Romanian History and Culture

A Library of Knowledge from the Web. An Educational Website.

Dacia, Pastores Romanorum, Pannonia, Pannonian Plains and the Huns

  where it's written: "(IX.) ... in terra Pannonie, que primo Athile regis terra fuisset . .. quam terram habitarent Slavi, Bulgarii, et Blachii ac pastores Romanorum."


   File:Pannonia popolazioni png.png

. Strabo specified that the Daci are the Getae who lived in the area towards the Pannonian plain , while the Getae proper gravitated towards the Black Sea coast .

Text at:

 By 14 B.C. , western Hungary was part of the Roman Empire's provinces of Pannonia . The area east of the Danube, part of Dacia, was never part of the Roman Empire, but was part of the Dacian Empire.

Pannonia was a melting pot of different people and nations, and Romanized chieftains of Sarmatian, German, Dacian or other origins were able to settle in Pannonia and in other Roman territories, sometimes later becoming generals or emperors.(


Pannonian Plains and the Dacians

Around 50 BC, the mainly Celtic tribes living on the territory were confronted by Burebista, king of the Dacians (82-44 BC), who began suddenly to expand his domain centered in Transylvania.[3] The sources do not indicate clearly whether Burebista was the original unifier of the Dacian tribes, or whether his efforts at unification built upon the work of his predecessors.[3] Burebista subjugated the Taurisci and the Anarti; in the process, he confronted the Celtic tribal alliance lead by the Boii.[2][3] Burebista’s victory over the Celts led not only to the breakup of their tribal alliance, but also to the establishment of Dacian settlements in the southern parts of today's Slovakia.[3] Burebista, however, fell victim to his political enemies and his domain was divided into five, then four parts.[3]

The period between 15 BC and 9 AD was characterized by the continous uprisings of the Pannonians against the emerging power of the Roman Empire. The Romans, however, could strengthen their supremacy over the rebellious tribes and they organised the occupied territory into a new province.[1]

 Roman period (9 AD - c. 4th century)

The Roman Empire subdued the Pannonians, Dacians, Celts and other peoples in this territory. The territory west of the Danube was conquered by the Roman Empire between 35 and 9 BC, and became a province of the Roman Empire under the name of Pannonia. The easternmost parts of present-day Hungary were later (106 AD) organized as the Roman province of Dacia (lasting until 271). The territory between the Danube and the Tisza was inhabited by the Sarmatian Iazyges between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, or even earlier (earliest remains have been dated to 80 BC). The Roman Emperor Trajan officially allowed the Iazyges to settle there as confederates. The remaining territory was in Thracian (Dacian) hands. In addition, the Vandals settled on the upper Tisza in the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD.

The four centuries of Roman rule created an advanced and flourishing civilization. Many of the important cities of today's Hungary were founded during this period, such as Aquincum (Budapest), Sopianae (Pécs), Arrabona (Győr), Salva (Esztergom), Savaria (Szombathely) and Scarbantia (Sopron). Christianity spread in Pannonia in the 4th century, when it became the Empire's official religion.

The period between 15 BC and 9 AD was characterized by the continous uprisings of the Pannonians against the emerging power of the Roman Empire. The Romans, however, could strengthen their supremacy over the rebellious tribes and they organised the occupied territory into a new province.[1]

The four centuries of Roman rule created an advanced and flourishing civilization. Many of the important cities of today's Hungary were founded during this period, such as Aquincum (Budapest), Sopianae (Pécs), Arrabona (Győr), Salva (Esztergom), Savaria (Szombathely) and Scarbantia (Sopron). Christianity spread in Pannonia in the 4th century, when it became the Empire's official religion. 


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anarti, or Anartophracti - was a Celtic tribe most probably living in Dacia, or (according to occasional opinions a Dacian tribe) in today's Slovakia and southern-east side of Poland[1]. They were probably identical or constituted a significant part of the archaeological Púchov culture, with the center in Zemplin, Bükkszentlászló and Galish-Lovačka. Some people consider them a Dacian tribe

The tribe was first time mentioned in 10 BC in the Elogium of Tusculum. According to Tacitus, both Sarmatians (present-day Poland) and Quadi (present-day southwestern Slovakia) extracted tribute from the iron mines of the Anarti in the 1st century AD. The Anarti are later mentioned in connection with the Marcomannic Wars: Around 172 AD, they did not help Romans in their fight against Marcomanni. To punish them, Marcus Aurelius had moved (all?) the Anarti to Lower Pannonia, which happened not later than 180 AD.

In De Bello Gallico, Caesar writes in Book VI 25,1: The Hercynian Forest begins in the area of the Helveti, Nemeti and Rauraci and stretches along the Danube to the areas of the Daci and Anarti).


  • Archeologie Barbaru. 2005, [in:] Ján Beljak. Puchowska kultura a Germani na pohroni v starsej dobe rimskej. pp. 257–272
  • The Works of Tacitus. by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb[2]
  1. ^ "It is possible to separate the group of La Tine culture (Celtic settlement) in the Upper Tisza Basin. For the time being there are circa 160 sites noted. They can be divided into several distinct categories which include the following: settlements, production areas, sepulchral sites, i. e. burial grounds and single graves as well as various hoards (deposits of coins and tools). Moreover, there are three oppida: Zemplin, Bükkszentlászló and Galish-Lovačka. The chronology of the whole group lies between LT B1-LT D1/D2. Especially interesting is the problem of correspondence between this group and the group of sites in southeast Poland. Material connections are also documented in ancient sources. They allow to identify the group from Upper Tisza as the Anarti tribe and the group from southeast Poland as the Anartophracti, which is a part of the former. [in:] Marek Olędzki. "La Tine culture in the Upper Tisza Basin =La Culture de la Tene dans le Bassin de la Haute Tisza". Ethnographisch-archaologische Zeitschrift. Berlin. ISSN 0012-7477"
  2. ^ "Below the Venedae are the Gythones, then the Finni, then the Sulones; below whom are the Phrungundiones; then the Avarini near the source of the Vistula river; below these are the Ombrones, then the Anartophracti, then the Burgiones, then the Arsietae, then the Saboci, then the Piengitae and the Biessi near the Carpathian mountains. Among those we have named to the east: below the Venedae are the Galindae, the Sudini, and the Stavani, extending as far as the Alauni; below these are the Igylliones, then the Coestoboci and the Transmontani extending as far as the Peuca mountains."


 In the last quarter of the 3rd century, substantial numbers of Carpi - A Free Dacian Tribe (100,000) were forcibly transferred by the Roman military to the Roman province of Pannonia (mod. W Hungary) following two major defeats the Carpi suffered at Roman hands (272 and 296). In the same period, the remaining Carpi probably occupied the northern part of the Roman province of Dacia, which was evacuated by the Romans in 270-5.

In the 4th century, the Carpi appear to have fallen under the hegemony, if not direct rule, of the Goths who occupied the Wallachian plain and at least part of Moldavia. After the collapse of the Gothic kingdoms in Dacia under Hunnic pressure in the late 4th century, the Carpi are last mentioned as part of a coalition of Huns and Sciri who were defeated by the emperor Theodosius I (379-95).

Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Hungary)

In the 4th century, a remarkable series of decorated tombs were constructed in the cemetery of the Roman provincial town of Sopianae (modern Pécs). These are important both structurally and architecturally, since they were built as underground burial chambers with memorial chapels above the ground. The tombs are important also in artistic terms, since they are richly decorated with murals of outstanding quality depicting Christian themes

Pannonia under the Romans was a Christian entity.


Archaeologists find late Roman grave in Budapest
2009-12-15 10:22
Archaeologists unearthed a burial place from the 4th century - the last period of Roman rule in the former Pannonia province - in NW Budapest, the head of the excavation project told MTI on Monday.
Archaeologist Gabor Lassanyi said that the grave had been dated based on a bone comb it contained. The comb - made with three components fastened together by way of small iron thuds and decorated with geometric motifs - was similar to objects made by barbarian tribes on the area of today's eastern Hungary, and which only became fashionable in Pannonia during the last decades of the era, Lassanyi said.
Acquincum, the most prominent Roman city of the province in today's District 3 of Budapest, was gradually abandoned during the first half of the 5th century.


 488        Romans left the Danube region

The valleys of Pannonia and Dacia were always the first to suffer from invasion of Asian nomads. Even in ancient times population here had to resist Cymmerians, Scythians, later Sarmatians. Lands here have always been fertile enough both for cattle breeding and agriculture, and could feed a lot of people. In the first centuries of the new era the Great Movement took new waves of invaders here.

By the beginning of the 5th century Pannonia, Dacia and Noricum were populated by Roman settlers and the remains of the aboriginal Indo-European population - Dacians, Thracians, Illyrians, Celts and - in some places - also Sarmatians and Scythians. The invasions of Bastarnes in the 2nd and Goths in the 4th century were not repelled, but Bastarnes quickly mixed with natives, and Goths passed through these lands and headed further to the south. The next threat was much more serious - Hunns came here together with their allies Alanians. Field were devastated, towns destroyed, people mostly eliminated, and Pannonia became a pasture for Hunnic cattle. Attila, the famous king of Hunns, selected his base (a sort of a capital) in Estergom. From here his huge army started its raids over Europe, here was the centre of the enormous Hunnic kingdom, from Gaul until the Ural mountai.

After Attila was assassinated in 453, Hunns disappeared from the map of Europe as fast as they emerged here. By that time the population of Europe decreased two or even three times, and Pannonian lands were empty. Since the late 5th century Germanic, Slavic, later Turkish people penetrate to settle here. In 488 last Roman colonists leave Pannonia, for it was no longer possible to cultivate and build anything here.





