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Attila

Attila

 

AttilaAttila, King of the Huns, obtained for himself the fearful surnames, The Scourge of God" and" 'rite Fear of the World." He alternately insulted and invaded the East and the West, and urged the downfall of the Roman Empire. "He alone among the conquerors of ancient and modern times," says Gibbon, "united the two mighty kingdoms of Germany and Scythia." It was his boast that" the grass never grew on the spot where bis horse had trod." The person of this ferocious Pagan warrior is described in these terms: "A large head, a swarthy complexion, small, deep-seated eyes, a flat nose, broad shoulders and a short, square body, of nervous strength, though of a dis-proportioned form.

 

Attila or Etzel was the son of Mundzuk, and succeeded his uncle, Roas or Rugilas, about 433 A.D., as king of the nomadic huns, who were then hovering on the borders of the Roman Empire. Soon after his accession he made a treaty with Theodosius, Emperor of the East, and each of the conditions which he dictated was an insult to the majesty of the empire. One condition was that Theodosius should pay to Attila an annual tribute of seven hundred pounds of gold. His dominions extended from the Volga to the Danube and the Baltic. Among the nations or tribes subject to his sway, the Gepidae and the Ostrogoths were distinguished by their bravery and their numbers. "The crowd of vulgar kings, the leaders of so many martial tribes, who served under the standard of Attila, were ranged in the submissive order of guards and domestics round the person of their master.

 

The power of Attila was acknowledged throughout Central Asia, and he sent ambassadors to negotiate an equal alliance with the Empire of China. He was able to bring into the field all army of 600,000 men.

 

In 441 A.D., the restless Huns crossed the Danube and invaded the Roman Empire of the East. They destroyed with fire and sword the populous cities of Sirmium, Sardica, Singidunum and Marcianopolis. The armies of Theodosius II. were defeated in three successive battles. After these victories Attila ravaged without resistance and without mercy the provinces of Macedonia and Thrace to the suburbs of Constantinople. Theodosius and his court, who were protected by the walls of that city, sued for peace, which was granted by the haughty barbarian in 446, on condition that his tribute should be increased from 700 pounds to 2,100 pounds of gold and he should receive 6,000 pounds of gold to defray the expenses of the war.

 

Marcian who became Emperor of the East in 450 A.D. , refused to pay tribute and boldly declared that the Huns must no longer insult the majesty of Rome by the mention of a tribute. Attila despised the Romans of the East, whom he had so often defeated, and he preferred to invade Gaul as more worthy of his attention and prowess. The Franks and the Vandals had solicited his aid, and gave him a specious pretence for the invasion of the Western Empire. This invasion was preceded by a formal demand that Honoria, a sister of Valentinian, should be given to Attila in marriage . This demand was refused, and Attila invaded Gaul in 451 A.D., and besieged Orleans Aurelianum, which was strongly fortified. His army was estimated at 700,000 men, with a large proportion of cavalry. The Roman general Aaetius formed an alliance with Theodoric, King of the Visigoths. When the army of these allies approached Orleans, Attila raised the siege, repassed the Seine and awaited the enemy in the wide plain near Chalons whose smooth and level surface was adapted to the operations of his Scythian cavalry. Yet on this chosen spot Aetius and Theodoric gained a most signal victory in June 451 A.D. The approach of night alone saved the huns from total destruction.

 

