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Book II
Note B

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book II
Note C

Book 2 (continued)

Vol. II
Chapter IV

Attila in Italy


A chapter in Jordanes and a paragraph in the Historia Miscella, with one curious anecdote from Suidas the well-known lexicographer (of uncertain date), are all the materials that we possess for the history of this immeasurably important campaign, except the brief memoranda of the Annalists.

Attila's return to Pannonia. In the summer of 451, Attila, with his beaten army, recrossed the Rhine, and dismissed the courageous Lupus with a safe-conduct back to Troyes, bidding his chief minister and interpreter Onégesh intercede with the holy man that he might receive the benefit of his prayers.

All that autumn and winter we may imagine him dwelling, moody and sore of heart, within his wooden stockade upon the plains of Hungary, receiving the homage of his nobles as he drank to them out of his goblet of ivy‑wood, scowling while all around were laughing at the gabble and the jests of Zercon, or passing his fingers through the dark locks of Ernak, while he whispered to himself, 'This boy shall build up the house of Attila.'​a

With spring, the spring of 452, came back the longing  p147 for 'the joys of strife,'​1 and the determination to wipe out the shame of the Mauriac plains on some fresh battle-field. Italian campaign of 452. But this time he would not try conclusions with the hardy Visigoth. Aetius, Valentinian, Italy, should bear the sole weight of his revenge.​2 He marched, probably through the passes of the Julian Alps and down the valley of the Frigidus, by the route already trodden by Theodosius and Alaric, and stood, perhaps before the spring had ripened into summer, before the walls of Aquileia.

Situation and importance of Aquileia. This town was then, both as a fortress and a commercial emporium, second to none in Northern Italy. It was situated at the northernmost point of the Gulf of Hadria, about twenty miles north-west of Trieste, and the place where it once stood is now in the Austrian dominions, just over the border which separates them from the kingdom of Italy. In the year 181 B.C. a Roman colony had been sent to this far corner of Italy to serve as an outpost against some intrusive tribes, called by the vague name of Gauls, who were pressing into the Adriatic shores over the passes of the Carnic alps, those Alps which are so familiar to the sojourners in Venice as 'blue Friuli's mountains.' The colonists built their town about four miles from the sea by the  p148 banks of the river Aquilo​3 (the River of the North Wind) from whence it probably derived its name. Possessing a good harbour, with which it was connected by a navigable river, Aquileia gradually became the chief entrepôt for the commerce between Italy and what are now the Illyrian provinces of Austria. Under the Emperors, and especially after Trajan's conquest of Dacia, these provinces, rich in mineral and agricultural wealth, and enjoying long intervals of settled government, attained to a high degree of prosperity, and had the glory of seeing many Illyrian brows bound with the Imperial diadem. Naturally Aquileia rose in importance with the countries whose broker she was. She sent the wine, the oil, the costly woven fabrics of the Mediterranean provinces over the Julian and Carnic Alps into Pannonia and Noricum, and she received in return their cattle, their hides, amber from the shores of the Baltic,​4 and long files of slaves taken in the border wars which were being perpetually waged with the Germanic and Slavonic tribes beyond the Danube and the Carpathians. The third century after the Christian era was probably the most flourishing period of her commercial greatness, some of the springs of which must have been dried up by the troubles with the barbarians after the loss of the province of Dacia. Still, as far as can be ascertained from the language of contemporary authors, she was, at the time at which we have now arrived, entitled to contest  p149 with Milan and Ravenna the distinction of being the most important city of Northern Italy. Ecclesiastical had followed commercial supremacy, and the Bishop of Aquileia ruled as Metropolitan over the provinces of Western Illyricum and Venetia, so that, between the years 350 and 450, Silistria on the lower Danube and Verona in the heart of Lombardy, both (though not both at the same time) owned his spiritual sway.​5 In a military point of view the city held a yet higher place. The strength which she derived from the river, the sea, perhaps the intervening marshes, had been increased by the elaborate fortifications of successive emperors. The savage Maximin (dethroned by the Senate in 238) had in vain attempted to take it, and had eventually been murdered under its walls by his mutinous soldiers. Equally vain had been the efforts of the army of Julian more than a century later, though they built huge wooden towers and floated them on rafts down the stream past the walls of the city. The inhabitants set the towers on fire, and were continuing a vigorous resistance when the news which arrived of the death of Constantius II, in whose cause they were fighting, released them from the necessity of further defence, and justified them in opening their  p150 gates to Julian, now sole and lawful Emperor. Rightly therefore might Aquileia have claimed to herself the proud title of a virgin fortress;​6 and we can now understand why it was that Aetius, who apparently regarded the defence of all the rest of Northern Italy as hopeless, left troops — we know not how many, nor for how long a siege prepared — to hold the great fortress by the Natiso against the enemy.

