Attila the Hun: 16 Facts about the “Scourge of God”

Attila the Hun facts

Attila the Hun facts. A painting of Attila riding a pale horse, by French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863)

Considered by many as one of the most brutal and awe-inspiring military commanders, Attila the Hun was the leader of the Hunnic Empire who inflicted unimaginable pain and misery on places as far as the Balkans, central and eastern Europe, and central Asia. This 5th century AD warlord led his fierce barbaric Huns warriors on many military campaigns, including the ones into the Western and Eastern Roman Empire. Such was Attila’s brutality during his military expeditions that he came to be known as the “scourge of God” (Latin – Flagellum Dei).

Below WHE presents 16 major facts about the Attila the Hun, the ruler of the Hunnic Empire.

Attila the Hun probably assassinated his own brother

The Huns leader, Attila, was such a power hungry leader that he went to great lengths to get rid of anyone who stood in his way. Attila and his brother Bleda grew up in a very influential ruling family. Upon the death of their uncles, the two siblings succeeded the throne, jointly ruling the Hunnic Empire. Attila and Bleda went on many conquests together, leaving an unimaginable level of destruction wherever they went. According to some accounts, Attila quickly grew tired of sharing power and therefore had his brother, Bleda, killed. There is no evidence to support this; however, it is not unlikely as Attila was a very violent megalomaniac.

He had a large harem of wives and concubines

For a vicious warlord and ruler like Attila the Hun, having many wives and concubines doesn’t come a as huge surprise. His female partners came from far and wide, where he would seize them during his conquest. He once seized a high-born woman called Honoria, who was also the sister to western Roman emperor Valentinian III (reigned 425–455 CE). Having been betrothed to a man that she did not love, Honoria sent a letter with a ring to Attila. She was inviting the barbarian warlord to intervene in the matter. Attila interpreted this as Honoria proposing marriage to him. Therefore, he marched on the western Empire and demanded that half of the kingdom be given to him as dowry for the marriage to Honoria.

Attila had come to realize that he could acquire a lot of fortune by seizing high-born women and then asking for an enormous amount of gold or concessions from the women’s tribe. Mór Than’s 19th century painting of The Feast of Attila, based on a fragment of Priscus

A man of modest lifestyle

In spite of all the riches and gold he accumulated, mainly from his military raids, conquests, and tributes, Attila was in fact a man who appreciated very modest lifestyle. Whereas his contemporaries feasted on the best kinds of foods, Attila ate simple things like meat and drank from a cup made of wood. He would let his guests and followers drink feast on the best foods and drinks, usually from a golden and silver cups. For reasons unknown to this day, Attila preferred wearing simple clothes as well.

His stare was nothing short of petrifying

Staring into the eyes of Attila was described as comparable to staring into the depths of hell. The Hunnic Empire ruler had a very frightening stare that could bring his enemies to their knees. His trick was to roll his eyes back into his head so as to make his face look contorted. His stare, combined with the scars on his body and his military gear, could make the bravest of soldiers soil himself. Legend has it that Attila wielded the sword of Ares, the Greek god of war and destruction. This comes as no surprise, considering the fact that Attila seemed to be truly happy only when he saw villages and towns razed to the ground.

He was known for his wild temper

Perfectly complementing Attila’s fierce stare was his wild temper. The warlord and barbarian (as described by the Romans) did not get to attain such lofty heights in military conquests and raids by having a wide smile. Instead, Attila purposely paid attention to his entire demeanor so as to elicit the greatest amount of fear from his opponents. He and the nomadic Huns army had the practice of mutilating themselves to make themselves even more terrifying.

He frequently made incursions into the Eastern and Western Roman Empire

The Huns were expertly trained horse riders and archers. Most of these training began as early as age four. Therefore, by the time the average Hun grew up, he was in a way more superior fighter to his counterpart in Europe. Image: The Huns, led by Attila, invade Italy (Attila, the Scourge of God, by Spanish painter Ulpiano Checa, 1887)

It would certainly be an understatement to say that Attila and his fearsome nomadic army were a thorn in the flesh of the Roman world. Attila’s nomadic marches into territories of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire left nothing but destruction, pain, and death.

Militarily, the Huns under the leadership of Attila had weapons and tactics that were better than their enemies. He had an incredible run of military successes, carving out territories from the Gothic Kingdom and the Western Roman Empire.

One of the most ruthless military rulers of all time

It was not just the speed of Attila’s attack that frightened his enemies. It was the attention he put into planning his incursions. The opponents of Attila the Hun described as a ruthless military ruler who attacked like ferocious and calculating demon from hell. Attila’s military intelligence was up there with the most astute general Rome or Constantinople could ever produce.

A political and military genius

Right from an early age, Attila the Hun honed his craft in negotiations and military strategy. His uncles – Rugila and Octar – exposed him to several military meetings and inter-tribal negotiations. As ruler of the Hunnic Empire, he would use those skills to his advantage and claim several chests of gold as tributes from both the thriving Eastern Roman Empire and the declining Western Roman Empire.

A gifted planner, Attila the Hun always looked for weaknesses in his enemies’ defenses and used that to gain an edge. Describing Attila as simply the “scourge of God” diminishes the sheer amount of reasoning he put into steering the affairs of the Huns.

