Attila and the Court of Constantinople
Priscus, born at Panium, a town of Thrace, probably about the beginning of the fifth century. He wrote (in Greek) a history in eight books, 'Of Byzantium and the occurrences connected with Attila,' which apparently narrated the events between 433 and 474. He is commonly spoken of as 'the Rhetorician,' or 'the Sophist,' and his pure, elegant, and lively style agrees with the supposition that he was by profession a man of letters. He was admitted to the intimate friendship of Maximin, one of the generals of Theodosius II, whom he accompanied on his celebrated embassy to Attila, and also on a visit to Syria. It is probable that both he and his friend Maximin were Pagans. Only fragments of his work remain, but one of these, of considerable length, describing Attila and his court and the reception of the Roman ambassadors, is the most interesting piece of contemporary history which the fifth century has bequeathed to us.
Deguignes, Histoire des Huns, Liv. IV, § 1 Les Huns Occidentaux (a most convenient summary of all the passages in Greek and Latin authors bearing on the history of Attila). The same may be said of
Mascou, History of the Ancient Germans (translated from the German 1738), Book IX.
p38 Amédée Thierry's Histoire d'Attila (2 vols.) is a well-constructed narrative, with which the relation of the embassy of Priscus is skilfully interwoven.
'Attila, King of the Huns,' by the Hon. and Rev. W. Herbert (London, 1838), is an Epic Poem in twelve books on the career of Attila from his defeat on the Catalaunian Plains (451) till his death (454). The most useful part of the book to a historical student is the second half of it, 'Attila and his Predecessors, an Historical Treatise.' Here all the materials for writing the life of Attila are collected with great industry, but there is no sufficient separation between the precious and the vile. The contemporary Priscus, who drank wine with Attila, appears to be quoted with no more deference than is paid to Hungarian and Italian romancers.
For half a century after the irruption of the Huns into Dacia, they exercise but little direct influence on the course of Roman history. Occasionally they made a predatory inroad into the Empire, as, for instance, in the year 395, when, at the instigation, it is said, of the Prefect Rufinus, they moved southwards from Caucasus upon Armenia, and pressed on through Cappadocia and Cilicia,2 until
'The pleasant fields of Syria waste were laid,
And hostile chargers trampled down the glade
Of soft Orontes, to her children's dance
And song more used than War's dread dissonance.'3
And thirteen years later, under the guidance of a chief named Uldis,4 they crossed the Danube and penetrated far into Bulgaria. When the Prefect of Thrace sought humbly for peace, Uldis proudly pointed to the sun and said, 'All that he shines upon I can conquer if I will.' p39 But in the midst of his boastings his power was undermined: the imperial emissaries were at work among his troops, contrasting the hard life of a Hunnish marauder with the ease and the dignity of a stipendiary of Rome. So large a part of his army yielded to these suggestions that Uldis was obliged to fly, and escaped but with life to the Dacian shore.
Upon the whole, during this period, while their enemies the Visigoths and other Teutonic tribes were still hovering about the Danube and the eastern ranges of the Alps, the attitude of the Huns seems to have been more often friendly than hostile to the Romans, in whose armies we saw them serving when Honorius decreed the overthrow of Stilicho, and when Aetius came too late to the succour of Joannes against Placidia.
And, mere barbarians as they remained to the end of their history, it is easy to see that this half-century of intercourse with Rome had taught them some few of the needs and enjoyments of civilized life. The whole character of Attila's court and camp was sensual, but the sensuality was by many degrees less squalid and less disgusting than that of the men who first crossed the Sea of Azof, and whose habits were described by Ammianus.
Doubtless it was the interposition of the Teutonic nations which, during this half-century, prevented the Huns from coming to close quarters with the Roman power. After the Visigoths, the Vandals, and the Suevi had settled in Spain, the Alans in Gaul, the Burgundians in that province which yet bears their name, the Huns, having only the Danube and the Alps between them and the Empire, began to make the two Augusti, but especially him of Constantinople, feel their heavy hand.
p40 In 432 we find a certain Roua or Rugula reigning over the Huns, and receiving from Theodosius II an annual payment, which might be called either subsidy or tribute, of 350 pounds weight of gold (£14,000 sterling). Finding that the Romans had dared to make alliances with some barbarous tribes, Roua in great wrath declare that all his treaties with Rome should be at once made null and void unless the Emperor renounced his alliance with these nations. Another question of a more personal nature arose now, if it had near arisen before, and was the subject of ceaseless negotiations for the next seventeen years. Many deserters had fled from the harsh yoke of Roua, and taken shelter on Roman territory. The demand was made, and was pressed home with every circumstance of insult upon the trembling Theodosius, 'Restore to me my fugitives.' Imagine such a request having been hinted, ever so courteously, to any Roman magistrate who in the old days sat upon the curule chair, with his lictors and fasces round him. Had it not been better for the omnipotent Mistress of the Nations to have died rather than live on to endure such degradation?
But Theodosius II, who was a meek man and an excellent illustrator of manuscripts, if not a born king of men, was preparing to send an embassy to mitigate the wrath of Roua, when tidings arrived that he was dead, and that the kingdom of the Huns had devolved upon his two nephews, sons of his brother Mundzuk, men in the vigour of early manhood, named Attila and Bleda.
It was in the year 433 that the two brothers ascended the throne. Bleda is to us the mere shadow of a name, but it is far otherwise with Attila.
p41 It is almost needless to say that no coin, or picture, or bust remains to bring before us the lineaments of the terrible savage. Yet he seems almost to live again in the pages of Jordanes and Priscus. We see him short of stature, with the small, bead-like eyes, and snub nose and swarthy skin of his Tartar ancestors, yet with a haughty step, and a fierce way of darting his glances hither and thither, as though he felt himself lord of all, and were perpetually asking of the by‑standers, 'Who is he that shall deliver you out of my hand?' He had a broad and well-formed chest and a large head, a scanty beard, like most of the Tart race, and his hair was early sprinkled with white.
Few men that ever lived have had such a power of inspiring fear in the minds both of their subjects and their enemies as this Turanian chieftain. Enthusiasm, loyalty, gratitude, these were not the motives by which he swayed mankind, but the amount of abject, slavish fear which this little swarthy Kalmuck succeeded in instilling into millions of human hearts is not to be easily matched in the history of our race.
Whether he had much military talent may be doubted, since the only great battle in which he figured was a complete defeat. The impression left upon us by what history records of him is that of a gigantic bully, holding in his hands powers unequalled in the world for ravage and spoliation, by the mere threat of loosing which he extorts from the trembling Caesars every concession which his insatiable avarice, or his almost superhuman pride, requires, and by the same terror compelling Ostrogoths and Gepidae, and other Germanic races far nobler than his own, to assist in drawing his triumphal chariot. But of true constructive genius, of any p42 notion of the right way to found an enduring empire, of the statesmanship of Ataulfus, or even of Alaric, he shows not a trace. To drink out of vessels of gold and silver, to put his foot upon the neck of his enemies, to be the terror of the world, these seem to be his only delights as a ruler of men.
Some doubt has recently been thrown on the received accounts of the wide extent of Attila's power. So much of our information, it is said, is derived from Gothic sources, and a proud nation like the Goths had so obvious an interest in magnifying the might of the monarch by whom they themselves had been humbled, that we are bound to make considerable deductions from their statements, and may perhaps reduce the dominions of the world-wide conqueror to an extent not quite equal to that of the modern Austrian Empire.5 But it may fairly be urged on the other hand that the Greek historian Priscus confirms, or even amplifies the statements of the Goth. According to him, when the ambassadors from the Eastern and Western Empires were met in trembling conference, consulting how they might possibly obtain a reasonable answer from the haughty barbarian, the Romans said, 'His head is turned by his successes. No ruler of Scythia or of any other country has ever achieved so much in so short a time as he has. He rules over the islands in the ocean' (by which we must probably understand the Scandinavian islands and peninsulas);6 'he has made the whole of Scythia his p43 own; he has put the Roman Empire to tribute, and he thinks of renewing his attacks upon Persia. The road to that eastern kingdom is not untrodden by the Huns; already they have marched fifteen days' journey from a certain lake [the Sea of Azof the Romans thought, but more probably the Caspian], and have ravaged Media.'
Add to this apparently trustworthy statement of Priscus the firm belief that Deguignes7 that he has found traces in the historians of China of a confederacy between Attila and the rulers of that country, and we have reasons for not lightly abandoning the old belief in the wide extent of the Empire of Attila. The prince who felt China on his left, who ruled Denmark and its islands in its rear, and who ultimately appeared in arms on the soil of Champagne on his straight, was no minor monarch, and had his empire been as deep as it was wide-spread, he might worthily have taken rank with Cyrus and Alexander.
At the same time it is well to remember that over far the larger part of this territory, Attila's can have been only an over-lordship, Teutonic, Slavonic, and Tartar chieftains of every name bearing rule under him. His own personal government, if government it can be called, may very likely have been confined nearly within the limits of the modern Hungary and Transylvania.
p44 For nineteen years, from 434 to 453, the sullen might of Attila lay like a thunder-cloud over Europe. During that time the East and Western Courts were so closely united, as well by the bonds of relationship as by the overwhelming sense of their common danger, that it is not possible to disentangle their histories. Let us give a glance at the chief personages intention two Courts.
The younger Theodosius, son of Arcadius, and Emperor of the East, was in the twenty-fifth year of his age when we met with him, leading his people from the Hippodrome to the Basilica, to return thanks for the victory of his generals at Ravenna, which replaced his kinsfolk of the West on the Imperial throne. The fatuous dullness of his father and uncle no longer repels us in this member of the Theodosian family; he has some other employment than hunting; he illustrates sacred manuscripts with such skill as to earn the title of Calligrapher; and he does not rush from blind confidence in his ministers to equally blind suspicion, with the instability which was so conspicuous in Arcadius and Honorius. Still, he is not a true King; he possesses no real momentum in the affairs of the state; as a rule, every important measure is decided upon by his sister Pulcheria, who is two years older than himself, who governs the East — as her aunt Placidia governs the West — respectably, but without genius, powerless to stem the quick-rushing torrent of barbarian ravage and change, but not conspicuously adding to the calamities of Rome by vices of her own.8
p45 Theodosius himself, all through these years of political trouble and anxiety, is much engrossed in the controversy concerning the union of the divine and human natures in Christ; but he does not win from it the same ecclesiastical renown which the Council of Constantinople brought to his more celebrated namesake and grandfather. At the Council of Ephesus he appears (through his ministers) to favour the heresy of Nestorius; at the close of his reign he leans towards the opposite heresy of Dioscorus and Eutyches, which is, immediately after his death, condemned by the great Council of Chalcedon. At no time does he conspicuously defend the narrow via media of Orthodoxy.