Attila's siege of Aquileia. The Roman soldiers of the garrison were of unusually good quality and high courage, and under their guidance the town made so long and stubborn a defence that Attila's soldiers began to weary of their work. Ominous murmurs began to be heard in the camp, and it seemed as if Aquileia was about to add another and more terrible name to the list of her unsuccessful assailants. But just then, while Attila was pacing round her walls, moodily deliberating with himself whether to go or stay, the flapping of wings and the cry of birds arrested his attention. He looked up, and saw the white storks​7 which had built their nests in the roofs of the city, rising high in the air, and inviting their callow young to follow them, evidently with the intention of leaving the beleaguered town, and contrary to their usual habits, betaking themselves to the open country. The mother‑wit of the Hunnish chieftain caught at the expressive augury. 'Lo, there!' he cried to his grumbling soldiers. 'See those birds, whose instinct tells them of futurity; they  p151 are leaving the city which they know will perish, the fortress which they know will fall. It is no mere chance, no vague uncertainty which guides their movements. They are changed from all their natural love of home and human kind by their knowledge of the coming terror.' The wild hearts of the Huns were stirred by the speech of their king, and took courage from the fresh voice of Nature on their side.​8 They again pushed up their engines to the walls, they plied the slings and catapults with renewed energy, and, as it were in an instant, they found themselves masters of the town.

The punishment of Aquileia. In proportion to the stubbornness of the defence was the severity of the punishment meted out to Aquileia. The Roman soldiers were, no doubt, all slain. Attila was not a man to encumber himself with prisoners. The town was absolutely given up to the rage, the lust, and the greed of the Tartar horde who had so long chafed around its walls. The only incident of the capture which enables us to grasp more definitely these commonplaces of barbaric conquest, is the story​9 of a noble lady, named Digna, eminent for beauty and virtue, whose house was situated upon the walls of the city. Close to her house was a high tower, over­looking the glassy waters ('vitreis fluentis') of the Natiso. When she saw that the city was taken, in order to save her honour from the scornful outrages of those filthiest of foes ('sordidissimis hostibus'), she ascended the tower, and having covered her head in the old Roman fashion, plunged into the stream below.

 p152  When the barbarians could plunder no more, they probably used fire, for the very buildings of Aquileia perished, so that, as Jordanes tells us, in his time, a century later than the siege, scarcely the vestiges of it yet remained. A few houses may have been left standing, and others must have slowly gathered round them, for the Patriarch of Aquileia retained all through the middle ages considerable remains of his old ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and a large and somewhat stately cathedral was reared there in the eleventh century. But the City of the North Wind never really recovered from the blow. Her star had fallen from the firmament, and from this time she almost disappears from history.​b At the present day two or three mean-looking little villages cower amid the vast enclosure, which is chiefly filled with maize-fields and cherry-trees, while the high-pitched roof of the Duomo, with its tall detached campanile, dominates the plain.

Destruction of cities of Venetia. The terrible invaders, made more wrathful and more terrible by the resistance of Aquileia, streamed on through the trembling cities of Venetia. Each earlier stage in the itinerary shows a town blotted out by their truly Tartar genius for destruction. Concordia. At the distance of thirty‑one miles from Aquileia stood the flourishing colony of Julia Concordia, so named, probably, in commemoration of the universal peace which, 480 years before, Augustus had established in the world. Concordia was treated as Aquileia, and only an insignificant little village now remains to show where it once stood.​10 Altinum. At another interval of thirty- p153 one miles stood Altinum, with its white villas clustering round the curves of its lagunes, and rivalling Baiae in its luxurious charms. Altinum was effaced as Concordia and as Aquileia. Patavium. Yet another march of thirty‑two miles brought the squalid invaders to Patavium, proud of its imagined Trojan origin, and, with better reason, proud of having given birth to Livy. Patavium, too, was levelled with the ground. True it has not, like its sister towns, remained in the nothingness to which Attila reduced it. It is now

'My domëd Padua proud,'

but all its great buildings date from the middle ages. Only a few broken friezes and a few inscriptions in its museum exist as memorials of the classical Patavium.

