreka or Hereka, decided to divide the kingdom among themselves, but eventually allowed it to fall apart by squandering their resources.

Trivia

While Attila’s kingdom crumbled within 16 years of his death, he has been immortalized as one of the greatest military leaders in numerous legends, folklores and even depictions in modern films and television series. "Attila" and its Turkish variation "Atilla" are common male names in modern Hungary and in Turkey, which also have several public places named after him.

See the events in life of Attila in Chronological Order

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- Attila Biography
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