Si strange that the marriages of the Emperors of this family, which were daring and unconventional, did not remove from the race that effete and worn‑out character which attaches to its later scions. The mother of Theodosius II was a Frankish princess, beautiful and impetuous, who bore the name of Eudoxia. His wife, the equally beautiful but portionless daughter of an Athenian rhetorician, brought up in the worship of the Olympian gods, was known in childhood by the name of Athenais, which, on her conversion to Christianity, she exchanged for that of Eudocia. She was twenty-seven when her marriage with Theodosius, who was seven years her junior, raised her to the Imperial throne; but her influence seems never to have outweighed that of her sister-in‑law Pulcheria, and after p46 twenty-three years of married life, at the mature age of fifty, she incurred a suspicion of unfaithfulness to her husband, and was banished to Jerusalem, where she died in 460, after an exile of sixteen years.
The only child of this marriage, with whom history has to concern itself, is a daughter, a third Eudoxia (for that name and Eudocia seem to be interchangeable), who, as we have seen, was betrothed in her babyhood, and in the sixteenth year of her age married, to Valentinian III, son of her father's aunt, but her own contemporary, with whom we have already made acquaintance as Emperor of the West, reigning, but not governing, under the tutelage of his mother Placidia.
After one more granddaughter of the great Theodosius has been named, the sketch of the two Imperial groups in the East and West will be complete. Besides her son Valentinian III, Placidia had a daughter Honoria, whose name was, for nearly twenty years, a by‑word and a horror in the two Courts of Ravenna and Constantinople. Inheriting the coarse and sensual temperament of her father Constantius, and, like him, probably chafing at the restraints imposed on all the family of the 'sacred' Emperors, she was detected in a low intrigue with one of the chamberlains of the palace. Her mother sent her to Constantinople, where, for the next sixteen years of her life, she was kept more or less closely guarded, at the court of her cousin Theodosius. The foolish girl, who was but in the seventeenth year of her age, filled with wild resentment against her family and her native land, hating the calm and sorrowful face of her mother, hating the severe dignity of Pulcheria, the psalmodies, the p47 weaving, the visitations of the poor, in which she and her sisters passed their lives,9 looked away to the gloomy North for vengeance, and called upon the squalid Hun to be her deliverer. She contrived to send a ring to Attila, who had become King of the Huns in the year preceding her disgrace, and begged to be considered as his wife, or rather, probably, as one of his wives, for the Huns, unlike the Goths, were polygamists. It was the wild act of a girl of sixteen, half-crazy with passion. We hear nothing of Attila's reply, nothing of any renewed applications on Honoria's part for his assistance. Probably her apartments in the palace at Constantinople were thenceforward too strictly guarded to allow of her repeating the message. But Attila treasured the ring, and in after-days pulled through that tiny circlet long threads of diplomacy and a bloody skein of war.
Immediately upon Attila's accession, an embassy from Theodosius waited upon him and Bleda, in order to settle the various questions which had been raised between the Emperor and their deceased uncle Roua. The ambassadors met the kings at Margus, a town which stood at the point where the Morava, now the chief river of Servia, empties itself into the Danube. p48 Not only the Hunnish kings, but all their retinue, remained seated on horseback, and, that the dignity of Rome might not suffer in their persons, the ambassadors did the same. Yet, though etiquette might be maintained, Plinthas and Epigenes, the Roman envoys, did not win any very brilliant diplomatic triumph for their master. The honorarium, or stipend, or by whatever name the Romans chose to style that yearly payment which Attila, with ever-increasing frankness, called by its true designation, tribute, was raised from £14,000 to £28,000; the fugitive Huns and Romans were to be surrendered, or a fine of £8 per head paid for each who was not forthcoming; there were to be free markets at which Romans and Huns should meet on equal terms, and any barbarian tribe upon which Attila might choose to levy war, was to be excluded from the alliance of Rome. In compliance with this treaty, two children of the royal blood of the Huns were surrendered by the Roman officers, and crucified on Roman territory by the orders of Attila. Their only crime was flight.
The next eight years are a blank in the Roman annals, as far as the Huns are concerned. It was at this time probably that Attila made those extensive conquests northwards and eastwards to which reference has already been made, that he pushed his dominion to the shores of the German Ocean, and sent his armies fifteen days' march from the Caspian into Media.10 p49 According to some accounts, he also, during the same interval, marched into the country watered by the Rhone, and fought the Burgundians. However this may be, in 441 the curtain again lifts, and the first scene of conflict is that same Servian town of Margus on the Morava, where we last saw Attila doubling the Roman tribute and discussing terms of peace with Plinthas and Epigenes. The bishop of this place had crossed the Danube on a marauding expedition, and robbed one of the royal treasure-houses of the Huns of the wealth deposited therein. Naturally this imitation of their own predatory Turk excited the fierce wrath of the barbarians. At the time of one of the great markets by the banks of the Danube, which were arranged for by the last treaty, the Huns made a savage attack upon the unsuspecting Romans. To the expostulations of the Imperial Court but one reply was returned: 'Give us up our refugees, and with our refugees the marauding bishop of Margus.' It began to be discussed among Prefects and Chamberlains whether it might not be better to give up this one rash bishop, that the whole nation should not perish.a The rumour reached the ears of the reverend prelate, who determined to be beforehand with Fate. Stealing across to the camp of the barbarians, he undertook to put them in possession of the city of Margus if the kings of the Huns would hold him harmless. Clasping his right hand, they swore to confer upon him all sorts of benefits if he would fulfil his promise. Then, having planted the barbarian host in a well-selected ambuscade on the northern shore of the Danube, he returned into the city, unsuspected by his fellow-citizens, and at a given signal odd the gates to his new allies. They p50 rushed in and sacked the place, and one of the chief border cities of Moesia was thus lost to the Empire.
An incident like this seems worth recording, since it marks the rapidly changing manners and positions of men during this century of barbarian invasion. Of course the occupant of the see of Margus was no fair specimen of his order, either in his first marauding expedition, or in his subsequent treachery: but when we look back over two centuries, from the time we have now reached to the days of Cyprian, or over one century to the courtly theologian-disputants who hurried to the numberless councils of Constantius, and compare them with this mitred combatant, we feel that we have already passed from Ancient History into the Middle Ages: we might imagine ourselves standing before the warrior bishop of Beauvais, or one of the robber-bishops of the Rhine.
Out of the invasion, for which the fall of Margus gave the signal, another ecclesiastical complication, this time not with the Eastern but the Western Empire, took its rise. The town of Sirmium on the Save, situated in what is now the Austrian province of Sclavonia, though it has left no modern representative of its former glories, was once one of the most important cities of Pannonia. The bishop of Sirmium, seeing his city invested by the Hunnish army, gathered together the chalices and patens and other sacred vessels of his church, all of gold, and apparently of considerable value, and contrived to send them secretly to one Constantius, a Gaul, who was at that time officiating as Attila's secretary. The object of the trust hereby created was to liberate the bishop if he should survive the capture of the city, or if he should die, then p51 to ransom as many as possible of the citizens. The city was taken, and what became of the bishop we know not; but Constantius, ignoring the trust reposed in him, went off to Rome on private business, and there pawned the golden chalices for a large sum of money to a silversmith, named Silvanus.11 Meanwhile his masters, Attila and Bleda, who probably did not like this journey to Rome on urgent private affairs, came to the conclusion that their secretary was playing the traitor, and soon after Constantius' return, he was crucified. Some time afterwards, the story of the embezzlement of the golden chalices came to the ears of Attila, and filled him with wrath. 'Had my secretary,' said he, 'not deposited these chalices at Rome, they would have come into my possession on the death of the swindler. Silvanus therefore has really stolen my property, and unless the Emperor of the West can restore the chalices, I insist that he shall surrender Silvanus to my vengeance.' How the affair, which dragged on for many years, at length terminated we know not, but we shall meet hereafter with an embassy from Valentinian III commissioned to treat on this important subject.
Three years after these events Bleda died, and Attila became sole ruler of the Huns. Historians have accepted, perhaps too readily, a version of the story which attributes to the great Hun the guilt of fratricide, not in passion, but with premeditation and p52 cunning. With all his vices, treachery and secret assassination scarcely seem consonant with the rest of his character.12
In the year 447, Attila led his barbarian warriors on the most formidable of all his expeditions against the Eastern Empire. No detailed account of it has been preserved, but it is evident that no inroad of so destructive a kind had pierced the provinces between the Adriatic and the Aegean since Alaric met Stilicho in the Peloponnesus. The Huns pushed southwards as far as Thermopylae, and eastwards to the shore of the Dardanelles, where, at Gallipoli, they inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Roman troops.13 The walls of Constantinople, on this occasion as on so many subsequent ones, saved the very existence of the Empire. But though the tide of barbarian invasion rolled back into its old bed when there was nothing more left to ravage in the open country, a panic fear seized the rulers of the state, who submitted with abject eagerness to every demand which their Master, for such they now considered him, might please to make upon them. Anatolius, a man of high rank who had held the office, still regarded with some of its old veneration, of Roman Consul, was sent to Attila's camp to negotiate p53 terms of peace. The yearly tribute, which had been doubled at Attila's succession, was now tripled, and stood at £84,000, and at the same time £240,000 in gold were handed over as a settlement of past arrears. In order to raise this sum, all the usual fiscal expedients of a weak, yet typical government were resorted to. To have the reputation of wealth was the surest passeport to misery. Each senator was assessed upon a certain sum, often greatly in excess of his real fortune; but the amount which stood opposite to his name had to be provided, whether he possessed it or not. Blows and insults enforced the demands of the officers of the Imperial Exchequer, and the upshot of the whole was that in some cases the family jewels of ladies of high rank, or the articles of household furniture of men who had passed all their lives in affluence, were exposed for sale in market-place; while in other yet more desperate cases, the unhappy Roman noble escaped by the aid of a cord, or by the slower process of self-starvation, into a land whither even the ministers of Theodosius could not follow him. And all this time the misery of the situation was aggravated by the thought that while the defence of the country was neglected, and, in consequence, these frightfully heavy subsidies had to be paid to her invaders, 'the country's wealth and the royal treasures were being applied, not to their proper uses, but to ridiculous shows, tawdry pageants, and all the pleasures and all the extravagances of sensuality, such as no sensible man would have wasted money upon, even had the state been in the height of prosperity. Far less ought these men to have thus acted, who had so far neglected the military art that not only the Huns, but all the other p54 barbarous tribes round had bound the Roman State to the payment of tribute.'14
The ruler of the Huns marked well the abject terror of the Byzantine Court, and traded upon it with the low cunning of a savage. Scarcely had the treaty of Anatolius been concluded, when Attila sent Amsterdam to Theodosius, demanding, in the usual formula, 'the surrender of the fugitives.' The Roman Emperor could only reply, 'We have surrendered all who were in our power;' but in order to secure powerful friends in the Hunnish encouragement, he not only treated the ambassadors with splendid hospitality, but loaded them with rich presents on their departure. Again, and again, and again, four times in the space of a twelvemonth, did Attila repeat this process, selecting always for his ambassador some needy favourite whom he had a desire to enrich, and inventing such ridiculous pretexts for embassies that all could see his real motive in sending them. This plan of pacific invasion began to tire out the patience of the meek Emperor and his ministers. His sister Pulcheria no longer now exercised a predominant influence intention affairs of state. Theological discussions seem to have divided the Imperial pair. She adhered to that side which was eventually, at the Council of Chalcedon, decreed to be the side of orthodoxy; while the rival, and now reigning influence at court was that of the eunuch Chrysaphius, godson and partisan of Eutyches, the fanatic asserter of the absolute oneness of the nature of Christ even during the time of his Incarnation. Judging by the acts of Chrysaphius, we may safely conclude that any opinion of his on such a question was as valuable as the opinion p55 of an Australian savage contemplating the philosophy of Plato.