Attila in the upper valley of the Po. As the Huns marched further away from Aquileia, and the remembrance of their detention under its ramparts became less vivid, they were less eager to spend their strength in mere blind rage of demolition. Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo, all opened their gates at their approach, for the terror which the fate of Aquileia had inspired was on every heart. In these towns, and in Milan and Pavia (Ticinum), which followed their example, the Huns enjoyed doubtless to the full their wild revel of lust and spoliation, but they left the  p154 buildings unharmed, and they carried captive the inhabitants instead of murdering them.11

Attila at Mediolanum. At Milan a characteristic incident, which rests on fair if not contemporaneous evidence, is said to have occurred. The Hunnish king took up his quarters at the Imperial Palace, the stately edifice in which Constantine signed the edict for the legalization of Christianity, the same edifice in which, eighty years later, Theodosius expired, sick at heart for the ruin which he saw impending over the Empire. Besides other works of painting and sculpture with which the palace was no doubt liberally adorned, Attila beheld a picture representing 'The Triumph of Rome over the Barbarians.' Here were the two Augusti of the East and West seated on their golden thrones, and here in the front of the picture were the figures of the vanquished Scythians, some slain, others crouching in abject submission before the feet of the Emperors. Even so may the King of Prussia have looked, in the long galleries of Versailles, upon the glowing battle-pieces in which the genius of Lebrun and of Vernet commemorates the prowess of France and the humiliations of Germany. Attila took the insult as aimed at his own ancestors, though it is almost certain that the 'Scythians' whom any painter at Milan delineated would be Goths rather  p155 than Huns. With that grim humour which flashed forth now and again upon the sullen background of his character, he called for an artist whom he committed to paint, perhaps on the opposite wall, a rival picture. In this, king Attila sat on his throne, and the two Emperors bowed low before him. One still bore upon his shoulders a large miller's sack filled with pieces of gold, the other was already pouring out the contents of a similar sack at his feet. This reference to the tributary obligations which Attila had forced upon both Rome and Constantinople harmonises with the language of Priscus, and seems to invest the story with a semblance of probability. Would that amidst the subsequent changes of fortune which have befallen the city of Milan, notwithstanding the despair of the Ostrogoths and the rage of Barbarossa, that picture might have survived to tell us what the great Hun looked like in his pride, the artistic Theodosius and the sensual Valentinian in their humiliation.12

The valley of the Po was now wasted to the heart's content of the invaders. Should they cross the Apennines and blot out Rome as they had blotted out Aquileia from among the cities of the world? This was the great question that was being debated in the Hunnish camp, and strange to say, the voices were not  p156 all for war. Already Italy began to strike that strange awe into the hearts of her northern conquerors which so often in later ages has been her best defence. The remembrance of Alaric, cut off by a mysterious death immediately after his capture of Rome, was present in the mind of Attila, and was frequently insisted upon by his counsellors, who seem to have had a foreboding that only while he lived would they be great and prosperous.

Roman embassy to the Hunnish camp. While this discussion was going forward in the barbarian camp, all voices were hushed, and the attention of all was aroused, by the news of the arrival of an embassy from Rome. What had been going on in that city it is not easy to ascertain. The Emperor seems to have been dwelling there, not at Ravenna. Aetius shows a strange lack of courage or resource, and we find it difficult to recognise in him the victor of the Mauriac plains. He appears to have been even meditating flight from Italy, and to have thought of persuading Valentinian to share his exile.​13 But counsels a shade less timorous prevailed. Some one suggested that possibly even the Hun might be satiated with havoc, and that an embassy might assist to mitigate the remainder of his resentment. Accordingly ambassadors were sent in the once mighty name of 'the Emperor and the Senate and People of Rome' to crave for peace, and these were the men who were now ushered into the camp of Attila.

 p157  The Roman ambassadors. The envoys had been well chosen to satisfy that punctilious pride which insisted that only men of the highest dignity among the Romans should be sent to treat with the Lord of Scythia and Germany.​14 Avienus, who had, two years before, worn the robes of consul, was one of the ambassadors. Trigetius, who had wielded the power of a prefect, and who, seventeen years before, had been despatched upon a similar mission to Gaiseric the Vandal, was another. But it was not upon these men, but upon their greater colleague that the eyes of all the barbarian warriors and statesmen were fixed. Leo, Bishop of Rome, had come on behalf of his flock, to sue for peace from the idolater.

Character of Pope Leo I. The two men who had thus at last met by the banks of the Mincio are certainly the grandest figures whom the fifth century can show to us, at any rate since Alaric vanished from the scene. Attila we by this time know well enough: adequately to describe Pope Leo I, we should have to travel too far into the region of ecclesiastical history. Chosen pope in the year 440, he was now about half way through his long pontificate, one of the few which have nearly rivalled the twenty-five years traditionally assigned to St. Peter.​15 A firm  p158 disciplinarian, not to say a persecutor, he had caused the Priscillianists of Spain and the Manichees of Rome to feel his heavy hand. A powerful rather than subtle theologian, he had asserted the claims of Christian common sense as against the endless refinements of Oriental speculation concerning the nature of the Son of God. Like an able Roman general, he had traced in his letters on the Eutychian Controversy the lines of the fortress in which the defenders of the Catholic verity were thenceforward to entrench themselves, and from which they were to repel the assaults of Monophysites on the one hand, and of Nestorians on the other. These lines had been enthusiastically accepted by the Great Council of Chalcedon (held in the year of Attila's Gaulish campaign), and remain from that day to this the authoritative utterance of the Church concerning the mysterious union of the Godhead and the Manhood in the person of Jesus Christ.

