Аttila was the King of the Huns, the emperor of the Hunnish state, Commander (reigned from 434 to 453). With full justification, he should be considered

the most outstanding person of the 1st millennium.


Attila was born in 395 AC. He ruled Hunnish state from 434 to 453 years. Greek and Latin sources indicate that Attila was from a noble lineage, which had ruled the Huns for generations.

         With the death in 434 of Rugila (Ruas) the Huns were headed by his two nephews Attila and Bleda, the sons of Mundzuk’s brother. After death in 444-445 of Bleda Attila became the sovereign ruler of the great power of the Huns. By this time, for his commander’s merits, he was recognized by the high rank of “magister militum” (“commander of the troops”).

Attila was a great statesman who committed great deeds, a wise ruler, a skilled diplomat, and a fair judge. With good reason, he should be considered the most outstanding personality of the first millennium. Under him, the military art of the Huns particularly demonstrated itself during victorious battles with both Roman empires.

Already in 435-436, the Huns, headed by Attila, annexed the kingdom of the Burgundians between Main and the Rhine, which was subject to Rome. This event later formed the basis of the plot “The Song of the Nibelungs” – a well-known epic work of Germany, which is in the circle of such works as Homer’s poems and “Song of Roland”, “A Word about Igor’s Regiment”. These works and other works of the Germanic epic and the Scandinavian sagas reflects Attila as a savior of people from the yoke of the Roman Empire. Prominent Byzantine chronicler, historian and diplomat of the 5th century Greek Priscus of Panius, who participated in the Byzantine embassy to the king of the Huns in 448, in his Historia Byzantina (Byzantine history), preserved in fragments, characterizes Attila as a prominent statesman, committing great deeds, a wise ruler, a skilled diplomat and fair judge. In the description of the joining of Attila, the formidable rival of the superpower of that time – the Roman state, Priscus is objective. He tells about how both empires: The West Roman and East Roman sought an alliance with the all-powerful ruler of the Huns. They competed among themselves in an effort to acquire the location of a proud ruler. At the court of Attila in Pannonia, Priscus met the envoys of the Western Emperor Valentinian III, who sought to keep the Huns from marching to the West. Especially Byzantium persistently sought to maintain peace with Attila.

But not only the Western and Eastern empires were looking for an alliance with the Hunnish state. In the 40-50s of V century Attila gained such great fame as a mighty ruler that kings and leaders of other nations turned to him for help.


Attila is the emperor of the Hun state. The Huns (Hunnoi) had inhabited Central Asia since ancient times. They belonged to the Turkic tribes. As far back as the fourth century BC, the Chinese considered the Huns as their most serious enemies, because the Hun chieftains had made real progress in the wars against the Han Empire.       

China starting from the 2nd century BC, having failed to break the Huns on its own power. China defeated them with the help of other nomadic peoples. In the first half of the second century AD. Hun tribes began to migrate to East Kazakhstan and Zhetysu, as well as to the Caspian and Trans-Volga steppes. In the middle of the fourth century BC, the Huns invaded the land between the Volga and the Don, having conquered the Alans in the Northern Caucasus. They brought to heel the Kingdom of Bosporus, crossed the Don and broke the neck of the multitribal power of Ermanaric, the king of the Ostrogoths in South-Eastern Europe (in 375). That year was the beginning of a series of movements that led to the Great Migrations in Eurasia and Europe.

The Great Migration, which was initiated by the Huns’ tribal union, starting from the depths of Central Asia to the west of the European continent, became a turning point in world history. Since that time, the social relations, cultures and traditions of the tribes and peoples who inhabited the Eurasian space have become synthesized and integrated.

During the age-long existence (the 4th – 5th centuries) in Europe, in the instable era of the Great Migration, the Hun Empire with center in Pannonia objectively had an impact on the fate of European history. In addition to wars and migrations, we can see that historical epoch showed multifaceted interaction between the East and the West, synthesis and integration of traditions and cultures.

Attila ruled from 434 to 453, and during his reign the Hun Empire reached its greatest strength and territorial expansion in the West (was born in 395 and died in 453). Under Attila empire consisted of four parts, stretching from so-called Scythia (the kingdom of the Huns) to Germany (Scythica et Germanica regna) on the northern borders. In the South, both the Roman Empires (the Eastern and the Western) paid tribute to Attila. On a scale of territory and influence, the Empire of Attila geographically covered almost four parts of the world: from east to west and from north to south (the ancient Turkic: tört bulun, the Kazakh ‘дүниенің төрт бұрышы’). At that time, the territory of the Hunnish Empire stretched from east to west, from the Altai Mountains, Central Asia and the Caucasus to the Danube and the Rhine. The Huns’ tribal union in Central Asia contributed to the later formation of the Kazakh ethnic group and other Turkic nations.