In the year 448, yet another embassy arrived at Constantinople, more famous and more fateful than any which had preceded it. Let us observe well the names of the two chief ambassadors, for these are men who either by themselves or by their offspring will make a deep and ineffaceable mark on the history of their time. Edecon is introduced to us as a 'Scythian,' that is, a Hun,15 'who had accomplished mighty deeds in war. He was evidently also one of the most intimate counsellors of Attila. No small digest of jealousy existed between him and his colleague Orestes. This man, as we might have inferred from his name, was not of barbarian extraction. He was of 'Roman' descent (a term which is of course consistent with any provincial nationality within the limits of the Roman Empire), and 'he dwelt in that part of Pannonia which borders on the Save,' that is to say, within the limits of the modern Austrian province of Sclavonia. He was at this time a regular subject of Attila, his country, which was included in the Western Emperor's share of Illyricum, having recently been ceded by Aetius to the uns. He married the daughter of a certain Count Romulus, who dwelt at Patavio in Noricum, the place which is now called Passau,16 and which marks the junction of p56 the mountain-nourished Inn with the more placid Danube. From this marriage was bon to Orestes, probably about ten years after the date at which we have now arrived, a son who was named after his maternal grandfather Romulus, and upon whom history has fastened the unkind nickname of Augustulus. The other ambassador, Edecon, was probably already the father of a son whom he had named Odovacar (Odoacer). These two ambassadors, on arriving at the Imperial Court, presented the letters of their lord, in which, as usual, he expressed his high displeasure at the conduct of the Romans with reference to the refugees. War, immediate war, was threatened unless these were surrendered. Further, there must be no attempt on the part of the Romans to cultivate the district which would in later times have been called the March of the Danube. This was a belt of territory •about 100 miles17 wide on the southern side of the great stream, which Attila claimed to have annexed by right of conquest after his recent campaign. If this condition were not observed, war. The position of the great market for p57 the interchange of Roman and Hunnish commodities must be shifted. It had been fixed at Margus, on the Danube; now it was to be at naissus, the modern Nisch, •150 miles up the Morava, in Servia. And, lastly, ambassadors were to be sent to Attila, to talk over the points in dispute; and these were to be no men of second-rate position in the state, but men who had sat in the curule chair of the consuls, and the most eminent even among them. If these high dignitaries were afraid to undertake so long and wild a journey, he, the great king, would condescend to come as far as Sardica to meet them. Such was the imperious mandate of Attila, uttered by the lips of Edecon, and translated by the interpreter Vigilas to him, who was saluted by the names, once so mighty, Imperator and Augustus. Edecon then went to the house of Chrysaphius to confer with the minister as to the subject of his embassy. On his way he said to the interpreter, Vigilas, 'How beautiful is the Emperor's palace, how richly adorned with all precious things, and how happy must be the lives of the lords of such magnificence.' Vigilas repeated the remark to Chrysaphius, and with the words a wicked thought entered the mind of the Monophysite eunuch. He said to Edecon, 'You, too, might sit under gilded ceilings18 of your own, and be lord of vast wealth, if you would leave the party of the Huns and take up ours.'
Edecon. 'I could not do that, being another man's servant, without my lord's consent.'
p58 Chrysaphius. 'Have you free access to your lord's person?'
Edecon. 'Yes. I am one of the nobles selected for the purpose of keeping watch in arms over his person. We serve for so many days and then are relieved.'
Chrysaphius. 'If you will promise secrecy, I can tell you something very greatly to your advantage. Come to dine with me, without Orestes and your other colleagues, and we can talk the matter over at our leisure.'
So a secret meeting was arranged at the house of the eunuch, and there in the present and by the assistance of Vigilas, evidently a Byzantine dragoman of the worst type, a vile plot was hatched. Chrysaphius first swore that what he had to say should in no case injure Edecon. Edecon swore a counter oath that he would not reveal, even if he could not accomplish, the designs of the minister; and then Chrysaphius at length uttered the fatal secret. 'If when you return to Scythia you will slay Attila and then come to us, you shall have a happy life here and vast wealth.'
Edecon. 'I promise to do so. But I shall want some small of money to be paid me in advance, say about fifty pounds of gold [£2000], in order to ensure the co‑operation of the common soldiers under my command.'
Chrysaphius. 'There will be no difficulty about that. You shall have the money at once.'
Edecon. 'No, I will not take it at once, for Attila will ask me on my return, as he asks all his ambassadors, how much the mission has been worth to me; and I could not deceive him because all my colleagues will know what weight of gold I am carrying back. p59 You must let me return to report the answer of your master as to the refugees, and Vigilas must come with me to receive the rejoinder of mine. Then, through Vigilas, I will send you word how the rest of the gold (beyond the ordinary gratuity to an ambassador) had better be sent to me.'
This plan met with the full approval of the eunuch, who, as soon as he had dismissed the guest, hurried away to the palace to inform Theodosius of the new prospect of an early termination of Attila's embassies. The Imperial Calligrapher, the Illustrator of Sacred Manuscripts, at once accepted the proposal, and called in Memorialius, the Magister Officiorum, and chief of what we should call 'the Secret Service Department,' consulted with him what shape the return embassy to Attila should now assume. Of a tu many things were changed, and not altogether for the better, since the Consul Fabricius handed over to Pyrrhus the traitor, who proposed to purchase the favour of Rome by administering poison to his master.
In order to cloak the atrocious scheme thus concocted, the Emperor and his minister decided to send to the of Attila a sham embassy, in whose train the intending murderers might travel unsuspected, regardless, of course, of the danger to which they exposed the innocent envoy, who in the event of the plot being discovered was likely to plead in vain the sanctity of an ambassador's person. The man selected for this post was Maximin, an officer of high, but not the highest, rank, and of illustrious lineage, but whose name had not figured in the Consular Fasti. He invited Priscus 'the sophist,' or, as we should say, professor of rhetoric and man of letters, to accompany him, and it is to the p60 diary19 of the embassy kept by Priscus, and afterwards interwoven by him into his history, that we are indebted for almost all trustworthy details of the Court and Camp of Attila. He assures us emphatically, and the whole course of the history tends to confirm his statement, that the murder-secret was not confided either to him or to his patron, but that the ostensible object of their mission was to them the real one. As both Maximin and Priscus seem still to have adhered to the worship of Olympian divinities, we are driven, however reluctantly, to the conclusion that by this time the traitors, the time-servers, and the hypocrites had ranged themselves on the side of successful Christianity, and that when the Emperor wanted a man of indisputably high character and sterling honesty to mask by his innocence a dark and nefarious design, his thoughts naturally turned to the few remaining Pagan statesmen, who probably held at his court a position not unlike that of the Roman Catholics under Queen Elizabeth or the Huguenots under Louis XIII.
The message which was entrusted to Maximin was couched in a less servile tone than the recent replies of Theodosius. As if they already saw the knife of the assassin piercing the heart of the great Hun, the Emperor and the eunuch began to express their weariness of Attila's perpetual reclamations. 'You ought not to overleap the obligations of treaties and invade the Roman territory. As for fugitives, besides those already surrendered, I now return you seventeen, and I p61 really have no more.' So ran the letter. Verbally Maximin was instructed to say that Attila must not expect ambassadors of any higher rank than him who now spoke to be sent to him, since this had not been the usage with his own ancestors or any of the other northern rulers, but the custom had hitherto been to send any chance person, soldier or letter-carrier, whose services were available. And as for the king's proposition to come and meet an ambassador of consular rank at Sardica, he himself had made that impossible by his sack of that very town. Such was the contemptuous reply of the Byzantine to the Hunnish court as it was intended to have been delivered; but not such was the actual message which reached the ears of Attila; for, as we shall see, like good wine it mellowed considerably on the journey.
The first fortnight of travel seems to have been pleasant and uneventful enough. During all this time the Roman and barbarian ambassadors were passing through the comparatively tranquil and prosperous province of Thrace. At the end of it they reached Sardica, •about 350 miles from Constantinople, and the first city of 'Dacia Mediterraneanea.' This was the place at which almost exactly a century before (343) the celebrated council had been held which enunciated again the Nicene Creed, and gave to the See of Rome the right of deciding whether a bishop had been lawfully deposed. Other matters, however, than theological wrangles had of late forced themselves on the attention of the unhappy inhabitants of Sardica. As we have just heard from the lips of Theodosius, the town had been terribly pillaged and laid waste by Attila. The destruction, however, was not complete. There were p62 still houses and some inhabitants from whom it was possible for the ambassadors to buy sheep and oxen. These they killed and roasted; and having prepared a goodly repast, they thought it would be but courteous to ask Edecon and the barbarians attending him to partake with them. As they sat long over the meal, conversation turned upon the greatness and majesty of their respective masters. The Huns, of course, magnified the might of Attila; the Romans tried to extol their great Augustus. At this point of the conversation, Vigilas, with an indiscretion which can only be accounted for by supposing that he had plied the wine‑cup too freely, said, 'I cannot think it right to compare gods and men together. Attila, after all, is but a man, while Theodosius I look upon as a god.' At these words the Huns started up with flushed cheeks and angry eyes; and the pleasant diplomatic banquet was on the point of ending in bloodshed. Priscus and Maximin however succeeded in silencing their noisy colleague, guided the conversation into safer channels, and by their civility mollified the wrath of the Huns. That there might be no chance of any rancorous feeling remaining in their minds, Maximin, when the banquet was over, made handsome presents, both to Edecon and Orestes, of silken raiment and 'Indian jewels.'20
The bestowal of these presents led to another curious outburst of angry feeling. Orestes sat out all his companions, and when they were gone came up to Maximin and thanked him heartily for his presents. 'You,' said he, 'are a wise man, of a most excellent disposition. You are not like those insolent courtiers at Byzantium, who gave presents and invitations to p63 Edecon but none to me.' 'When? where? his?' gasped out the puzzled ambassador; but Orestes, vouchsafing no more particular statement of his grievances, stalked moodily out of the room.
