Huns For a general description of this people and their history see volume 4. It is the design in this place to pay some attention to particulars which are merely alluded to in the former article, and especially to examine the question of Attila's influence upon Christendom. The name Huns (Hunni, Ουννοι, Χοῦνοι)"is a comparatively recent one in history, and its derivation is altogether uncertain. The usual theory, that it is only the Chinese Hun-jo transferred into the dialects of the West, is not so well established as to make it impossible, or even unlikely, that Chinese writers may have first found the name used by Byzantine historians, and appropriated it from them. It is evidently a collective name, and designates a people composed of many distinct tribes, which are mentioned in some detail by early writers.
This people belonged to the Turkish family, and can best be accounted for, so far as that portion which enters into European history is concerned, by regarding it as included among the Scythian tribes of which the later classics make mention. An Asiatic branch, whose western limits did not reach beyond the modern Turkestan, is wholly outside the scope of our inquiry. The Huns of history are first discovered as occupants of the district about the Caspian Sea, lying to the north and north-east of the Alans, who occupied the Caucasus and adjoining regions. Emerging thence, they engaged in a bloody struggle with the Alans, whom they defeated and afterward incorporated with their armies; and the allied nations then precipitated themselves on the Goths, whose territories lay beyond and contigtious to those of the Alans, and, by fircing them from. their homes, produced the general irruption of barbarians into the Roman empire. In the revolt of the Goths against the empire the Huns crossed the Danube as allies of their recent enemies, and, though they were, for a time less conspicuous than the Goths, they were yet able to impose a tribute, under their king Rouas, upon the Romans. Bleda and Attila, the sons of Mundzuk and nephews of Rouas, succeeded the latter in 433; and after the death of Bleda, said by some authorities to have been caused by his brother, while others deny the charge, Attila became the acknowledged head of the, vast hordes collected under or affiliated with the Hunnish name, and entered on a career of conquest and diplomacy which made him the most noted personage of his age, and under the embellishing hand of legend and myth has secured to him and his followers a notable place in the recollections of the world for all time. Seven hundred thousand warriors, Huns, Alans, Avars, Bulgarians, Acatzirs, and many other tribes are said to have followed him into battle. An expedition into Persia for plunder is assumed by some writers as his first distinct enterprise; but history gives clear evidence of but three campaigns conducted by Attila, all of them European wars.
1An invasion of the Eastern or Byzantine empire in 441, in which he defeated the emperor Theodosius II in successive battles, ravaged Illyricum, Thrace, and Greece, and after several years of desultory warfare conquered a peace in 447, which gave him possession of a territory in Thrace. Having devastated the country south of the Danube, he accepted an indemnity from the emperor, and renounced all claim to its control. In addition, he exacted, however, an annual tribute and the return of deserters from his army.
2. An incursion into Gaul in 450, during which he took the towns of Treves, Metz, Rheims, Tongres, Arras, Laon, St. Quentin, Strasburg, etc. Orleans, which was the objective point of the campaign, was relieved by the Roman general AEtius when the gates had already been opened to the Huns, and pillage was beginning. Attila thereupon retreated precipitately to Chalons on the Marne, and was there attacked by the united armies of JEtins and Theodoric, the Visigoth king, and defeated in a terrible battle in which historians report a slaughter of from 252,000 to 300,000 men — the last great battle ever fought by the Romans. Returning to his possessions on the Danube, he prepared for a new campaign, which he undertook
3. In 452. The ostensible reason alleged for his incursion of that year into Italy was the refusal of the emperor Valentinian III to confer upon him the hand of his sister Honoria, accompanied by a dowry of half the empire. He crossed the Julian Alps and laid siege to Aquileia, then the second city in Italy, and at the end of three months overcame its obstinate resistance.: A century later the historian Jornandes could scarcely trace the ruins of the place. Other towns were sacked, e.g. Milan, Pavia, Parma, and quite certainly also Verona, Maitua, Brescia, Bergamo, and Cremona. The whole of Lombardy was ravaged, and Attila was preparing to march on Rome when an embassy from that city, headed by Pope Leo the Great, succeeded in persuading him to a peaceful evacuation of Italy. Retiring into Pannonia by way of Augsburg, which he pillaged, he consoled himself by adding a new wife, Ildico, Hilda, or Mycolth, to the large number which he already possessed; but on the morning after this marriage he was found dead, having ruptured a blood-vessel or been foully dealt with, A.D. 453. His kingdom fell to pieces almost as soon as the great king was dead; the different nations which had followed his banner became alienated from each other, and separated, some to serve in the armies of the empire, others to seek alliance with tribes in the north and east, which were of similar race and character with themselves.
The effect of the Hunnish incursions was indirectly beneficial to Christianity. The Burgundians, for example, when threatened by Attila's uncle, Oktar-or Ouptar, submitted to be baptized, in the hope that they might thus acquire power to resist the foe. The deliverance of Troyes in the Chalons campaign by the supplications of bishop Lupus, and of Rome in the following year by those of Leo the Great, convinced the mind of that and succeeding ages that piety could accomplish what armies might fail to achieve. The profound impressions wrought upon the mind of Christendom appear most clearly, however, in the legendary histories of Attila, which are preserved in three distinct currents of tradition — the Latin, Germanic, and Hungarian.