And all these gifts of will, of intellect, and of soul, were employed by Leo with undeviating constancy, with untired energy, in furthering his great aim, the exaltation of the dignity of the Popedom, the conversion of the admitted primacy of the bishops of Rome into an absolute and world-wide spiritual monarchy. Whatever our opinions may be as to the influence of this spiritual monarchy on the happiness of the world, or its congruity with the character of the Teacher in whose words it professed to root itself, we cannot withhold a tribute of admiration from the high temper of this Roman bishop, who in the ever-deepening degradation of his country still despaired not, but had  p159 the courage and endurance to work for a far-distant future, who, when the Roman was becoming the common drudge and footstool of all nations, still remembered the proud words, 'Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento!' and under the very shadow of Attila and Gaiseric prepared for the city of Romulus a new and spiritual dominion, vaster and more enduring than any which had been won for her by Julius or by Hadrian.

Interview by the Mincio. Such were the two men who stood face to face in the summer of 452 upon the plains of Lombardy. The barbarian king had all material power in his hand, and he was working but for a twelve-month. The Pontiff had no power but in the world of intellect, and his fabric was to last fourteen centuries. They met, as has been said, by the banks of the Mincio. Jordanes tells us that it was 'where the river is crossed by many wayfarers coming and going.' Some writers think that these words point to the ground now occupied by the celebrated fortress of Peschiera, close to the point where the Mincio issues from the Lake of Garda.​16 Others place the interview at Governolo, a little village hard by the junction of the Mincio and the Po.​17 If the latter theory be true, and it seems to fit well with the route which would probably be taken by Attila, the meeting took place in Virgil's country, and almost in sight of the very farm where Tityrus and Meliboeus chatted at evening under the beech tree.

 p160  Complete success of Leo's embassy. Leo's success as an ambassador was complete. Attila laid aside all the fierceness of his anger and promised to return across the Danube, and to live thenceforward at peace with the Romans. But, in his usual style, in the midst of reconciliation he left a loophole for future wrath, for 'he insisted still on this point above all, that Honoria, the sister of the Emperor, and the daughter of the Augusta Placidia, should be sent to him with the portion of the royal wealth which was her due; and he threatened that unless this was done he would lay upon Italy a far heavier punishment than any which it had yet borne.'

Legendary amplifications. But, for the present, at any rate, the tide of devastation was turned, and few events more powerfully impressed the imagination of that new and blended world which was now standing at the threshold of the dying Empire than this retreat of Attila, the dreaded king of kings, before the unarmed successor of St. Peter. Later ages have encrusted the history with legends of their own. The great picture in the Vatican, which represents the abject terror of the Huns in beholding St. Peter and St. Paul in the air championing the faithful city, gives that version of the story which has received eternal currency from the mint-mark impressed by the genius of Raphael. As mythology has added to the wonder, so criticism has sought of later days to detract from it. The troops of Marcian, the Eastern Emperor, are said to have been in motion. Aetius, according to one account, had at length bestirred himself and cut off many of the Huns. But on carefully examining the best authorities we find the old impression strengthened, that neither miracle, nor pious fraud, nor military expediency determined  p161 the retreat of Attila. He was already predisposed to moderation by the counsels of his ministers. The awe of Rome was upon him and upon them, and he was forced incessantly to ponder the question, 'What if I conquer like Alaric, to die like him?' Upon these doubts and ponderings of his supervened the stately presence of Leo, a man of holy life, firm will, dauntless courage — that, be sure, Attila perceived in the first moments of their interview — and, besides this, holding an office honoured and venerated through all the civilized world. The Barbarian yielded to his spell as he had yielded to that of Lupus of Troyes, and, according to a tradition which, it must be admitted, is not very well authenticated, he jocularly excused his unaccustomed gentleness by saying that 'he knew how to conquer men, but the lion and the wolf (Leo and Lupus) had learned how to conquer him.'

Effect on the authority of the Papacy. The renown and the gratitude which Leo I earned by this interposition placed the Papal Chair many steps higher in the estimation both of Rome and of the world.​18 In the dark days which were coming, the senate and people of Rome were not likely to forget that when the successor of Caesar had been proved useless, the successor of Peter had been a very present help. And thus it is no paradox to say that indirectly the king of the Huns contributed, more perhaps than any other historical personage, towards the creation of that mighty factor in the politics of mediaeval Italy, the Pope-King of Rome.

Attila the true founder of Venice. His share in the creation of another important actor on the same stage, the Republic of Venice, has yet to be noticed. The tradition which asserts that it and  p162 its neighbour cities in the Lagunes were peopled by fugitives from the Hunnish invasion of 452, is so constant, and in itself so probable, that we seem bound to accept it as substantially true, though contemporary, or nearly contemporary evidence to the fact is utterly wanting.