This crushing defeat did not prevent the renewal of the attack of the Huns upon the Western Empire. In the spring of 452 Attila repeated his demand of the Princess Honoria and her patrimonial treasures, but with as little effect as before. The barbarian immediately took the field, and invaded Italy with an innumerable host which met little resistance. He took the rich and populous city of Aquileia after a siege of three months and reduced it to ruins. The Huns destroyed other cities of Northern Italy, and the timid and feeble Valentinian made little effort to defend his country. When Attila proposed to march against Rome, he was admonished that Alaric had not long survived the conquest of the Eternal City. The Emperor and the Senate resolved to sue for peace, and sent to Attila an embassy consisting of Pope Leo I. and two others. Attila listened with respect to the eloquence of Leo, and the deliverance of Italy was purchased by the immense ransom or dowry of the Princess Honoria. The motive which led the haughty barbarian to retire in peace is obscure. There is evidence that his hosts were enfeebled by the climate and luxuries of Italy, and that apprehension of the fate of Alaric determined the conqueror's withdrawal from the peninsula. He retired to Hungary, and there, in 453 A.D., on the morning after having celebrated a nuptial feast for a new wife, was found dead, He is said to have ruptured a blood-vesse1. His remains were enclosed in three coffins, of gold, of silver, and of iron. Rich treasures were thrown into the grave, and the captives who dug it were inhumanly massacred.

 

THE SCOURGE OF GOD.

 

Neither the spirit nor the forces nor the reputation of Attila were impaired by the failure of the Gallic expedition, In the ensuing spring he repented his demand of the Princess Honoria and her patrimonial treasures. 'the demand was again rejected, or eluded; and the indignant lover immediately took the field, passed the Alps, invaded Italy and besieged Aquileia with an innumerable host of Barbarians. Those Barbarians were unskilled in the methods of conducting a regular siege. which, even among the ancients, required some knowledge, or at least some practice, of the mechanic arts. But the labor of many thousand provincials and captives, whose lives were sacrificed without pity, might execute the most painful and dangerous work. The skill of the Roman artists might be corrupted to the destruction of their country. The walls of Aquileia were assaulted by a formidable train of battering rams, movable turrets and engines, that threw stones, darts and fire; and the monarch of the Huns employed the forcible impulse of hope, fear, emulation and interest to subvert the only barrier which delayed the conquest of Italy.

 

Aquileia was at that period one of the richest, the most populous, and the strongest of the maritime cities of the Adriatic coast. The Gothic auxiliaries, who appear to have served under their native princes, Alaric and Antala, communicated their intrepid spirit; and the citizens still remembered the glorious and successful resistance which their ancestors had opposed to a fierce, inexorable Barbarian, who disgraced the majesty of the Roman purple. Three months were consumed without effect in the siege of Aquileia, till the want of provisions and the clamors of his army compelled Attila to relinquish the enterprise, and reluctantly to issue his orders that the troops should strike their tents the next morning and begin their retreat. But as he rode round the walls, pensive, angry and dissapointed, he observed a stork preparing to leave her nest, in one of the towers, and to fly with her infant family towards the country. He seized, with the ready penetration of a statesman, this trifling incident, which chance had offered to superstition, and exclaimed, in a loud and cheerful tone, that such a domestic bird, so constantly attached to human society, would never have abandoned her ancient seats unless those towers had been devoted to impending ruin and solitude. The favorable omen inspired an assurance of victory; the siege was renewed and prosecuted with fresh vigor; a large breach was made in the part of the wall from whence the stork had taken her flight; the huns mounted to the assault with irresistible fury, and the succeeding generation could scarcely discover the ruins of Aquileia.

 

After this dreadful chastisement Attila pursued his march, and as he passed, the cities of Altinum, Concordia and Padua were reduced into heaps of stones and ashes. The inland towns-Vicenza, Verona and Bergamo-were exposed to the rapacious cruelty of the Huns. Milan and Pavia submitted, without resistance, to the loss of their wealth, and applauded the unusual clemency which preserved from the flames the public, as well as private, buildings, and spared the lives of the captive multitude. The popular traditions of Comum, Turin, or Modena, may justly be suspected yet they concur with more authentic evidence to prove that Attila spread his ravages over the rich plains of modern Lombardy, which are divided by the Po and bounded by the Alps and Apennine. When he took possession of the royal palace of Milan, he was surprised and offended at the sign of a picture which represented the Caesars seated on their throne, and the princes of Scythia prostrate at their feet. The revenge which Attila inflicted on this monument of Roman vanity was harmless and ingenious. He commanded a painter to reverse the figures and the attitudes, and the emperors were delineated on the same canvas, approaching in a suppliant posture to empty their bags of tributary gold before the throne of the Scythian monarch. The spectators must have confessed the truth and propriety of the alteration, and were perhaps tempted to apply, on this singular occasion, the well-known fable of the dispute between the lion and the man.

