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Posted on Oct 4, 2004 in War College

To Rule the World . . .!!

By Steven McWilliams

Who were the Huns?

“Rambling into history as a nation of mysterious origin, the Huns were a nomadic, multiracial and multilingual conglomeration of tribes.  Whether their origin was on the European side of the Urals, or from Asiatic or Turkic descent is left largely to. . . .  confused oral history.” 

Roberts, “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.”

Tracing the origins of the Huns could easily fill a book of its own.  Therefore, only a brief notation will be made here.  Several references trace the Huns to the Xiongnu or Hsiung-nu (“fierce slaves”) people, reportedly from Chunwei, the son of the last Xia Dynasty Lord, Jie.  The Uighurs, a nomadic steppe tribe, claim the same ancestry.  Reportedly, these people headed north and then westward to escape subjugation, in time becoming the Huns known to Western historical record.

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Though contemporary accounts of the Huns are few, an invaluable chronicler of their existence was Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (330-400).  From Gothic informants, Ammianus learned that the Huns (prior to 376 AD) “made their violent way amid the rapine and slaughter of the neighboring peoples, as far as the Halani”(or Alans), later in the century fighting and subjugating the Visigoths and Ostrogoths.  In fact, Ammianus’ first information begins with the Huns’ attack on the Alans, believed to have occurred in 472.  At this time, the Alans are known to have lived somewhere near the River Don, though several accounts differ as to exactly where.  One account indicates that the Alans lived “in the measureless wastes of Scythia, to the east of the river [Don].”, “and divided in two between Europe and Asia, which are separated by the Don.”  Another placed them next to the Saurometae or the Greuthingi (Ostrogoths).  The Alans (with the Scythians) are believed to be the ancestors of the modern Ossetians (south Caucasus).

Beyond doubt, however, is the alliance of a group or groups of the Alans with the Huns (c.372- c.407).  Ammianus states that, “The Huns killed and plundered them [Alans] and joined the survivors to themselves in a treaty of alliance; then in company with them, they made more boldly a sudden inroad into the extensive and rich cantons of Ermanrichus, the King of the East Goths, reputed to have killed himself when the Huns invaded Western Europe.  This was the world into which Attila was born – a resurgent, powerful, confident civilization, eager to seek land, riches and other peoples to conquer.  In addition to this was added Attila’s personal ambition, discipline, focus and vision.  Attila had a clear picture of what a Hun leader should be, and he tolerated no less amongst those leaders he appointed.  Sloppy, unmotivated, dishonorable leaders would be swiftly removed.

Attila bursts onto the world stage.

A Gothic historian describes below one of the most feared men in recorded history – Attila the Hun, “the Scourge of God”. (In fact that title was applied both to Attila and his Hunnic army.)

“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 a 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 a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired….  He delighted in war; but, after he had ascended the throne in a mature age, his head, rather than his hand, achieved the conquest of the North; and the fame of an adventurous soldier was usefully exchanged for that of a prudent and successful general.”

It is certainly true that Attila did appear to enjoy his conquests, reveling in the terror that he and his army struck into the hearts of those who faced them.  He was known to be savage and merciless to those who opposed him, sometimes slaughtering entire towns and villages.  He rewarded loyalty well, however, even among non-Huns.

During his term as a hostage in Rome, Attila rejected the trappings, luxuries and comforts of Roman life.  In fact, he tried to incite other hostages against Roman propaganda and the trappings of Roman life, albeit unsuccessfully.  After this he dedicated himself to passive resistance, learning the ways of Roman government and the Roman military, as well as that of visiting political and military leaders.  These were all to be used upon his return to the Huns.

Where did Attila come from?  We know that he was the son of Mundzucus (or Mundzuk), who had two brothers, Octar and Rua, the latter two known to be chieftains, while Munzucus’ status is in question.  Upon the death of these three, Attila ascended to the throne, with his elder brother Bleda.  It was now that Attila hoped to implement his vision of a united Hun kingdom under his rule, and from that, to conquer first the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, and then Western Europe.  The only obstacle – his brother, Bleda.  When he died in 445, reputedly at Attila’s hand, Attila assumed full leadership of all Huns, a vision of many Huns leaders before him.  Attila formed his army and marched on the Eastern Empire, devastating the Balkans, increasing the tribute paid by Constantinople, and gaining territorial successions (though the latter was of lesser significance to the Huns).  After these campaigns, Attila turned west, passing through modern-day Germany, striking into Gaul, and later, into Northern Italy, laying waste many cities and villages, including Metz and Aquileia.  His primary setback was at Chalons, near Orleans, where a multi-national army led by the Roman Aetius and the Visigothic King Theodoric prevailed after the Visigoths, seeing their King killed, turned with unbridled fury upon the Huns, driving them from the field.

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