 Attila the HunBust of Attila the Hun and Aetius


Attila, despite the occasional instance of forgiveness and justice, was a  savage with one goal, as Jordanes states in “Getica”: “He was a man born into the world to shake the nations, the scourge of all lands, which in some way terrified all mankind by the dreadful rumours noised abroad concerning him”. In his “Getica”, Jordanes describes Attila the Hun as a “lover of war”, but goes on to remedy this -not to make a generalisation- by saying “…yet restrained in action, mighty in council, gracious to suppliants and lenient to those received into his protection”   




The reputation of the Huns as a warlike people is due to perceptions of their impact upon the late Roman empire. Under their greatest leader, Attila, they threatened to create an empire in 5th-century Europe. Contemporaries wrote of them with fear and loathing, characterizing their culture as primitive, and their behaviour as bestial. This image had a lasting impact on the Western imagination. Even in the 20th century the Germans of WW I were characterized as ‘The Hun’ for propaganda purposes. Yet surprisingly little is known for certain about a people whose natural habitat was the Asian steppe, impacting on China, India, and Persia, and whose supremacy in Europe lasted barely a century.

Steppe nomads had always been a threat to the settled agrarian societies. The Romans had been aware of the Huns at least as early as ad 200, when the geographer Pliny describes them; but it was not until the late 4th century that they had an impact on the empire. In the early 370s, Hunnic attacks on the previously all-conquering Goths on the Eurasian steppe led to their king, Ermaneric, committing suicide in despair. The Goths then sought refuge over the Danube within the Roman empire, but were so badly treated that they rebelled and destroyed the army sent to pacify them at Adrianople in 378. In the years that followed, Huns were found co-operating with other barbarian armies in looting an empire riven by civil war. They also served as mercenary troops for the Emperor Theodosius in 388, before ravaging the Balkans again in the 390s. As nomadic herdsmen, accompanied by their wives and families, they moved around continually seeking the best opportunities for grazing and plunder, but probably only numbered a few thousand. In 395, larger numbers of Huns attacked Persia, impelled by the loss of their herds through drought, and then drifted westward.

By c.404, Hunnic leaders were negotiating with Emperor Honorius in Rome, and after 409 Huns served regularly in the Roman army. They then disappear from history until 423 when Ruga is named as their king. He ruled for some ten to fifteen years and may have been ceded lands in Pannonia (modern Hungary) where the grasslands suited a nomadic lifestyle. It is only when Attila appears on the scene that the Huns seem to become a serious threat. In 441, the Huns broke into the western Balkan provinces and took Sirmium in 442. In 447, they devastated Thrace and threatened Constantinople. Outbreaks of plague were the only things to check their progress. Yet Attila was no world ruler along the lines of the later Mongols, he ruled a defined territory from the mouth of the Danube west to Slovakia. In 451, the Huns crossed into Italy taking Aquileia, Milan, and Pavia, but were forced north of the Alps into Gaul by a combination of plague and Roman resistance led by the magister militum Aetius. He offered battle on the ‘Catalaunian Fields’ (Châlons), both sides relying upon German support. Aetius drew up with his Visigothic allies on his right flank, who, despite the loss of their king, overran the Ostrogoths opposing them and gained control of a strategically placed hill. Meanwhile Aetius' Romans held off fierce Hunnic attacks on their own positions. Staring defeat in the face, Attila fell back into his camp, and allegedly prepared to die on a pyre of saddles, although his men's arrows kept the pursuing Romans at bay. Unable to sustain his strategic position, Attila withdrew to Pannonia and died in 435. No successor proved capable of creating such formidable force.

,Contact with the Huns taught eastern Romans to develop a native cavalry which was both bow-and lance-armed, mobile and aggressively inclined. Such troops were the core of the armies sent out by Justinian I under his general Belisarius to reconquer the western empire in the mid-6th century.

 Flavius Aëtius or simply Aëtius, (c. 396–454), dux et patricius

 Aëtius was born at Durostorum in Moesia Inferior (modern Silistra, Bulgaria), around 390. His father was Flavius Gaudentius, a Roman general of Scythian or Gothic origin but more probably of Daco-Roman origin, his mother, whose name is unknown, was a wealthy and aristocratic woman of Italian stock.[1] Before 425 he married the daughter of Carpilio,[2] who gave him a son, also named Carpilio[3]. Later he married Pelagia, widow of Bonifacius, from whom he had a son, Gaudentius. It is possible that he had also a daughter, wife of the Thraustila who avenged Aëtius' death by killing Valentinian III.[4]

Early years, service under Joannes and first Gallic campaigns

As a boy, Aëtius was at the service of the imperial court, enrolled in the military unit of the tribuni praetoriani partis militaris.[5] Between 405 and 408 he was kept as hostage at the court of the king of the Goths, Alaric I; in 408 Alaric asked to have back Aëtius as hostage, but this time he was refused, as Aëtius was sent as a hostage at the court of the king of the Huns, Rua.[6] Gibbon and some other historians maintain that Aëtius's upbringing among vigorous and warlike peoples such as the Huns gave him a martial vigour lacking in Rome itself at that period.[7]

In the picture Aetius is on the right and Emperor Valentinian III as a child, accompanied by his mother, is on the left.

In 423, the Western Emperor Honorius died. The most influential man in the West, Castinus, chose as his successor Joannes, a high ranking officer. Joannes was not part of the Theodosian dynasty and he did not receive the recognition of the eastern court. The Eastern Emperor Theodosius II organized a military expedition westward, led by Aspar, to put his nephew, the young Valentinian III (who was also a nephew of Honorius), on the Western throne. Aëtius entered the service of the usurper as cura palatii and was sent by Joannes to ask the Huns for help. Joannes lacked a strong army and fortified himself in his capital, Ravenna, where with his other senior ministers he was captured and killed (June or July 425). Shortly afterwards, Aëtius returned in Italy with a large force of Huns to find that power in the West was in the hands of Valentinian and his mother Galla Placidia. After fighting against Aspar's army, Aëtius managed to compromise with Galla Placidia; he sent back his Huns and obtained the rank of comes et magister militum per Gallias, commander in chief of the Roman troops in Gaul.[8]

That same year, or in 426, he defeated the Visigoths, who were besieging Arelate, and obliged them to return to Aquitaine. In 428 he was successful against the Franks, recovering some territory they had occupied along the Rhine.[9] In 429 he was elevated to the rank of magister militum; this was probably the iunior of the two offices of magister militum praesentalis, as the senior is known to have been the patrician Flavius Felix, the most influential man in those years, supporter of Galla Placidia. However, in May 430, Aëtius accused Felix of plotting against him and had him and his wife killed. Once Felix was dead, Aëtius was probably the most prominent among the magistri militum, even if he had not yet been granted the title of patrician. That same year he defeated the Juthungi in Raetia and destroyed a Visigothic group near Arelate, capturing their leader, Anaolsus. In 431 he defeated the Nori in Noricum; returning to Gaul, he received Hydatius, bishop of Aquae Flaviae, who complained about the attacks of the Suebi. In 432 Aëtius again defeated the Franks, making peace with them, and he sent back Hydatius to the Suebi in Spain .[10]

Rivalry with Bonifacius

While Aëtius fought for the Empire in Gaul, he had to play on another table, the struggle among the strong men at the imperial court. Since 425, Aëtius was one of two strong generals below Flavius Constantius Felix, the other being Bonifacius; the rivalry between the two men grew through the years. While Bonifacius was in Africa, as governor of Diocese of Africa, Aëtius plotted against the comes of Africa, causing Bonifacius to fall into disfavour with Galla Placidia (427); when this plotting was discovered, in 429, Aëtius was too strong to be punished. Boniface was eventually returned to favour by Placidia, not before revolting in Africa and calling in the Vandals.[11]

After the death of Felix in May 430, the power struggle had only two protagonists, Aetius and Bonifacius. In 432, when Aëtius held the consulate, Boniface was recalled to Italy by Galla Placidia and given the rank of patrician, probably to counterbalance the power of the commander in chief of the Gallic armies. Aëtius, believing that Placidia had decided to get rid of him, marched against Boniface and fought against him at the Battle of Rimini; Boniface won the battle, but was mortally wounded and died a few months later. Aëtius went to his country properties, but, after being the target of an attempted murder, went first to Rome, then, through Dalmatia and Pannonia, to his friends the Huns. With their help he returned to power, receiving the title of magister utriusque militiae; he had Bonifacius' son-in-law, Sebastianus, who had succeeded to Bonifacius as magister militum praesentalis, exiled from Italy to Constantinople, bought the properties of Bonifacius and married his widow Pelagia.[12]

Campaigns against Burgundians, Bagaudae, and Visigoths

From 433 to 450, Aëtius was the dominant personality in the Western empire, obtaining the patrician rank (5 September 435) and playing the role of "protector" of Galla Placidia and Valentinian III while the Emperor was still young. At the same time he continued to devote attention to Gaul. In 436, the Burgundians of king Gunther were defeated and obliged to accept peace by Aëtius, who, however, the following year sent the Huns to destroy them; 20,000 Burgundians were killed in a slaughter which became the basis of the Nibelungenlied, a German epic.[citation needed] That same 436 Aetius was probably in Armorica with Litorius to suppress a rebellion of the Bacaudae. Year 437 saw his second consulship and the wedding of Valentinian and Licinia Eudoxia in Constantinople; it is probable that Aetius attended at the ceremony that marked the beginning of the direct rule of the Emperor. The following two years were occupied by a campaign against the Suebi and by the war against the Visigoths; in 438 Aetius won a major battle (probably the battle of Mons Colubrarius), but in 439 the Visigoths defeated and killed his general Lictorius and obtained a peace treaty. On his return to Italy, he was honoured by a statue erected by the Senate and the People of Rome by order of the Emperor; this was probably the occasion for the panegyric written by Merobaudes.[13]

In 443, Aëtius settled the remaining Burgundians in Savoy, south of Lake Geneva. His most pressing concern in the 440s was with problems in Gaul and Spain, mainly with the Bagaudae. He settled Alans around Valence and Orleans to contain unrest around present-day Brittany.

