The Invasion Of The Huns And Its Consequences


General Westward Movement of the Races. --Stilicho's Defeat of the

Germans. --Migration of the Alans, Vandals, &c. --Saxon

Colonization of England. --The Vandals in Africa. --Decline of

Rome. --Spread of German Power. --Attila, king of the Huns. --Rise

of his Power. --Superstitions concerning him. --His March into

France. --He is opposed by Aetius and Theodoric. --The Great

near Chalons. --Retreat of Attila. --He destroys Aquileia.

--Invades Italy. --His Death. --Geiserich takes and plunders Rome.

--End of the Western Empire. --The Huns expelled. --Movements of

the Tribes on German Soil.

[Sidenote: 412. MOVEMENT OF THE TRIBES.]

The westward movement of the Huns was followed, soon afterwards, by an

advance of the Slavonic tribes on the north, who first took possession

of the territory on the Baltic relinquished by the Goths, and then

gradually pressed onward towards the Elbe. The Huns themselves,

temporarily settled in the fertile region north of the Danube, pushed

the Vandals westward toward Bohemia, and the latter, in their turn,

pressed upon the Marcomanni. Thus, at the opening of the fifth century,

all the tribes, from the Baltic to the Alps, along the eastern frontier

of Germany, were partly or wholly forced to fall back. This gave rise to

a union of many of them, including the Vandals, Alans, Suevi and

Burgundians, under a Chief named Radagast. Numbering half a million,

they crossed the Alps into Northern Italy, and demanded territory for

new homes.

Stilicho, exhausted by his struggle with Alaric, whose retreat from

Italy he had just purchased, could only meet this new enemy by summoning

his legions from Gaul and Britain. He met Radagast at Fiesole (near

Florence), and so crippled the strength of the invasion that Italy was

saved. The German tribes recrossed the Alps, and entered Gaul the

following year. Here they gave up their temporary union, and each tribe

selected its own territory. The Alans pushed forwards, crossed the

Pyrenees, and finally settled in Portugal; the Vandals followed and took

possession of all Southern Spain, giving their name to (V-)Andalusia;

the Suevi, after fighting, but not conquering, the native Basque tribes

of the Pyrenees, selected what is now the province of Galicia; while the

Burgundians stretched from the Rhine through western Switzerland, and

southward nearly to the mouth of the Rhone. The greater part of Gaul was

thus already lost to the Roman power.

[Sidenote: 429.]

The withdrawal of the legions from Britain by Stilicho left the

population unprotected. The Britons were then a mixture of Celtic and

Roman blood, and had become greatly demoralized during the long decay of

the Empire; so they were unable to resist the invasions of the Picts and

Scots, and in this emergency they summoned the Saxons and Angles to

their aid. Two chiefs of the latter, Hengist and Horsa, accepted the

invitation, landed in England in 449, and received lands in Kent. They

were followed by such numbers of their countrymen that the allies soon

became conquerors, and portioned England among themselves. They brought

with them their speech and their ancient pagan religion, and for a time

overthrew the rude form of Christianity which had prevailed among the

Britons since the days of Constantine. Only Ireland, the Scottish

Highlands, Wales and Cornwall resisted the Saxon rule, as across the

Channel, in Brittany, a remnant of the Celtic Gauls resisted the sway of

the Franks. From the year 449 until the landing of William the

Conqueror, in 1066, nearly all England and the Lowlands of Scotland were

in the hands of the Saxon race.

Ataulf, the king of the Visigoths, was murdered soon after establishing

his people in Southern France. Wallia, his successor, crossed the

Pyrenees, drove the Vandals out of northern Spain, and made the Ebro

river the boundary between them and his Visigoths. Fifteen years

afterwards, in 429, the Vandals, under their famous king, Geiserich

(incorrectly called Genseric in many histories), were invited by the

Roman Governor of Africa to assist him in a revolt against the Empire.

They crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in a body, took possession of all

the Roman provinces, as far eastward as Tunis, and made Carthage the

capital of their new kingdom. The Visigoths immediately occupied the

remainder of Spain, which they held for nearly three hundred years


[Sidenote: 445. ATTILA, KING OF THE HUNS.]