Next day, on the journey, Maximin and Priscus reported this strange conversation to Vigilas. He, of course, knew well enough to what it referred, but did not choose to explain. He only said, 'Orestes has no business to be offended. He is but a secretary, a mere squire of Attila: Edecon is of course differently treated. He is a great warrior and a Hun by birth, and far superior in position to the other.' Already then, in the estimation of a Byzantine dragoman, to be 'a Hun by birth' was a higher position than that of a well-born Roman provincial. Vigilas afterwards repeated this conversation to Edecon and had much difficulty, so he told his companions, in soothing the barbarian's resentment against the pretensions of Orestes to be put on an equality with him.
A further •hundred miles of travel brought the ambassadors to naissus (now Nisch, on the confines of Servia), and here they found such traces of the ravage of the Hun as his Turkish kinsman has often in later days left behind him in the same regions. A city utterly empty of inhabitants, in the churches a few sick folk too weak to fly, every place down to the river's bank full of human bones and skulls: that is how the Turanian leaves his mark. 'But we found,' says Priscus, with simplicity, 'a clean spot a little above the river, and there we rested for the night.'
Near to this city, which had become a tomb, lay the Imperial 'part of Illyricum,' under the command of the General-in‑chief, Agintheus. Five out of the p64 seventeen fugitives, whom Theodosius had promised to surrender to Attila, were there, imagining themselves safe under the shelter of the eagles. But the Emperor's orders were clear. The Roman General had to give up the five suppliants to the Roman ambassador for him to hand over to the Hunnish king. Agintheus spoke kindly21 to them; but as they knew, in all probability, that they were going to a death of torture, kind words from the ghost of the old Roman war‑r were not much to the purpose.
At length the ambassadors reached the shores of the Danube. The roads leading down to the relieve were crowded with Huns; and ferrymen were plying across the stream in their uncouth boats, each made of a single tree roughly hollowed out. They were thus without delay transported to the northern bank of the river; but if they had supposed that all this stir was made in expectation of their own arrival they were soon undeceived. The barbarian king had announced that he meant to cross over into the Romans' land to hunt, and the expectation of his coming had caused this stir among his subjects. Like the Percy's 'Hunting of the Cheviot,' Attila's hunting meant war, war over the endless grievance of the unsurrendered refugees. It was in fact the barbarian's device to accomplish what the modern strategist calls 'Mobilisation.'
On the second day after crossing the Danube, the Roman party came in sight of the numerous tents of Attila, and were about to pitch their own on a hill‑top near. But this the Huns around them would by no means permit 'they must come down and pitch their tents in the plain: it would be quite improper for the p65 Roman ambassador to occupy the hill while Attila was below in the valley.' When this difficulty was slighted, the Romans, as it was still early afternoon, expected doubtless an audience that day with Attila. Instead of this, however, several of the Hunnish nobility came, together with Edecon and Orestes, to their tent, and demanded to know the tenour of their message to the king. Naturally the ambassadors replied that their commission was for Attila alone, and they would disclose it to no other person. at that reply, Scotta, one of the Hunnish magnates, burst out with a passionate question, 'Do you take us for busybodies, who came here out of our own prying curiosity? Attila sent us, and we must have your answer.' The ambassadors firmly declined, pleading the invariable usage of their profession. Whereupon the Huns galloped away, and soon returned, ominous exception, without Edecon. 'Your commission,' said they, 'to our king is so and so; such concessions about refugees, such messages about future ambassadors. Deny that this is the purport of your instructions if you can. If you have nothing to add to this, return at once to your own country.' In vain did the Romans try to maintain the proper official reserve and refuse to say whether this was indeed a true summary of their instructions or not. Their faces doubtless showed that the arrow had hit the mark: the barbarians' version of their commission was correct in the smallest particulars, and to all further protestations of the Romans the Huns had but one reply continually repeated: 'Begone directly.'
Maximin and Priscus were bewildered, as well they might be, by this strange innovation on the customs of diplomacy. Vigilas, who knew that for his part, the p66 darker part of the enterprise, access to the court of Attila and some days' sojourn there were essential, bitterly complained of his colleagues' truthfulness. 'They might have vamped up some other matter, and declared that the Huns had not revealed the whole of the commission. It would have been better to be detected eventually in a falsehood, than to return without even seeing Attila.'
Little did the false interpreter guess upon what a volcano he himself was standing. The true cause of Attila's strange demeanour was that Edecon had revealed the plot. Either he had only feigned compliance from the first — the more probable supposition — or else that wild conversation at Sardica and the tidings which Vigilas himself had brought him, of the rage and jealousy of Orestes, had satisfied him that the risk was too great to run, with such an unwise person as the interpreter for confederate, and with such an angry rival as the secretary for spy on his movements. And therefore, at the very first opportunity when he found himself alone with Attila, he rehearsed to him the whole plan for his intended assassination, and at the same time furnished him with the particulars of the intended Roman reply, which Edecon had, no doubt, received from Chrysaphius.
It was night when the party of the ambassadors received their peremptory orders to depart. with heavy hearts they were watching their attendants loading the beasts of burden, when they received another message, giving them an ungracious permission to remain where they were till daybreak. A present of an ox for roasting, and some fish, salted, no doubt, as it came from the Euxine, attested the surly hospitality p67 of Attila. Next morning, they thought, 'Surely some act of kindness and gentleness will now be shown to us by the barbarian.' But no there came only the same harsh command, 'Begone, if you have no other commission to unfold.' Hereupon Priscus, seeing the deep dejection of his patron, resolved to try what prayers and promises could accomplish with one of Attila's ministers. His chief minister, Onégesh, who was well-known by the Romans, and on the whole favorably inclined towards them, was absent; but Scotta, the brother of Onégesh, was in the Hunnish camp, and to him Priscus betook himself, using another interpreter than Vigilas. He enlarged on the advantages to the two nations, be still more to the house of Onégesh, which would result from the peaceful outcome of the negotiations, on the presents which were in store for Onégesh at Constantinople, and on those which Maximin would immediately bestow on Scotta. And finally, he wound up with a diplomatic appeal to the vanity of the Hun. 'I have heard,' said he, 'that Attila pays great deference to the advice of Scotta, but I shall never believe it if you cannot accomplish so small a matter as to obtain for us this interview.' 'Doubt not that I can do it,' he answered: 'my influence with the king is just as great as my brother's.' And with that he mounted his horse and galloped off to the king's tent. The faithful Priscus returned to his master, who was lying on the grass with Vigilas, while again the packing of the horses was going forward. As soon as they heard of the slight hope which had arisen, and of the influence which Priscus had brought to bear on the mind of Attila, they sprang to their feet, and while warmly commending the sophist for his happy inspiration, p68 began to discuss what they should say to the king, and how the presents of Theodosius and of Maximin himself should be offered for his acceptance.
Soon Scotta returned and escorted them to the royal tent. 'When we obtained admittance,' says Priscus, 'we found the monarch seated on a little wooden stool.22 We stood a little way off from the throne, but Maximin went forward, and after making obeisance to the barbarian, and handing him the emperor's letter, said, "Our Sovereign prays for the safety of thyself and all around thee." Attila answered, "May the Romans receive exactly what they desire for me." Then, turning sharp round to Vigilas, 'Shameless beast!" he said, "How have you dared to come to me, knowing, as you do right well, the terms of peace which I settled with you and Anatolius; and how I then said that no more ambassadors were to come to me till all the fugitives were given up." When Vigilas replied that the Romans no longer had with them any refugees of Scythian origin, since we had surrendered all that were with us, Attila grew still more furious, and shouted out with a loud voice every opprobrious epithet that he could think of; "I would impale you," he roared out, "and leave you as food for vultures, if it were not for your sacred character of envoy, which I would not seem to outrage, fitting as the punishment would be for your impudence and your reckless falsehoods. As for Scythian refugees, there are still many among the Romans." And here he bade his secretaries read out their names, inscribed on a roll of paper. When they had rehearsed them all, he bid Vigilas depart without delay. With him was to go Eslas the Hun, commissioned to order the Romans to p69 restore all the fugitives who had gone over to them from the days of Carpilio, son of Aetius, who was sent as a hostage to his court, and had escaped. "For," continued Attila, "I will never endure that my own servants should come forth and meet me in battle, all useless though they may be to help those with whom they have taken refuge, and who entrust to them the guardianship of their own land. For what city, or what fortress has any of these men been able to defend when I have determined on its capture?" '
After this outburst the king condescended to accept the presents which Maximin had brought, and then he repeated his commands as to the future of the Nabataeans. Having satisfied himself, probably, in the course of this interview that Maximin was an honest man, and guiltless of any complicity in the design against his life, he felt that he could safely indulge in the pleasures which such an embassy brought for him — gifts for himself, gifts for his dependents, and the gratification of trampling on the pride of Rome by exchange the Imperial ambassadors as frightened suppliants for his favour. All, therefore, except Vigilas, received orders to repair to his palace in the interior, and there to wait for the written reply which he would send to Theodosius.
Vigilas, on the other hand, whose presence doubtless suggested, even to the brave Hun, uncomfortable thoughts of midnight alarms and the assassin's dagger, was ordered to return at once to Constantinople with the routine message and menace concerning the refugees. Eslas went with him as a spy on his movements: Edecon visited him immediately after the interview in the royal tent, to assure him that he was still true to p70 the plot, and to press him to bring back the promised gold. At the same time, with considerable ingenuity, Attila issued a proclamation, 'forbidding Vigilas to purchase any Roman captive or barbarian slave, or horses, or anything else but necessary food until the differences between the Romans and Huns should be arranged.' The effect of this proclamation was to deprive Vigilas of any plausible pretext for B. & G. back any large amount of gold from Constantinople. If, notwithstanding this prohibition, he still brought gold with him, that gold could only be the blood-money of Attila.
There is no need to trace the return of the base and blundering Vigilas to Constantinople, whither he went still entirely unwitting that Attila had sapped below his mine. We follow honest Maximin and his friend as they journey northwards into the recesses of Hungary. For a certain distance they travelled in the train of the Barbarian; then they received orders to turn off into another road. Attila was about to visit a certain village, and there add to his numerous harem another wife, the daughter of one Escam;23 and apparently he did not choose that the courtly Byzantines should look on the rude wedding festivities of a Hunnish polygamist. The ambassadors had to cross three large rivers in the course of their journey. The names of these relieves are not easy to recognise, but they may possibly be represented p71 by the Drave, the Temes, and the Theiss. They crossed them, as before, in tree-trunk boats; while, for the smaller streams and the marshes, they availed themselves of the convenient rafts which the Huns always carried about with them on their waggons in all their journeys through that often inundated country. They were kindly entertained in the Hunnish villages, and received such provisions as the inhabitants had to offer; no wheat, indeed, but millet, for food, and for drink medus and camus, two beverages which seem to correspond to our mead and beer.