The Alans settled in Armorica caused problems in 447 or 448. It was probably in that period that he fought a battle near Tours, followed by a Frankish attack under Clodio to the region near Arras, in Belgica Secunda; the invaders were stopped by a battle around a river-crossing near Vicus Helena, where Aëtius directed the operations while his commander Majorian (later Emperor) fought with the cavalry.[14] However, in 450 Aëtius had already returned in good terms with the Franks. In that year, in fact, the king of the Franks died, and the patricius supported his younger son's claim to the throne, adopting him as his own son and sending him from Rome, where he had sent as ambassador, to the Frankish court with many presents.[15]

 Victory over Attila at the Catalaunian Plains

The probable path of the Hun forces in their invasion of Gaul, leading up to the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains

Before 449 Aëtius had signed an agreement with the Huns, allowing some of them to settle in Pannonia, along the Sava River; he also sent to Attila, the king of the Huns, a man called Constantius as a secretary. In 449, Attila was angry for an alleged theft of a golden plate, and Aëtius sent him an embassy under Romulus to calm him; Attila sent him as a present a dwarf, Zerco, whom Aëtius gave back to his original owner, Aspar.[16]

However, the good terms between Romans and Huns did not last, as Attila wanted to attack Gaul; he knew that Aëtius was a serious obstacle to his enterprise, and tried to have him removed, but in 451, when the Huns attacked, Aëtius was the commander of the Roman army in Gaul.[17] The large Hunnish army[18] captured several cities, and proceeded towards Orleans.

When the Alans living in the region were ready to defect to Attila, Aëtius, with the help of the influential Gallo-Roman senator Avitus, convinced the Visigoths of king Theodoric I to join him against the external menace; he also succeeded in avoiding that Sangibanus, a possible ally for Attila, could join his army with the Hunnish one. Then the joint Roman and Visigothic armies moved to relieve the besieged city of Orleans, forcing the Huns to abandon the siege and retreat to open country.[19]

On September 20, 451 (some sources place the date at June 20, 451),[20] Aëtius and Theodoric defeated Attila and his allies at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains.[21] Theodoric died in the battle, and Aëtius suggest his son Thosrismundus to quickly reach Toulouse (capital of the Kingdom of the Visigoths) to secure his throne; for this reason it is said that Aëtius kept all of the booty for his army.[22]

Attila returned in 452 to again press his claim of marriage to Honoria; Aëtius did not take the necessary precautions to block the Alpine passes,[23] and Attila invaded and ravaged Italy, sacking numerous cities and razing Aquileia completely, leaving no trace of it behind. Valentinian III fled from Ravenna to Rome; Aëtius remained in the field but lacked the strength to offer battle. Gibbon however says Aëtius never showed his greatness more clearly in managing to harass and slow Attila's advance with only a shadow force. Attila finally halted at the Po, where he met an embassy including the prefect Trigetius, the consul Aviennus, and Pope Leo I.

Pope Leo stops Attila from charging


In the 5th century, the power of the Pope was not what it was in later centuries. But as Attila and his Huns were vanquishing city after city, the people of Rome - and the pope - were worried. Contemporary accounts tell us that Leo I, then Pope, traveled north to meet with Attila:

The old man of harmless simplicity, venerable in his gray hair and his majestic garb, ready of his own will to give himself entirely for the defense of his flock, went forth to meet the tyrant who was destroying all things. He met Attila, it is said, in the neighborhood of the river Mincio, and he spoke to the grim monarch, saying "The senate and the people of Rome, once conquerors of the world, now indeed vanquished, come before thee as suppliants. We pray for mercy and deliverance. O Attila, thou king of kings, thou couldst have no greater glory than to see suppliant at thy feet this people before whom once all peoples and kings lay suppliant. Thou hast subdued, O Attila, the whole circle of the lands which it was granted to the Romans, victors over all peoples, to conquer. Now we pray that thou, who hast conquered others, shouldst conquer thyself. The people have felt thy scourge; now as suppliants they would feel thy mercy."

Raphael’s magnificent fresco (which actually depicts Pope Leo X) and Algardi’s stunning sculpture (located at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica), portray the historic meeting. For whatever reason (there are several hypotheses including a famine, the prior year, which may have impeded the Huns’ ability to obtain supplies), Attila turned away from Rome.

People believed that Leo was the reason Attila backed down. Thereafter referred to as Leo the Great, the pontiff had accomplished not just a victory for Rome but also for the Church. In future years, as Rome’s secular power continued to fade, the power of the Roman Church, and that of the Pope, substantially increased.

The Huns returned home. Attila reportedly joked that he knew how to conquer men, but the Lion (Pope Leo) and the Wolf (Saint Lupus - from Troyes) were too strong for him.   




  The cathedral Santa Maria dell'Assunta, Torcello, Italy

"Throne of Attila the Hun"– Outside the cathedral, under a shady olive tree, next to the usual stone well, is a stone throne. Who knows, people were living in Torcello in the 5th century, and perhaps Attila might have made a detour to Torcello on his way to Padua. Even if he didn't (more likely the chair was for local judges), kids can sit on the stone chair, and pretend to be Attila the Hun, terror of Europe and Asia. They say that if you sit in the Attila's stone throne you will get married soon...

  After the meeting with the Pope he turned his army back, having gained neither Honoria's hand nor the territories he desired.





 Aetius Assassination

Although in 453 Aëtius had been able to betroth his son Gaudentius to Valentinian's daughter Placidia, Valentinian felt intimidated by Aëtius, who had once supported Joannes against him and whom Valentinian believed wanted to place his son upon the imperial throne. The Roman senator Petronius Maximus and the chamberlain Heraclius were therefore able to enlist Valentinian in a plot to assassinate Aëtius. On September 21, 454, when at court in Ravenna delivering a financial account, Aëtius was slain by Valentinian's own hand. Edward Gibbon credits Sidonius Apollinaris with the famous observation, "I am ignorant, sir, of your motives or provocations; I only know that you have acted like a man who has cut off his right hand with his left."[24]

Maximus expected to be made patrician in place of Aëtius, but was blocked by Heraclius. Seeking revenge, Maximus arranged with two Hun friends of Aëtius, Optila and Thraustila, to assassinate both Valentinian III and Heraclius. On March 16, 455, Optila stabbed the emperor in the temple as he dismounted in the Campus Martius and prepared for a session of archery practice. As the stunned emperor turned to see who had struck him, Optila finished him off with another thrust of his blade. Meanwhile, Thraustila stepped forward and killed Heraclius. Most of the soldiers standing close by had been faithful followers of Aëtius and none lifted a hand to save the emperor.

The last Western emperor was forced to abdicate and the imperial regalia were sent to Zeno in the East with a letter stating they would no longer be needed because there was no longer a western emperor.


Military legacy

Aëtius is generally viewed as a great military commander, the support of the dying Empire for three decades. Most historians also consider the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains as decisively important, crippling Attila by destroying his aura of invincibility.[25] Gibbon eloquently states the majority view:

(Attila's) retreat across the Rhine confessed the last victory which was achieved in the name of the Western Roman Empire."[26].

John Julius Norwich caustically referred to the assassination of Valentinian III by his own guards as an act that Valentinian brought on himself by his foolish execution of Aëtius, the "Empire's greatest commander."[27] Certainly Aëtius' military legacy is defined by Chalons, even though he effectively ruled the western empire from 433-450, and attempted to stabilize its European borders under a deluge of barbarians, including foremost, Attila and the Huns.

One of his greatest achievements was the assembling of the coalition against Attila. On this Arthur Ferrill says:

After he secured the Rhine, Attila moved into central Gaul and put Orléans under siege. Had he gained his objective, he would have been in a strong position to subdue the Visigoths in Aquitaine, but Aëtius had put together a formidable coalition against the Hun. The Roman leader had built a powerful alliance of Visigoths, Alans and Burgundians, uniting them with their traditional enemy, the Romans, for the defense of Gaul. Even though all parties to the protection of the Western Roman Empire had a common hatred of the Huns, it was still a remarkable achievement on Aëtius' part to have drawn them into an effective military relationship.

While J. B. Bury viewed Aëtius as a great military commander, and giant figure of history, he did not consider that the battle itself was particularly decisive. He argues that Aëtius attacked the Huns when they were already retreating from Orleans (so the danger to Gaul was departing anyway); and he declined to renew the attack on the Huns next day, precisely in order to preserve the balance of power. (Others suggest that the Huns may have abandoned the siege of Orleans because Aëtius's armies were advancing on them.)

Bury suggests that the German victory over the Huns at the Battle of Nedao, three years later, was more important. This determined that there would be no long-term Hunnic Empire in Europe, which Bury thinks would have been unlikely even if they had crushed the Germans on that occasion. For Bury, the result of the battle of the Catalaunian Plains determined chiefly that Attila spent his last year looting Italy, rather than Gaul.

Bury's view remains in the minority, and the battle is considered crucial by virtually every other major historian.


His legacy has been filled with controversy somewhat similar to that of Stilicho. The two best Roman generals of their time, both were killed by jealous emperors, and both left the Empire significantly weaker when they died. The main difference between the two was that all major historians hail Aëtius as a loyal Roman and a pillar of the Empire, while Bury finds Stilicho an unwitting traitor. While Stilicho was succeeded by Aëtius, the Empire simply had no one to take Aëtius's place. At the time of Aëtius's death, all the Roman provinces in western Europe had a significant barbarian presence. This had begun a full three generations earlier, when the barbarians were allowed to stay inside the Empire's borders in exchange for peace and their military service. Edward Gibbon maintains that Aëtius could not have expelled them if he had wanted to, as he lacked Roman troops to do the task, and the barbarians were the only army he had to keep the peace. Gibbon argues in great detail that Roman citizens had lost their martial vigour, with the consequence that the only troops available to Stilicho or Aëtius were mostly barbarians.[28]

Gibbon views Aëtius in a positive light, as do Norwich, Creasy, Ferrill, and Watson. In 1980, Robert F. Pennel wrote in Ancient Rome from the Earliest Times Down to 476AD

The Empire was but a relic of its former self. Gaul, Spain, and Britain were practically lost; Illyria and Pannonia were in the hands of the Goths; and Africa was soon after seized by the barbarians. Valentinian was fortunate in the possession of AËTIUS, a Scythian by birth, who for a time upheld the Roman name, winning for himself the title of LAST OF THE ROMANS. He was assassinated by his ungrateful master."[29]

Gibbon believes it was not indifference but rather preoccupation with the Huns and other barbarians that led Aëtius to neglect the navy. The subsequent loss of Africa came after Boniface invited the Vandals. Gibbon makes clear that Aëtius simply lacked the means to preserve the declining Western Empire in its entirety, while Norwich concludes that he guarded the Empire for three decades and that the after-effects of Aëtius's death lie at the feet of the Emperor who foolishly killed him. At a time when Romans did little or none of their own fighting, and no effective navy existed in the West, Aëtius had all he could do to preserve some vestige of order in continental Europe.