Thus, although the name and state of an Emperor of the West were kept up

in Rome until the year 476, the Empire never really existed after the

invasion of Alaric. The dominion over Italy, Gaul and Spain, claimed by

the Emperors of the East, at Constantinople, was acknowledged in

documents, but (except for a short time, under Justinian) was never

practically exercised. Rome had been the supreme power of the known

world for so many centuries, that a superstitious influence still clung

to the very name, and the ambition of the Germanic kings seems to have

been, not to destroy the Empire, but to conquer and make it their own.

The rude tribes, which, in the time of Julius Caesar, were buried among

the mountains and forests of the country between the Rhine, the Danube

and the Baltic Sea, were now, five hundred years later, scattered over

all Europe, and beginning to establish new nations on the foundations

laid by Rome. As soon as they cross the old boundaries of Germany, they

come into the light of history, and we are able to follow their wars and

migrations; but we know scarcely anything, during this period, of the

tribes which remained within those boundaries. We can only infer that

the Marcomanni settled between the Danube and the Alps, in what is now

Bavaria; that, early in the fifth century, the Thuringians established a

kingdom including nearly all Central Germany; and that the Slavonic

tribes, pressing westward through Prussia, were checked by the valor of

the Saxons, along the line of the Elbe, since only scattered bands of

them were found beyond that river at a later day.

The first impulse to all these wonderful movements came, as we have

seen, from the Huns. These people, as yet unconquered, were so dreaded

by the Emperors of the East, that their peace was purchased, like that

of the Goths a hundred years before, by large annual payments. For fifty

years, they seemed satisfied to rest in their new home, making

occasional raids across the Danube, and gradually bringing under their

sway the fragments of Germanic tribes already settled in Hungary, or

left behind by the Goths. In 428, Attila and his brother Bleda became

kings of the Huns, but the latter's death, in 445, left Attila sole

ruler. His name was already famous, far and wide, for his strength,

energy and intelligence. His capital was established near Tokay, in

Hungary, where he lived in a great castle of wood, surrounded with moats

and palisades. He was a man of short stature, with broad head, neck and

shoulders, and fierce, restless eyes. He scorned the luxury which was

prevalent at the time, wore only plain woollen garments, and ate and

drank from wooden dishes and cups. His personal power and influence were

so great that the Huns looked upon him as a demigod, while all the

neighboring Germanic tribes, including a large portion of the

Ostrogoths, enlisted under his banner.

[Sidenote: 449.]

After the Huns had invaded Thrace and compelled the Eastern Empire to

pay a double tribute, the Emperor of the West, Valentinian III. (the

grandson of Theodosius), sent an embassy to Attila, soliciting his

friendship: the Emperor's sister, Honoria, offered him her hand. Both

divisions of the Empire thus did him reverence, and he had little to

fear from the force which either could bring against him; but the Goths

and Vandals, now warlike and victorious races, were more formidable

foes. Here, however, he was favored by the hostility between the aged

Geiserich, king of the Vandals, and the young Theodoric, king of the

Visigoths. The former sent messages to Attila, inciting him to march

into Gaul and overthrow Theodoric, who was Geiserich's relative and

rival. Soon afterwards, a new Emperor, at Constantinople, refused the

additional tribute, and Valentinian III. withheld the hand of his sister


Attila, now--towards the close of the year 449--made preparations for a

grand war of conquest. He already possessed unbounded influence over the

Huns, and supernatural signs of his coming career were soon supplied. A

peasant dug up a jewelled sword, which, it was said, had long before

been given to a race of kings by the god of war. This was brought to

Attila, and thenceforth worn by him. He was called "The Scourge of God,"

and the people believed that wherever the hoofs of his horse had trodden

no grass ever grew again. The fear of his power, or the hope of plunder,

drew large numbers of the German tribes to his side, and the army with

which he set out for the conquest, first of Gaul and then of Europe, is

estimated at from 500,000 to 700,000 warriors. With this, he passed

through the heart of Germany, much of which he had already made

tributary, and reached the Rhine. Here Gunther, the king of the

Burgundians, opposed him with a force of 10,000 men and was speedily

crushed. Even a portion of the Franks, who were then quarrelling among

themselves, joined him, and now Gaul divided between Franks, Romans and

Visigoths, was open to his advance.