 

It is a saying worthy of the ferocious pride of Attila, that the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod. The Italians, who had long since renounced the exercise of anus, were surprised, after forty years' peace, by the approach of a formidable Barbarian, whom they abhorred as the enemy of their religion as well as of their republic. Amidst the general consternation, Aetius alone was incapable of fear but it was impossible that he should achieve, alone and unassisted, any military exploits worthy of his former renown. The Barbarians who had defended Gaul refused to march to the relief of Italy, and the succors promised by the Eastern Emperor were distant and doubtful. Since Aetius, at the head of his domestic troops, still maintained the field, and harassed or retarded the march of Attila, he never showed himself more truly great than at the time when his conduct was blamed by an ignorant and ungrateful people. If the mind of Valentinian had been susceptible of any generous sentiments, he would have chosen such a general for his example and his guide. But the timid grandson of Theodosius, instead of sharing the dangers, escaped from the sound of war; and his hasty retreat from Ravenna to Rome, from an impregnable fortress to an open capital, betrayed his secret intention of abandoning Italy as soon as the danger should approach his Imperial person. This shameful abdication was suspended, however, by the spirit of doubt and delay, which commonly adheres to pusillanimous counsels, and sometimes conects their pernicious tendency.

 

The Western Emperor, with the Senate and people of Rome, embraced the more salutary resolution of deprecating, by a solemn and suppliant embassy, the wrath of Attila. This important commission was accepted by Avient1s, who, from his birth and riches, his consular dignity, the numerous train of his clients, and his personal abilities, held the first rank in the Roman Senate. The specious and artful character of Avienus was admirably qualified to conduct a negotiation either of public or private interest; his colleague, Trigetius, had exercised the Praetorian praefecture of Italy; and Leo, Bishop of Rome, consented to expose his life for the safety of his flock. The genius of Leo was exercised and displayed in the public misfortunes; and he has deserved the appellation of Great by the successful zeal with which he labored to establish his opinions and his authority, under the venerable names of orthodox faith and ecclesiastical discipline.

 

The Roman ambassadors were introduced to the tent of Attila, as he lay encamped at the place where the slow, winding Mincius is lost in the foaming waves of the Take Benacus, and trampled with his Scythian cavalry the farms of Catullus and Virgil. The Barbarian monarch listened with favorable, and even respectful, attention and the deliverance of Italy was purchased by the immense ransom, or dowry, of the Princess Honoria. The state of his army might facilitate the treaty and hasten his retreat. Their martial spirit was relaxed by the wealth and indolence of a warm climate. The shepherds of the North, whose ordinary food consisted of milk and raw flesh, indulged themselves too freely in the use of bread, of wine, and of meat prepared and seasoned by the arts of cookery; and the progress of disease revenged in some measure the injuries of the Italians. When Attila declared his resolution of carrying his victorious arms to the gates of Rome, he was admonished by his friends, as well as by his enemies, that Alane had not long survived the conquest of the Eternal City. His mind, superior to real danger, was assaulted by imaginary terrors j nor could he escape the influence of superstition, which had so often been subservient to his designs. The pressing eloquence of Leo, his majestic aspect and sacerdotal robes, excited the veneration of Attila for the spiritual father of the Christians. The apparition of the two apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, who menaced the Barbarian with instant death, if he rejected the prayer of their successor, is one of the noblest legends of ecclesiastical tradition. The safety of Rome might deserve the interposition of celestial beings, and some indulgence is due to a fable, which has been represented by the pencil of Raphael and the chisel of Algardi.-E. GIBBON.

 

Attila

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