One could argue that later Emperors Majorian, Leo I and Anthemius saw the necessity of regaining the African provinces. Should Aëtius have concentrated his efforts on saving Africa, to the detriment of maintaining some vestige of Empire in Europe? Michael Grant in his History of Rome states flatly that Aëtius was powerless to stop the loss of Africa. Aëtius had begun to move against the Vandals when the forces he sent had to be recalled to fight Attila. Since Aëtius relied on barbarian federates, and as no other Roman General had the respect of those barbarian troops, his death left the Empire bereft of virtually any army in the west.

It is notable that Bury, whilst not believing the Battle of Chalons was significant, did believe in the significance of Aëtius's rule in general, saying "From the end of the regency to his own death, Aëtius was master of the Empire in the west, and it must be imputed to his policy and arms that Imperial rule did not break down in all the provinces by the middle of the fifth century."

In the end, there is some disagreement among historians as to the historical place of Aëtius. Was he the protector of Rome for three decades described by Gibbon, Norwich and Bury, the hero of Chalons described by Sir Edward Creasy, or should he be condemned for the loss of Africa, though most historians say he was powerless to stop that loss? Although Bury is cited as a critic of Aëtius, he was not, and said of Aëtius's death: "Who was now to save Italy from the Vandals?" The answer was no one. There was not one figure in the Empire able to take Aëtius's place as the champion and defender of the West. The certain thing about Aëtius's place in history is that he will forever be remembered as the last great Western Roman General, and the General who defeated the dreaded Attila the Hun. [1]

 Aëtius in the arts

Aëtius is the protagonist of Handel's opera Ezio.

Aëtius is played by Powers Boothe in the 2001 American TV Miniseries Attila. Here he is portrayed as an antagonist whose methods are contrasted with Attila. Aëtius is portrayed as the heroic 'Last of the Romans' in William Napier's Attila trilogy (2005), uniting the Romans and the Goths in one final, titanic battle to stop the Huns in their tracks, in the epochal Battle of the Catalaunian Fields.

While he does not appear in person, Aëtius' battle with Attila is documented in detail in Jack Whyte's book The Eagle, during a conversation between King Arthur and Seur Clothar.

Aëtius, Galla Placidia and Stilicho all appear as central characters in Jose Gomez-Rivera's historical novel Flavius Aëtius: The Last Conqueror, published in 2004.

Aëtius, Attila and Theodoric all appear in Michael Curtis Ford's fourth novel entitled The Sword of Attila, published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2005.

 See also


  1. ^ Jordanes, Getica, 176; Merobaudes, Carmina, iv, 42-43, and Panegyrici, ii, 110-115, 119-120; Gregory of Tours, ii.8; Zosimus, v.36.1; Chronica gallica 452, 100. Cited in Jones, p. 21.
  2. ^ Carpilio had been a comes domesticorum, commander of the imperial guard (Gregory of Tours, ii.8).
  3. ^ Carpilio went to Attila for an embassy (Cassiodorus, Variae, i.4.11) and remained at their court as an hostage for some time (Priscus, fr. 8).
  4. ^ Gregory of Tours, ii.8; Priscus, fr. 8; Cassiodorus, Variae, i.4.11; John of Antioch, fr. 201.3 and 204; Marcellinus comes, s.a. 432; Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina, v.205; Hydatius, 167; Merobaudes, Carmina, iv (poem composed for the first birthday of Gaudentius); Additamenta ad chron. Prosperi Hauniensis, s.a. 455 (only source to cite Thraustila as son-in-law of Aëtius). Cited in Jones, p. 21.
  5. ^ Gregory of Tours, ii.8; Jones, p. 21.
  6. ^ Gregory of Tours, ii.8; Merobaudes, Carmina, iv, 42-46, and Panegyrici, ii.1-4 and 127-143; Zosimus, v.36.1
  7. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Chap. XXXV (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), p. 559.
  8. ^ Cassiodorus, Chronica, s.a. 425; Gregory of Tours, ii.8; Philostorgius, xii.4; Prosperus of Tirus, s.a. 425; Chronica gallica 452, 100; Jordanes, Romana, 328; Jones, p. 22.
  9. ^ Philostorgius, xii.4; Prosperus of Tirus, s.a. 425 and 428; Chronica gallica 452, 102 (s.a. 427); Cassiodorus, Chronica, s.a. 428. Cited in Jones, p. 22.
  10. ^ Prosperus of Tirus, s.a. 429 e 430; John of Antioch, fr. 201; Hydatius, 92, 93 and 94 (s.a. 430), 95 and 96 (s.a. 431), 98 (s.a. 432); Chronica gallica 452, 106 (s.a. 430); Jordanes, Getica, 176; Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina, vii.233. Cited in Jones, pp. 22-23.
  11. ^ Procopius of Caesarea, Bellum Vandalicum, i.3.14-22, 28-29; John of Antioch, fr. 196; Theophanes, AM 5931; Hydatius, 99; Prosperus, s.a. 427. Cited in Jones, p. 23.
  12. ^ CIL, v, 7530; Prosperus, s.a. 432; Chronica Gallica a. 452, 109 and 111 (s.a. 432), 112 (s.a. 433), 115 (s.a. 434); Chronica Gallica a. 511, 587; Additamenta ad chron. Prosperi Hauniensis, s.a. 432; Hydatius, 99; Marcellinus comes, s.a. 432; John of Antioch, fr. 201.3. Cited in Jones, pp. 23-24.
  13. ^ Annales Ravennates, s.a. 435; John of Antioch, fr. 201.3; Prosper of Aquitaine, s.a. 435, s.a. 438, s.a. 439; Cassiodorus, Chronica, s.a. 435; Chronica Gallica a. 452, 117 (s.a. 435), 118 (s.a. 436), 119 (s.a. 437), 123 (s.a. 439); Hydatius, 108 (s.a. 436), 110 (s.a. 437), 112 (s.a. 438), 117 (s.a. 439); Sidonius Apollinaris, vii.234-235 and 297-309; Merobaudes, Panegyrici, i fr. iib 11ff, i fr. iia 22-23, and ii.5-7; Jordanes, Getica, 176; ; Barnes, Timothy, "Patricii under Valentinian III", Phoenix, 29, 1975, pp. 166-168; Jones, pp. 24-26.
  14. ^ Chronica Gallica a. 452, 133 (s.a. 438); Sidonius Apollinaris, v.210-218. Cited in Jones, p. 27. Jan Willem Drijvers, Helena Augusta, BRILL, ISBN 9004094350, p. 12.
  15. ^ Priscus, fr. 16; Gregory of Tours, ii.7. It is possible that this happened after the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 (Jones, p. 27).
  16. ^ Priscus, fr. 7 and 8; Suda, Z 29. Cited in Jones, p. 27.
  17. ^ John of Antioch, fr. 199.2; Jordanes, Getica, 191. Cited in Jones, p.27.
  18. ^ It should be noted that Hunnish armies were never composed entirely of ethnic Huns but contained relative majorities of subject peoples.
  19. ^ Sidonius Apollinaris, vii.328-331, 339-341; John Malalas, 358; Jordanes, Getica, 195; Gregory of Tours, ii.7. Cited in Jones, p.27.
  20. ^ Bury, J.B., 1923, Chapter 9, § 4.
  21. ^ Prosperus, s.a. 451; Chronica Gallica a. 452, 139 (s.a. 451), 141 (s.a. 452); Cassiodorus, Chronica, 451; Additamenta ad chron. Prosperi Hauniensis, s.a. 451; Hydatius, 150 (a. 451); Chronicon Paschale, s.a. 450; Jordanes, Getica, 197ff; Gregory of Tours, ii.7; Procopius, i.4.24; John Malalas, 359; Theophanes, AM 5943. Cited in Jones, p. 27.
  22. ^ Additamenta ad chron. Prosperi Hauniensis, s.a. 451; Gregory of Tours, ii.7; Jordanes, Getica, 215ff. Cited in Jones, pp. 27-28.
  23. ^ Prosperus, s.a. 452.
  24. ^ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 35
  25. ^ Edward Shepherd Creasy Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World "The victory which the Roman general, Aëtius, with his Gothic allies, had then gained over the Huns, was the last victory of imperial Rome. But among the long Fasti of her triumphs, few can be found that, for their importance and ultimate benefit to mankind, are comparable with this expiring effort of her arms."
  26. ^ Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Modern Library, New York, volume II, p.1089.
  27. ^ Norwich, John. Byzantium: The Early Centuries
  28. ^ Gibbon, E. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 38
  29. ^ Ancient Rome from the earliest times to 476 A.D, By Robert F. Pennel (1890)


Primary sources
Secondary sources
Further readengs
  • Cameron, Averil The Later Roman Empire (Harvard University Press 2007) ISBN 0674511948.
  • Cameron, Averil The Cambridge Ancient History: the Late Empire (Cambridge University Press 1998) ISBN 0521302005.
  • Clover, Frank M Flavius Merobaudes (American Philosophical Society 1971).
  • Creasy, Sir Edward, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,
  • Drinkwater, John, Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity? (Cambridge University Press 1992) ISBN 0521414857.
  • Elton, Hugh Warfare in Roman Europe, AD 350-425 (Oxford University Press 1998) ISBN 0198152418.
  • Ferrill, Arther, The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation. Thames and Hudson, London, 1986.
  • Jones, A.H.M., The Later Roman Empire 284-602. Oxford Press, Cambridge, 1964.
  • Norwich, John J. Byzantium: The Early Centuries. The Fall of the West. Knopf, New York, 1997
  • O'Flynn, John Michael Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire (The University of Alberta Press 1983) ISBN 0888640315.
  • Oost, Stewart I., Galla Placidia Augusta. Chicago, 1968.