[Sidenote: 451. THE SIEGE OF ORLEANS.]

The minister and counsellor of Valentinian III. was Aetius, the son of a

Gothic father and a Roman mother. As soon as Attila's design became

known, he hastened to Gaul, collected the troops still in Roman service,

and procured the alliance of Theodoric and the Visigoths. The Alans,

under their king Sangipan, were also persuaded to unite their forces:

the independent Celts in Brittany, and a large portion of the Franks and

Burgundians, all of whom were threatened by the invasion of the Huns,

hastened to the side of Aetius, so that the army commanded by himself

and Theodoric became nearly if not quite equal in numbers to that of

Attila. The latter, by this time, had marched into the heart of Gaul,

laying waste the country through which he passed, and meeting no

resistance until he reached the walled and fortified city of Orleans.

This was in the year 451.

Orleans, besieged and hard pressed, was about to surrender, when Aetius

approached with his army. Attila was obliged to raise the siege at once,

and retreat in order to select a better position for the impending

battle. He finally halted on the broad plains of the province of

Champagne, near the present city of Chalons, where his immense body of

armed horsemen would have ample space to move. Aetius and Theodoric

followed and pitched their camp opposite to him, on the other side of a

small hill which rose from the plain. That night, Attila ordered his

priests to consult their pagan oracles, and ascertain the fate of the

morrow's struggle. The answer was: "Death to the enemy's leader,

destruction to the Huns!"--but the hope of seeing Aetius fall prevailed

on Attila to risk his own defeat.

The next day witnessed one of the greatest battles of history. Aetius

commanded the right and Theodoric the left wing of their army, placing

between them the Alans and other tribes, of whose fidelity they were not

quite sure. Attila, however, took the centre with his Huns, and formed

his wings of the Germans and Ostrogoths. The battle began at dawn, and

raged through the whole day. Both armies endeavored to take and hold the

hill between them, and the hundreds of thousands rolled back and forth

as the victory inclined to one side or the other. A brook which ran

through the plain was swollen high by the blood of the fallen. At last

Theodoric broke Attila's centre, but was slain in the attack. The

Visigoths immediately lifted his son, Thorismond, on a shield,

proclaimed him king, and renewed the fight. The Huns were driven back to

the fortress of wagons where their wives, children and treasures were

collected, when a terrible storm of rain and thunder put an end to the

battle. Between 200,000 and 300,000 dead lay upon the plain.

[Sidenote: 452.]

All night the lamentations of the Hunnish women filled the air. Attila

had an immense funeral pile constructed of saddles, whereon he meant to

burn himself and his family, in case Aetius should renew the fight the

next day. But the army of the latter was too exhausted to move, and the

Huns were allowed to commence their retreat from Gaul. Enraged at his

terrible defeat, Attila destroyed everything in his way, leaving a broad

track of blood and ashes from Gaul through the heart of Germany, back to


By the following year, 452, Attila had collected another army, and now

directed his march towards Italy. This new invasion was so unexpected

that the passes of the Alps were left undefended, and the Huns reached

the rich and populous city of Aquileia, on the northern shore of the

Adriatic, without meeting any opposition. After a siege of three months,

they took and razed it to the ground so completely that it was never

rebuilt, and from that day to this only a few piles of shapeless stones

remain to mark the spot where it stood. The inhabitants who escaped took

refuge upon the low marshy islands, separated from the mainland by the

lagoons, and there formed the settlement which, two or three hundred

years later, became known to the world as Venice.