The thought of 'the glorious city in the sea' so dazzles our imaginations when we turn our thoughts towards Venice, that we must take a little pains to free ourselves from the spell, and reproduce the aspect of the desolate islands and far‑stretching wastes of sand and sea, to which the fear of Attila drove the delicately-nurtured Roman provincials for a habitation. And as in describing the Hiongnu at their first appearance in history we had to refer to Physical Geography for an account of that vast Asian upland which was their home, so now that we are about to part with the Huns for ever, we must hear what the same science has to tell us of that very different region (the north-eastern corner of Italy) in which they, who came but to destroy, unwittingly built up an empire.

Streams pouring into the north-west corner of the Adriatic. If we examine on the map the well-known and deep recess of the Adriatic Sea, we shall at once be struck by one marked difference between its eastern and its northern shores. For three hundred miles down the Dalmatian coast not one large river, scarcely a considerable stream, descends from the too closely towering Dinaric mountains to the sea. If we turn now to the north-western angle which formed the shore of the Roman province of Venetia, we find the coast-line broken by at least seven streams, two of which are great rivers. Let us enumerate them. Past the desolate site of Aquileia flows forth that Isonzo, once  p163 called the River of the North Wind, with which we have already made acquaintance. It rises in an all but waterless range of mountains on the edge of Carniola,​19 and flows, milk-white with its Alpine deposits, through the little Austrian county of Goritzia. Tagliamento and Livenza rise in 'blue Friuli's mountains,' and just before they reach the sea encircle the town of Concordia, with which we have also made acquaintance as the second Italian city which Attila destroyed. Rising among the mysterious Dolomites, and flowing through Cadore and Titian's country, then past Belluno and Treviso, comes a longer and more important river, the Piave. The shorter but lovely stream of the Brenta, rising within a few miles of Trient, and just missing the same Dolomite ancestry, washes with her green and rapid waters the walls of Bassano, full of memories of Ezzelin's tyrannies, and of a whole family of Volscian painters, and then, running within sight of Padua, empties her waters into the sea a few miles south of Venice.​20 Adige comes next, dear to the heart of the pedestrian traveller in South Tyrol, who has through many a mile of his pilgrimage towards Italy been cheered by the loquacious companion­ship of its waters, who has seen its tributary, the Eisach, swirling round the porphyry cliffs of Botzen, and the united stream rushing under the old battlemented bridge at Verona. Last and greatest of all, the Po, the Eridanus of the poets,​c rising under the shadow of Monte Viso, flowing  p164 nearly three hundred miles through the rich plain of Lombardy, and receiving in its course countless affluents from the southern gorges of the Alps and the northern face of the Apennines, empties its wealth of waters into the Adriatic about a dozen miles from the all but united mouths of the Brenta and the Adige. The Delta of this abundant, but comparatively sluggish river, projecting into the Adriatic Sea, makes a marked alteration in the Italian coast-line, and causes some surprise that such a Delta should not yet have received its Alexandria; that Venice to the north, and Ravenna to the south should have risen into greatness, while scarcely a village marks the exit of the Po.

These seven streams, whose mouths are crowded into less than eighty miles of coast, drain an area which, reckoning from Monte Viso to the Terglou Alps (the source of the Isonzo), must be 450 miles in length, and may average 200 miles in breadth, and this area is bordered on one side by the highest mountains in Europe, snow-covered, glacier-strewn, wrinkled and twisted into a thousand valleys and narrow defiles, each of which sends down its river or its rivulet to swell the great outpour.

For our present purpose, and as a worker out of Venetian history, Po, notwithstanding the far greater volume of his waters, is of less importance than the six other smaller streams that we named before him. Formation of the lidi and the lagune. He, carrying down the fine alluvial soil of Lombardy, goes on lazily adding foot by foot to the depth of his Delta, and mile by mile to its extent. They, swiftly hurrying over their shorter course from mountain to sea, scatter indeed many fragments, detached from their native rocks, over the first meadows which they meet with in  p165 the plain, but carry some also far out to sea, and then, behind the bulwark which they thus have made, deposit the finer alluvial particles with which they too are laden. Thus we get the two characteristic features of this ever-changing coastline, the lido and the laguna. The lido, founded upon the masses of rock, is a long, thin slip of terra firma which forms a sort of advanced guard of the land. The laguna, occupying the interval between the lido and the true shore, is a wide expanse of waters generally very few feet in depth, with a bottom of fine sand, and with a few channels of deeper water, the representatives of the forming rivers, winding intricately among them. In such a configuration of land and water the state of the tide makes a striking difference in the scene. And unlike the rest of the Mediterranean, the Adriatic does possess a tide, small it is true in comparison with the great tides of ocean, (for the whole difference between high and low water at the flood is not more than six feet, and the average flow is said not to amount to more than two feet six inches), but even this flux is sufficient to produce large tracts of sea which the reflux converts into square miles of oozy sand.21

Here, between sea and land, upon this detritus of the rivers, settled the Detritus of Humanity. The Gothic and the Lombard invasions contributed probably their share of fugitives, but fear of the Hunnish world-waster (whose very name, according to some, was derived from  p166 one of the mighty rivers of Russia)​22 was the great 'degrading' influence that carried down the fragments of Roman civilization and strewed them over the desolate lagunes of the Adriatic.