Political offices
Preceded by
Flavius Constantius
Magister militum of Gaul
425 – 433
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Flavius Anicius Auchenius Bassus,
Flavius Antiochus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Valerius
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus XIV,
Petronius Maximus
Preceded by
Flavius Anthemius Isidorus Theophilus,
Flavius Senator
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Sigisvultus
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus XVI,
Anicius Acilius Glabrio Faustus
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Placidus Valentinianus Augustus VI,
Flavius Nomus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Quintus Aurelius Symmachus
Succeeded by
Flavius Calepius,
Flavius Ardaburius Iunior



 The Huns and the Byzantine Empire

at the Lower Danube

By 432 the Huns were united under Rugila as Rua. His death in 434 left his nephews Bleda and Attila (the sons of his brother Mundzuk) in control over all the united Hun tribes. At the time of their accession, the Huns were bargaining with Byzantine emperor Theodosius II's envoys over the return of several renegade tribes who had taken refuge within the Byzantine Empire. The following year Attila and Bleda met with the imperial legation at Margus (present-day Požarevac) and, all seated on horseback in the Hunnic manner, negotiated a successful treaty: the Romans agreed not only to return the fugitive tribes (who had been a welcome aid against the Vandals), but also to double their previous tribute of 350 Roman pounds (ca. 114.5 kg) of gold, open their markets to Hunnish traders, and pay a ransom of eight solidi for each Roman taken prisoner by the Huns. The Huns, satisfied with the treaty, decamped from the empire and returned to their home, perhaps to consolidate and strengthen their empire. Theodosius used this opportunity to strengthen the walls of Constantinople, building the city's first sea wall, and to build up his border defenses along the Danube.

The Huns remained out of Roman sight for the next five years as they tried to invade the Persian Empire. A defeat in Armenia caused them to abandon this attempt and return their attentions to Europe. In 440 they reappeared on the borders of the Roman Empire, attacking the merchants at the market on the north bank of the Danube that had been established by the treaty. Attila and Bleda threatened further war, claiming that the Romans had failed to fulfill their treaty obligations and that the bishop of Margus had crossed the Danube to ransack and desecrate the royal Hun graves on the Danube's north bank. They crossed the Danube and laid waste to Illyrian cities and forts on the river, among them, according to Priscus, Viminacium, which was a city of the Moesians in Illyria. Their advance began at Margus, for when the Romans discussed handing over the offending bishop, he slipped away secretly to the Huns and betrayed the city to them.

Theodosius had stripped the river's defenses in response to the Vandal Gaiseric's capture of Carthage in 440 and the Sassanid Yazdegerd II's invasion of Armenia in 441. This left Attila and Bleda a clear path through Illyria into the Balkans, which they invaded in 441. The Hunnish army, having sacked Margus and Viminacium, took Singidunum (modern Belgrade) and Sirmium before halting. A lull followed in 442 and during this time Theodosius recalled his troops from North Africa and ordered a large new issue of coins to finance operations against the Huns. Having made these preparations, he thought it safe to refuse the Hunnish kings' demands.

Attila and Bleda responded by renewing their campaign in 443. Striking along the Danube, they overran the military centers of Ratiaria and successfully besieged Naissus (modern Niš) with battering rams and rolling towers (military sophistication that was new to the Hun repertory), then pushing along the Nisava they took Serdica (Sofia), Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and Arcadiopolis (Luleburgaz). They encountered and destroyed the Roman force outside Constantinople and were only halted by their lack of siege equipment capable of breaching the city's massive walls. Theodosius admitted defeat and sent the court official Anatolius to negotiate peace terms, which were harsher than the previous treaty: the Emperor agreed to hand over 6,000 Roman pounds (ca. 1,963 kg) of gold as punishment for having disobeyed the terms of the treaty during the invasion; the yearly tribute was tripled, rising to 2,100 Roman pounds (ca. 687 kg) in gold; and the ransom for each Roman prisoner rose to twelve solidi.

Their demands met for a time, the Hun kings withdrew into the interior of their empire. According to Jordanes (following Priscus), sometime during the peace following the Huns' withdrawal from Byzantium (probably around 445), Bleda died (killed by his younger brother, according to the classical sources), and Attila took the throne for himself.


The Hun Invasions of the Balkan Peninsula (A.D. 441‑448)

At the beginning of the reign of Theodosius an invasion of the peninsula by a host of Huns was a prelude and a warning. They were led by Uldin, who boasted that he could subdue the whole earth or even the sun. He captured Castra Martis,12 but as he advanced against Thrace he was deserted by a large multitude of his followers, who joined the Romans in driving their king beyond the Danube. The Romans followed up their victory by defensive precautions. The strong cities in Illyricum were fortified, and new walls were built to protect Byzantium; the fleet on the Danube was increased and improved. But a payment of money was a more effectual barrier against the barbarians than walls, and about A.D. 424 Theodosius consented to pay 350 lbs. of gold to King Rugila.

The tribes of the Huns were ruled each by its own chieftain, but Rugila seems to have brought together all the tribes into a p272 sort of political unity.13 He had established himself between the Theiss and the Danube. The treaty which the government of Ravenna made with Rugila, when the Huns withdrew from Italy in A.D. 425 after the subjugation of the tyrant John, seems to have included the provision that the Huns should evacuate the Pannonian province of Valeria which they had occupied for forty-five years.14 But soon afterwards a new arrangement was made by which another part of Pannonia was surrendered to them, apparently districts on the lower Save,15 but not including Sirmium. We may conjecture that this concession was made by Aetius in return for Rugila's help in A.D. 433.16

Rugila died soon after this,17 and he was succeeded by his nephews Bleda and Attila,18 the sons of Mundiuch, as joint rulers. Bleda played no part on the stage of history. Attila was a leading actor for twenty years, and his name is still almost a household word. He was not well favoured. His features, according to a Gothic historian, "bore the stamp of his origin; and the portrait of Attila exhibited the genuine deformity of a modern Kalmuck: a large head, a swarthy complexion, small, deep-seated eyes, a flat nose, a few hairs in the place of a beard, broad shoulders, and a short square body of nervous strength though of a disproportioned form. The haughty step and demeanour of the king of the Huns expressed the consciousness of his superiority above the rest of mankind, and he had the custom of fiercely rolling his eyes as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired."19 He was versed in all the arts of diplomacy, but p273 the chief aim of his policy was plunder. He was far less cruel than the great Mongolian conqueror of the thirteenth century, Chingiz Khan, with whom he has sometimes been compared; he was capable of pity and could sometimes pardon his enemies.

Attila had some reason for his haughty disdain if he could trace his line of ancestry back for a thousand years and was directly descended from the great chieftains of the Hiung‑nu,20 whose names have been recorded by early Chinese writers. And if we accept this descent as a genuine tradition, we can infer that he was not of pure Turkish blood. Some of his forefathers had married Chinese princesses, and there may also have been an admixture of the blood of Indo-Scythians.21

At the beginning of the new reign several points of dispute which had arisen between Rugila and Theodosius were settled. The settlement was entirely to the advantage of the Huns. The Imperial government undertook to double the annual payment, which was thus raised to 700 lbs. of gold; not to receive Hun deserters; to surrender all those who had already deserted; to restore or pay a ransom for Roman prisoners who had escaped; not to form an alliance with any barbarian people at war with the Huns; and to place no restrictions on the trade between the two peoples. The prohibition of receiving fugitives from Attila's empire was particularly important, because the Roman army was largely recruited from barbarians beyond the Danube.

During the early years of his reign, from A.D. 434 to 441, he seems to have been engaged in extending his power in the east towards the Caucasian Mountains. But in A.D. 441 an irresistible opportunity offered itself for attacking the provinces of Theodosius, for in that year the Imperial armies were engaged in operations against both the Vandals and the Persians.

He condescended to allege reasons for his aggression. He complained that the tribute had not been regularly paid, and p274 that deserters had not been restored. When the Imperial government disregarded his complaints,22 he appeared on the Danube and laid siege to Ratiaria. Here Roman ambassadors arrived to remonstrate with him for breaking the peace. He replied by alleging that the bishop of Margus had entered the land of the Huns and robbed treasures from the tombs of their kings, and he demanded the surrender of these treasures as well as of deserters. The negotiations broke down, and, having captured and plundered Ratiaria, the Hunnic horsemen rode up the course of the Danube to take the great towns on the banks. Viminacium and Singidunum itself were overwhelmed in the onslaught. Margus, which faces Constantia on the opposite side of the river, fell by treachery; the same bishop whom Attila accused as a grave-robber betrayed a Roman town and its Christian inhabitants to the cruelty of the heathen destroyer. Advancing up the valley of the Margus, the invaders halted before the walls of Naissus, and though the inhabitants made a brave defence, the place yielded to the machines of Attila and the missiles of a countless host. Then the marauders rode south-eastward and approached Constantinople. He did not venture to attack the capital, but he took Philippopolis and Arcadiopolis and the fort of Athyras.23

The strong fortress of Asemus on the Danube, in Lower Moesia,24 won high praise for its valiant resistance to Hunnic squadrons, which separating from the main body had invaded Lower Moesia. They besieged Asemus, and the garrison so effectually harassed them by sallies that they were forced to retreat. A successful defence was not enough for the men of Asemus. Their scouts discovered the times when plundering bands were returning to the camp with spoils, and these moments were seized by the garrison, who unexpectedly assailed these small bodies of Huns and rescued many Roman prisoners.

The Imperial troops, which had been operating against the Persians and the Vandals, must have been available for operations against the Huns in A.D. 442 or 443, but it is not recorded p275 that Aspar or Areobindus took the field when they returned from Persia and Sicily. We hear that a battle was fought in the Thracian Chersonese and that Attila was victorious, and after this a peace was negotiated by Anatolius (A.D. 443). The terms were humiliating for the Emperor. Henceforward the annual Hun-tribute of 700 lbs. of gold was to be trebled, and an additional payment of 6000 lbs. was to be made at once. All Hun deserters were to be surrendered to Attila, while Roman deserters were to be handed over to the Emperor for a payment of ten solidi a head.

