European Hun Empire - 375-469 AD
The history of the Huns is generally commenced with the notices of them contained in the narratives of Ammianus, Marcellinus, and Jornandes; but they were known in Europe at an earlier date. Ptolemy (AD 175-182) mentions the Chunni between the Bastarnae and Roxolani, and places them on the Dnieper; but Schafarik suggests that this may be an interpolated passage. Dionysius Periegetes, who wrote about 200 AD, names them among the borderers of the Caspian in this order: Skyths, Huns, Caspiani, Albani. Eratosthenes (who wrote 238 BC), as quoted by Strabo, mentions the same tribes in the same order, only that Utii is substituted by the earlier author, for Huns in the later, which makes the narrative of Dionysius doubtful. The Armenian historian, Moses of Chorene, relates that Tiridates the great, who reigned from 259 to 312 AD, defeated the tribes of Daghestan, and pursued them to the land of Hunk, i.e., of the Huns ; and Zonaras reports a tradition that the emperor Carus, in the year 284, fell in an expedition against the Huns.
It was in 374 or 375 that the Huns made their first really important advance into Europe. Jornandes tells us their leader was named Balamir, or, as some of the MSS. make it, Balamber. Ammianus relates that the Huns, being excited by an unrestrainable desire of plundering the possessions of others, went on ravaging and slaughtering ail the nations in their neighborhood, till they reached the Alani. Having attacked and defeated them, they enlisted them in their service, and then proceeded to invade the empire of the Ostrogoths, or Grutungs, ruled over by Ermanric. Having been beaten in two encounters with them, Ermanric committed suicide. His son, Vithimar, continued the struggle; but was also defeated and killed in battle, and the Ostrogoths became subject to the Huns. The latter now marched on towards the Dniester, on which lived the Visigoths or Thervings.
Athanaric, the king of the Visigoths, took great precautions, but was nevertheless surprised by the Huns, who forded the river in the night, fell suddenly upon his camp, and utterly defeated him. He now attempted to raise a line of fortifications between the Pruth and the Danube, behind which to take shelter; but was abandoned by the greater portion of his subjects, who, under the command of Alavivus, crossed the Danube, and, by permission of Valens, settled in Thrace. The Huns now occupied the country vacated by the Goths; they succeeded, in fact, to the empire of Ermanric, and apparently subjected the various nations over whom he ruled.
This good feeling was disturbed by the Romans having given refuge to certain revolted Hunnic tribes, the Anuldsuri, Ithimari, Touosuri, and Boisci; the same confederacy that was the first to cross the Maeotis. This quarrel led to the sending of envoys, who arrived after the death of Ruas, and were received by his nephews, Attila and Bleda, as is graphically described by Gibbon. The meeting was followed by the treaty of Margus. The two brothers now proceeded to conquer several tribes north of the Danube. They first subdued the Sorosgi, a tribe who are elsewhere mentioned by Priscus, with the Saragurs and Onagurs, and was probably Hunnic, or, perhaps, Alanic.
In 448, Attila conquered the Akatziri, called Akatziri Unni, by Priscus, another Hunnic confederacy, on the Pontus, which afterwards revived under the name of Khazars. Having destroyed their chiefs, except one named Kuridakh, he placed his son Ellak in authority over them. He then proceeded to subdue the various Slavic and German tribes, that still remained independent; extending his conquests to the Baltick.
Priscus, who was one of an embassy sent by Theodosius to the barbarian king, has handed down a picture of his fabled court. He shows us Atilla making a solemn entry into his capital, under white canopies held up by virgins. As soon as he had passed before the house of his minister Oncgese, a woman emerged surrounded by servants bearing plates of meat and a tankard of wine. She approached and besought him to taste the repast she had prepared. Atilla made a sign of assent, whereupon four men lifted to the stature of the horse a table of silver; and without touching foot to earth, the king ate and drank. A few days afterward Atilla invited the ambassadors to a grand banquet. The Romans entered the hall, furnished with little tables and seats. In the middle of the hall was set up the dais bearing the royal table and the couch on which Atilla was reclining. At his feet knelt Ellak, the oldest of his sons, in the attitude of a slave,' silent with downcast eyes. The guests were served on plates of silver, with meat in cups of gold; but Atilla ate and drank from vessels of wood.
Atilla made answer to the ambassadors of the Caesars. Two Hunnish envoys presented themselves the same day before the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, charged with identical massages, in these words: "Atilla, my master and thine, commands thee to prepare for him a palace, as he is about to come thither." Atilla came in the terrible year 451, presaged by comets, eclipses of the moon and by clouds of blood in which armed phantoms clashed with flaming lances. Never was the end of the world so near at hand. It was not an invasion; it was a deluge. Huns, Alains, Gelons, Avares, Ostrogoths, Gepides, Bulgarians, Turks, Hungarians-Barbary in mass surged about Atilla. The animal kingdom in insurrection against man rallying about a monster endowed with will and intelligence-even that hardly gives an idea of the peril which menaced civilization on that gloomy day.