One night, after a long day's march, they pitched their tent beside a lake which offered them the advantage of good and sweet water. 'Suddenly,' said Priscus, 'there arose a great storm of wind, accompanied by thunderings and frequent flashes of lightning and torrents of rain. Our tent was blown down, and all our travelling furniture was rolled over and over into the waters of the lake. Terrified by this accident and by the din of the storm which filled all the air, we left the spot and soon wandered away from each other, everyone taking what he supposed to be the right road. At length, by different paths, we all reached the neighbouring village, and turned in to the huts for shelter. Then, with loud outcry, we began inquiring into our losses. Roused by our clamour, the Scythians started up, kindled the long reeds which serve them for candles, and which threw a good light upon the scene, and then asked us what on earth we wanted that we were making such an uproar. The barbarians who were with us explained how we had been thrown into confusion by the storm, whereupon they kindly called us into their houses, and by lighting p72 a very great number of torches did something to warm us.
'The chieftainess of the village, who was one of the wives of Bleda [Attila's brother], sent us a supply of food, of which we gladly partook. Next morning, at daybreak, we set about searching for our camp furniture, and were fortunate enough to fin it all, some in the place where we pitched our tents, some on the shore, and some in the lake itself, from which he succeeded in fishing it up. The whole of that day we spent in the village, drying our things, for the storm had now ceased and the sun was shining brightly. After attending to our beasts, we visited the queen, saluted her respectfully, and repaid her for her hospitality with presents. These were three silver bowls, some red skins, Indian pepper,24 dates, and other articles of food, which the barbarians prize as foreign to their climate. Then we wished her health and happiness in return for her hospitality to us, and so we departed.'
At length, after seven days' journey, they reached a village, where they were ordered to stop. Their road here joined that by which the royal bridegroom would be approaching, and they were not to presume to proceed till Attila should have gone before them. In the little village where they were thus detained they met some unexpected companions. Primutus,25 the Roman governor of Noricum, Count Romulus of Passau, the father-in‑law of Orestes, and Romanus, a general of legionaries, with probably a long train of attendants, p73 were already testing, perhaps somewhat severely, the resources and accommodation of the Hunnish village. They, too, had come on an embassy: they represented the Emperor of the West, and it is needless to say that the subject which they had come to discuss was that interminable one, the sacred vases of Sirmium. The father of Orestes, and Constantius the Roman secretary of Attila, journeyed, in an unofficial capacity, with the ambassadors. It was certainly a striking scene: the ambassadors from Ravenna and Constantinople, the representatives of the dignity of the two Imperial courts, the functionaries who between them could set forth the whole majesty that might still survive in the title Senatus Populus Que Romanus, meeting in a dingy little village in Hungary, and warning with abject submission till a snub-nosed Kalmuck should ride past and contemptuously toss them a permission to follow in his train. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Attila, who had a genius for scenic effect in the enhancement of his glory, not unlike that which our century has witnessed in the Napoleons, had purposely arranged this confluence of the two embassies, and partly for this cause had invited Maximin to follow him into Hungary.
after crossing a few more rivers, the united embassies came in sight of the village in which was situated the palace of Attila. Students have discussed whether this Hunnish capital is represented by the modern city of Pesth, by Tokay, or by some other less-known name; but we may dismiss with absolute indifference the inquiry in what particular part of a dreary and treeless plain a barbarian king reared his log‑g, of which probably, twenty years after his death, not a vestige remained.
p74 As Attila entered the village he was met by a procession of maidens in single file wearing linen veils, thin and white, and so long that under each veil, held up as it was by the hands of the women on either side of the path, seven maidens or more were able to walk. There were many of these sets of girls, each set wearing one veil; and as they walked they sang national songs in honour of the king. The last house which he reached befe his own was that of his favour and chief minister Onégesh,26 and as he passed it the wife of the owner came forth with a multitude of attendants bearing food and wine — 'the highest honour,' says Priscus, 'which one Scythian can pay to another' — saluted him, and begged him to partake of the repast which she had provided as a token of her loyalty. The king, wishing to glorify the wife of his most trusted counsellor, partook accordingly, without dismounting from his horse, his attendants holding high before him the silver table on which the banquet was spread. Having eaten and drunk he rode on to his palace.
This edifice, the finest in all the country round, stood on a little hill, and seemed to dominate the whole settlement. Yet it was in truth, as has been already p75 said, only a log‑hut of large dimensions. Externally it seems that it was built of half-trunks of trees, round side outwards, and within, it was lined with smoothly-planed planks. Round the enclosure in which the dwellings of the king and his wives were placed ran a wooden palisading, for ornament, not defence; and the top of the palace was fashioned into the appearance of battlements. Next to the king's house in position, and only second to it in seize, rose the dwelling of Onégesh. The only stone building in the place was a bath, which Onégesh had built at a little distance from his palisading. The stone for this building had been brought from quarries in the Roman province of Pannonia; and in fact all the timber used in the settlement had been imported likewise, for in the vast and dreary plain where the nomad nation had pitched its camp, not a tree was growing, not a stone underlay it. With the building of the bath of Onégesh a grim jest was connected. The architect, a Roman provincial, who had been carried captive from Sirmium, hoped that his ingenuity would at least be rewarded by the boon of freedom, if no other architect's commission was paid him. But no such thoughts suggested themselves to the mind of Onégesh. When he had completed his task, the architect was rewarded by being turned into bath‑man, and had to wait upon his master and his master's guests whensoever they had a mind for the pleasures of the sudatorium and the tepidarium. Thus, as Priscus remarks, with a hint, no doubt, at the personal uncleanliness of the Huns, the unhappy man of science 'had prepared for himself unconsciously a worse lot than that of ordinary servitude among the Scythians.'
p76 Onégesh himself, who was absent when Priscus sought an interview with his brother Scotta, had now returned to his master's court. He had been engaged in quelling the last remains of independence among the Acatziri, a people possibly of Slavonic origin, who dwelt on the Lower Danube. The Byzantine ministers had endeavoured to parry Alaric's attack by stirring up some of the petty chieftains of this nation against him. But, with their usual tendency to blunder, they had sent their costly and honourable presents to the wrong man, and consequently Curidach, the real head of the confederacy, having received only the second gift, called in the aid of Attila to avenge the insult and beat down the power of his associated kings. The Hun was nothing loth, and soon succeeded in quelling all opposition. He then invited Curidach to come and celebrate their joint triumph at his court; but that chieftain, suspecting that his benefactor's kindness was of the same nature as the promised boon of Polyphemus to Ulysses, "I will eat Outis last,'27 courteously declined. 'It is hard,' he said, 'for a man at once come into the presence of a god; and if it be not possible to look fixedly even at the orb of the sun, how shall Curidach gaze undistressed upon the greatest of gods?' The compliment served for the time, but Attila understood what it was worth, and at a convenient season sent his Grand Vizier, Onégesh, to dethrone Curidach and to proclaim the eldest son of Attila king of the Acatziri in his stead. From this expedition the Prime Minister had now just returned successful and in high favour with his master.
The ambassadors were hospitably entered by the p77 wife and family of Onégesh. He himself had to wait upon the king to report the success of his mission, and the New Orleans drawback which had befallen his party, an accident namely to the young prince, who had slipped off his horse and fractured some of the bones of his right hand. At nightfall Maximin pitched his tents a little way off the enclosure of the royal dwellings, and next morning he sent Priscus early to the house of Onégesh with servants bearing presents both from himself and from Theodosius. The zealous rhetorician was actually up before the barbarian. The house was still close barred and there was no sign of any one stirring.
While Priscus was waiting, and walking up and down before the palisading which surrounded the house of Onégesh, a man, with the dress and general appearance of a Hun, came up and saluted him with a well-pronounced Greek χαῖρε ('How d'ye do?'). A Hun speaking Greek was an anomaly which aroused all the attention of the Sophist, for, as he says, 'though it is true that this people, who are a kind of conglomerate of nations, do sometimes affect the speech of the Goths, or even that of the Italians, in addition to their own barbarous language, they never learn Greek, except indeed they be inhabitants of Thrace or Dalmatia, who have been carried captive into the Hunnish territory. And these captives or their offspring may be easily known by their ragged garments and scabby head, and all the other tokens of their having changed their condition for the worse. But this man seemed like a flourishing Scythian, handsomely dressed, and having his hair neatly clipped all round his head. So, returning his salutation, I asked him who he was, and p78 from what part of the world he had come into that barbarian land to adopt the Scythian life. "What has put it into your head to ask me such a question as that?" said he. "Your Greek accent," answered I. Then he laughed and said, "Tis true I am of Greek parentage, and I came for purposes of trade to Viminacium, a city of Moesia, on the Danube" [•about sixty miles below Belgrade]. "Tj I abode for a long time, and married a very wealthy wife. But on the capture of the city by the Huns I was stripped of all my fortune, and assigned as a slave to this very Onégesh before whose door you are standing. That is the custom of the Huns: after Attila has had his share, the chiefs of the nation are allowed to take their pick of the wealthiest captives, and so Onégesh chose me. afterwards, having distinguished myself in some actions with the Romans and the Acatziri, I surrendered to my master all the spoils which I had taken in war, and thus, according to the law of the Scythians, I obtained my freedom. I married a barbarian wife, by whom I have children; I am admitted as a guest to the table of Onégesh, and I consider my present mode of life decidedly preferable to my past. For when war is over, the people of this country live like gentlemen, enjoying themselves to the full, and free from worry of any kind. But the people in Roman-land are easily worsted in war, because they place their hopes of safety on others rather than themselves. Their tyrants will not allow them the use of arms, and the condition of those who are armed is even more dangerous, from the utter worthlessness of their generals, who have no notion of the art of War. Then, too, Peace has its injuries not less severe than War. Think p79 of all the cruelties practised by the collectors of the revenue, the infamy of informers, and the gross inequalities in the administration of the laws. If a rich man offends, he can always manage to escape punishment; but a poor man, who does not know how to arrange matters, has to undergo the full penalty, unless indeed he be dead before judgment is pronounced, which is not unlikely, considering the intolerable length to which lawsuits are protracted. But what I call the most shameful thing of all is that you have to pay money in order to obtain your legal rights. For a man who has been injured cannot even get a hearing from the court without first paying large fees to the judge and the officials who serve him." '
In reply to this angry outburst, Priscus entered into a long and sophistical disquisition on the advantages of division of labour, the necessity that judges and bailiffs, like men of other occupations, should live by their calling, and so on. It is easy to see that Priscus felt himself to be talking as sagely as Socrates, upon whose style his reply is evidently modelled; but that reply has the fault so common with rhetoricians and diplomatists, of being quite up in the air, and having no relation to the real facts of the case. His conclusion is the most interesting part of the speech: ' "As for the freedom which you now enjoy, you may thank Fortune for that and not your master, who sent you to war, where you were likely to have been killed by the enemy on account of your inexperience. But the Romans treat even their slaves better than this. True, they correct them, but only for their good as parents or schoolmasters correct children, in order that they may cease to do evil and behave as is suitable for persons p80 in their station. The Roman master is not allowed, as the Hun is, to punish his slave so as to cause his death. Besides, we have abundant legal provisions in favour of freedom, and this gift may be bestowed not only by men who are in the midst of life, Babylonia by those who are on the point of death. Such persons are allowed to dispose of their property as they please, and any directions of a dying man concerning the enfranchisement of his slaves are binding on his heirs." Thus I reasoned with him. He burst into tears, and said, "The laws are beautiful, and the polity of the Romans is excellent; but the rulers are not like-minded with the men of old, and are pulling down the state into ruin." '
By the time that this conversation was ended, the household of Onégesh had awoke, and the door was unbarred. Priscus obtained an interview with the minister and delivered the presents, which were graciously received. It is needless to transcribe the memoranda, almost tediously minute, which Priscus has kept of his various conversations. The general drift of them was, on the Roman side, to press for an interview with the king of the Huns, and to urge Onégesh to undertake in person the return embassy, and win for himself eternal glory and much wealth by bringing his candid and impartial mind to bear upon the points in dispute, and settling them in favour of the Romans. Onégesh indignantly repudiated the idea that any arguments of the Romans could ever induce him to betray his master, to forget his Scythian life, his wives, and his children, or to cease to consider servitude with Attila preferable to wealth among the Romans. He could be far more useful to them, he said, by remaining at p81 Attila's court and mollifying his resentment against their nation, than by coming to Byzantium and negotiating a treaty which he master might very probably disavow. On the other hand, he pressed them repeatedly with the question, 'What man of consular dignity will the Emperor send as ambassador?' The fact that Maximin, a man who had never filled the office of consul, should have been selected as envoy, evidently rankled in the mind of the barbarian king, sensitive, as all upstarts are, about his dignity. And at length, Attila having named three, Nomus, Anatolius, and Senator, any one of whom would be, in the language of modern diplomacy, a Persona grata at his court, declared that he would receive no one else. The envoys replied that to insist so strongly on the selection of these three men would bring them into suspicion at the Imperial Court; a charming piece of inconsistency in the men who were constantly petitioning that Onégesh and no one else might undertake the return embassy. Attila answered moodily, 'If the Romans will not do as I choose, I shall settle the points in dispute by war.'