Hitherto the realm of the Huns had been divided between the two brothers, Bleda and Attila. Of Bleda's government and deeds we hear nothing. We may conjecture that he ruled in the east, from the Lower Danube to the Volga, and Attila in the west. Soon after the Peace of Anatolius, Attila found means to put Bleda to death and unite all the Huns and vassal peoples under his own sway. For the next nine years (A.D. 444‑453) he was the most powerful man in Europe.

The Illyrian and Thracian provinces enjoyed a respite from invasion for three years. But in A.D. 447 the Huns appeared again south of the Danube. The provinces of Lower Moesia and Scythia, which had suffered less in the previous incursions, were now devastated. Marcianopolis was taken, and the Roman general Arnegisclus fell in a battle on the banks of the river Utus (Wid). At the same time, another host of the enemy descended the valley of the Vardar and advanced, it is said, to Thermopylae.25 Others approached Constantinople, and many of its inhabitants fled from it in terror. So we are told by a contemporary, who says that more than a hundred towns were taken, and that the monks and nuns in the monasteries near the capital were slain, if they had not already fled.26

Attila was now in a position to enlarge his demands. A new peace was concluded (A.D. 448) by which a district, along the right bank of the Danube, extending from Singidunum eastward to Novae, and of a breadth of five days' journey, should be left waste and uninhabited, as a march region between the two realms, and Naissus, which was now desolate, should mark the p276 frontier.27 But Attila continued to vex the government at Constantinople with embassies, complaints, and demands, and as the drain on the treasury was becoming enormous, the eunuch Chrysaphius conceived the base idea of bribing an envoy of Attila to murder his master. Edecon, the principal minister of Attila, accepted the money and returned to his master's residence, which was somewhere between the rivers Theiss and Körös, in company of a Roman embassy the head of which was Maximin. But the plot was revealed to Attila. He respected the person of the ambassador, but he sent to Constantinople Orestes (a Roman provincial of Pannonia who served him as secretary) with the bag which had held the bribe tied round his neck, and ordered him to ask Chrysaphius in the Emperor's presence whether he recognised it. The punishment of the eunuch was to be demanded. The Emperor then sent two men of patrician rank, Anatolius (Master of Soldiers in praesenti) and Nomus (formerly Master of Offices), to pacify the anger of the Hun. Attila treated them haughtily at first, but then showed surprising magnanimity and no longer insisted on the punishment of Chrysaphius. He promised to observe the treaty and not to cross the Danube (A.D. 449‑450).

Until the end of the reign of Theodosius the oppressive Hun-money was paid to Attila, but, as we saw, Marcian refused to pay it any longer. It seemed that the Illyrian provinces would again be trampled under the horse-hoofs of the Hun cavalry, though little spoil can have been left to take. But Attila turned his eyes westward, where there was hope of richer plunder, and the realm of Valentinian, not that of Marcian, was now to be exposed to the fury of the destroyer.

 John Bagnall Bury:
History of the Later Roman Empire

Chapter IX*.html

§ 3. The Empire and Court of Attila

Under the rule of Rugila and Attila the Hunnic empire had assumed an imposing size and seemed a formidable power. The extent of Attila's dominion has doubtless been exaggerated, but his sway was effective in the lands (to use modern names) of Austria, Hungary, Roumania, and Southern Russia. How p277 far northward it may have reached cannot be decided. The most important of the German peoples who were subject to Attila were the Gepids (apparently in the mountainous regions of northern Dacia),28 the Ostrogoths (who had migrated westward from their old homes on the Euxine),29 and the Rugians (somewhere near the Theiss)30 — all in the neighbourhood of the lands where the Huns themselves had settled. The Gepid king, Ardaric, was Attila's most trusted counsellor, and next to him, Walamir, one of the Ostrogothic kings. On these peoples he could rely in his military enterprises. Before A.D. 440 the Huns had made an incursion into the Persian empire, and such was the prestige of their arms and Attila's power eight years later that the Roman officers talked of the chances of the overthrow of Persia and the possible consequences of such an event for the Roman world.

Attila indeed looked upon himself as overlord of all Europe, including the Roman Empire. Theodosius paid him a huge sum yearly, Valentinian paid him gold too; were they not then his tributaries and slaves? He dreamed of an empire reaching to the islands of the Ocean,31 and he was soon to make an attempt to extend it actually to the shores of the Atlantic.32 In his dealings with the Empire he had one great military advantage. We have already seen how the Imperial government depended on the Huns and on the Germans beyond the frontier for the recruiting of its armies. Without his Hunnic auxiliaries Aetius would hardly have been able to save as much of Gaul as he succeeded in saving from the rapacity of the German settlers. Attila was in a position to stop these sources of supply. He could refuse to send Hunnic contingents to help the Romans again their enemies; he could forbid individual Huns to leave p278 their country and enter Roman service; and he could bring pressure to bear on his vassal German kings to issue a similar prohibition to their subjects. That he was fully conscious of this power and made it a feature of his policy, is shown by his stern insistence, in negotiating with Theodosius, that all Hun deserters should be surrendered; perhaps by the device of keeping a strip of neutral territory south of the Danube in order to make it more difficult for his own subjects to pass into the Roman provinces; and particularly by the fact that when his empire was broken up after his death, the empire was inundated by Germans seeking to make their fortunes in Roman service.

Since their entry into Europe the Huns had changed in some important ways their life and institutions. They were still a pastoral people, they did not learn to practise tillage, but on the Danube and the Theiss the nomadic habits of the Asiatic steppes were no longer appropriate or necessary. And when they became a political power and had dealings with the Roman Empire — dealings in which diplomacy was required as well as the sword — they found themselves compelled to adapt themselves, however crudely, to the habits of more civilised communities. Attila found that a private secretary who knew Latin was indispensable, and Roman subjects were hired to fill the post. But the most notable fact in the history of the Huns at this period is the ascendancy which their German subjects appear to have gained over them. The most telling sign of this influence is the curious circumstance that some of their kings were called by German names. The names of Rugila,33 Mundiuch (Attila's father), and Attila are German or Germanised. This fact clearly points to intermarriages, but it is also an unconscious acknowledgment of the Huns that their vassals were higher in the scale of civilisation. If the political situation had remained unchanged for another fifty years the Asiatic invader would probably have been as thoroughly p279 Teutonised as the Alans, whom the Romans had now come to class among the Germanic peoples.34

Of Attila himself we have a clearer impression than of any of the German kings who played leading parts in the period of the Wandering of the Nations. The historian Priscus, who accompanied his friend Maximin, the ambassador to Attila, in A.D. 448, and wrote a full account of the embassy, drew a vivid portrait of the monarch and described his court. The story is so interesting that it will be best to reproduce it in a free translation of the original.35

We set out with the barbarians, and arrived at Sardica, which is thirteen days for a fast traveller from Constantinople. Halting there we considered it advisable to invite Edecon and the barbarians with him to dinner. The inhabitants of the place sold us sheep and oxen, which we slaughtered, and we prepared a meal. In the course of the feast, as the barbarians lauded Attila and we lauded the Emperor, Bigilas remarked that it was not fair to compare a man and a god, meaning Attila by the man and Theodosius by the god. The Huns grew excited and hot at this remark. But we turned the conversation in another direction, and soothed their wounded feelings; and after dinner, when we separated, Maximin presented Edecon and Orestes with silk garments and Indian gems....

When we arrived at Naissus we found the city deserted, as though it had been sacked; only a few sick persons lay in the churches. We halted at a short distance from the river, in an open space, for all the ground adjacent to the bank was full of the bones of men slain in war. On the morrow we came to the station of Agintheus, the commander-in-chief of the Illyrian armies (magister militum per Illyricum), who was posted not far from Naissus, to announce to him the Imperial commands, and to receive five of those seventeen deserters, about whom Attila had written to the Emperor. We had an interview with him, and having treated the deserters with kindness, he committed them to us. The next day we proceeded from the district of Naissus towards the Danube; we entered a covered valley with many bends and windings and circuitous paths. We thought we were travelling due west, but when the day dawned the sun rose in front; and some of us unacquainted with the topography cried out that the sun was going the wrong way, and portending unusual events. The fact was that that part of the road faced the east, owing to the irregularity of the ground. Having passed these rough places we arrived at a plain which was also well wooded. At the river we were received by barbarian ferrymen, who rowed us across the river in boats made by themselves out of single trees hewn and hollowed. (like the geti these preparations had not been made for our sake, but to convey across a company of Huns;) for Attila pretended that he wished to hunt in Roman territory, but his intent was really hostile, because all the deserters had not been given up to him. Having crossed the Danube, and proceeded with the barbarians about seventy stadia, we were compelled to wait in a certain plain, that Edecon and his party might go on in front and inform Attila of our arrival. As wewith me Rusticius, who understood the Hun language. He had come with us to Scythia, not as a member of the embassy, but on business with Constantius, an Italian whom Aetius had sent to Attila to be that monarch's private secretary. I informed Scottas, Rusticius acting as interpreter, that Maximin would give him many present were dining in the evening we heard the sound of horses approaching, and two Scythians arrived with directions that we were to set out to Attila. We asked them first to partake of our meal, and they dismounted and made good cheer. On the next day, under their guidance, we arrived at the tents of Attila, which were numerous, about three o'clock, and when we wished to pitch our tent on a hill the barbarians who met us prevented us, because the tent of Attila was on low ground, so we halted where the Scythians desired.... (Then a message is received from Attila, who was aware of the nature of their embassy, saying that if they had nothing further to communicate to him he would not receive them, so they reluctantly prepared to return.) When the baggage had been packed on the beasts of burden, and we were perforce preparing to start in the night time, messengers came from Attila bidding us wait on account of the late hour. Then men arrived with an ox and river fish, sent to us by Attila, and when we had dined we retired to sleep. When it was day we expected a gentle and courteous message from the barbarian, but he again bade us depart if we had no further mandates beyond what he already knew. We made no reply, and prepared to set out, though Bigilas insisted that we should feign to have some other communication to make. When I saw that Maximin was very dejected, I went to Scottas (one of the Hun nobles, brother of Onegesius), taking s if he would procure him an interview with Attila; and, moreover, that the embassy would not only conduce to the public interests of the two powers, but to the private interest of Onegesius, for the Emperor desired that he should be sent as an ambassador to Byzantium, to arrange the disputes of the Huns and Romans, and that there he would receive splendid gifts. As Onegesius was not present it was for Scottas, I said, to help us, or rather help his brother, and at the same time prove that the report was true which ascribed to him an influence with Attila equal to that possessed by his brother. Scottas mounted his horse and rode to Attila's tent, while I returned to Maximin and found him in a state of perplexity and anxiety, lying on the grass with Bigilas. I described my interview with Scottas, and bade him make preparations for an audience of Attila. They both jumped up, approving of what I had done, and recalled the men who had started with the beasts of burden. As we were considering what to say to Attila, and how to present the Emperor's gifts, Scottas came to fetch us, and we entered Attila's tent, which was surrounded by a multitude of barbarians. We found Attila sitting on a wooden chair. We stood at a little distance and Maximin advanced and saluted the barbarian, to whom he gave the Emperor's letter, saying that the Emperor prayed for the safety of him and his. The king replied, "It shall be unto the Romans as they wish it to be unto me," and immediately addressed Bigilas, calling him a shameless beast, and asking him why he ventured to come when all the deserters had not been given up. . . .