The Latin legends originated in the reaction from the panic into which Attila's conquests had thrown the whole of Europe, and sprang from ecclesiastical sources. They seek to explain his successes by exaggerating his power, and both chronology and geography are violated in the attempt to magnify his career. They describe sieges and captures which never took place, make the Hunnish army to sweep over the whole of France, derive the name of the city of Strasburg from the fancy that Attila made four roads through the city walls, and despatch the broken remnants of his army after the battle of Chalons into Spain to fight the Moors. In the title "The Scourge of God," applied to Attila, these Latin. legends reach their culmination. A hermit of Chamipagne says to Attila before Chalons- misplaced in that province by the legend — "Tu es flagellum Dei — but Gods breaks, when he pleases, the instruments of his vengeance. God will take this sword from thee and give it to another." At Troves Attila announces himself to St. Lupus as "the king of the Huns, the Scourge of God;" whereupon the bishop responds, "Welcome, then, scourge of the God whom I serve. Enter, and go where thou wilt." The Huns are, however, smitten with supernatural blindness, and see nothing until they have passed through the city and out at the opposite gate. Some of these legends endow Attila with diabolical attributes, sarcasm, pride, and hideous ugliness, joined with a sardonic humor, while others go to the opposite extreme, and describe him as a champion of the pope and extirpator of heresies. Some of the latter sort even represent him as preaching, morality, encouraging good marriages, and portioning virtuous maidens. One reports that a great battle was fought by Attila under the walls of Rome, on the conclusion of which the dead rose again and continued the fight with great fury for three days and nights; and the location, with all its details, was afterwards pointed out.
The Germanic legends differ widely from the Latin. In them Attila is a hero, the type of royal majesty, furnished with almost superhuman bravery and strength. He is as wise as Solomon, and richer and more generous than was he. The great Theodoric and Hermanaric are always associated with him, as his inferiors. The oldest of these legends is a fragment of the 8th century at Fulda, which proves that they were circulated in the Frank dialect in Gaul during the Merovingian period. The Germanic form of Attila legend was current in England also at an early period, and receives its fullest development in the Icelandic and Scandinavian handling. The episode of Walter of Aquitaine and the Nibelungenlied are offshots from the primitive stock of this tradition.
The Hungarian legends associate Attila with all the phases of their early national life. Deriving the Magyar stock from Magog, the son of Japhet and king of Scythia, they trace it down to Attila and his son Arpad, the common patrons of the Magyars and Huns. When the Magyars become Christians, it is because Attila, by his docility under the hand of God, whose scourge he was, has prepared the way for their conversion through his merits. He is the inseparable patron of that people, changing when they change, and living through all the stages of their national existence.
Attila was not only a barbarian, but also a heathen, and while he fought Rome rather than the Church, and even showed regard for the sanctity of its eminent representatives, the success of his arms was universally felt to be destructive to Christianity. In the course of time, accordingly, the minds of writers, saturated with ideas derived from the churchly legends, discovered that so mighty an impersonation of the principle of evil as was Attila could be no other than Antichrist himself; and artists, under the same influence, represented him as having almost diabolical features and goat's horns. See frontispiece to Italian legend of Attila, frequently printed at Venice in the later years of the 15th century.
For the later history of the Huns, down to the time when the name and people became extinct, see the article HUNS in volume 4.
Literature. — For the early history Ammianus Marcellinus and Priscus, especially the latter, are the principal sources. Sidonius Apollinaris notices the invasion of Gaul. Later authorities are Jornandes, Procopius, Agathius, Gregory of Tours, and Cassiodorus. Jornandes was a Goth, bitterly hostile to the Huns. and openi to the charge of excessive credulity; but he is the only authority for certain portions of Attila's history.
Among modern works De Guignses's Histoise des Huns must be assigned the first place, as it furnishes all the speculations upon which the earliest accepted history of the Huns is based. Gibbon's account in the Decline and Fall .(Milman's ed. volume 6) is scarcely more than an abridgment of De Guignes's. See also Creasy, Decisive Battles of the World (Chalofis); Neumann, Volker des Sudlichen Russlands; Klenmm, Attila (1827); J. v. Miiller, Attila, der Held des 5. Jahrhunderts (1806); Herbert, Attila, or the Triumph of Christianity (1838); Grimm, Deutsche Heldensagen (Gottingen, 1829); Zeuss, Deutsche u. Nachbarstamme and Ostfinnen. Also, Bertazzalo, Vita. San Leone Primo et di Attila Flagello di Dio (Mantuma, 1614, 4to). Gibbon gives leading authorities on Attila. See the Church Histories and leading Dictionaries, etc., and the articles SEE HUNS, SEE LEO I, SEE POPE, etc., in this Cyclopaedia.