Allocation of the refugees among the villages by the lagunes. The inhabitants of Aquileia, or at least the feeble remnant that escaped the sword of Attila, took refuge at Grado. Concordia migrated to Caprularia (now Caorle). The inhabitants of Altinum, abandoning their ruined villas, founded their new habitations upon seven islands at the mouth of the Piave, which, according to tradition, they named from the seven gates of their old city — Torcellus, Maiurbius, Boreana, Ammiana, Constantiacum, and Anianum.​d The representatives of some of these names, Torcello, Mazzorbo, Burano, are familiar sounds to the Venetian at the present day. From Padua came the largest stream of emigrants. They left the tomb of their mythical ancestor, Antenor, and built their humble dwellings upon the islands of Rivus Altus and Methamaucus, better known to us as Rialto and Malamocco. This Paduan settlement was one day to be known to the world by the name of Venice. But let us not suppose that the future Queen of the Adriatic sprang into existence at a single bound like Constantinople or Alexandria. For 250 years, that is to say for eight generations, the refugees on the islands of the Adriatic prolonged an obscure and squalid existence, — fishing, salt-manufacturing, damming out the waves with wattled vine-branches, driving piles into the sand-banks;​23 and thus gradually extending  p167 the area of their villages. Still these were but fishing villages, loosely confederated together, loosely governed, poor and insignificant; so that the anonymous geographer of Ravenna, writing in the seventh century, can only say of them: 'In the country of Venetia there are some few islands which are inhabited by men.'​24 This seems to have been their condition, though perhaps gradually growing in commercial importance, until at the beginning of the eighth century the concentration of political authority in the hands of the first doge, and the recognition of the Rialto cluster of islands as the capital of the confederacy, started the Republic on a career of success and victory, in which for seven centuries she met no lasting check.

Cause of the safety of Venice. But this lies far beyond the limits of our present subject.​e It must be again said that we have not to think of 'the pleasant place of all festivity,' but of a few huts among the sand-banks, inhabited by Roman provincials, who mournfully recall their charred and ruined habitations by the Brenta and the Piave. The sea alone does not constitute their safety. If that were all, the pirate ships of the Vandal Gaiseric might repeat upon their poor dwellings all the terror of Attila. But it is in their amphibious life, in that strange blending of land and sea which is exhibited by the lagunes, that their safety lies. Only experienced pilots can guide a vessel of any considerable draft through the mazy channels of deep water which intersect these lagunes; and should they seem to be in imminent peril from the approach of an enemy, they will defend themselves, not like the Dutch by cutting  p168 the dykes which barricade them from the ocean, but by pulling up the poles which even those pilots need to indicate their pathway through the waters.

Contrast between Venice and her founder. There, then, engaged in their humble beaver-like labours, we leave for the present the Venetian refuges from the rage of Attila. But even while protesting, it is impossible not to let into our minds some thought of what those desolate fishing villages will one day become. The dim religious light, half-revealing the slowly-gathered glories of St. Mark's; the Ducal Palace — that history in stone; the Rialto, with its babble of many languages; the Piazza, with its flocks of fearless pigeons; the Brazen Horses; the Winged Lion; the Bucentaur; all that the artists of Venice did to make her beautiful, her ambassadors to make her wise, her secret tribunals to make her terrible; memories of these things must come thronging upon the mind at the mere mention of her spell-like name. Now, with these pictures glowing vividly before you, wrench the mind away with sudden effort to the dreary plains of Pannonia. Think of the moody Tartar, sitting in his log‑hut, surrounded by his barbarous guests, of Zercon gabbling his uncouth mixture of Hunnish and Latin, of the bath‑man of Onégesh, and the wool-work of Kreka, and the reed-candles in the village of Bleda's widow; and say if cause and effect were ever more strangely mated in history than the rude and brutal might of Attila with the stately and gorgeous and subtle Republic of Venice.