After the departure of Bigilas, who returned to the Empire (nominally to find the deserters whose restoration Attila demanded, but really to get the money for his fellow-conspirator Edecon), we remained one day in that place, and then set out with Attila for the northern parts of the country. We accompanied the barbarian for a time, but when we reached a certain point took another route by the command of the Scythians who conducted us, as Attila was proceeding to a village where he intended to marry the daughter of Eskam, though he had many other wives, for the Scythians practise polygamy. We proceeded along a level road in a plain and met with navigable rivers--of which the greatest, next to the Danube, are the Drecon, Tigas, and Tiphesas--which we crossed in the Monoxyles, boats made of one piece, used by the dwellers on the banks: the smaller rivers we traversed on rafts which the barbarians carry about with them on carts, for the purpose of crossing morasses. In the villages we were supplied with food--millet instead of corn, and mead, as the natives call it, instead of wine. The attendants who followed us received millet, and a drink made of barley, which the barbarians call kam. Late in the evening, having travelled a long distance, we pitched our tents on the banks of a fresh-water lake, used for water by the inhabitants of the neighbouring village. But a wind and storm, accompanied by thunder and lightning and heavy rain, arose, and almost threw down our tents; all our utensils were rolled into the waters of the lake. Terrified by the mishap and the atmospherical disturbance, we left the place and lost one another in the dark and the rain, each following the road that seemed most easy. But we all reached the village by different ways, and raised an alarm to obtain what we lacked. The Scythians of the village sprang out of their huts at the noise, and, lighting the reeds which they use for kindling fires, asked what we wanted. Our conductors replied that the storm had alarmed us; so they invited us to their huts and provided warmth for us by lighting large fires of reeds. The lady who governed the village- -she had been one of Bleda's wives--sent us provisions and good-looking girls to console us (this is a Scythian compliment). We treated the young women to a share in the eatables. but declined to take any further advantage of their presence. We remained in the huts till day dawned and then went to look for our lost utensils, which we found partly in the place where we had pitched the tent, partly on the bank of the lake, and partly in the water. We spent that day in the village drying our things; for the storm had ceased and the sun was bright. Having looked after our horses and cattle, we directed our steps to the princess, to whom we paid our respects and presented gifts in return for her courtesy. The gifts consisted of things which are esteemed by the barbarians as not produced in the country--three silver phials, red skins, Indian pepper, palm fruit, and other delicacies.

Having advanced a distance of seven days farther, we halted at a village; for as the rest of the route was the same for us and Attila, it behoved us to wait, so that he might go in front. Here we met with some of the "western Romans," who had also come on an embassy to Attila--the count Romulus, Promotus governor of Noricum, and Romanus a military captain. With them was Constantius whom Aetius had sent to Attila to be his secretary, and Tatulus, the father of Orestes; these two were not connected with the embassy, but were friends of the ambassadors. Constantius had known them of old in the Italies, and Orestes had married the daughter of Romulus. The object of the embassy, was to soften the soul of Attila, who demanded the surrender of one Silvanus, a dealer in silver plate in Rome, because he had received golden vessels from a certain Constantius. This Constantius, a native of Gaul, had preceded his namesake in the office of secretary to Attila. When Sirmium in Pannonia was besieged by the Scythians, the bishop of the place consigned the vessels to his (Constantius') care, that if the city were taken and he survived they might be used to ransom him; and in case he were slain, to ransom the citizens who were led into captivity. But when the city was enslaved, Constantius violated his engagement, and, as he happened to be at Rome on business, pawned the vessels to Silvanus for a sum of money, on condition that if he gave back the money within a prescribed period the dishes should be returned, but otherwise should become the property of Silvanus. Constantius, suspected of treachery, was crucified by Attila and Bleda; and afterwards, when the affair of the vessels became known to Attila, he demanded the surrender of Silvanus on the ground that he had stolen his property. Accordingly Aetius and the Emperor of the Western Romans sent to explain that Silvanus was the creditor of Constantius, the vessels having been pawned and not stolen, and that he had sold them to priests and others for sacred purposes. If, however, Attila refused to desist from his demand, he, the Emperor, would send him the value of the vessels, but would not surrender the innocent Silvanus.

Having waited for some time until Attila advanced in front of us, we proceeded, and having crossed some rivers we arrived at a large village, where Attila's house was said to be more splendid than his residences in other places. It was made of polished boards, and surrounded with a wooden enclosure, designed, not for protection, but for appearance. The house of Onegesius was second to the king's in splendour, and was also encircled with a wooden enclosure, but it was not adorned with towers like that of the king. Not far from the enclosure was a large bath which Onegesius--who was the second in power among the Scythians-- built, having transported the stones from Pannonia; for the barbarians in this district had no stones or trees, but used imported material. The builder of the bath was a captive from Sirmium, who expected to win his freedom as payment for making the bath. But he was disappointed, and greater trouble befell him than mere captivity among the Scythians, for Onegesius appointed him bathman, and he used to minister to him and his family when they bathed.

When Attila entered the village he was met by girls advancing in rows, under thin white canopies of linen, which were held up by the outside women who stood under them, and were so large that seven or more girls walked beneath each. There were many lines of damsels thus canopied, and they sang Scythian songs. When he came near the house of Onegesius, which lay on his way, the wife of Onegesius issued from the door, with a number of servants, bearing meat and wine, and saluted him and begged him to partake of her hospitality. This is the highest honour that can be shown among the Scythians. To gratify the wife of his friend, he ate, just as he sat on his horse, his attendants raising the tray to his saddlebow; and having tasted the wine, he went on to the palace, which was higher than the other houses and built on an elevated site. But we remained in the house of Onegesius, at his invitation, for he had returned from his expedition with Attila's son. His wife and kinsfolk entertained us to dinner, for he had no leisure himself, as he had to relate to Attila the result of his expedition, and explain the accident which had happened to the young prince, who had slipped and broken his right arm. After dinner we left the house of Onegesius, and took up our quarters nearer the palace, so that Maximin might be at a convenient distance for visiting Attila or holding intercourse with his court. The next morning, at dawn of day, Maximin sent me to Onegesius, with presents offered by himself as well as those which the Emperor had sent, and I was to find out whether he would have an interview with Maximin and at what time. When I arrived at the house, along with the attendants who carried the gifts, I found the doors closed, and had to wait until some one should come out and announce our arrival. As I waited and walked up and down in front of the enclosure which surrounded the house, a man, whom from his Scythian dress I took for a barbarian, came up and addressed me in Greek, with the word Xaire, "Hail!" I was surprised at a Scythian speaking Greek. For the subjects of the Huns, swept together from various lands, speak, besides their own barbarous tongues, either Hunnic or Gothic, or--as many as have commercial dealings with the western Romans--Latin; but none of them easily speak Greek, except captives from the Thracian or Illyrian sea-coast; and these last are easily known to any stranger by their torn garments and the squalor of their heads, as men who have met with a reverse. This man, on the contrary, resembled a well-to-do Scythian, being well dressed, and having his hair cut in a circle after Scythian fashion. Having returned his salutation, I asked him who he was and whence he had come into a foreign land and adopted Scythian life. When he asked me why I wanted to know, I told him that his Hellenic speech had prompted my curiosity. Then he smiled and said that he was born a Greek and had gone as a merchant to Viminacium, on the Danube, where he had stayed a long time, and married a very rich wife. But the city fell a prey to the barbarians, and he was stript of his prosperity, and on account of his riches was allotted to Onegesius in the division of the spoil, as it was the custom among the Scythians for the chiefs to reserve for themselves the rich prisoners. Having fought bravely against the Romans and the Acatiri, he had paid the spoils he won to his master, and so obtained freedom. He then married a barbarian wife and had children, and had the privilege of eating at the table of Onegesius.

He considered his new life among the Scythians better than his old life among the Romans, and the reasons he gave were as follows: "After war the Scythians live in inactivity, enjoying what they have got, and not at all, or very little, harassed. The Romans, on the other hand, are in the first place very liable to perish in war, as they have to rest their hopes of safety on others, and are not allowed, on account of their tyrants to use arms. And those who use them are injured by the cowardice of their generals, who cannot support the conduct of war. But the condition of the subjects in time of peace is far more grievous than the evils of war, for the exaction of the taxes is very severe, and unprincipled men inflict injuries on others, because the laws are practically not valid against all classes. A transgressor who belongs to the wealthy classes is not punished for his injustice, while a poor man, who does not understand business, undergoes the legal penalty, that is if he does not depart this life before the trial, so long is the course of lawsuits protracted, and so much money is expended on them. The climax of the misery is to have to pay in order to obtain justice. For no one will give a court to the injured man unless he pay a sum of money to the judge and the judge's clerks."

