Attila the Hun: Scourge of God

Episode 12: Attila the Hun: Scourge of God

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

Harl devotes this lecture to one of the most skilled military leaders of all time Attila (434-453 AD). At the time of his death, Attila the Hun controlled a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths, Alans and Bulgars. Harl credits his large diverse empire for the linguistic shift on the steppes from Persian to Turkic languages. For many historians, the latter signals the start of the Middle Ages.

Like many prior nomadic chieftains, Attila maintained control of his federation via the loot he pilfered (which he used to pay vassal chieftains) from the Balkan provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire. In addition to gold and luxuries, he also captured Roman engineers to build bath houses and build military technology to overwhelm Roman defenses.

Initially Attila’s main objective was to break down the Danube defenses of the Western Roman Empire, allowing him easy access to the Germanic provinces. In 447 AD, Rome signed a treaty with Attila that effectively stopped his military raids on Gaul. In addition to paying him 2,100 pounds of gold, Rome promised to demilitarize a 200-mile area to the south and west of the Danube (effectively allowing Hun raiders free access to the former Roman provinces).

The same year, Attila virtually destroyed Constantinople’s Theodosian walls (see How the Rise of the Huns Transformed Europe. Over the next year, Theodosius II put the entire population to work restoring the walls to protect against Hun raids.

In the spring of 450 AD, the half-sister of Roman emperor Valentinian III sent Attila a ring begging him to rescue her from an unpleasant arranged marriage. Taking this as a marriage proposal, Attila accepted, requesting Gaul and Spain as her dowry. When Valentinian declined, Attila declared war on Rome. Assembling assembling an infantry of 100,000 mounted warriors and infantry, sacked 10 major cities of Gaul.*  Enlisting assistance from the Visigoths, Franks and lesser nomadic tribes, Valentinian’s generals confronted Attila at the Marne River in the 451 AD Battle of the Catalonia Plains. It ended in a stalemate and Attila withdrew to the Danube.

When Attila invaded Northern Italy a year later, Pope Leo I met him at the Po River and persuaded him to withdraw.

A short time later, Attila died in a drunken stupor. Suspected of poisoning him, his wife was put to death. She emerges as the heroine Gudrun** in Norse mythology.

*Paris was one of the few cities that didn’t fall.

**In Norse mythology, Gudrun was the wife of the great hero Sigurd. After Sigurd’s death, she became the wife of Atli, king of the Huns.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

The Celts: Advanced Seafarers or Uncivilized Barbarians?

The Celts: Search for a Civilization

By Alice Roberts

Heron Books (2015)

Book Review

Were the Celts of northern Europe the uncivilized barbarians the Greeks and Romans made them out to be? Alice Roberts thinks not. Her book examines the origin of the Celts, the prehistoric tribe responsible for populating Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and early Britain. The conventional view is that the Celts originated in central Europe and gradually migrated west to occupy ancient Gaul (France), Britain, Scotland, Wales an Ireland; south to Egypt and northern Italy; and west as far as Kiev and Turkey. Roberts sides with the more recent view that Celtic civilization developed along the Atlantic coast of Europe – a well-connected group of Bronze Age societies extending from Portugal – and migrated westward to occupy Gaul, parts of Germany, the Balkans, Turkey and northern Italy..

The Celts gives a full inventory of all available archeological, linguistic and genetic evidence, as well as accounts from historical texts and oral myths. The picture Roberts paints is totally at odds with Roman and Greek efforts to portray Celts as uncivilized barbarians. Thanks to their great sophistication in mining, smelting metals into weapons and jewelry, and advanced seafaring, the Celts established major trading centers throughout continental Europe. The Tartessos referred to in the Old Testament at the time of Solomon were early Celts who sailed great ships laden with silver, gold, ivory, apes and peacocks to trade with Mediterranean settlements.

The Phoenicians, the first Eastern Europeans they made contact with, traded wine and manufactured goods for their silver, gold, copper and tin. The earliest written evidence of the Celtic language comes from the beginning of the Iron Age in Southwest Portugal.

In addition to well-developed religious practices, the Celts had a written language and appointed druids to serve as judges, guardians of knowledge, and  priests.

During the Iron Age, they developed a reputation as great warriors and often hired themselves as mercenaries to various kings and emperors. In 387, they sacked Rome for the first time, and in 280 BC they conquered Macedonia and moved south into Greece. Julius Caesar’s primary reason for invading and occupying Gaul was to end the constant Celtic raids on Roman territory.