While diplomacy was thus spinning her tedious web, the ambassadors saw some sights in the barbarian camp which deserved to be recorded by the careful pen of the professor of rhetoric. One day he had an audience of the Queen Kreka, the chief in dignity of the wives of Attila, and mother of three of his sons. Her palace was built of well-sawn and smoothly-planed planks, 'resting on the ends of logs.'28 Arches at certain intervals, springing from the ground and rising to a pretty considerable height, broke the flat surface of p82 the wall.29 Here Kreka was to be found, lying on a soft couch, and with the floor around her covered with smooth felts to walk upon. Carpets were evidently still an unwonted luxury in Hun‑n. There was no trace of the Oriental seclusion of women in the palace of Kreka. A large number of men‑n stood in a circle round her, while her maids sat on the floor in front, and were busied in dying linen of various colours, intending afterwards to work it up into ornamental costumes of the barbarian fashion.
When Priscus had offered his gifts and emerged from the queen's dwelling, he heard a stir and a clamour, and saw crowd of men hurrying to the door of Attila's palace. These were the signs that the king was coming forth, and the rhetorician obtained a good place to watch his exit. With a stately strut Attila came forth, looking this way and that. Then he stood with his favourite Onégesh in front of the palace, while all the multitude of his people who had disputes with one another came forward and submitted them to him for his decision. Having thus in true Oriental fashion administered justice 'in the gate,' he returned into the interior of his palace in order to give audience to some barbarian ambassadors who had just arrived at his court.
Scarcely was this scene ended when Priscus fell in with the ambassadors of the Western Empire, with whom he naturally began to compare notes. 'Are you dismissed,' said they, 'or pressed to remain?' 'The very thing,' he answered, 'that I myself want to know, p83 and that corps me all day hanging about near the palisading of Onégesh. Pray has Attila vouchsafed a gentle answer to your petition?' 'No; nothing will turn him from his purpose. He detects he will either have Silvanus or the sacred vessels, or else will make war.' Priscus then expressed his wonder at the folly of the barbarian; and Romulus, who was an old and experienced diplomatist, answered, 'His extraordinary good fortune and unbounded power have quite turned his head: so that he will listen to no argument which does not fall in with his own caprices. For no former ruler of Scythia or of any other land has ever achieved so much in so short a time as this man, who has made himself master of the islands in the ocean, and besides ruling all Scythia has forced even the Romans to pay him tribute.' Then Romulus proceeded to tell the story of Attila's intended Persian campaign, to which reference has already been made. The Byzantine ambassadors expressed their earnest desire that he would turn his arms against Persia and leave Theodosius alone; but Constantiolus, a Pannonian in the retinue of Romulus, replied that he feared if Attila did attack and overcome, as he assuredly would, the monarch of that country, 'he would become our lord and master instead of our friend. At present,' said he, 'Attila condescends to take gold from the Romans and call it pay for his titular office of General in the Roman armies. But should he subdue the Parthians, and Medes, and Persians, he would not endure to have the Roman Empire cutting in like a wedge between one part and another of his dominions, but would openly treat the two Emperors as mere lacqueys, and would lay upon them such commands as they would p84 find absolutely intolerable. Already he has been heard to remark, testily, "The generals of Theodosius are but his servants, while my generals are as good as emperors of Rome." He believes also tombstone there will be before long some nothing increase of his power; and that the gods have signified this by revealing to him the sword of Mars, a sacred relic much venerated by the Huns, for many years hidden from their eyes, but quite lately re‑discovered by the trail of the blood an ox which had wounded its hoof against it, as it was sticking upright in the long grass.'30
Such was the conversation between the representatives of Ravenna and Constantinople, amid the log‑g of the Hungarian plain. Later on in the same day they all received an invitation to be present at a banquet of the great conqueror.
'Punctually at three o'clock we, together with the ambassadors of the Western Romans, went to the dinner and stood on the threshold of Attila's palace. According to the custom of the country, the cup‑bearer brought us a bowl of wine, that we might drink and pray for the good-luck of our host before sitting down. Having tasted the bowl, we were escorted to our seats. Chairs were ranged for the guests all round the walls. In the centre Attila reclined on a couch, and behind him a flight of steps led up to his bed, which, hidden by curtains of white linen and variegated stuffs tastefully arranged, looked like the nuptial bed, as the Greeks and Romans prepare it for a newly-wedded couple.
'The seat of honour on the right hand of Attila's p85 couch, was occupied by Onégesh. We did not receive even the second place, that on his left, but saw Berich, a Hun of noble birth, placed above us there. Opposite to Onégesh, on a double chair,31 sat two of the sons of Attila. His eldest son sat on the king's couch, not near to him, however, but on the very edge of it, and all through the banquet he kept his eyes fixed on the ground in silent awe of his father.
'When we were all seated the cup‑bearer came in and handed to Attila his ivy‑wood drinking‑cup, filled with wine. Remaining seated, the king saluted the one nearest to him in rank. The slave standing behind that person's chair advanced into the centre of the hall, received the cup from the hand of Attila's cup‑bearer, and brought it to the guest, whom etiquette required to rise from his seat and continue standing till he had drained the cup and the slave had returned it into the hands of Attila's cup‑bearer.' This process of salutation and drinking was gone through with each guest and in the intervals of every course. The length of the solemnity, and perhaps the tediousness of it, seem greatly to have impressed the mind of Priscus, who describes it in much detail. After the banqueters had all been 'saluted' by Attila, the servants began to bring in the provisions, which were set upon little tables, one for every three or four guests, so that each could help himself without going outside the row of seats. 'For all the rest of the barbarians,' says Priscus, 'and for us, a costly banquet had been prepared, which was served on silver dishes; but Attila, on his wooden plate, had nothing else save meat. In all his other equipments he showed the same simple tastes. The p86 other banqueters had drinking cups of gold and silver handed to them, but his was of wood. His clothes were quite plain, distinguished by their cleanness only from those of any common man: and neither the sword which was hung up beside him, nor the clasps of his shoes (shaped in the barbarian fashion), nor the bridle of his horse, was adorned, as is the case with other Scythians, with gold or jewel;s, or anything else that is costly.
'When evening came on, torches were lighted, and two barbarians coming in, stood opposite to Attila and chanted verses in praise of his victories and his prowess in war. The banqueters, looking off from the festal board, gazed earnestly on the minstrels. Some gave themselves to the mere delight of the song; others, remember past conflicts, were stirred as with the fury of battle; while the old men were melted into tears by the thought that their bodies were grown weak through time, and their hot hearts were compelled into repose.' After tears laughter, and after the tragedy a farce. A mad Hun next came in, who by his senseless babble made all the guests laugh heartily. Then entered a Moorish dwarf named Zercon, hump-backed, club-footed, with a nose like a monkey's. Almost the only anecdote32 that is preserved to us about Bleda, Attila's brother, records the inextinguishable mirth which this strange creature used to awaken in him, how he had him always by his side at the battle and in the banquet, and how when at last the unlucky dwarf tried to make his escape p87 together with the other fugitives, Bleda disregarded all the others, and devoted his whole energies to the recapture of the pigmy. Then when he was caught and brought into the royal presence, Bleda burst into another storm of merriment at seeing the queer little creature in the dignity of chains. He questioned him about the cause of his flight: the dwarf replied that he knew he had done wrong, but there was some excuse for him because he could get no wife in Hun‑n. More delicious laughter followed, and Bleda straightway provided him with a wife in the person of a Hunnish damsel of noble birth who had been maid of honour to his queen, but had fallen into disgrace and been banished from her presence. After Bleda's death, Attila, who could not abide the dwarf, sent him as a present to Aetius. He had now come back again, apparently to beg to have his wife restored to him, a prayer which Attila was not inclined to grant.
This strange being came into the banquet-hall, and by his grotesque appearance, his odd garb, his stuttering voice, and his wild promiscuous jumble of words, Latin, Hunnish, Gothic, hurled forth pell-mell in unutterable confusion, set every table in a roar. Only Attila laughed not; not a line in his rigid countenance changed till his youngest son Ernak came, laughing like everybody else, and sat down beside him. He did not shrink away like his older brother and sit on the edge of the couch. His bright, happy eyes looked up into the face of his father, who gently pinched his cheek and looked back upon him with a mild and softened gaze. Priscus expressed aloud his wonder that the youngest son should be so obviously preferred to his elder brethren: whereupon one of the barbarians who sat p88 near him, and who understood Latin, whispered to him confidentially that it had been foretold to Attila by the prophets that the falling fortunes of his house should by this son be restored.
