Attila the Hun, Arch-Enemy of Rome, Ian Hughes

Attila the Hun, Arch-Enemy of Rome, Ian Hughes

Atilla the Hun is one of the most famous figures from the dying days of the Western Roman Empire, but all of the sources on his life were produced by his enemies, mainly the Roman or former Roman world. As a result most of the work on Atilla tends to take a similar approach, looking at how he was seen by the Romans, how they responded to his actions etc. In contrast the aim of this book is to produce a biography of Atilla from the Hunnish point of view. We thus get a good section on the origins of the Hun, the nature of Hun society, the actions of the Hun empire, the aims of their known campaigns etc. This acts as a counter to a book on Atilla’s most famous enemy, the able western Roman commander Aetius.

This is quite a difficult task. We don’t really know what motivated most of Atilla’s actions, so we have to work backwards from what he is known to have done to what his motives were. Likewise very little is know for sure about the background of the Huns - the suggestion that they were related to the Xiongnu who had an empire to the north of China only comes from two passing references for instance (it’s a sign of the limited sources for much of their history that this is still the best guess!).

This approach brings things to the fore that often don’t appear in other accounts, starting with Atilla’s time as joint ruler and possible the junior ruler of the Huns. His contacts with the Eastern Empire and the Persians get more attention. The size of the Hun empire becomes more apparent. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Hun’s track record in battles against the Romans emerges as rather poor when the entire story is examined, and Atilla’s final invasion of Italy looks rather less succesful. When seen from the Roman side it saw the Huns break into northern Italy, successfully besiege a major city and ravage parts of the north. From the Hun side it saw then held up outside the same city, trapped in the north of Italy and forced to retreat with little achieved.

Overall this is an excellent idea, implemented well, and produces a picture of an Atilla who was a capable military commander and diplomat, but by no means the brilliant figure his reputation would suggest.

1 – The Origin of the Huns
2 – The Huns: Nomadic Society
3 – Contact
4 – Attila
5 – Joint Rule
6 – Sole Rule
7 – Undisputed Rule
8 – The Invasion of Gaul
9 – The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains
10 – Final Years
11 – Aftermath and Conclusions

Author: Ian Hughes
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2019

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