How Attila the Hun Worked

Attila's Main Battles

Hunnic Empire map Hunnic Empire map
This map shows the size of the Hunnic Empire at its peak. Wikimedia Commons

When Attila and Bleda took over rule of the Huns in 434, they finished a peace treaty their uncles had been arranging with Theodosius II, head of the Eastern Roman Empire. In addition to Theodosius II turning over some renegade Huns who had escaped, he agreed to pay the Huns 700 pounds (317 kilograms) of gold as an annual tribute, among other terms, to keep the Huns at bay [source: New World Encyclopedia].

The next few years were peaceful in the Roman Empire, as the Huns were off trying to invade the Persian Empire. They didn't succeed, however, which may be why Attila suddenly cried out that the Romans had broken their treaty, leading the Huns to begin attacking cities in the Eastern Roman Empire once again in 441. Barreling through the territory, they came to within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the capital, Constantinople, when Theodosius II once again bartered with the men to stop their attacks. This time the cost was a staggering 2,100 pounds (952 kilograms) of gold per year [sources: Pruitt, New World Encyclopedia].

Back in their home in the Great Hungarian Plain, the Huns lived reasonably peacefully until 445, when Attila is said to have slain his brother, Bleda, to become sole leader of the Huns. A few years after that, he again battled the Romans, rolling through today's Balkans and into Greece. Once again the Romans couldn't best the Huns, begged for a cease-fire and agreed to even harsher penalties and peacekeeping terms.

Attila's first and only battlefield loss came in 451, when roughly 200,000 Hun soldiers invaded Gaul (France). At first they fared well, per usual, easily devastating all they came across. But the Romans sprang to action under General Flavius Aetius, who formed an alliance with Visigothic King Theodoric I. In a blowout battle on the Catalaunian Plains (eastern France), the Roman-Goth army defeated the Huns. King Theodoric I was killed during the bloody battle, while Attila simply withdrew his men and left Gaul.

Italy was next on Attila's agenda. He and his troops drove down into the territory in 452, destroying many cities. But the country was suffering a famine and there was much disease, both of which also affected the Huns. They decided to head for home, leaving Rome -- the main prize -- intact. The following year, Attila died. It was a very odd death which we'll explore next.