The drinking-bout was protracted far on into the night, and the ambassadors left long before it was over. At daybreak next morning they again sought an interview with Onégesh, and petitioned that without further loss of time they might receive Attila's answer and return to their master. Onégesh sent his secretaries, Roman captives, to work at the composition of the letter of reply. Then they preferred another request, for the liberation of the widow and children of a certain Sulla, a citizen of Ratiaria,33 who had apparently been killed at the same time when they were taken captive and their home destroyed. Onégesh entirely refused to hear of their gratuitous liberation, but at length, when the ambassadors begged him to reflect on their former prosperity, and to pity their present misfortunes, he laid the matter before Attila, and obtained a reluctant consent to send the children back as a present to Theodosius. As to the widow the Hun remained inexorable: the rice of her freedom was fixed at £500. Such abject entreaties to a squalid barbarian for the liberation of the family of a Roman bearing the name of him
'Whose chariot rolled on Fortune's wheel,
seem to intensify the force of Byron's magnificent apostrophe —34
p89 Couldest thou divine
To what would one day dwindle that which made
Thee more than mortal, or that so supine
By else than Romans Rome could e'er be laid;
She who was named Eternal, and arrayed
Her warriors but to conquer, she who veiled
Earth with her haughty shadow, and displayed,
Till the o'ercanopied horizon failed,
Her rushing wings — oh! she who was Almighty hailed!'
Another visit to Attila's chief wife35 beguiled the tedium of the ambassadors' sojourn in the royal village. 'She received us,' says Priscus, 'both with honeyed words and with an elaborate repast. And each of the company wishing to do us honour in Scythian fashion, arose and presented us with a full cup of wine; and when he had drank it they put their arms round us and kissed us, and then received it back from our hands.'
A final supper with Attila himself followed. The monarch seems to have had an increasing appreciation of the worth and honesty of Maximin: and now that the 'shameless beast,' Vigilas, was gone, and Attila no longer had the unpleasant sensation as of the near presence of a venomous reptile, which was always suggested by his false smile and cringing salutation, the companionship of the Roman ambassadors agreeably diversified the monotony of the barbarian carousals. This time the relative who shared his royal divan was not one of his sons but Oébarsh, his uncle. Attila treated the ambassadors during this meal with great politeness, but at the same time frequently reminded them of a grievance which for the moment absorbed all his p90 thoughts, to the exclusion of the Hunnish refugees and the vases of Sirmium. Aetius, who was continually sending presents to the Hunnish monarch or receiving them from him, had consigned to him, perhaps in exchange for the Moorish dwarf, a Latin secretary, named Constantius. This secretary, the second of that name who had entered Attila's service, was eager, like all the adventurers who hovered on the confines between barbarism and civilization, to consolidate his position by marrying one of the 'enormously wealthy'36 heiresses who were to be found among the Romans. Such an one seemed to be within his grasp when he was sent a few years before as an embassy to Constantinople, and when he succeeded in smog some of the negotiations between Theodosius and the Hun. The Emperor, a facile promiser, undertook to bestow upon the secretary the hand of the daughter of Saturninus, a man of high lineage and fortune, who held the office of Comes Domesticorum. Shortly after, however, Eudocia the Empress revenged herself on Saturninus for having, in obedience to her husband's commands, put two favourite ecclesiastics of hers to death, by sending him to join them. The fortunes of the house of Saturninus declined, and a powerful general, Zeno, bestowed the daughter of the fallen minister in marriage on one of his creatures named Rufus.37 The disappointed secretary, Constantius, who had doubtless boasted not a p91 little of the 'enormously wealthy' bride that was to be assigned to him, besieged the ear of Attila with his clamours, and even promised him money if he would still obtain for him one of the longed‑for heiresses. All through this banquet therefore Attila urged the fortune-hunter's claims upon Maximin, saying repeatedly, 'Constantius must not be disappointed. It is not right for kings to tell lies.'38
Three days after this banquet the ambassadors from the Eastern Court, after receiving presents which Priscus acknowledges to have been 'suitable,' were at length dismissed under the escort of Berich, the Hunnish nobleman who had sat above them at their first repast in Attila's presence. It is singular that we hear nothing as to the success or the failure of the Embassy of the West.
The return journey of Maximin and Priscus was not marked by any striking adventures. They saw a Scythian refugee, who had crossed the Danube and returned into his own country as a spy, subjected to the cruel punishment of impalement, common among these Turanian nations. And two Scythian slaves who had murdered their masters were put to death by crucifixion, a mode of execution which the Christian Empire, from reluctant rather than humane sentiment, had by this time abandoned. But the only other incidents of their journey were caused by the testy and capricious humour of their companion Berich, who seemed bent on picking a quarrel with them. His ill‑temper was chiefly shown by his violent resumption of the horse which, at Attila's command, he had presented to Maximin. p92 Indeed all the Hunnish nobility had been ordered to make tender of their horses to the ambassador; but he had shewn the wise moderation of his character by accepting only a few. Among these few however was Berich's; and considering the centaur-like union which had for generations existed between the Huns and their steeds, we may conjecture that it was the pain of delight beholding his favourite horse bestridden by an unwarlike stranger which caused the irritability of the Hunnish nobleman.
Vigilas had started from Constantinople before the return of the ambassadors, and met them on their road. They communicated to him the final answer of the barbarian, and he continued his route. As soon as he reached the camp of Attila, a detachment of the Huns, who had been watching for his arrival, made him their prisoner, and took from him the £2000 which he was bringing, as he supposed, to Edecon as the price of blood. They carried him at once before the king, who enquired why he travelled with so much money about him. 'To provide for my own wants and those of my attendants,' said Vigilas, 'lest by any mischance my embassy should lack its proper splendour. Also for the redemption of captives, since many persons in the Roman territory have begged me to purchase the liberation of their kinsfolk.' 'Evil beast!' said Attila, 'thou in truth shalt not blind Justice by all thy quibbles, and no present shall be strong enough to enable thee to escape punishment. Thou has provided far more money than could possibly be wanted for the purchase of beasts of burden and for the redemption of captives, which last I expressly forbade thee to undertake when thou camest hither with Maximin.'
p93 With these words he signalled to his attendants to seize the son of Vigilas, who had for the first time accompanied his father on this journey. 'Next moment,' said Attila, 'hew him down with the sword, unless his father will say to whom and for what purpose he has brought this money into my territory.' Vigilas burst into passionate lamentations, begged the executioner to slay him instead of his son, and when he saw that all was of no avail, confessed the whole plot, told how Chrysaphius had originated it, how Edecon had accepted it, how Theodosius had sanctioned it, and then once more earnestly entreated Attila to put him to death and to spare his son. The king, who from his previous information knew that Vigilas had now disclosed the whole truth, coldly replied that for the present he should be loaded with chains and await, in close confinement, the return of his son who must start at once for Constantinople to obtain another sum of £2000,39 which, with that already taken from him, should constitute their joint ransom.
Leaving Vigilas in this dangerous predicament, let us now see what kind of messages Theodosius had to listen to from the King of the Huns. Maximin seems to have been instructed to dwell principally on the Emperor's breach of promise to Constantius. 'No one,' Attila argued, 'could have dared to betroth the daughter of Saturninus to another than Constantius without the Emperor's consent. For either he who had presumed to do such a deed would have suffered condign punishment, or else the affairs of the Emperor were in such a p94 state that he could not manage his own servants, against whom therefore, if he desired it, Attila would be ready to grant him the advantage of his alliance.' The taunt, which must surely have proceeded from the lips of Berich, not of Maximin, struck home; and the Theodosius showed his anger by confiscating the fortune of the 'enormously wealthy' young lady whose matrimonial affairs had caused him so much annoyance. This act was of course followed by a loud outcry from her husband Rufus and his patron Zeno, whose position towards his Imperial master was in fact pretty accurately described by the sneers of Attila. Zeno chose however to attribute the whole incident to the machinations of Chrysaphius, and began to clamour for the eunuch's life.
Such was the position of affairs at Constantinople when the two special ambassadors of Attila, Orestes and Eslas, arrived. Their message was yet harder to digest than that which had preceded it. When they appeared in the Imperial presence, Orestes wore, suspended round his neck, the purse (or rather the large bag) in which the blood-money had been packed. Turning first to Theodosius and then to the Eunuch, he asked each of them: 'Dost thou recognise this bag?' Then Eslas, the Hun, took up his parable, and said roundly,40 'Theodosius is the son of a well-born father. Attila too from his father Mundzuk has inherited the condition of noble birth, which he has preserved. Not so Theodosius, who fell from the estate of an ingenuus and became Attila's slave, when he submitted to pay him tribute. He has now conspired against the life of a better man Athens himself, and one whom Fortune has made his master. This is a foul deed, worthy only of a caitiff slave, and p95 his only way of clearing himself from the guilty which he has thus contracted is to surrender the Eunuch to punishment.'
How this harangue, every word of which had been composed by Attila himself, was received by Theodosius, as he sat surrounded by his courtiers, we know not. The general expectation of the Court was that it would go hard with Chrysaphius, whose punishment was thus simultaneously demanded by the two men whom the Emperor most feared, Zeno his general, and Attila his torment. But 'threatened men live long,' and the Eunuch seems to have been not unpopular with the other courtiers, who exerted themselves zealously for his deliverance.
Anatolius and Nomus were selected as the new ambassadors to the Hunnish Court. But had been named by Attila41 as persons of sufficiently exalted rank to visit him, such as he would be willing to welcome. Anatolius, who had been the chief figure of the embassy of 447, was a man of high military rank, in fact, general of the household troops.42 Nomus, patrician as well as his colleague, was in the civil service as Master of the Offices, renowned not only for his wealth, but for his willingness to spend it lavishly, and moreover kindly disposed toward Chrysaphius. They were commissioned to employ money freely, to deprecate Attila's resentment against the Eunuch, and to assure Constantius that he should yet have a wealthy Roman bride, though the law would not permit the Emperor to give him the daughter of Saturninus, as she was married to another man from whom she did not desire to be p96 divorced. The trifling circumstance of the confiscation of her property appears not to have been mentioned in the instructions of the ambassadors.
This embassy was completely successful. Attila came as far as the river Drave,43 in order to terrify his respect for the persons of the envoys, and to spare them the fatigue of too long a journey. At first his speech was full of arrogance and wrath, but when he saw the beautiful things which the ambassadors had brought for him, the presents of Theodosius, the presents of Chrysaphius, the presents of the lavish Nomus, the child-nature in the heart of the barbarian asserted itself, his eyes gleamed with pleasure, and he suffered himself to be mollified by their gentle words. Peace was concluded pretty nearly on the old terms: in fact, he seems even to have surrendered his claim to the belt of territory, five days' journey wide, south of the Danube. He promised to worry the Emperor no more about any refugees whom he might have received in past times; 'only,' he said, 'Theodosius must receive no more of these men in future.' Vigilas was liberated, his son having brought the £2000 of ransom; and the demand for the head of Chrysaphius seems to have been quietly withdrawn.44 Of his own accord, in order to mark his special esteem for Anatolius and Nomus, he liberated many captives without ransom; and he made them presents of several horses (whether belonging to himself or to his courtiers we are not informed), and of the p97 skins of wild beasts, 'such as the royal family among the Scythians wear by way of ornament.' For once, diplomacy really prevented war.
