How the Rise of the Huns Transformed Europe

Episode 11: Rome and the Huns

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

This lecture concerns the vital role of the steppes nomads (especially the Huns, who played a pivotal role in the collapse of the Roman Empire) in Europe’s transition from “antiquity” to the Middle Ages.

According to Harl, the Huns were first prominent on the Pontic-Caspian Steppes, the heartland of their empire, around 370 – 375 AD.[1]

In 376 AD the Huns overwhelmingly defeated the Goths (who, along with the Sarmatians,[2} enjoyed a 150-year alliance with Rome [3]). With Rome’s permission approximately 100,000 Goths crossed the Danube to resettle in the Roman province of Gaul.

In 410 AD, the Goths, under increasing pressure in Gaul from the Huns, sacked Rome for the first time. As part of the peace settlement, the Romans allowed the Goths to form an independent kingdom in southern Gaul.

Under Attila (434-453 AD), the Huns formed a Hun-ruled confederation of Hun, Germanic, Iranian, Alan (an offshoot of the Sarmatians) and proto-Turkish tribes. As well as crossing the Caucasus to launch raids in Mesopotamia and the Sassanid Persian Empire, the Huns gradually migrated west to the Danube and the Hungarian plains. Assimilating the Alan nomads who lived there, they launched a series of raids against the Eastern Roman Empire.[4] In response to these raids, Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II built a massive wall between 408 – 450 AD along the four mile land border of Constantinople.

Although the Hun continued to ravage the eastern provinces of the Eastern Empire, Constantinople (and eastern Asia) remained safe from a future nomad invasions.

[1] According to Harl, the Huns may have been an offshoot of the Xiongu nomads north of China. The Hans adopted the Chinese “Five Baits” system of diplomacy (see How Steppes Nomads Influenced Eartly Chinese Civilization). The Huns, who spoke a Proto-Turkic language, were the first Turkish speakers in Europe.

[2] See The Role of Sarmatian Nomads in Rome’s Military Success

[3] After the emperor Constantine (306-337 AD) decisively defeated the Goths, they were required to send duty to Rome as well as supplying conscripts to support the Roman military in their war with Persia.

[4] In 330 AD, Constantine split Rome into an Eastern and Western Empire. The eastern Roman court fell under the control of eastern warlords. In the western empire, Roman troops consisted mainly of nomad mercenaries. Prior to its collapse in 476 AD, the Western Roman Empire relied mainly on the Huns to keep its Germanic allies in line.

Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.

A Closer Look at Trump Supporters


Fusion (2016)

Film Review

This documentary, filmed a month before the 2016 election, explores the life circumstances of a cross section of Trump supporters, referred to by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.”

Commonalities shared by this demographic are

  • recent personal or family experience with job loss, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
  • strong feelings about Wall Street outsourcing manufacturing jobs to third world countries.
  • strong feelings about US politics being a “crooked” system set up to destroy the middle class.
  • strong opposition to their perceived corporate control of the two major political parties.
  • a perception that Trump, unlike other politicians, “can’t be bought.”

When answering filmmakers’ questions about Trump’s perceived racism and xenophobia, their replies vary. Some (especially women) feel that Black Lives Matter activists have a point about the abysmal way Black people are treated in the US. Others claim that Black people (and women) are demanding special privileges not enjoyed by white men.

Most deny that Trump is racist, claiming he only wants to prevent terrorist attacks by banning immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They agree with his proposed wall because they believe his claims that most illegal Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. This flies in the face of research indicating undocumented immigrants (who are loathe to draw attention to themselves) commit far fewer crimes than either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

How Iraq Made Big Bucks for Wall Street

The Role  of CACI, Titan, Blackwater and Halliburton

Iraq for Sale: the War Profiteers (Robert Greenwald 2006) is about the privatization of the war in Iraq and four of the Wall Street corporations that endangered enlisted troops, committed war crimes and cheated taxpayers out of billions of dollars. The film has just become available for free viewing on YouTube.

The film’s most shocking revelation is that torture at Abu Ghraib was primarily the responsibility of two private corporations, CACI International and Titan. CACI was originally contracted to perform database services in Iraq. The contract was expanded to include army intelligence work and eventually the interrogation and torture of prisoners.

Titan was originally contracted to provide translation services. According to GIs interviewed for the film, Titan never assessed their translators for their language skills and provided no training nor supervision of their ongoing work.

The GIs who tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib were ordered to do so by these civilian contractors. When the scandal broke, the GIs were court martialed and faced average sentences of eighteen years. The civilian contractors who ordered the torture were merely sent home. Many went to work for new contractors and returned to Iraq within weeks.

Gouging the Taxpayer

The role of Halliburton (the company Dick Cheney ran before becoming vice-president) and Blackwater in Iraq has been well publicized thanks to a series of high profile scandals.

Even before the war started, the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) was awarded a no-bid contract to provide meals, water and construction, laundry, repair and transport services. Because it was a no limit cost-plus contract, there was a strong incentive for Halliburton/KBR to add on and inflate billable services.

Specific examples include charging the Pentagon $45 for a can of Coke, $99 for a bag of laundry and $250,000 on a three year lease for a $25,000 SUV. Instead of repairing trucks and SUVs that broke down, KBR would order GIs to burn or blow them up so they could charge the taxpayer for new ones. Hundreds of millions of dollars simply disappeared.

n 2005, Pentagon auditors ascertained that Halliburton had overcharged them by more than $1 billion. Despite a high profile Congressional investigation, the Pentagon paid the $1 billion over charge. Not only was there no effort to prosecute Halliburton, but their contract in Iraq was expanded.

Placing GIs at Risk

In addition to gouging the taxpayer, Halliburton/KBR placed GIs at significant risk in the slipshod way they provided water and food service. Out of the sixty-seven water treatment plants they operated in Iraq, sixty-three were unsafe due to contamination with giardia, cryptosporidium and other infectious organisms.

The mess halls Halliburton/KBR provided ran also placed GIs at substantial risk because the company refused to provide a twenty-four hour food service. Iraqi insurgents were quick to learn the meal schedules and frequently attacked as GIs waited an hour in line to be fed.