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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. I

Aetius (d. 454), a Roman general of the closing period of the Western empire, born at Dorostolus in Moesia, late in the 4th century. He was the son of Gaudentius, who, although possibly of barbarian family, rose in the service of the Western empire to be master of the horse, and later count of Africa. Aetius passed some years as hostage, first with Alaric and the Goths, and later in the camp of Rhuas, king of the Huns, acquiring in this way the knowledge which enabled him afterwards to defeat them. In 424 he led into Italy an army of 60,000 barbarians, mostly Huns, which he employed first to support the primicerius Joannes, who had proclaimed himself emperor, and, on the defeat of the latter, to enforce his claim to the supreme command of the army in Gaul upon Placidia, the empress-mother and regent for Valentinian III. His calumnies against his rival, Count Boniface, which were at first believed by the emperor, led Boniface to revolt and call the Vandals to Africa. Upon the discovery of the truth, Boniface, although defeated in Africa, was received into favour by Valentinian; but Aetius came down against Boniface from his Gallic wars, like another Julius Caesar, and in the battle which followed wounded Boniface fatally with his own javelin. From 433 to 450 Aetius was the dominating personality in the Western empire. In Gaul he won his military reputation, upholding for nearly twenty years, by combined policy and daring, the falling fortunes of the empire. His greatest victory was that of Châlons-sur‑Marne (September 20, 451), in which he led the Gallic forces against Attila and the Huns. This was the last triumph of the empire. Three years later (454) Aetius presented himself at court to claim the emperor's daughter in marriage for his son Gaudentius; but Valentinian, suspecting him of designs upon the crown, slew him with his own hand.

See T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, vols. I and II (1880).​a

Thayer's Note:

a The basic story of Aëtius is told — by Procopius thru the mouth of Hodgkin — in vol. I ch. 9 of the 1880 edition (vol. I ch. 19 of Hodgkin's much expanded 2d edition (1892), but followed by a thorough analysis of the non-Procopian sources in Note L). Aëtius' war with Attila is the subject of vol. III ch. 1. The other references to the Roman general, nearly a hundred mentions of him, not all of them incidental by any means, are scattered thru the remaining 4000-some pages of the second edition: this link will be useful.

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Page updated: 11 Aug 20