Atilla took on various metamorphoses in the midst of the storm that he unleashed. He appeared by the light of burning cities in the form of the mythologic beast, Chimera. Some chronicles give him the head of an ass; others, the loins of a hog; these accounts deprive him of speech and represent him as giving forth only inarticulate grunts. Sacred tradition conceived him as the Biblical rod, a flail to scourge the nations, wielded by the hand of God emerging from the clouds. Atilla himself accepted with pride this sinister surname. The legend has it that when he heard a monk speak of him as "the scourge of God" he went into a frenzy of infernal delight. "The stars fall, the earth trembles, and I am the hammer that smites the world!"
Atilla swept like a cyclone over the fairest portions of the West, and enriched with the plunder of many people, he moved upon Koine, with the boast that grass never grew where his horses' feet had trod. Leo the Great was at this juncture (A. D. 454) bishop of Kome - a man renowned for his policy, his ability, his arrogance and his persecuting spirit. On the approach of Atilla, Leo at the request of the Roman citizens, went forth robed in his vestments, and accompanied by a deputation of nobles, in procession to meet and placate the invader. They reached him near Ravenna. Impressed by the sacred embassy, the superstitious barbarian was conciliated, and a treaty of peace was signed, on condition of an annual tribute. Atilla retired, and Rome for a time was spared - but not without pretended miracles. Long after, it was affirmed that Atilla saw two venerable persons (Peter and Paul) standing by the side of Leo as he spoke.
The long, and generally victorious, struggle which he carried on against Rome concluded with the terrible fight on the Catalannian fields has been told with spirit by Gibbon, and in profuse and exhaustive detail by Thierry, in his " History of Attila and his successors." It is, in fact, hard to say where his influence, and that of his followers, did not reach. Attila and his Huns are named in the Edda; and the Niebelungenlied, the epics of Scandinavia and Germany, and the rude monuments of North Holland and of Germany are still known as Huunenbedden.
Alas for the western world if Aetius had not vanquished Atilla on the Catalaunic fields. Gigantic battle of baffling significance! Two hundred thousand dead; cascades of blood leaping into the little brook until it becomes a mighty river; Atilla entrenched behind a palisade of wagons, raging like mad before a pyre of burning saddles, prepared for his own holocaust in case his camp was carried by storm. In truth a combat of gods and giants worthy of the Eddas. Aetius surpassed Marius and equaled Caesar in is epic fray. In AD 454, the cowardly, worthless, dissolute, contemptible, and treacherous Valentinian stabbed his best friend AEtius, and became abhorred by the people. AEtius, the leading general of the emperor Valentinian, envied for his abilities, had been murdered by order or command of the emperor. His friends avenged his death by the assassination of Valentinian himself.
Atilla died on his retreat (AD 455). He burst a blood vessel in his lungs, and was suffocated in his own gore ; the result of a drunken debauch ; and his empire fell to pieces.
The downfall of the empire of the Huns was even more sudden than its rise. The subjugation of the Germans was disastrous to the Huns; they threw off the yoke after Attila's death, and the Hunnish Empire perished, Hungary became German, and the Huns withdrew into the Pontus steppe. This steppe was directly afterwards in the hands of Bulgar hordes who controlled numerous Slav tribes. The death of Attila on the Danube in 458, was the signal for all the enslaved nations to break their chains. The most frightful disorder spread through the camp at Buda, where the savage sons of so many various mothers, sword in hand, disputed with one another the inheritance of the world's spoils ; the Ostrogoths, Lombards, Gepidae, and Herules united in alliance against the common oppressor. The tremendous battle between all these fierce barbarian nations took place on the river Netad (Neutra), in Pannonia. Ellac, the eldest son of Attila fell, after wonders of bravery, and with him 80,000 Huns.
His brother, Dengish, gathered the relies of the still formidable nation, and maintained himself until 470 on the banks of the lower Danube ; but the splendid camp of Attila at Buda, with the whole of Dacia and Pannonia, from the Carpathian hills to the Euxine, became divided among the victors - the Gepidae, the Ostrogoths, and the Lombards. Surrounded and oppressed by his father's slaves, the kingdom of Dengish was at last confined to the circle of his wagons. He perished on the Danube, and Irnac, the youngest sou of Attila, retired with the hordes to the Volga, where by 526 they were encamped on the plain of the Kuban river, between the Euxine and the Caspian seas, divided into the two kingdoms of the Kuturgour and Uturgour Huns.
From thence they conquered the whole Tauric Chersonese, with the exception of the important cities of Cherson and Theodosia, which were bravely defended by their Roman garrisons. But the other towns, Repoi and Phanagoris, situated near the Cimmerian Bosporus, were taken by the Barbarians, who, uniting with the Bulgarians, recrossed the Danube and appeared under Zaber-Chan, in 558, before trembling Constantinople herself. They passed the long wall of Anastasius without opposition ; but were routed and discomfited by the well-known exploit of old Belisarius. On the return of Zaber Chan beyond the Danube, the Avars fell upon the Huns, subdued them, or mixed up with them in such a manner that, from the year 572, no mention is ever made in history of the Huns as a separate nation, though it is both interesting and important to know that the Avars are called indifferently Huns, or Avars, by all the western chroniclers in the time of Charlemagne, which distinctly proves the union or amalgamation of those fierce Asiatic nations.
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