Known by the Romans as “the Scourge of God,” Attila the Hun was most likely born in 406 A.D. to the Hunnish chief Mundzuk. Initially he ruled the Huns along with his brother Bleda until his brother’s death. Attila went on to conquer many lands and preside over an empire that stretched from the Ural River all the way to Germany. He was regarded as the fiercest enemy of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. History remembers him primarily for his barbarism and cruelty toward his conquests, but as the Huns left no written records, very little is known about them from their own point of view.
Historians believe that the Huns appeared in Europe around 370 A.D. Essentially nomadic and pastoral, the Huns were noted for their great horsemanship which may be one reason they have been associated with Mongols. But there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the Huns may have spoken a Turkic language. Their origins have been a subject of debate for centuries. At the time of Attila’s birth the Huns were mainly based in the area of Hungary. To this day Attila is revered in both Hungary and Turkey. Attila and his brother Bleda were named as the successors to their uncle Rugila, leader of the Huns, in 434. Bleda died twelve years later. Legend holds that Attila was responsible for his death, but there are no sources that can confirm this.
Attila and his Huns invaded the Eastern Roman Empire in 441. Their success prompted them to move ever westward conquering lands as they moved. Of all the barbarian tribes, the Huns have been recorded by their victims as the most bloodthirsty and merciless. Attila swept through much of Europe and seemed unstoppable. However, he was notoriously forced to retreat in 451 at the Battle of Chalons in Gaul. In 452 he was persuaded by Pope Leo I not to sack Rome. Most historians believe that Attila would have tried to regroup and return to Gaul if he had survived, but he died in 453.
Attila’s death has also been the subject of great debate. The most commonly held belief is that he died at the hand of his wife on the night of their wedding. Other stories suggest that he over drank, incurred a massive nosebleed while passed out, and choked on his own blood. However, there is little to corroborate these stories. Legend also says that Attila was buried in the temporarily damned Tisza River in northern Hungary and that the slaves who worked on his burial were later killed to insure that the Hunnish King’s burial would remain secret. Despite a lack of definitive information about Attila the Hun, he remains one of history’s most notorious leaders who is, nevertheless, revered for his strength, ability to lead, and immense success.