Attila the Hun

King of the Huns

c. 406-453


Lanning Rating: #5
Known as the "scourge of God" ATTILA THE HUN was an accomplished tactician and innovative cavalry warrior.

The Huns were a nomadic Asian confederation of tribes who had been fighting the Eastern Roman empire for hundreds of years before Attila became their leader. Basically the Huns were an army of archers relying on mobility and surprise.

The Hun army attacked on horseback armed with bows, five feet in length and armed with several quivers of arrows. Hun horses were smart, aggressive, wide-hoofed animals and from them, Hun soldiers would shoot arrows up to 100 meters. Attila's battle tactics have made the term Hun synonymous with ruthless and savage aggressiveness.

Upon his ascension to leadership Attila began a new offensive against the Empire and conquered the land which is now referred to as Greece, Hungary, Italy and Spain. He nearly conquered Rome itself but was stopped by the Romans and Visigoths in the bloody Battle of Châlons in mid-June of 451.

The Battle of Châlons, 451

The size of Attila's army at Châlons has been debated. Some accounts indicate the Hun force to have been half a million men in strength. Other commentators say no more than 100,000 soldiers comprised the Hun army. The Romans, under Aetius, raised an army that was probably half the size of their enemy. In addition to the Roman heavy cavalry, Frankish infantry and Visigothic warriors allied with the Romans to do battle against Attila.

The Battle of Châlons began in the morning when a Visigothic contingent attempted to seize a strategic location near the Huns. Attila ordered a general counter-attack which initially penetrated the Roman army's center. The Visigoths, attacked on the right, and on the left Aetius and his Roman soldiers were so positioned that Attila was confronted with a double envelopment. Savage fighting continued through the night as Attila, realizing his precarious situation, ordered a retreat.

It is not entirely clear why, but Aetius, who could have wiped out Attila's army, chose not to do so. Instead, Attila and his Hun army were allowed to withdraw from Gaul and moved east and crossed the Rhine River.

Casualties are unknown but historians agree the fighting at Châlons was vicious, bloody, and savage.

The history of Western Europe would read quite differently if Aetius had not stopped Attila at Châlons. If Attila and the Huns had been victorious, it likely would have meant the rapid decline of Roman civilization and the Christian religion associated with this period of the Roman Empire.

After Châlons, Attila attempted to conquer the northern part of Italy. A Roman mission led by Pope Leo I visited Attila's battle camp and somehow persuaded the Hun commander to withdraw from Italy. The exact circumstances of this agreement are unknown.

Two years after his defeat at Châlons, Attila died. The Hun empire could not survive without him. Within twenty years of Attila's death, the Huns were an insignificant factor in the military and political affairs of the world.

In rating Attila number 15 in his list of 100 most influential military leaders, Michael Lanning writes:

Attila and his army seemed genuinely to enjoy warfare. The rigors and rewards of military life were more appealing to them than farming or attending to livestock.

Attila the Hun- 1997 wonderland Warrior
Published: January 15, 1997
Revised: January 17, 1997

© 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association