The battle of the Catalaunian Fields is one of the most famous battles of the late Western Roman Empire, and is often described as the battle that saved Western Europe from conquest by Atilla the Hun. However in the following year Atilla actually invaded Italy, and within thirty years the last Western Emperor had been deposed, suggesting that the battle didn’t quite have the results often credited to it. This book looks at the wider world of Atilla and his Huns, their campaigns against the two halves of the Roman Empire and how they meshed with other campaigns, including several costly attempts to reconquer North Africa, recently lost to the Vandals.
The author’s main argument is that fighting the battle was a major error on the part of the Roman general Aetius. It came at a point when Atilla was retreating from Gaul, so could have simply been sheparded out of the empire. Both sides suffered heavy losses in the battle, but these fell especially heavily on Aetius’s key allies. This weakened his position in the immediate aftermath of the battle, as his Gothic allies left in the aftermath of the death of their king, preventing him from following up on the victory, and also in the long term, as it was his system of alliances that helped keep Aetius in power, and able to maintain some semblance of Roman authority in Gaul.
Although the book is named after the battle, it only actually takes up one of the six chapters. What we actually get is a fascinating account of the impact of the Huns on the two halves of the Roman Empire, both of which suffered from their raids, with the eastern Empire losing several very costly field battles against them. We do get a good account of the battle itself, combined with a convincing suggestion for its location. However for me the best thing about the book is the final chapter, which looks at the aftermath of the battle in far more detail than is often the case. In the next following year Atilla invaded Italy and inflicted critical damage on the defences of the heart of the western Empire, while Aetius’s allies in Gaul suffered defeats of their own. The author argues that the decision to fight at the Catalaunian Fields actually cost Rome more than it gained, and played a major roll in eroding the Roman position in Gaul, the status of Aetius (murdered a few years later by the Emperor of the day), and eventually helped lead to the final collapse of the Western Empire!
1 – Background and Prelude to the War of 451
2 – The Roman Coalition
3 – The Hun Confederation
4 – The Campaign of 451
5 – The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields
6 – The Effects of the Battle
Author: Evan Michael Schultheis
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military