The Huns were a nomadic warrior tribe prominent in the 4th and 5th century CE who was famous for terrorizing Europe and regions associated with. Their origin is unknown but according to archeological sources, they were likely originated from modern Kazakhstan or elsewhere in Asia. Some scholars believe their origins root back to nomad Xiongnu people who terrorized China in 318.B.C. during both Qin dynasty and Han dynasty.
“Great wall of China was designed to assist defend against the mighty Xiongnu.”
They were first mentioned in Roman sources by the historian Tacitus in 91 CE as a tribal group living in regions of Caspian Sea. In time they plundered their way across the European continent, the Huns acquired a reputation for being one of the primary contributors to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. They were expert horsemen best known for their astounding military achievements. They learned horsemanship at age three and They were rarely seen dismounted from their steeds. The Huns are routinely depicted as being ruthless, indomitable savages by many ancient writers but some sources beg to differ.
Most Hun soldiers dressed simply but regally outfitted their horses with saddles and stirrups well-groomed in gold, silver and precious stones. They weren’t farmers as they rarely settled in one area. They lived as hunters, feeding on wild game and gathering herbs and vegetables. They raised livestock to some extent.
Their unique approach of appearing out of nowhere, attack like a whirlwind, and vanish away made their enemies confused and kept them on the run. This tactic made them incredibly dangerous opponents who seemed impossible to defeat or defend against. They were experts in mounted warfare and used the bow with great effect. They used reflex bows made of seasoned birch, bone, and glue. Their arrows could strike a man around 70 meters away and rarely missed their target.
The Huns massacred men, women and children alike and raze every settlement to the ground and destroyed almost everything and everyone in their path. They looted and plundered cities and rarely took prisoners. Christians called them the “Scourge of God”.
In 370 CE they conquered the Alans, another civilization of nomadic, warring horsemen and then Ostrogoths, by 376 CE, Huns attacked Visigoths under Fritigern and driven them to take refuge in Roman territory and those under the leadership of Athanaric to the Caucalands during 379 CE. In 395 CE, the Huns raided the Roman territories of Thrace and Syria, decimating everything on their way.
Archeological sources suggest that Huns were both enemies and allies of Rome. There were Huns who were serving in Roman legions, as Foederati and Hun settlements had been approved by the Roman Empire in Pannonia.
Great Migration also is known as the “Wandering of the Nations” between around 376-476 CE caused due to the Hunnic invasions of the regions around the Roman Empire and their brutality. Barbarian tribes such as the Alans, Goths, and Vandals were forced to settle in Roman territories and causing major problems in the already declining empire.
Prior to the 4th century, the Huns traveled in small groups under chieftains and had no central leader. By 430 CE, a Hun chief named Rugila has united the Huns under one banner and he was known to the Romans as King of the Huns. Even though his rule over the Huns as a large faction still remains a mystery. Rugila had two nephews, Attila and Bleda, when he died on campaign in 433 CE, the two brothers succeeded him and ruled jointly.
According to ancient sources, Attila was described as a short in stature with a thin beard who knew both Latin and Goth and was a master negotiator.
At an early period of his reign, he negotiated several peace treaties with the Eastern Roman Empire in which the Romans has to pay an annual tribute for peace. But eventually these treaties were violated from both sides and war between Romans and Huns moved on.
Romans were not ready for what was coming at them. Between 445-451 CE, Attila the Hun led his armies on numerous raids and successful campaigns, slaughtering the inhabitants of the regions including Gaul which is modern day France, Western Germany and Northern Italy and leaving fear on the hearts of his enemies and well earning the reputation of “Scourge of God”. In 451 CE he was confronted by the Roman general Flavius Aetius and his Visigothic ally Theodoric I at the Battle of the “Cataluanian Plains” where joined forces of Western Romans and Visigoths defeated Atilla for the first time.
“In 452 CE Atilla invaded Italy and was responsible for the creation of the city of Venice. The inhabitants of the cities and the area fled to the marshes for their safety and eventually built homes there”.
Atilla had to abandon his Italian campaign due to many reasons such as his troops were weakened by Malaria and returned to his settlement on the Great Hungarian Plain.By 452 CE, Attila’s Hunnic empire stretched from the regions of present-day Russia down through Hungary and across Germany to France. He received annual tribute from Rome and regions associated with it. In 453 CE Attila married a young woman named Ildico but was found dead on his wedding night by choking on his own blood while in a drunken slumber thus putting an end to a king renowned in war
Attila’s oldest son Ellac became his successor. A civil war erupted in the empire among Atilla’s sons which eventually weakened the whole empire and divided among each one of them. Without a strong central leader like Attila at the helm already weakened Huns fell apart and were no longer a major threat in the ancient world.
By 459 CE, the Great Hun Empire had collapsed and Huns were scattered throughout the ancient world putting an end to the great terror which decimated Europe over two centuries. Even though history paints Huns as a ruthless tribe, they were successful in solidifying their name on history as impressively mounted warriors who challenged and defeated superpowers of the ancient world.