Many European nations considered the Hun power as a counterbalance to the Roman Empire, as the savior from the Roman expansion. Thus, several Germanic tribes who were dependent on the Hunnish Empire participated in the wars against Rome. In short, the empire of the Huns has a definite place in the history of Europe at a crucial period of transition from antiquity to the middle Ages.

By the middle of the fifth century, the relations between the Western Roman Empire and the Hunnic Empire had increasingly deteriorated. It is supposed that those forces were on the brink of a great confrontation.

Having accumulated and concentrated power, the ruler of the Huns, launched a military campaign against Western Europe. A contemporary of that instable era, Prosper Tiro, who was also the secretary of Pope Leo the Great, calling Attila’s westward campaign the main event, wrote: «Attila post necem fratris auctus opibus interempi multa vicinarum sibi gentium milia cogit in bellum, quod Gothis tantum se inferre tamquam custos Romanae amicitati denuntiabat. sed cum transito Rheno saevissimos eius impetus multae Gallicanae urbes experirentur, cito et nostris et Gothis placuit, ut furori superborum hostium consociatis exercitibus repugnaretur, tantaque patricii Aetii providentia fuit, ut raptim congregatiss undique bellatoribus viris adversae multitudini non inpar occurreret». («Attila after his death became stronger. He forced thousands of neighboring nations to war, considering himself as the friend of the Romans, against the war to Goths. Once he crossed the Rhine, fear gripped numerous Gallic cities. So, our men [the Romans – K.Zh.] and the Goths quickly decided to combine forces to meet the brazen enemy. The patrician Aetius approved himself, as he was able to quickly gather the forces scattered throughout and counter the enemy’») [1].

Among the most important evidence of that era are archives and materials of papal correspondence, which, unfortunately, have not yet become the subject of proper analysis. Meanwhile, these unique Latin sources, concentrated in the Vatican, book depositories and collections of the Vatican Apostolic Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), allow to reconstruct the difficult ups and downs of that time. So, in a letter to the emperor of the East Roman Empire, Marcian (450-457), dated April 23, 451, Pope Leo I the Great (440-461) made it clear that the consent of the two Christian emperors of the West and the East could resist heretical creeps and invasions of barbarians  («nam inter principes Christianos spiritu dei confirmante concordiam gemina per totum mundum fiducia roboratur, quia profectus caritatis et fidei utrorumque armorum potentiam insuperabilem facit, ut propitiato per unam confessionem deo simul et haetretica falsitae et barbara destruatur hostilitas…»)[2]. 

Why did Attila go to war not to Italy, but to Gaul? This question deserves attention. Of course, the relationship of Attila with both Roman empires in 450-451 worsened. So, Marcian came to power after the death in July 450 of the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire Theodosius II. At the same time, the Eastern Romans promised the ambassadors of Attila that if he was in peace, they would give him gifts. But, if he went to war, then he would be met with the same.

Here we should dwell on an episode related to Honoria, who, as the sister of Emperor Valentinian III, had her influence in Rome. According to the Greek chronicler of the VI-VII centuries John of Antioch, referring to Priscus, Honoria – the sister of the Roman emperor Valentinian III had a relationship with his housekeeper, with a certain Eugene. This connection was caught, after which Eugenius was executed, and Honoria was married to an unknown court. Honoria, embittered by this and above all by the fact that she was sentenced to vegetation at her brother’s court, sent her eunuch (Hyacinthus) to Attila, asking for his help and offering her her hand, as well as compensation for everything related to her liberation. Upon returning to Rome, Hyacinthus lost his head in search of Honoria … [3].

It is easy to guess that Valentinian III and his commander Aetius opposed to the Huns. And they did not want to see Honoria even as a formal co-ruler. As for Attila, in the fight against the Roman Empire, he wanted, through the so-called “pseudo-bride” of Honorius, to gain the opportunity to influence the ruling elite in Rome. Through his messenger, as Priscus wrote, Attila demanded, along with Gonoria, half of the wealth of her father, which rightfully belongs to her as the daughter of the emperor. Since the Romans did not accept these conditions of Attila, the latter began to prepare his entire army for war (Etiam dimidiam imperii partem sibi Valentinianum debere, quum ad Honoriam jure paternum regnum pertineret, quo injusta fratris cupidate private esset. sed quu Romani Occidentales in prinia sententia persisterent et Attilae mandata rejicerent, ipse toto exercitu convocato majore vi bellum paravit “) [4].

