Attila

Attila (ətĭlˈə, ătˈələ) [key], d. 453, king of the Huns (445–53). After 434 he was coruler with his brother, whom he murdered in 445. In 434, Attila obtained tribute and great concessions for the Huns in a treaty with the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II, but, taking advantage of Roman wars with the Vandals and Persians, he invaded the Balkans in 441. Peace was made, and Attila's tribute was tripled. In 447 he again attacked the empire and spent the following three years negotiating a new peace. In 450, however, the new Eastern emperor, Marcian, refused to render further tribute as did Valentinian III, emperor of the West. In a bid for power, and without her brother's knowledge, Valentinian's ambitious sister, Honoria, jeopardized his peaceful relations with Attila by attempting an alliance with the Hun. Attila took her proposal as a marriage offer and demanded half of the Western Empire as a dowry, a demand that was refused. Leaving Hungary with an army of perhaps half a million Huns and allies, Attila invaded Gaul but was defeated (451) by Aetius at Maurica. Attila turned back and invaded (452) N Italy but abandoned his plan to take Rome itself. His withdrawal, often ascribed to the eloquent diplomacy of Pope Leo I, appears to have been motivated by a shortage of provisions and the outbreak of pestilence. Soon afterward in Hungary, Attila died of a nasal hemorrhage suffered while celebrating his marriage to Ildico. The fear Attila inspired is clear from many accounts of his savagery, but, though undoubtedly harsh, he was a just ruler to his own people. He encouraged the presence of learned Romans at his court and was far less bent on devastation than other conquerors. Often called the Scourge of God, he appears in many legends, particularly as Etzel in the Nibelungenlied (see under Nibelungen).

See C. D. Gordon, The Age of Attila (1960); O. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns (1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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