Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Attila the Hun

NAME Attila the Hun. Called "Scourge of God" by the Romans, "Etzel" by the Germans, "Ethele" by the Hungarians and something unrepeatable by a lot of people.

WHAT FAMOUS FOR King of the Huns and the scourge of Rome.

BIRTH b406 Hajdúböszörmény in Hungary

FAMILY BACKGROUND Young Attila was a member of the ruling family of the Huns. His warlord dad Rugila was a major factor in the Huns' early victories over the Roman Empire

CHILDHOOD Little is known of Attila's early life.

EDUCATION Attila was illiterate.

CAREER RECORD Here's Attila's CV
434 Attila succeeded his father as joint chieftain. For a time he ruled jointly with his elder brother Bleda but murdered him in 445. Evidently Attila was not a great believer in family values.
451 Attila leads the Huns into Gaul but is defeated by the Roman and Visigoth forces.
452 Attila raids Italy and retreats to Hungary.
Monty Python summed up a typical working day for Attila as follows:
Mr's Attila the Hun: "Have a busy day at the office?"
Attila: "Not at all bad. Another merciless sweep across central Europe."

APPEARANCE The Huns were of Mongol origin and Attila would have been yellow faced, with a thin beard, long and plaited hair and heavy moustache and a face deliberately scarred in boyhood. Priscus, a historian who travelled with Maximin on an embassy from Theodosius II in 448 described Attila as a Hun but no hunk. He said he was: "Short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and a swarthy complexion, showing the evidences of his origin." According to an evidently bitter Roman, he was a "hideous dwarf who rolled his eyes fiercely."

FASHION It was customary for Germanic leaders of Attila's day to powder their hair and moustache with gold dust. Others used goats grease and beech timber ashes to give their hair a glowing red colour. Attila probably did this. Attila would have worn short fitted tunics and either short breeches or cross-gartered trousers and crude leather shoes. When cold, he would have covered himself in an animal skin.
Attila was not interested in jewellery himself unlike some of his chieftains.
The Romans complained how much Attila and his fellow Huns smelled. The Barbarians had not got into the Roman habit of bathing.

CHARACTER The scourge of God was not necessarily overcharged in the meathead department. In short, he was a toughie but was kind to women and children. As the Huns were illiterate and his enemies wrote all the accounts of Attila he got a biased anti-Attila press.
So frightening was the the sound of Attila and his fellow Huns approaching that even Daleks would flee under the bed.

SENSE OF HUMOUR Not a fun Hun, the jokes about his height must have got Attila down.

RELATIONSHIPS Despite being short, squat, ugly Attila acquired 12 wives. Among his hunneys was Honoria, the sister of the western emperor Valentinian Honoria, the sister of the western emperor Valentinian III. The story goes that in 450 Attila proclaimed his intent to attack the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse. Honoria appealed to him in despair to rescue her from an arranged marriage to an elderly Roman senator by marrying her himself. As a dowry he expected half of the western empire. When this was refused Attila stroppily invaded Gaul.
Attila's 12th wife was Ildico, a beautiful German. However he died on their wedding night. Unsurprisingly it was the last of his marriages.
Attila's sons Ellak (his appointed successor), Dengizik, and Ernak fought over his legacy and, were defeated and scattered the following year in the battle of Nedao.

"I want you kids to get a head" Monty Python

MONEY AND FAME Attila lived in relative simplicity. However he regularly extorted vast sums in tribute from the Eastern Roman Empire and won a lot of plunder for his fellow Huns. For example the emperor of the Eastern empire promised to pay 700 pounds of gold each year to Attila and his hordes as payment for not attacking his empire. When the emperor missed some of his payments Attila invaded the region with some devastating consequences. The emperor was forced to increase his tribute.

FOOD AND DRINK According to the Romans the Huns drank blood. In fact Attila and his fellow Huns lived on the roots of such herbs as they could get or on the half-raw flesh of any animal which they merely warmed by rapidly placing it between their own thighs and the backs of their horses.
The historian Priscus was sent as emissary to Attila's encampment in 448. He reported that Attila ate off a wooden plate whilst his chieftains ate off silver plates. Said Priscus: "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."
As for Attila's drinking habit- put it this way if he was alive today I wouldn't dare offer him a short at the bar.