In the chain of impending conflict, it should be noted the situation associated with the struggle for the throne at the Ripuarian or Rhineland Franks. The latter, as you know, settled on the territory of Northern Gaul. After the death of the king of the Franks, there was a struggle between his sons. According to Priscus, the eldest son gravitated to Attila, the youngest to Aetius.

Even earlier, according to the Gallic chronicle, when in 448 the Roman forces suppressed the movement of Bagaudae in Gaul, the Hun King granted refuge to one of the active participants in the uprising, the famous physician Eudoxius (Eudoxius arte medicus, pravi, sed exercitati ingenii, in Bogauda id temporis mota delatus and Ghunos confugit) [5].

As Jordan characterizes the ruler of the Huns, in all severity he was a clever man who, before embarking on a fight, acted by cunning. Of course, we are always talking here about old techniques that have been used, fitting into the eternal formula: to achieve the goal, all means are good. Indeed, Attila, through his envoy to the emperor Valentinian, conveyed that he did not oppose the Roman state, but resolved disputes with the Visigoth king.

The struggle against the Huns united the Roman Empire, the Visigoths and other unions of Celtic and Germanic tribes. Old contradictions and struggle were forgotten. The combined army of the Roman Empire, the Visigothic Kingdom and other tribal alliances of the West, was headed by the patrician Flavius ​​Aetius. And in the period of struggle for power in Rome, he had fled to the Huns, who lent him support, so returning to Italy in 433 with the Hunnish cohorts; Flavius Aetius took a top position in the state again and gained command of the armed forces of the Empire.

In connection with Aetius’s arrival to the country of the Huns, it was interesting to note that he met here with young Attila, his future adversary. During his hostage, Aetius had the opportunity to get to know the Huns closely and, what was especially important for him in the future, to study their military organization and their methods of warfare. [6]

As for Attila, his political situation by this time was noticeably complicated. The East Roman Empire, refusing the tribute paid earlier, was preparing for military action. However, the King of the Huns with his usual tenacity remained adamant. And the front of his opponents began, from Constantinople through Rome to the Visigoth and Frankish kingdoms, as well as other political and tribal formations of Europe.

The conquering ardor of the Huns turned to the West and in the beginning of 451 Attila began his campaign. Struggling for hegemony in Europe, he wanted to take possession of the rich lands of the kingdoms of the Burgundians, Visigoths and Franks in Gaul. The German tribes of Ostrogoths, Gepids, Skirs, Rugians, Gerul, Thuringians, and Alans allied with the Huns on this struggle.

Having crossed the Rhine, the army of Attila went to Trier and then with two columns – to the north-east of Gaul. The dangers, especially since Europe was well aware of the first Hun invasions, quickly united their German allies, including in the territory of Gaul – Visigoths, Burgundians, Franks, Saxons.

According to Jordan, the army of Attila totaled half a million people (cuius exercitus quingentorum milium esse numero ferebatur) [7]. The number of troops of the Huns before going to Gaul – half a million people – is certainly exaggerated by the Gothic author. However, now we can definitely say that Attila’s army could comprise at most from 100,000 to 120,000 men: the forces of his opponents totaled about the same.

On the side of Attila there were up to 25 large and small tribes. Each of them could put up to 10,000 soldiers or 1 tumen. In case of war, about 1/3 of the riders usually remained to protect their native places (rear). Attila could put together a maximum of 25 x 6,600 horsemen, that is, the largest, up to 165,000 warriors. The avant-garde and rearguard units in this case consisted of allied clans and tribes, which took part in the battles insofar as. Further, we must take into account the fact that the Hun ruler simultaneously planned military operations in the East, in particular in the Caucasus, where he did not personally participate. All this, ultimately, gives us reason to believe that we have given the size of the Hunnish army (from 100 thousand to 120 thousand people), which really can call to the period of late antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

      But let’s return to the events of the Gallic campaign of Attila. On 9th of April 451, after two days siege Metz were controlled. Tongeren, Speyer, and Reims were all aflame. Paris was in a blue funk. The inhabitants of ancient Lutetia were about to flee away. A legend explained the salvation of the city by the extraordinarily brave woman, St. Genovea (Genevieve) [Heilige Genovea], who later became known as the patron saint of Paris. From the ‘Life of St. Genovea’ we can see that she insisted the inhabitants not to leave the city and to ask God for help, which can save them from impending danger [8].

       But Attila did not reach Paris.  Having approached to Orleans on the left flank, the Huns began to assault it. And the Catalaunian Fields (Latin Campi Catalaunici) in Champagne (France) became the place for the decisive (major) battle. This area has its origin from Catuvellauner, the name of a Celtic tribe, and it is a plain between Troyes and present-day Chalons-sur-Marne in France. It can rightfully be considered that it is one of the largest battles since along with the Battle of Cannes (216 BC) gained by Hannibal and that of Waterloo (1815), the last great battle of Napoleon, it ranks among the most famous battles in the European and world history.

