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The Huns

Originating in central Asia, the Huns were a Mongolian tribe who invaded southeastern Europe c. AD 370 and managed to build a remarkable empire. In their nomadic endeavors, the Huns crossed paths with the Ostrogoths and Visigoths and were able to maintain their dominance, especially at the Danubian frontier of the Roman empire.

This clan of Asiatic warriors invaded Gaul in 451, which became the unofficial center of their civilization. Although the Huns were seemingly primitive pastoralists, they did maintain a distinct, multifaceted society. The frontier along the Danube became the site for trade, where the Huns obtained silk and wine through annual fairs. Slaves captured in battle helped to define this civilization by bolstering the economy, whether it be through the strong output of their menial labor or through the slave sales market in Rome. Hunnic art added an interesting dimension to the culture as well. Art was expressed in the forms of bronze cauldrons and vessels. Hunnic women donned the latest in necklaces and bracelets, the jewels being anything from coral, carnelian, mother-of-pearl, quartz, pyrite, lapis and even Egyptian paste, which may have been obtained through their nomadic travels.

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It is unquestionable, however, that although the Huns made noteworthy achievements in both the arts and economics, their unparalleled warring strategies remain most remembered. Armed with their signature bow and arrow, the Huns fought the Germans under King Ruglia, whose successors (Atilla and Bleda) ruled together. However, Atilla’s aggressive foreign policies (including having issued an ultimatum to the Eastern Roman empire demanding monetary tribute) led to a series of wars that had mixed results.

About 445, Atilla assassinated his brother and took upon himself the challenge of suppressing the Roman advances. A series of attacks were made by both parties. While the Huns were not exactly successful, the expeditions did introduce wealth (through the acquisition of gold), which consequently brought structure to a previously ambiguous governmental system. Now, Atilla adopted autocratic methods and even declared when his people would enter war and remain in peace. Also, the leader had an administration whom he chose (comparable to a political cabinet) and commenced a system of collecting food and tribute from his subjects.

Atilla continued his military undertakings in Gaul (present day France) but was finally defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains by concerted Roman and Visigothic forces. Yet surprisingly, that was his only defeat. In 452 the tribe sacked several Italian cities; however, they left due to the lack of resources needed to feed his people. They were even routed in 455 by a combination of tribes (including the Gepidae, Ostrogoths, Heruli, and others) in a great battle on the river Nedao and were ultimately ostracized by the Eastern Roman empire. From that point on, the Huns remained voiceless in the changing face of history.

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Bibliography:

Roberts, Wess. Victory Secrets of Atilla, the Hun. (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 1993). pp. 13-19, 38-43, 61-90.

Simons, Gerald. Barbarian Europe. (New York: Time Life Books, 1971) pp 32-43, 56-91.

Maenchen-Helfen, Otto J. The World of the Huns. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973) pgs. 18-165, 186-189, 190-199, 203-238, 297-320.

 

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