MUSIC AND ARTS Attila's hordes massacred and looted and burned their way across Europe. Then they reached the Roman empire. In Italy Attila occupied the Imperial Palace in Milan where he had all the paintings altered to show the Roman Emperor kneeling at his feet. So nah-he was probably not a culture vulture- they weren't called barbarians for nothing. However Priscus reports that Attila and his Huns did enjoy a sing-song: "When evening began to draw in, torches were lighted, and two barbarians came forward in front of Attila and sang songs which they had composed, hymning his victories and his great deeds in war. And the banqueters gazed at them, and some were rejoiced at the songs, others became excited at heart when they remembered the wars, but others broke into tears—those whose bodies were weakened by time and whose spirit was compelled to be at rest."

NATURE Attila and his fellow Huns treated their swift steppe horses well.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Attila was a skilled archer. He and his fellow Huns shot their arrows from horseback at full gallop with unerring accuracy.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Despite not being an obvious candidate for the Nobel peace prize, Attila had a fairly superficial Arian Christian faith which at least helped him to maintain certain high standards of Christian morality. Most of the conquering Barbarian tribes were in fact Arian Christians, so much church property was left unransacked, as they had tremendous reference for Christian relics and treasures.
Attila was referred to as the “Scourge of God” by the Romans, as they believed that he was a punishment sent for sinful Christians by God.
In 451 when Attila was on the march in Gaul the French withdrew more and more inside their country until it seemed Paris would fall. However a Christian girl, Genevieve promised the Parisians that if they prayed to God and didn't flee Attila would not come. He didn't. He was defeated at Châlons-sur-Marne and was forced to retreat. The Parisians rejoiced and Genevieve was canonised.
Attila was an autocratic ruler. He planned his campaigns without the help of any others.

SCANDAL On top of all that rampaging and destructing and being the "Scourge of God" Attila murdered his brother to gain sole control of the Hunnish empire.

MILITARY RECORD Being a Barbarian one pictures Attila being as brain empty as Mother Hubbard's cupboard but he was an astute military leader even though most of his victories were over weaker enemies. (On the massive map opposite, Attila's empire in 450 is marked in yellow).
447 Advanced through Illyria and devastated the whole region between the Black and Mediterranean Seas tearing into the opposing armies like Edward Scissorhands. Constantinople was saved as the Huns were not interested in besieging great cities.
451 Attila and his Huns invaded Gaul but was defeated by the Roman and Visigoth armies at the plains of Châlons-sur-Marne, near Troyes in one of the most terrible, bloody battles in history.
Attila retreated to the Rhine then turned his attention to Italy where after devastating North Italy, Rome was threatened. Only the personal intervention of the charismatic Pope Leo I prevented the sacking of Rome. However Attila's little secret was that he had already made up his mind to withdraw due to epidemics in his army and widespread famine. The timely intervention of the Pope helped him to save face.

HOMES When not ravaging and pillaging Europe, Attila was based in a wooden palace in the tiny village of Tápiószentmárton in central Hungary.

TRAVEL Attila saw a lot of central Europe on horseback.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS In battle the Barbarians made the Romans suffer from whooping goths ho ho.

DEATH d453 on the night of his marriage to the beautiful German Ildico, whilst making plans to invade Constantinople. There are conflicting accounts that he was poisoned, had a severe nosebleed or according to the Roman Count Marcellinus "pierced by the hand and blade of his wife." When Attila died, his troops cut his hair and slashed their faces " to mourn with blood rather than tears." The unfortunate men who buried him and his treasures were put to death so that his burial place would remain unknown.
After the demise of Attila, the Huns were absorbed into the surrounding population. Indeed the Visigoths and Vandals had more permanent impact.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA 1. Attila was played by that most Hun-like actor Jack Palance in Sign of the Pagan 1954 (see YouTube clip). The same year Anthony Quinn portrayed him in a Franco-Italian movie Attila, with Sophia Loren playing Honoria.
2. Verdi wrote an opera in 1846 called, yep, Attila.
3. The Beach Boys song "Barbara Ann" is about a girl called Barbara Ann not the Barbarians.

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. Attila successfully conquered large areas of territory.

2. Attila indirectly founded a great city. The story goes that families fleeing Attila and his hordes ended up in a series of mudbanks within a lagoon at the head of the Adriatic Sea. They stayed there, the settlement grew and it became Venice.
3. Attila is a national hero even today in Hungary where he is known as Ethele.
4. Margaret Thatcher used to be nicknamed Attila the Hen

Sources (1) Chronicle of the World
(2) 100 Great Kings and Queens and Rulers of the World
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attila

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