The struggle for the commanding point was going with varying degrees of success. Aetius, well acquainted with the battle tactics of the steppe-warriors, seemed to be able to repel another attack by the advancing Huns. This had not been Attila’s experience and he decided to strengthen his army with speeches at a most seasonable time: “After victories over so many tribes, after the whole world – if you stand! – submissive, I consider it useless to prompt you with words as they do not understand what is the matter. Let either a new leader or an inexperienced army seek it. Let your spirit rise, let the rage peculiar to you boil! Now, Huns, use your mind, use your weapons! Whether anyone is wounded – let him achieve the death of the enemy, is he unharmed – let him be satisfied with the blood of enemies. No arrow reaches those who are going to victory, but rock is also going to death during the time of peace. Finally, why fortune affirmed the Huns as winners of so many tribes, if not in order to prepare them for glee after this battle? Who, finally, opened to our ancestors the path to the Meotides, who had been closed and hidden for so many centuries? Who then forced the armed men to retreat before the unarmed ones? The faces of the Huns could not bear the whole crowd. I have no doubt in the outcome – this is the field that all our good luck promised us! And I am the first to shoot an arrow at the enemy. If Attila fights the person is already buried!”.

And ignited by these words, all rushed into battle. Attila himself ruled the battle. In an instant, everything mixed up. Battle cries, glitter of sabers and dust that rose behind the rushing riders. They converge into melee: the battle is fierce, variable, brutal, and stubborn. As Jordan goes on to say, “No antiquity has ever been told about such a fight, although it tells of such acts, more grandiose than anything that could be observed in life, if only not to be a witness to this very miracle. If you believe the old people, then the stream on the mentioned field, flowing in the low banks, was much spilled from the blood and wounds of those killed”.

The battle continued until nightfall, as Attila himself had supposed. With the onset of darkness, the Roman and Visigothic army returned to their camp, not daring to storm Attila’s camp due to fear of a hail of Hun arrows. Aetius, torn away from his people in the night turmoil, wandering between enemies, if something bad happened with the Goths, finally came to the Allied camps and spent the rest of the night guarded by shields (relicuum noctis scutorum defensione transegit) [9].

In the Battle of Catalaun, contrary to some Western chronicles, the parties did not achieve an advantage. Here, the information of the eyewitnesses of those years is very important, and although there are few of them, there are still. So, a direct contemporary of that turbulent era, an eyewitness Prosper Tiro wrote: «in quo conflictu quamvis neutris cedentibus inaestimabiles strages commorientium facte sint, Chunos tamen constat victos fuisse, quod ammissa proeliandi fiducia qui superfuerant ad propria reverterunt» (in this battle, none of the parties won. The number o died person was immense…)[10].

The Hun power in the West attracted high attention. So, in “Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind”, I.G. Gerder, who was in Eurocentric positions, nevertheless wrote that the king of the Huns Attila flashed like a meteor in the sky of Europe. Under him, the power of the Huns reached its awesome greatness … He is just, very kind to his subjects, distrustful of enemies, proud before the proud Romans; with an army he turned to the West, swiftly flew across Germany, crossed the Rhine, destroyed half of Gaul – everything trembled before him, until, finally, the Western peoples gathered an army and opposed it. The German educator said that “Attila acted tactically wisely, pulled his troops into the Catalaun valley, where the path to retreat was always open; the Romans, Goths, lets, Armorics, Breons, Burgundians, Saxons, Alans, Franks were against him. He himself head the battle. The battle was bloody, the king of the West Goths fell on the battlefield; countless warriors died … Attila crossed the Rhine in the opposite direction, no one pursued him … “[11].

In assessing the largest battle, several Western scholars of modern and recent times, drawing information from chroniclers of the early Middle Ages, sometimes use them uncritically. And this always complicates the task of an objective assessment of historical reality.

Among the latest Western researchers there are many descriptions that  were no winners in the battle on the Catalaun fields, the death toll was incredible [12], that “Aetius with all his allies could not continue the battle against Attila” [13], “Attila can be placed on a par with significant personalities of world history”[14].

 The situation in Gaul, in our opinion, can be explained by the too wide scope of Attila’s campaigns and the impossibility within the vast territory to contain under the unified leadership a mass of tribes and tribal statehoods that were not socially and ethnically connected with the Huns. The situation in Gaul, in our opinion, can be explained by the too wide scope of Attila’s campaigns and the impossibility within the vast territory to contain under the unified leadership a mass of tribes and educations that were not socially and ethnically connected with the Huns.