Raked in a lot of tributes from Rome and Constantinople

Attila often signed peace treaty with his enemies and exact heavy tributes on them, only for him to renege on his promise not to attack them. For example, he imposed several hundreds of pounds of gold on the very wealthy Eastern Roman Empire. Many of his enemies sued for peace as they were completely terrified of him and the Huns forces.

He strategically made himself look repulsive in order to gain a psychological edge over his enemies in battles.

Attila somehow knew when to apply brute force in order to get the things he wanted.

The Huns had a peculiar way of carrying themselves. They were considered relatively unkempt tribes. To add to this, the Huns were known for mutilating themselves right from a tender age. Particularly, soldiers and warriors took great pride in scaring themselves after the death of someone in battle. They used this to mourn the deceased.

Another very repugnant practice of the Huns was cranial deformation. Cranial deformation is the practice of changing the shape of the skull during childhood. For a while now, historians have been scratching their heads as to exactly why the Huns practiced cranial deformations.

Perhaps it was designed to give them an imposing look on the battlefield. Perhaps it was simply a religious ritual to ward off evil spirits at birth.

He used speed and agility to devastating effect

He was an effective leader considering the fact that his empire comprised a fairly large number of people from different ethnicities. His empire very large as it covered places from modern-day Ukraine to Hungry.

Attila, the Hun, took his army’s agility and speed to a whole new level during his reign. This kind of novelty was the reason why the Romans struggled to deal with the Huns’ incursions. His daredevilry and sheer bravery left his enemies startled and running helter-skelter. Every decision of his was made in order to instill terror in the opponent’s forces. Some of his opponents began to think of him and his forces as demonic forces from the depths of hell.

Roman accounts describe Attila as some kind of ferocious and wild leader because to the Romans, people that came from outside their boundaries were simply barbarians and non-intelligent beings who knew only violence.

He and his Hunnic army completely shocked the Romans. He would decimate village after village in order to send a powerful warning to people that hoped to stand his way. This the reason why he has been praised as a tactically astute commander.

His raids were almost always perfect

From the sounds and songs they made to their physically deformed skulls and their mutilated bodies, Attila’s army literally became the worst nightmares of the towns that they attacked. This was seen in their victory over the Eastern Roman Empire in the late 440s. Attila also forced many people to flee what is today the Balkans. From there, he marched on Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey), the jewel of the Eastern Roman Empire. Had it not been for a disease outbreak, Attila would most likely have razed Constantinople to ground. The leaders of Constantinople had to pacify the Huns warlord’s thirst for destruction with several chests of gold.

His first major defeat came at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451

Some historians maintain that the defeat at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains marked the beginning of the end of Attila’s reign. The Huns at the Battle of Chalons by Alphonse de Neuville (1836–85).

It must be noted that Attila had a remarkable run of military successes, barely losing any battles in his life. However, that all changed in 451, when he marched his Huns army on Gaul (in today’s France). Afraid that Attila would turn his attention to Rome after defeating the Visigoths, Roman general Flavius Aeitus entered into a military alliance with a number of barbaric tribes on the eastern borders of the Roman Empire, including the Visigoths. Disregarding the prophecy of his sorcerer, Attila proceeded to battle only to find out that the combined armies of the Visigoths and the Romans erected a kind of resistance he had never encountered before. Attila suffered his first major defeat on the Catalaunian Plains (in modern day eastern France). The death toll on both sides was none like ever seen before. Regardless, the Romans had shown to everyone that Attila and his army weren’t invincible.

Attila was dissuaded from razing Rome to the ground by Pope Leo I

Attila retreated to his base, hoping to fight another day. That day came in 452, when he invaded Italy and took cities such as Patavium, Aquileia and Milan. Had it not been for the timely intervention of Pope Leo I, Attila would most certainly have decimated the city of Rome. Pope Leo I was able to convince Attila to take pity on the inhabitants of Rome and march his back to his base. It is unclear why Attila halted his army’s march on Rome. Some scholars say that Attila was moved by the eloquence, humility and piety of Leo. It is also likely that Attila’s army was starved off necessary supplies, hence the warlord’s decision to withdraw from Italy. In any case, Attila most likely exacted a huge price on the Roman Empire by demanding a lot of tributes in exchange for his retreat.

He passed away on his wedding night

On his wedding night, a large celebration to celebrate his union with Ildico, Attila got absolutely hammered on a lot of alcohol. The following the day, he was found dead with blood oozing from his nose. The Hunnic Emperor had suffered from a severe nosebleed that was probably caused by the previous night’s over indulgence in alcohol. It is also likely that he was struck by a brain hemorrhage. Some accounts state that it was instead a liver problem. After all, Attila was known for drinking a lot. And we all know the damage alcohol wreaks upon the liver.

Following his death, rumors abounded of the Ildico having a hand in the death of warlord since she was the last person to see Attila the Hun.

What happened after the death of Attila?

Considered as one of the most evil men in history, Attila the Hun is believed to have died around 453. Following his death, his successors could hold together the empire, which Attila had taken to heights never seen before. Attila’s successors did not have the kind of ferocity, the tactical genius and political skills to keep the various ethnicities in the Hunnic Empire together. Therefore, the empire weakened and then faded out of existence.

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