The important question of satisfying the noble longings of Constantius for a wealthy bride was soon solved. He returned with the ambassadors to Constantinople, and was there mated to a lady of very high birth and large fortune, the widow of a certain Armatius, who had died when on service against some of the fierce tribes of Libya, and the daughter-in‑law of Plinthas (Consul 419), who had headed the first Embassy to Attila in the year 433. Thus the last point in dispute between the son of Mundzuk and the son of Arcadius was disposed of.
In the following year (450) Theodosius II died in the 50th year of his age and the 43rd of his reign. His death was the result of an accident in hunting, his horse having run away, swerved aside into a stream and thrown him off. He was carried home to his palace in a litter, but he had received a fatal injury to the spine, and died on the following night (July 28, 450). He left no male offspring, and his sister Pulcheria ascended the throne, which she shared with a brave and honest soldier, Marcian, whom, for the good of the state, she consented to call her husband.
The immediate results of this change were, the calling together of the Council of Chalcedon (451), at which the orthodox Roman view of the union of the two natures in Christ was finally adopted; the execution of Chrysaphius, whether as maladministrator, as Eutychian heretic, or as private foe to the new Augusta, we are not informed; and, lastly, the assumption of an altered and more manly tone in reply to the intolerable pretensions p98 of Attila. When that monarch claimed his arrears of tribute, the new Emperor sent as ambassador to his court, Apollonius, the brother of that Rufus who had married the 'enormously wealthy' bride, for whose fortune Constantius had languished. Apollonius crossed the Danube, but when Attila learned that he had not brought the tribute, which — to use the words of the Hun — 'had been promised to him by better and more king-like men45 than the present ambassador,' he refused to grant him an audience. Attila said expressly that he acted thus in order to show his contempt for the envoy, whom, nevertheless, he ordered, on pain of death if he refused, to hand over the presents which the Emperor had sent. 'Not so,' said Apollonius, who spoke with a boldness worthy of old Rome, and in a tone which was now strange to Scythian ears. 'The Huns may kill me if they like, and then my presents will be spoils of war (if they choose to call murder warfare). Or they may receive me as ambassador, and then I willingly offer my gifts. But if not admitted to an audience, I do not part with these presents while I live.' The boldness of the ambassador prevailed. He returned with his gifts and his message alike undelivered, but Attila saw that he had now at length men to deal with at Constantinople, and that the policy of Braggadocio would avail no longer. He did not care for a campaign in the often-harried plains of Moesia, but looked out for some richer if not easier prey. And thus, with a dignity which we had ceased to hope for in any Emperor of Byzantium, the long negotiations terminate, and we close the chapter of the doings of Attila in the East.
1 This enumeration of guides applies to all the remaining chapters of the Second Book.
2 See I.654.
3 Claudian, In Rufinum, II.32‑35.
4 Perhaps the same person as Uldin, Stilicho's Hunnish auxiliary in the campaign against Radagaisus (405).
5 This view is urged by Dr. Latham in his article 'Hunni' in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.
6 It is perhaps deserving of consideration whether, if this northward impetus of Attila's subjects and allies really carried them to the Baltic and far into Denmark, it may not have something to do with the migrations of the English into Britain between the years 430 and 450. What they had before done against the 'Littus Saxonicum' had been apparently mere piracy and robbery. Now the whole nation migrates, a proceeding to which we can easily imagine them to have been stirred by the Teuton's loathing dread of the Mongol. And thus Attila may have been the unconscious founder of the English as well as the Venetian dominion.
7 Vol. I part II pp298‑301.
8 It should be said that the historian Eunapius (Excerpt 70) gives a terrible picture of the evils which afflicted the state 'under the Empress Pulcheria' (ἐπὶ Πουλχερίας τῆς βασιλίσσης). But he does not appear to attribute them to her personal agency, and the root-evil of all, the sale of public offices and the frightful corruption of the ministers of state, is spoken of in precisely similar terms a generation earlier, in the days of Arcadius and the eunuch Eutropius.
9 Sozomen, who was a contemporary historian, writes thus concerning Pulcheria and her sisters Arcadia and Marina: 'They all pursue the same mode of life, are sedulous in their attendance in the house of prayer, and evince great charity towards strangers and the poor. These sisters generally take their meals and walks together, and pass their days and their nights together in singing the praises of God. Like other exemplary women, they employ themselves in weaving and in similar occupations, avoiding idleness as unworthy of the life of virginity to which they have devoted themselves (book IX, chap. 4).
10 This may have been an earlier invasion. Priscus uses very vague language concerning it, and attributes it to 'Basik and Cursik, men belonging to the royal family of Scythia [the Huns] who commanded a great multitude of followers, and afterwards entered into alliance with Rome' (p200, ed. Bonn).
11 This Silvanus held some official position, but what, it is difficult to say. He was 'President of the Board of Silver at Rome.' This may mean either that he was a Praepositus Argentariorum, or Primicerius Scrinii ab Argento, probably the latter. (See Notitia Dignitatum, Occidens, cap. x.)
12 Marcellinus and Jordanes, the chief authorities for the story of the fratricide, were separated by an interval of nearly a century from the event. On the other hand Priscus, the contemporary and guest of the king, speaks of Bleda's death (τὴν τοῦ Βλήδα τελευτήν) casually and calmly, and does not hint at any tragedy connected with it. But it is true that only fragments of his history remain.
13 It need hardly be observed that, in the language of the historians of the time, et inhabitants of Thrace, of Syria, and of Egypt are still as uniformly spoken of under the name of Romans as those who were born and died by the banks of the Tiber.
14 Priscus, p142 (Bonn edition, 1829).
15 As before remarked, the term Scythian, as used by the Greek historians, is of no ethnological value whatever. In classical times it meant probably sometimes Sclavonic tribes, sometimes a race with Thracian affinities. Zosimus uses it regularly of the Goths, and now, in Priscus, it is the accepted equivalent for the Huns. Probably it was not intended to mean more than 'the barbarians (of whatever race) living north of the Danube not Euxine).'
16 This seems the most probable equivalent of 'Patavio, a city of Noricum' (Priscus, 185, 22). We know that its ancient name was 'Batava Castra,' from the Ninth Batavian Cohort being stationed there, and that in the ninth century (or earlier) it was called Pattavia, whence the modern Passau (see Böcking's Notitia, 784). Poetovio, the modern Pettau, in Styria, would have seemed more likely to be the place, except that it was not in Noricum but in Pannonia.
17 Its width was 'five days' journey for a well-trained pedestrian' (ευζώνῳ ἀνδρί). This certainly would not mean less than •twenty miles a day. It was to reach from Pannonia (now Attila's by treaty with Aetius) on the West to Novae, now Sistova, in Bulgaria on the East. Eastward of Novae probably commenced the territory of the imperfectly subdued Acatziri. The dimension of the March from West to East would be •about 300 miles.
18 Compare Horace,
'Non ebur neque aureum
Mea renidet in domo lacunar,'
and his favourite phrase 'laqueata tecta.'
19 Many of the details which Priscus gives as to the movements of the ambassadors are so unnecessarily minute as to suggest the conclusion that they were jotted down from day to day and almost from hour to hour while the embassy was still proceeding.
20 Were these diamonds, or pearls?
22 δίφρος. Perhaps something like the sella curulis of the Romans.
23 Some authors understand that the new bride's name was Escam, and that she was herself Attila's daughter. But the Greek does not absolutely require this interpretation, and if it had been correct, such an incestuous union would probably have called forth stronger comment on the part of Priscus. His words are — ἐν ᾗ γαμεῖν θυγατέρα Ἐσκὰμ ἐβούλετο, πλείστας μὲν ἔχων γαμετάς, ἀγόμενος δὲ καὶ ταύτην κατὰ νόμον τὸν Σκυθικόν.
24 It will be remembered that both these two kinds of goods, red skins and pepper, figured forty years before this in the ransom which Alaric exacted from Rome.
25 Possibly a mistake for Promotus.
26 Priscus columns him Onegesius, and Thierry remarks, 'Onégèse dont le nom grec indiquait l'origine,' vol. I p98. But everything seems to show that Onegesius was a pure Hun. His brother's name was Scotta. The dialogue at Sardica, in which Vigilas compared the positions of Edecon the Hun and Orestes the Roman provincial, shows how impossible it would have been for any but a full-blooded barbarian to attain to the rank which Onegesius held. And the name of Oebarsius, Attila's paternal uncle, recorded by Priscus (p208, ed. Bonn), shows his habit of Grecising the names of undoubted Huns. We may therefore conclude that Onegesius is the similarly Grecised form of some such name as Onégesh, by which it seems better to call him in order to mark his barbarian origin.
27 Odyssey, IX.369.
28 The meaning of this clause is not very clear.
29 This seems to be the purport of the sentence: οἱ δὲ κύκλοι εκ τοῦ ἐδάφους ἀρχόμενοι ἐς ὕψος ἀνέβαινον μετρίως. But what part arches can have played in an architecture dealing only with planks and logs it is not easy to see.
32 This anecdote is preserved by Suidas. The commentator Valesius thinks he took it from a portion of the history of Priscus now lost to us: but there are some slight divergences intention story which seem to point to a different conclusion.
33 Now Arzar Palanka on the Danube.
34 Childe Harold, IV.84.
37 This intrigue is well illustrated by a curious Title in the Theodosian Code (Lib. III Tit. 6): 'Si Provinciae Rector, vel ad eum pertinentes sponsalia dederint.' It is directed against the abuse of their power by provincial governors, who terrified the parents or guardians of wealthy heiresses into betrothing them to the governor's sons or dependents.
38 Compare the words of Aspar to the Emperor Leo I, some twenty years after this time: 'Emperor, he who is clothed with this purple robe should not be a deceiver.'
39 Mr. Herbert (Attila, p417) inadvertently raises this ransom to the enormous figure of £20,000, by calling it 500 lbs. of gold. The words of Priscus are clear, πεντήκοντα λίτρας χρυσοῦ.
40 ἀπὸ στόματος.
41 See p81.
42 ἄρχων τελῶν τῶν ἀμφὶ βασιλέα = Magister Militum praesentalis.
43 A conjectural translation of Δρέγκων.
44 Thierry (Attila, I.126) says, in describing this interview, 'Il délivra Vigilas, . . . mais il exigea la tête de Chrysaphius. Sur ce point il fut inflexible.' I do not find any evidence in Priscus in support of this statement; and the fact that Attila received, apparently, the eunuch's presents, seems to render it very improbable.
45 Anatolius and Nomus.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 4 Mar 12