 The forces of the Huns after the “battle of the people” of 451 were by no means exhausted. It seems that this was not a victory in the former spirit of Attila, but it is also difficult to call it a defeat. Evidence of this is the fact that, literally after a short time, Attila embarked on a new campaign now in the heart of the Roman Empire – Italy. In my opinion, this was the strategic plan of the great Hunnish commander, changed during the Gallic company [15].

After returning from the Gallic campaign, Attila renewed the demands on the East Roman Empire to pay tribute in the previous amounts. Having sent a small detachment against Byzantium, he with the main forces launched an attack on Italy. Hun troops captured cities such as Aquileia, Concordia, Altin, Patavius ​​/ nowadays Padua /, Vicetius / now Vicenza /, Verona, Brixia / now Brescia /, Bergamo, Milan, Titsin / now Pavia /.

After all of territory of Northern Italy was taken by the Huns, their journey to Rome was short-lived. It became obvious that the Roman Empire did not have the power to stop the onslaught of formidable conquerors, and Attila was close to world domination.

In this difficult situation for the West Roman Empire, Valentinian III was inactive in Ravenna, anxiously watching what would happen next. As for Aetius, he was also confused. The army of Rome could no longer resist the onslaught of the Huns, it was paralyzed by their successes in Northern Italy. In the end, it was decided to use a method that was fully tested by the Eastern Romans (Byzantines): delegation of the embassy to Attila. He was led by Pope Leo I himself, later nicknamed the Great; it also included the consul Avin and the prefect of Rome, Trigetius. A contemporary of those days, Prosper Tiro wrote: “…et tot nobelium provinciarum lattissima eversione credita est saevilia et cupiditas hostilis explenda, mhilque inter omnia consilia principis ac senatns populique Romani salubrius visum est, quam ut per legates pax truculentissimi regis expeteretur, Suscepit hoc negotim cum vim consulari Avieno et viro praefectorio Trygetio beatissimus papa Leo auxilio dei fretus, quem scirel numquam piorum laboribus defuisse. Nee aliud secutum est quam praesumpserat fides, nam tota leganione dignanter accepts ita summi sacerdotis praesentia rex gavisus est, ut bello abstinerc praeciperet et ultra Danuvium promissa pace discederet” (And severe damage to a number of provinces, accompanied by cruelty and greed of the enemy. This fact left only the hope that the government, the Senate and the Roman people would find it the best way out to sue the ruthless king for peace via the embassy. This task was assigned to ex-Consul Avienus and urban ex-prefect Trygetius, and blessed Pope Leo pinned all his hopes on God, who, he knew, would not leave His people in the lurch. He understood what the results of his hope is. The entire embassy was received with respect, the king was particularly pleased with the presence of the highest head of the church, and he gave up the idea of continuing the war, promising to keep the peace and withdraw to the other side of the Danube). [16]

At first glance, the meeting of two persons seems to be paradoxical. On the one hand was Attila, the ruler of the Hunnic Empire, a formidable conqueror, a man deeply absorbed the pagan ideas of his people. His name roused the pagandom of East and Northern Europe again at the time of the beginning of Christianity. On the other hand, was Pope Leo I, the head of the Christian church hierarchy.

Incidentally, the mission of Leo I to Attila objectively raised high the authority of the pope, who influenced the ruler of the people of the East and West at such a terrible hour for the Roman Empire. And Leo I was named the Great.

And if Attila, who was standing near the walls of Rome, was stopped by the Pope, the same cannot be said about Geiserich, the king of the Vandals, another actor of that time. Three years later, in 455, Pope Leo I could not counteract to him. The Vandals looted and destroyed the city and robbed its population blind; it brought the term ‘vandalism’ – the mass destruction of cultural and material values, brutality and senseless cruelty – into use. After a fourteen days’ plunder of Rome, Geiserich and his army left the city. There is evidence that the king of the Vandals brought out thousands of Roman artisans as prisoners. According to Procopius of Caesarea, Geiserich ‘having loaded his ships with huge amounts of gold and other royal treasures and having taken the copper items and everything else from the palace, sailed to Carthage. He robbed the temple of Jupiter Capitoline and took half of its roof off. That roof was made of the best copper and covered with a thick layer of gold, representing a majestic and amazing sight. They say one of Geiserich’s ships that had been load with statues was lost, with all the rest the vandals entered safely into the harbor of Carthage” [17].

