February 4, 2023

History of Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in March 453. He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths, Alans, and Bulgars. There is no surviving first-hand account of Attila’s appearance, but there is a possible second-hand source.

Attila the Hun was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in March 453. He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths, Alans, and Bulgars. During his reign he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

There is no surviving first-hand account of Attila’s appearance, but there is a possible second-hand source provided by Jordanes. Jordanes: He was a man born into the world to shake the nations.

Attila is formed from the Gothic or Gepidic noun atta, “father”, by means of the diminutive suffix -ila, meaning “little father”. The Gothic etymology was first proposed by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 19th century.

Omeljan Pritsak considered a composite title-name which derived from Turkic *es (great, old), and *til (sea, ocean), and the suffix /a/. The stressed back syllabic til assimilated the front member es, so it became *as.

H. Althof (1902) considered it was related to Turkish atli (horseman, cavalier, or Turkish at (horse) and dil (tongue) M. Snædal notes that none of these proposals has achieved wide acceptance.

Doerfer notes that King George VI of the United Kingdom had a name of Greek origin, but that does not make them Greeks or Arabs. It is therefore plausible that Attila would have a name not of Hunnic origin. Historian Hyun Jin Kim has argued that the Turkic etymology is more probable.

M. Snædal argues that Attila’s name could have originated from Turkic-Mongolian.

Attila’s contemporaries left many testimonials of his life, but only fragments of these remain. Priscus was a Byzantine diplomat and historian who wrote in Greek. He was a witness to and an actor in the story of Attila.

Only fragments of Priscus’ work remain. It was cited extensively by 6th-century historians Procopius and Jordanes. It is also an important source of information about the Hunnic empire.

Hungarian writers of the 12th century wished to portray the Huns in a positive light as their glorious ancestors. They repressed certain historical elements and added their own legends.

The literature and knowledge of the Huns themselves was transmitted orally by means of epics and chanted poems. Attila is a major character in many Medieval epics, such as the Nibelungenlied and Eddas.

There are a few traces of battles and sieges, but the tomb of Attila and the location of his capital have not yet been found.

The Huns were a group of Eurasian nomads, appearing from east of the Volga, who migrated further into Western Europe c. 370. Their main military techniques were mounted archery and javelin throwing. The origin and language of the Huns has been the subject of debate for centuries.

The Huns were bargaining with Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II’s envoys for the return of several renegades who had taken refuge within the Eastern Roman Empire. The Romans agreed to return the fugitives to double their previous tribute of 350 Roman pounds (c. 115 kg) of gold, to open their markets to Hunnish traders.

The Huns were left unopposed and rampaged through the Balkans as far as Thermopylae. Constantinople itself was saved by the Isaurian troops of magister militum per Orientem Zeno.

In 450, Attila proclaimed his intent to attack the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse by making an alliance with Emperor Valentinian III. Valentinian’s sister was Honoria, who had sent the Hunnish king a plea for help and her engagement ring to escape her forced betrothal to a Roman senator.

Attila returned in 452 to renew his marriage claim with Honoria, invading and ravaging Italy. Communities became established in what would later become Venice as a result of these attacks. Attila’s devastating invasion of the plains of northern Italy that year did not improve the harvest.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, Emperor Marcian succeeded Theodosius II, and stopped paying tribute to the Huns. Attila withdrew from Italy to his palace across the Danube, while making plans to strike at Constantinople. However, he died in the early months of 453.

The name has many variants in several languages: Atli and Atle in Old Norse; Etzel in Middle High German (Nibelungenlied); Ætla in Old English; Attila, Atilla, Atila, and Attila in Hungarian.

By the end of the 12th century the royal court of Hungary proclaimed their descent from Attila. The Sword of Attila had been presented to Otto of Nordheim by the exiled queen of Hungary, Anastasia of Kiev.

An anonymous chronicler of the medieval period represented the meeting of Pope Leo I and Atilla as attended also by Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This apotheosis was later portrayed by the Renaissance artist Raphael and sculptor Algardi.

Some histories and chronicles describe Attila as a great and noble king, and he plays major roles in three Norse texts: Atlakviða, Volsunga saga and Atlamál. The Polish Chronicle represents Attila’s name as Aquila.

In 1846, Giuseppe Verdi wrote the opera, loosely based on episodes in Attila’s invasion of Italy. In modern Hungary and in Turkey, “Attila” and its Turkish variation “Atilla” are commonly used as a male first name. In Hungary, several public places are named after Attila.

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