How Attila the Hun Worked

Attila's (Love) Life and Death
The body of Attila the Hun lies on a bed while his wife of one night, Ildico, weeps at his feet. Kean Collection/Getty Images

Attila, like any good barbarian in ancient times, had many wives and children, although no one knows how many. He also once received an interesting marriage proposal. Sort of.

It was the spring of 450 when Attila received an engagement ring from Honoria. Honoria was the sister of Valentinian III, emperor of Western Rome. Valentinian III was trying to arrange a marriage for Honoria, but she didn't want to marry the aristocrat he had in mind. So, she sent her engagement ring to Attila, asking him to help her avoid her scheduled nuptials. Attila either thought she was hinting that she wanted to escape by marrying him instead, or he may have pretended that's what he thought. Either way, upon receiving the ring he proclaimed Honoria would soon become his newest wife, and demanded half of the Western Empire as her dowry.

Naturally, Valentinian III was furious with Honoria. She denied she was trying to marry Attila, and eventually agreed to marry the aristocrat. Meanwhile, Attila invaded Italy in 452, claiming the reason was to find Honoria and make her his wife. But apparently he was easily distracted from this mission, because in 453 he married the young, beautiful Ildico. On their wedding night, he ate and drank a lot more than usual. The next morning Ildico found Attila dead in their marital bed. The cause? Attila, prone to nosebleeds, apparently suffered one in his sleep (or drunken stupor) and choked to death on his own blood.

Not surprisingly, some later claimed Attila was murdered by Ildico; others said his death was part of some larger conspiracy involving Marcian, then head of the Eastern Roman Empire. No matter. Following his death, the Hun horsemen cut their long hair and smeared blood over their faces, then rode slowly around Attila's tent. Later, they placed Attila's body in a gold-covered coffin that was set inside a silver coffin that was set inside an iron one. According to legend, a river in an undisclosed place was diverted, and Attila was buried in the riverbed, after which the waters were released to flow back over his burial place, effectively hiding it from his enemies. The servants who performed the burial were subsequently slain to ensure no one would find his remains. And so far, nearly 1,600 years later, no one has [sources: Pruitt, Mark].