The fact that the ruler of the great Hunnish Empire, whose tributaries were both the Roman Empires, stopped before the city of Rome, throwing out a white flag, and took up the appeal of the embassy headed by the Pope, demonstrates about Attila’s wisdom. He stopped the riot of his army, preventing wanton destruction and casualties. In this case, Attila differs favorably from Geiserich, the king of the Vandals, or Alaric, the king of the Visigoths, despite the fact that some church legends tagged him the ‘«flagellum dei», which translatin from Latin is “Scourge of God’.

Continuing the analysis of the meeting of Attila and Pope St. Leo I on the Ager Ambuleius, we should note that the authority of the church and the papacy began rising straight afterwards. This meeting was of objectively great importance for the history of the papacy, and for medieval Europe as a whole, in terms of the growth of the political influence of the Popes and clergy throughout the Middle Ages and in subsequent history. The papacy gradually became an active force capable of administering secular affairs outside of Europe.

Returning again to the indicated meeting on the Ambulian Field of 452, we can remember the fact of the new history of Europe in the 19th century when, after the Battle of Solferino in 1859, Napoleon III invited the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I to the negotiations, which took place 5 km away from the historic place where 1400 years ago was the mission of Leo I to Attila. Human rumor is still talking about the meeting here of the King of the Huns with the pope ……[18] 


In Vatican, in the depositories and collections of the Vatican Apostolic Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), which ranks number one in Europe in antiquity, rarity and number of manuscripts, have being done a considerable amount of scientific-research work. For instance, new source materials on the history of the Hun Empire; most of these sources are present only in Latin.

Attila favorably differed from his contemporaries – other warriors who had undertaken military campaigns to Rome. He showed respect for the Christian religion and the Roman pope. Thus, it is not by chance that even now in the main Christian church of the world – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you can see pictures of the great ruler of the Hun Empire. It is a bas-relief of the 17th century made by sculptor Alessandro Algardi. It depicts the historic meeting of Leo I with Attila in 452. The same story was captured by Raphael in Stanza di Eliodoro (“Room of Heliodorus”).

In this regard, I want to particularly emphasize that I have found for the first time a very important image of Attila in Vatican Museums – the third one in a row by now – which is not found so far in any publication dedicated to the history of the Hun Empire and Rome. The finding is in one of the galleries, which is part of the Vatican Museums. The fresco is made in the 16th century. There is inscription “S.Leo Pont.Max.Attila.Furentem.Reprimit ”, which means translated from Latin: “ Pope Leo the Great stops the formidable Attila. ” A copy of this mural is placed in the library of Al-Farabi KazNU. I voiced and showed this image of Attila during a press conference at the national press club in Almaty on October 15, 2014.

Unlike well-known fresco of Raphael in the Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro), mentioned in a number of publications, in the “Meeting of Leo the Great with Attila” a 17th-century bas-relief of the sculptor Alessandro Algardi, on this fresco Attila is sitting on a white horse with a golden royal crown on his head. In all its form discerns the winner, who conquered Northern Italy.

After which the path of the Huns to Rome was not long. The army of the Roman Empire after the famous Battle of the Catalaunian Fields was not able to withstand the onslaught of the Huns. The empire sends an embassy led by Pope Leo I. And here we look at the respectful attitude of the papal throne to the personality of Attila, which remains to this day.

Fresco in the Vatican. It is executed in the XVI century. Below the inscription: “S.Leo Pont. Max Attila. Furentem. Reprimit ”, which means translated from Latin:“ Pope Leo the Great stops the formidable Attila. ”

As a medieval historian, I cannot mention here that it was after this historical meeting of 452 on the Ambula Field of Attila and Leo I that it began the authority of the church and the papacy. Pope Leo I was nicknamed Leo the Magnus (Leo Magnus), because he was able to persuade Attila not to go to Rome and stop him at that terrible time for the Empire.

Attila’s time left an indelible mark on the history of Eurasia, which has survived not only in historical works, chronicles and epic creations. Reading and analyzing rare historical evidence in Latin, Early Germanic and Scandinavian languages, I was able to establish that at least 18 works of the Germanic heroic epic and Scandinavian sagas reflect the great deeds of the Huns and their ruler (they are called Attila, Etzel , Atzel, Atli, Atla).

         In the funeral hymn (joktau), the Huns commemorated the deeds and feats of their ruler:

Praecipuus Hunnorum rex Attila

patre genitus Mundzuco

fortissimarum gentium dominus

qui inaudita ante se potentia solus

(5) Scythica et Germanica regna possedit

nec non utraque Romani orbis imperia

captis civitatibus terruit

et, ne praedae reliqua subderentur,

placatus precibus annuum vectigal


(10) cumque haec omnia proventu felicitatis


non vulneiu hostium, non fraude


sed gente incolume, inter gaudia laetus

sine sensu doloris occubuit.

quis ergo hunc exitum putet,

(15) quem nullus aestimat vindicandum?