Attila marched onward to the Po, destroying everything in his way. Here

he was met by a deputation, at the head of which was Leo, the Bishop (or

Pope) of Rome, sent by Valentinian III. Leo so worked upon the

superstitious mind of the savage monarch, that the latter gave up his

purpose of taking Rome, and returned to Hungary with his army, which was

suffering from disease and want. The next year he died suddenly, in his

wooden palace at Tokay. The tradition states that his body was inclosed

in three coffins, of iron, silver and gold, and buried secretly, like

that of Alaric, so that no man might know his resting-place. He had a

great many wives, and left so many sons behind him, that their quarrels

for the succession to the throne divided the Huns into numerous parties,

and quite destroyed their power as a people.

[Sidenote: 455. GEISERICH TAKES ROME.]

The alliance between Aetius and the Visigoths ceased immediately after

the great battle. Valentinian III., suspicious of the fame of Aetius,

recalled him to Rome, the year after Attila's death, and assassinated

him with his own hand. The treacherous Emperor was himself slain,

shortly afterwards, by Maximus, who succeeded him, and forced his widow,

the Empress Eudoxia, to accept him as her husband. Out of revenge,

Eudoxia sent a messenger to Geiserich, the old king of the Vandals, at

Carthage, summoning him to Rome. The Vandals had already built a large

fleet and pillaged the shores of Sicily and other Mediterranean islands.

In 455, Geiserich landed at the mouth of the Tiber with a powerful

force, and marched upon Rome. The city was not strong enough to offer

any resistance: it was taken, and during two weeks surrendered to such

devastation and outrage that the word vandalism has ever since been

used to express savage and wanton destruction. The churches were

plundered of all their vessels and ornaments, the old Palace of the

Caesars was laid waste, priceless works of art destroyed, and those of

the inhabitants who escaped with their lives were left almost as


When "the old king of the sea," as Geiserich was called, returned to

Africa, he not only left Rome ruined, but the Western Empire practically

overthrown. For seventeen years afterwards, Ricimer, a chief of the

Suevi, who had been commander of the Roman auxiliaries in Gaul, was the

real ruler of its crumbling fragments. He set up, set aside or slew five

or six so-called Emperors, at his own will, and finally died in 472,

only four years before the boy, Romulus Augustulus, was compelled to

throw off the purple and retire into obscurity as "the last Emperor of


In 455, the year when Geiserich and his Vandals plundered Rome, the

Germanic tribes along the Danube took advantage of the dissensions

following Attila's death, and threw off their allegiance to the Huns.

They all united under a king named Ardaric, gave battle, and were so

successful that the whole tribe of the Huns was forced to retreat

eastward into Southern Russia. From this time they do not appear again

in history, although it is probable that the Magyars, who came later

into the same region from which they were driven, brought the remnants

of the tribe with them.

[Sidenote: 450.]

During the fourth and fifth centuries, the great historic achievements

of the German race, as we have now traced them, were performed outside

of the German territory. While from Thrace to the Atlantic Ocean, from

the Scottish Highlands to Africa, the new nationalities overran the

decayed Roman Empire, constantly changing their seats of power, we have

no intelligence of what was happening within Germany itself. Both

branches of the Goths, the Vandals and a part of the Franks had become

Christians, but the Alemanni, Saxons and Thuringians were still

heathens, although they had by this time adopted many of the arts of

civilized life. They had no educated class, corresponding to the

Christian priesthood in the East, Italy and Gaul, and even in Britain;

and thus no chronicle of their history has survived.

Either before or immediately after Attila's invasion of Gaul, the

Marcomanni crossed the Danube, and took possession of the plains between

that river and the Alps. They were called the Boiarii, from their former

home of four centuries in Bohemia, and from this name is derived the

German Baiern, Bavaria. They kept possession of the new territory,

adapted themselves to the forms of Roman civilization which they found

there, and soon organized themselves into a small but distinct and

tolerably independent nation.

But the period of the Migration of the Races was not yet finished. The

shadow of the old Roman Empire still remained, and stirred the ambition

of each successive king, so that he was not content with territory

sufficient for the needs of his own people, but must also try to conquer

his neighbors and extend his rule. The bases of the modern states of

Europe were already laid, but not securely enough for the building

thereof to be commenced. Two more important movements were yet to be

made before this bewildering period of change and struggle came to an