Venice, 'Europe's bulwark 'gainst the Ottomite.' One more consideration is suggested to us by that which was the noblest part of the work of Venice, the struggle which she maintained for centuries, really on behalf of all Europe, against the Turk. Attila's power  p169 was soon to pass away, but in the ages that were to come, another Turanian race was to arise, as brutal as the Huns, but with their fierceness sharp-pointed and hardened into a far more fearful weapon of offence by the fanaticism of Islam. These descendants of the kinsfolk of Attila were the Ottomans, and but for the barrier which, like their own murazzi against the waves, the Venetians interposed against the Ottomans, it is scarcely too much to say that half Europe would have undergone the misery of subjection to the organised anarchy of the Turkish Pachas. The Tartar Attila, when he gave up Aquileia and her neighbour cities to the tender mercies of his myrmidons, little thought that he was but the instrument in an unseen Hand for hammering out the shield which should one day defend Europe from Tartar robbers such as he was. The Turanian poison secreted the future antidote to itself, and the name of that antidote was Venice.

453 Alleged Gaulish campaign of Attila. Our narrative returns for a little space to the Pannonian home of Attila. Before the winter of 452 he had probably marched back thither with all his army. Jordanes tells us that he soon repented of his inactivity, as if it were a crime, and sent one of his usual blustering messages to Marcian, threatening to lay waste the provinces of the East unless the money promised by Theodosius were immediately paid. Notwithstanding this message, however, he really had his eyes fixed on Gaul, and burned to avenge his former defeat upon the Visigoths. The Alans, that kindred tribe now encamped on the southern bank of the Loire, seemed again to hold out some hope of facilitating his invasion. King Thorismund, however, detected the subtle schemes of Attila with equal subtlety, moved  p170 speedily towards the country of the Alans, whom he either crushed or conciliated, then met the Hunnish king in arms once more upon the Catalaunian plain, and again compelled him to fly defeated to his own land. 'So did the famous Attila, the lord of many victories, in seeking to overturn the glory of his conqueror, and to wipe out the memory of his own disgrace, bring on himself double disaster, and return inglorious home.'

Disbelieved by historians. By the unanimous consent of historians, this second defeat of Attila by the Visigoths is banished from the historical domain. The silence of all contemporary chroniclers, the strange coincidence as to the site of the battle, the obvious interest of the patriotic Goth to give his countrymen one victory over the Hun, of which neither Roman nor Frank could share the credit: these are the arguments upon which the negative judgment of historians is based, and they are perhaps sufficient for their purpose. It may be remarked, however, that the events assigned by the chroniclers to the year 453 do not seem absolutely to preclude the possibility of a Gaulish campaign, and that it is somewhat unsafe to argue against positive testimony from the mere silence even of far more exhaustive narrators than the annalists of the fifth century.

For the next scene, however, we have far more trustworthy authority, for here the words of Jordanes — 'ut Priscus refert' — assure us that we have again, though at second-hand, the safe guidance of our old friend the Byzantine ambassador.

Marriage with Ildico, It was in the year 453, the year that followed his Italian campaign, that Attila took to himself, in addition to all his other wives (and, as we have seen,  p171 his harem was an extensive one), the very beautiful damsel, Ildico. At the wedding-feast he relaxed his usual saturnine demeanour, drank copiously, and gave way to abundant merriment. Then when the guests were departed, he mounted the flight of steps that led up to his couch, placed high in the banqueting hall,​25 and there lay down to sleep the heavy sleep of a reveller. He had long been subject to fits of violent bleeding at the nose, and this night he was attacked by one of them. and death of Attila. But lying as he was upon his back in his deep and drunken slumber, the blood could not find its usual exit, but passed down his throat and choked him. The day dawned, the sun rose high in the heavens, the afternoon was far spent, and no sign was made from the nuptial chamber of the king. Then at length his servants, suspecting something wrong, after uttering loud shouts, battered in the door and entered. They found him lying dead, with no sign of a wound upon his body, the blood streaming from his mouth, and Ildico, with downcast face, silently weeping behind her veil. Such a death would, of course excite some suspicion — suspicion which one of the Eastern chroniclers​26 expanded into certainty — of the guilt of Ildico, who was probably regarded as the Jael by whose hand this new and more terrible Sisera had fallen. It is more probable, however, that the cause assigned by Jordanes, apparently on the authority of Priscus, is  p172 the true one, and that the mighty king died, as he says, a drunkard's death.​f

Marcian's dream. It seems to be a well-attested fact, and is a curious incidental evidence of the weight with which the thought of Attila lay upon the minds even of brave men, that on the same night in which he died, the stout-hearted Emperor of the East, Marcian, who had gone to sleep anxious and distressed at the prospect of a Hunnish invasion, had a dream in which he saw the bow of Attila broken. When he awoke he accepted the omen that the Huns, whose chief weapon was the bow, were to be no longer formidable to the Empire.