It can rightfully be considered that not one of the laudatory songs about Alexander the Great can be compared with the content of the Zhoktay according to Attila. Attila’s name has been preserved in the toponymy of Germany since the Middle Ages, despite some linguistic changes over time. For example, the names in the rural district are “Hetzelistal” (“Hetzelinstall”), letters, “Etzel valley” in the town of Offenburg, “Hetzelhof” (“Etzelshof”), “Atzelhof” (“Etzel yard”) at Heidelberg, Atzelbach (“source Attel ”) by Ottenhöfen,“ Atzenweiler ”(“ Etzel’s farm ”) in Limpach,“ Attlisberg ”(“ Mount Atli ”) by St. Blasien and others. Such names also indicate places of residence (path) of the Huns in Europe, as Unkel (Hunkel, Hunkele, Hunkale), meaning “the way of the Huns” across the Rhine; “Hunsbruk” Gunsbruck) letters, “Huns bridge” across the Meuse near Maastrich; Hennegau / Gau der Hunnen / (Gennegau) “district of the Huns” in Belgium and others.

An exceptional place in the arsenal of the Huns was occupied by a bow with arrows, in the use of which they achieved high perfection. Bows of a special asymmetric shape, made of elastic wood, to which horns, tendons, bone plates were attached, hit the target at a distance of more than 150 metres, while the enemy could reach at most 50-60 metres.

In a large-scale thematic exhibition organized in Speyer in 2007-2008 by one of the largest historical museums in Germany (Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer), authentic exhibits were presented both from leading major museums in Germany and famous museums in Europe: Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, France, Italy. These materials of the Hunnic era, in turn, make it possible to more fully recreate paintings of military art, household life, religious beliefs and rites. Here a lot of space was devoted to archaeological data, indicating various aspects of the development of material culture and military art of the Huns. At the exhibition (I personally visited it) on one of the monitors a computer image of a Hunnic warrior on a horse was presented, which demonstrates the techniques of equestrian combat. The audience could see how the horse, at full gallop, directly or turning around for a moment, was able to release many arrows from his bow … Or in another case, the seemingly retreating warrior suddenly turns around and also instantly hits the enemy.

According to the conclusions of the exhibition organizers, and a number of German historians, archaeologists, ethnologists, one of the descendants of the Huns is also the Kazakhs, whose ancestors inhabited the vast Eurasian steppes from time immemorial, predisposing to horse breeding and horse-nomadic life.

Chronicles of that period note that the Huns were primarily equestrian archers. The accuracy with which the Hunnic horsemen hit their opponents with their weapons did not cease to amaze the Romans and all others who dealt with them. The Romans sought to seize these bows. For example, Flavius ​​Vegetius, a Roman writer of the 4th-5th centuries, the author of Epitoma rei militaris (Summary of Military Affairs), testifies to this. In it, he notes an improvement in the armament of the cavalry of the Roman Empire, having in mind primarily the powerful bow of the Hun steppe.

This weapon of the warriors of the East, as the highest achievement of their military art could be found after 1000 years, for example, in the army of the Ottoman Empire of the XVII century. I could give other examples. For example, the commander of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, Belisarius, precisely under the influence of the Huns and Avars, equipped the main part of his army with bows, arrows, swords and shields. In addition, thanks to this, he achieved an advantage over the Goths in Italy. It can be said that from a military point of view, Albrecht Wallenstein, an experienced military commander who commanded large detachments of mercenaries in the Habsburg imperial service during the European Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, also used the elements of Hun art.

The Huns treated the horse with special trepidation and veneration. The social status of the Huns can be characterized as a horse-nomadic civilization. In European universities, in my reports and lectures, I emphasize that the Huns were not only conquerors; they brought elements of the culture of the East to the West. For example, samples of weapons of the Huns: single-blade swords and daggers, arrows with carbon tips; famous horse equipment. Before the advent of the Huns, the European world did not know about them.

The results of modern archaeological excavations in the regions of the Hunnish settlements indicate a rather high level of development of crafts, commerce, material culture, military art and other aspects of the social system of the Hunnish society. Great examples of Hun jewelry art include, for example, gold and silver tiaras, colts, pendants, earrings; hryvnia tips brooches and many others, which are similar in their style and image to the jewelry craftsmanship of the Kazakhs.

Of great interest are the famous Hunnish bronze cauldrons, which can be used to trace the similarities with Saka counterparts, which are also stored in the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan.

