Battle of Catalaunian Plains/ Attilla could also be Defeated

20.6.451 / 21.6.451

AGEMedieval Age
STATES Hunnic Empire
Roman Empire
PREVIOUS MILESTONEArch of Titus / The Great Revolt, 0-0-82
NEXT MILESTONEBattle of Badr, 13/3/624

Huns had been unified in Hungary in mid 5th century under the command of Attilla who unified nomadic and Germanic tribes, Goths and Alans with similar motivations like looting and warfare. He was misery king since he emerged suddenly with his great and unbeaten army that passed the Danube twice, treated Constantinople and Persia, though he could not take both these cities, his army looted all the cities and villages which were laying on their way and forced the Eastern Rome to pay him tax.

By 450AD, there were Eastern Rome in the east which was not threat for Attilla since they had paid to Attilla, Western Rome in South which was the ally of Huns for decades and whose the most influential and powerful general Aeitus friend of Attilla, Gaul in western side where did not exist any distinctive and constant borders because of migrations of Germanic Tribes. This stabilized situation was big advantage for civilized states however, unification of Huns and their stability was in proportion with looting. If there was no looting then there would not be an unification.

Attilla’s next target was Gaul, where several Germanic tribes, Franks, Burgundians, Visigoths were migrated by Roman-Hun alliance under the command of the general Aeitus (Gaul’s Guardian) from Toulouse to Aquitaine in 437, and Western Roman Empire existed. Attilla as a novice diplomat tried to hide his plan and sent messages to both Rome and Visigoths, in both messages he told that my target is not you, is our common enemy.

However, there would be two incidents revealed his plans.

Honoria, sister of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III, who was passionate for throne and seen his brother weak, sent her ring to Attilla and wanted to marry with him. As expected, she exiled to Constantinople. This was big opportunity to sit on Rome’s throne for Attilla, he announced that Honoria was under his protection and claimed the half of Western Roman Empire(Gaul) in the name of husband of princess. Of course his claim was refused by Roman Empire since Honoria was given to another man and the right of throne belonged to males not females.

It was very easy to understand Attilla’s target for his old friend Aeitus. However, Aetius army was not ready to a battle with Attilla’s one. He need allies especially strong allies such Visigoths whose alliance with Rome was impossible for Attilla. Aetius wanted help from the former Praetorian of Gaul Avitus (future emperor) and Avitus established alliance with germanic tribes, Visigoths and Rome.

Nomadic armies big advantages are their speed, they come, raid and go to the next village, people can’t be prepared to raids. However, though Attilla had rised with mounted archers, he became a king with siege weapons which were first used on the way to Constantinople. And his army was not fast and agile anymore.

Attilla sacked and looted many villages on the way to Orleans except Troyes. (Because of bishop of Troyes St. Lupus – Lupus wanted from Attilla to not loot Troyes, and Attilla accepted in case of Lupus’s conviction). Huns could not succeeded siege of Orleans since Aetius, Theodoric king of Visigoths and Avitus were on the way to Orleans too.

The two forces at last met somewhere on the Catalaunian Fields while there was a bright comet in the sky (Halley).

Theodoric, whilst leading his own men against the enemy Goths, was killed in the assault without his men noticing. The Visigoths outstripped the speed of the Alans beside them and fell upon Attila's own Hunnic household unit. Attila was forced to seek refuge in his own camp, which he had fortified with wagons. The Romano-Gothic charge apparently swept past the Hunnic camp in pursuit; when night fell, Thorismund, son of king Theodoric, returning to friendly lines, mistakenly entered Attila's encampment. There he was wounded in the ensuing melee before his followers could rescue him. Darkness also separated Aetius from his own men. As he feared that disaster had befallen them, he spent the rest of the night with his Gothic allies.

On the following day, finding the battlefield was "piled high with bodies and the Huns did not venture forth", the Goths and Romans met to decide their next move. Knowing that Attila was low on provisions and "was hindered from approaching by a shower of arrows placed within the confines of the Roman camp", they started to besiege his camp. In this desperate situation, Attila remained unbowed and "heaped up a funeral pyre of horse saddles, so that if the enemy should attack him, he was determined to cast himself into the flames, that none might have the joy of wounding him and that the lord of so many races might not fall into the hands of his foes".

While Attila was trapped in his camp, the Visigoths searched for their missing king and his son Thorismund. After a long search, they found Theodoric's corpse beneath a mound of corpses and bore him away with heroic songs in sight of the enemy. Upon learning of his father's death, Thorismund wanted to assault Attila's camp, but Aetius dissuaded him.

Better an uncertain balance of power now than the risk of total collapse later. Attila had asked only for half the empire; the Visigoths would want the lot. Aetius feared that if the Huns were completely destroyed, the Visigoths would break off their allegiance to the Roman Empire and become an even graver threat. So Aetius convinced Thorismund to quickly return home and secure the throne for himself, before his brothers could. Otherwise, civil war would ensue among the Visigoths. Thorismund quickly returned to Tolosa (present-day Toulouse) and became king without any resistance. Gregory of Tours claims Aetius used the same reasoning to dismiss his Frankish allies, and collected the booty of the battlefield for himself.

Though the Huns successfully looted and pillaged much of Gaul and crippled the military capacity of the Romans and Visigoths, Attila's "aura of invincibility" was broken and Gaul was saved.

But Attila lived to fight another day.