In reply to this attack on the Empire, I asked him to be good enough to listen with patience to the other side of the question. "The creators of the Roman republic," I said, "who were wise and good men, in order to prevent things from being done at haphazard made one class of men guardians of the laws, and appointed another class to the profession of arms, who were to have no other object than to be always ready for battle, and to go forth to war without dread, as though to their ordinary exercise having by practice exhausted all their fear beforehand. Others again were assigned to attend to the cultivation of the ground, to support both themselves and those who fight in their defence, by contributing the military corn-supply.... To those who protect the interests of the litigants a sum of money is paid by the latter, just as a payment is made by the farmers to the soldiers. Is it not fair to support him who assists and requite him for his kindness? The support of the horse benefits the horseman.... Those who spend money on a suit and lose it in the end cannot fairly put it down to anything but the injustice of their case. And as to the long time spent on lawsuits, that is due to concern for justice, that judges may not fail in passing correct judgments, by having to give sentence offhand; it is better that they should reflect, and conclude the case more tardily, than that by judging in a hurry they should both injure man and transgress against the Deity, the institutor of justice.... The Romans treat their servants better than the king of the Scythians treats his subjects. They deal with them as fathers or teachers, admonishing them to abstain from evil and follow the lines of conduct whey they have esteemed honourable; they reprove them for their errors like their own children. They are not allowed, like the Scythians, to inflict death on them. They have numerous ways of conferring freedom; they can manumit not only during life, but also by their wills, and the testamentary wishes of a Roman in regard to his property are law."

My interlocutor shed tears, and confessed that the laws and constitution of the Romans were fair, but deplored that the governors, not possessing the spirit of former generations, were ruining the State.

As we were engaged in this discussion a servant came out and opened the door of the enclosure. I hurried up, and inquired how Onegesius was engaged, for I desired to give him a message from the Roman ambassador. He replied that I should meet him if I waited a little, as he was about to go forth. And after a short time I saw him coming out, and addressed him, saying, "The Roman ambassador salutes you, and I have come with gifts from him, and with the gold which the Emperor sent you. The ambassador is anxious to meet you, and begs you to appoint a time and place." Onegesius bade his servants receive the gold and the gifts, and told me to announce to Maximin that he would go to him immediately. I delivered the message, and Onegesius appeared in the tent without delay. He expressed his thanks to Maximin and the Emperor for the presents, and asked why he sent for him. Maximin said that the time had come for Onegesius to have greater renown among men, if he would go to the Emperor, and by his wisdom arrange the objects of dispute between the Romans and Huns, and establish concord between them; thereby he will procure many advantages for his own family, as he all his children will always be friends of the Emperor and the Imperial family. Onegesius inquired what measures would gratify the Emperor and how he could arrange the disputes. Maximin replied: "If you cross into the lands of the Roman Empire you will lay the Emperor under an obligation, and you will arrange the matters at issue by investigating their causes and deciding them on the basis of the peace." Onegesius said he would inform the Emperor and his ministers of Attila's wishes, but the Romans need not think they could ever prevail with him to betray his master or neglect his Scythian training and his wives and children, or to prefer wealth among the Romans to bondage with Attila. He added that he would be of more service to the Romans by remaining in his own land and softening the anger of his master, if he were indignant for aught with the Romans, than by visiting them and subjecting himself to blame if he made arrangements that Attila did not approve of. He then retired, having consented that I should act as an intermediary in conveying messages from Maximin to himself, for it would not have been consistent with Maximin's dignity as ambassador to visit him constantly.

The next day I entered the enclosure of Attila's palace, bearing gifts to his wife, whose name was Kreka. She had three sons, of whom the eldest governed the Acatiri and the other nations who dwell in Pontic Scythia. Within the enclosure were numerous buildings, some of carved boards beautifully fitted together, others of straight, fastened on round wooden blocks which rose to a moderate height from the ground. Attila's wife lived here, and, having been admitted by the barbarians at the door, I found her reclining on a soft couch. The floor of the room was covered with woollen mats for walking on. A number of servants stood round her, and maids sitting on the floor in front of her embroidered with colours linen cloths intended to be placed over the Scythian dress for ornament. Having approached, saluted, and presented the gifts, I went out, and walked to another house, where Attila was, and waited for Onegesius, who, as I knew, was with Attila. I stood in the middle of a great crowd--the guards of Attila and his attendants knew me, and so no one hindered me. I saw a number of people advancing, and a great commotion and noise, Attila's egress being expected. And he came forth from the house with a dignified gait, looking round on this side and on that. He was accompanied by Onegesius, and stood in front of the house; and many persons who had lawsuits with one another came up and received his judgment. Then he returned into the house, and received ambassadors of barbarous peoples.

As I was waiting for Onegesius, I was accosted by Romulus and Promotus and Romanus, the ambassadors who had come from Italy about the golden vessels; they were accompanied by Rusticius and by Constantiolus, a man from the Pannonian territory, which was subject to Attila. They asked me whether we had been dismissed or are constrained to remain, and I replied that it was just to learn this from Onegesius that I was waiting outside the palace. When I inquired in my turn whether Attila had vouchsafed them a kind reply, they told me that his decision could not be moved, and that he threatened war unless either Silvanus or the drinking-vessels were given up....

As we were talking about the state of the world, Onegesius came out; we went up to him and asked him about our concerns. Having first spoken with some barbarians, he bade me inquire of Maximin what consular the Romans are sending as an ambassador to Attila. When I came to our tent I delivered the message to Maximin, and deliberated with him what answer we should make to the question of the barbarian. Returning to Onegesius, I said that the Romans desired him to come to them and adjust the matters of dispute, otherwise the Emperor will send whatever ambassador he chooses. He then bade me fetch Maximin, whom he conducted to the presence of Attila. Soon after Maximin came out, and told me that the barbarian wished Nomus or Anatolius or Senator to be the ambassador, and that he would not receive any other than one of these three; when he (Maximin) replied that it was not meet to mention men by name and so render them suspected in the eyes of the Emperor, Attila said that if they do not choose to comply with his wishes the differences will be adjusted by arms.

When we returned to our tent the father of Orestes came with an invitation from Attila for both of us to a banquet at three o'clock. When the hour arrived we went to the palace, along with the embassy from the western Romans, and stood on the threshold of the hall in the presence of Attila. The cup-bearers gave us a cup, according to the national custom, that we might pray before we sat down. Having tasted the cup, we proceeded to take our seats; all the chairs were ranged along the walls of the room on either side. Attila sat in the middle on a couch; a second couch was set behind him, and from it steps led up to his bed, which was covered with linen sheets and wrought coverlets for ornament, such as Greeks and Romans use to deck bridal beds. The places on the right of Attila were held chief in honour, those on the left, where we sat, were only second. Berichus, a noble among the Scythians, sat on our side, but had the precedence of us. Onegesius sat on a chair on the right of Attila's couch, and over against Onegesius on a chair sat two of Attila's sons; his eldest son sat on his couch, not near him, but at the extreme end, with his eyes fixed on the ground, in shy respect for his father. When all were arranged, a cup-bearer came and handed Attila a wooden cup of wine. He took it, and saluted the first in precedence, who, honoured by the salutation, stood up, and might not sit down until the king, having tasted or drained the wine, returned the cup to the attendant. All the guests then honoured Attila in the same way, saluting him, and then tasting the cups; but he did not stand up. Each of us had a special cupbearer, who would come forward in order to present the wine, when the cup-bearer of Attila retired. When the second in precedence and those next to him had been honoured in like manner, Attila toasted us in the same way according to the order of the seats. When this ceremony was over the cup-bearers retired, and tables, large enough for three or four, or even more, to sit at, were placed next the table of Attila, so that each could take of the food on the dishes without leaving his seat. The attendant of Attila first entered with a dish full of meat, and behind him came the other attendants with bread and viands, which they laid on the tables. A luxurious meal, served on silver plate, had been made ready for us and the barbarian guests, but Attila ate nothing but meat on a wooden trencher. In everything else, too, he showed himself temperate; his cup was of wood, while to the guests were given goblets of gold and silver. His dress, too, was quite simple, affecting only to be clean. The sword he carried at his side, the latchets of his Scythian shoes, the bridle of his horse were not adorned, like those of the other Scythians, with gold or gems or anything costly. When the viands of the first course had been consumed we all stood up, and did not resume our seats until each one, in the order before observed, drank to the health of Attila in the goblet of wine presented to him. We then sat down, and a second dish was placed on each table with eatables of another kind. After this course the same ceremony was observed as after the first. When evening fell torches were lit, and two barbarians coming forward in front of Attila sang songs they had composed, celebrating his victories and deeds of valour in war. And of the guests, as they looked at the singers, some were pleased with the verses, others reminded of wars were excited in their souls, while yet others, whose bodies were feeble with age and their spirits compelled to rest, shed tears. After the songs a Scythian, whose mind was deranged, appeared, and by uttering outlandish and senseless words forced the company to laugh. After him Zerkon, the Moorish dwarf, entered. He had been sent by Attila as a gift to Aetius, and Edecon had persuaded him to come to Attila in order to recover his wife, whom he had left behind him in Scythia; the lady was a Scythian whom he had obtained in marriage through the influence of his patron Bleda. He did not succeed in recovering her, for Attila was angry with him for returning. On the occasion of the banquet he made his appearance, and threw all except Attila into fits of unquenchable laughter by his appearance, his dress, his voice, and his words, which were a confused jumble of Latin, Hunnic, and Gothic. Attila, however, remained immovable and of unchanging countenance nor by word or act did he betray anything approaching to a smile of merriment except at the entry of Ernas, his youngest son, whom he pulled by the cheek, and gazed on with a calm look of satisfaction. I was surprised that he made so much of this son, and neglected his other children but a barbarian who sat beside me and knew Latin, bidding me not reveal what he told, gave me to understand that prophets had forewarned Attila that his race would fall, but would be restored by this boy. When the night had advanced we retired from the banquet, not wishing to assist further at the potations.

Translation by J.B. Bury (Priscus, fr. 8 in Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum)

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996




Recent Videos

Recent Blog Entries

Newest Members