In Germany, the Huns have always been remembered. I managed to find in particular the “Speech of the Huns” (die Hunnenrede) of the last Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941). In 1900, Germany, like other European countries, sent an expeditionary force to China to suppress the so-called Boxing Rebellion. On July 27, 1900, in Bremerhaven, Emperor Wilhelm II in his speech urged German soldiers to be like the Huns: “Pardon wird nicht gegeben, Gefangene werden nicht gemacht. Wie vor tausend Jahren die Hunnen unter König Etzel sich einen Namen gemacht haben, der sie noch jetzt in Überlieferung und Märchen gewaltig erscheinen lässt, so muss der Name, Deutscher in China ehtemtemtäder in China auf tausend Chinese es wagt, einen Deutschen auch nur scheel anzusehen. ” Literally, it sounds like this: no weakness, no prisoners to take. To be the same brave warriors that the Huns, headed by their victorious ruler and commander Attila, proved themselves a thousand years ago …

After the death of Attila, the power of the Huns in the West broke up under his sons. The Huns remained north of the Lower Danube, but most of them went to the Black Sea and further to the east of Eurasia towards the Urals and the Aral Sea, that is, to the original eastern limits of the vast Hunnish Empire.

During the centuries of existence in the instable era of the Great Migration of Nations, the Hunnish State objectively exerted its influence on the fate of European and Eurasian history in terms of the transition to a new era and civilization. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the strip of civilization widens wider and it finds development in the regions north of the Alps – Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. The importance of “Europe” rises which replaced the old Roman Empire. Germanic, Celtic, and other communities fill the “vacuum” that formed after the Hun invasions. After Attila, another famous person of the 1st millennium, Charles the Great, emperor of the Frankish Empire, with its center in Paris and Aachen, comes to the arena. This Carolingian power in the West laid the foundation for the folding of three future large European states – France, Germany and Italy.


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  2. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV), Vaticani Latini (Vat. lat. 541, f. 67-68 R). 
  3. Johannes Antiochenus. Fragmenta, 199 – FHG, Ed. C. Mullerus, Parisiis, Didot, 1851, Vol. IV, p. 613-614.
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  6. Contemporary of Aetius Gallo-Roman poet Apollinaris Sidonius ( about 430-489) wrote in “Panegyric to Emperor Avitus” in 456 that Aetius “was repeatedly studied in the Scythian (Hun – K.Zh.) war”. «Scythico quia saepeduello edoctus». (Sidonius Apollinaris. Carmina, VII, Ed. P. Mohr. Leipzig, 1895).
  7. Jordanes. Getica. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Auctores Antiquissimi. Ed. Th. Mommsen. Berolini, Weidmannos, 1882, Т. V, p.1., 182.
  8. Vita St. Genovefae. Ed. С. Künstle. Leipzig, 1910, cap.9.
  9. Jordanes. Getica., 202-206, 207-208,212
  10. Prosper Tiro. Epitoma de Chronicon, 1364 – MGH, Berolini, 1892, p. 481-482.
  11. Herder I.G. Ideas for the philosophy of the history of mankind. Translation and annotation of A.V. Mikhailov. M., Science. 1977, – pp. 516-517 (in Russian)..
  12. Bona I. Das Hunnenreich. Budapest.-Stuttgart, 1991, S.97
  13. Stickler T. Die Hunnen. München, Beck Verl., 2007, S.95 ff.
  14. Schreiber H. Attila und Hunnen. Düsseldorf. Albatros Verl., 2006, S.309 ff.
  15. Zhumagulov K.T. The Catalaun battle in the plots of Eurasian history // “Scientific work of L.N. Gumilyov and the history of the peoples of Eurasia: Modern approaches and prospects». VIIIth International Eurasian Scientific Forum dedicated to the 20th anniversary of independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Astana, 2011, – pp. 8-16 (in Russian).

16. Prosper Tiro. Epitoma de Chronicon, 1367 -MGH, Auct. Ant,  T. IX,  Chr.min.,   Vol. I, 1892 p 482.

17. Procopius Caesariensis. Opera omnia. Ed. J. Haury, G. Wirth. Leipzig, 1962-1965, BV De bello Vandalico, I,V, 4-6.

  1. Zhumagulov K.T. Attila the Hun and the turning point of ancient history. 3rd International Multidisciplinary Scientific Conference on Social Sciences and arts SGEM 2016. Conference Proceedings. Sofia, Bulgaria, 2016.-pp.9-17 (in Russian).
  2. Chrestomathy on the history of Eurasia. Part 1. // comp. K.T. Zhumagulov et al. – Almaty: Kazakh University, 2018, – pp.139-141 (in Russian).

Author: Zhumagulov K.T., Doctor of Historical Sciences,

Prof., Emeritus Academician of NAS RK