Attila's obsequies. In proportion to the hope of other nations was the grief of Attila's own people when they found that their hero was taken from them. According to their savage custom they gashed their faces with deep wounds,​27 in order that so great a warrior might be honoured by the flowing, not of womanish tears, but of manly blood. Then in the middle of the vast Hungarian plain they erected a lofty tent with silken curtains, under which the corpse of the great chieftain was laid. A chosen band of horsemen careered round and round the tent, like the performers in the Circensian games of the Romans, and as they went through their mazy evolutions they chanted a wild strain, rehearsing the high descent and great deeds of the departed. What the form of these Hunnish songs may have been, it is impossible to conjecture; but the thoughts, or at least some of the chief thoughts, have been preserved to us by Jordanes, and may perhaps, without unfitness, be  p173 clothed in metre, for in truth his prose here becomes almost metrical.

The Dirge of Attila

Mightiest of the Royal Huns,​28

Son of Mundzuk, Attila!

Leader of Earth's bravest ones,

Son of Mundzuk, Attila!

Power was thine, unknown before.

German-Land and Scythia bore,

Both, thy yoke. Thy terror flew

Either Roman Empery through.

O'er their smoking towns we bore thee,

Till, to save the rest, before thee,

Humbly both the Caesars prayed.

Thy wrath was soothed, and sheathed thy blade.

Slave-like​29 at thy feet they laid

Tribute, as their master bade,

The son of Mundzuk, Attila!

At the height of human power

Stood the chieftain, Attila.

All had prospered till that hour

That was wrought by Attila.

Thou diedst not by the foeman's brand,

Thou felt'st no dark assassin's hand,

All thy landsmen, far and wide,

Were safe from fear on every side.


In the midst of thy delight,

'Mid the joys of Wine and Night

Painless, thou hast taken flight

From thy brethren, Attila!

Shouldest thou thus have ended life,

With no pledge of future strife?

Thou art dead: in vain we seek

Foe on whom revenge to wreak

For thy life-blood, Attila!

The Interment. When the wild dirge was ended, the great funeral-feast, which they call the Strava,​30 was prepared, and the same warriors who but a few days before had been emptying great goblets of wine in honour of the marriage of Attila, now with the same outward semblance of jollity, celebrated his death. Even while the feast was proceeding, the dead body was being secretly consigned to the earth. It was enclosed in three coffins; the first of gold, the second of silver, the third of iron,​g to typify the wealth with which he had enriched his kingdom, and the weapons wherewith he had won it. Arms won from valiant foes, quivers studded with gems, and many another royal trinket, were buried with him. Then, as in the case of Alaric, in order to elude the avarice of future generations and keep the place of his burial secret for ever, the workmen, probably captives, who had been engaged in the task of his sepulture, were immediately put to death.

The Attila of Legend. As far as we know, the grave of Attila keeps its  p175 secret to this day. But his deeds had made an indelible mark on the imagination of three races of men — the Latin peoples, the Germans, and the Scandinavians; and in the ages of darkness which were to follow, a new and strangely-altered Attila, if we should not rather say three Attilas, rose as it were from his mysterious Pannonian tomb, gathered around themselves all kinds of weird traditions, and hovered ghost-like before the fascinated eyes of the Middle Ages. To trace the growth of this Attila-legend, however interesting the work might be as an illustration of the myth-creating faculty of half-civilized nations, is no part of my present purpose. Moreover, the task has been so well performed by M. Amédée Thierry in the last section of his Histoire d'Attila, that little remains for any later inquirer but simply to copy from him. It will be sufficient therefore to note as briefly as possible the chief characteristics of the different versions of the legend.

Latin Traditions. 1. The traditions of the Latin races, preserved and elaborated by ecclesiastics, naturally concerned themselves with the reluctant, or rather irreligious, aspect of his character. To them he is, therefore, the great Persecutor of the Fifth Century, the murderer of the eleven thousand virgins of Cologne, Flagellum Dei. but above all, he is the Flagellum Dei, the scourge of God, divinely permitted to set forth on his devastating career for the punishment of a world that was lying in wickedness. This title, 'Flagellum Dei,' occurs with most wearisome frequency in the mediaeval stories about Attila; and wheresoever we meet with it, we have a sure indication that we are off the ground of contemporaneous and authentic history, and have entered the cloud-land of  p176 ecclesiastical mythology. Later and wilder developments in this direction, attributed to him the title of 'grandson of Nimrod, nurtured in Engedi, by the grace of God King of Huns, Goths, Danes, and Medes, the terror of the world.' There may have been a tendency, as Mr. Herbert thinks, to identify him with the Anti-Christ of the Scriptures, but this is not proved, and is scarcely in accordance with the theological idea of Anti-Christ, who is generally placed in the future or in the present rather than in the past.

Teutonic Traditions. 2. Very unlike the semi-Satanic Attila of ecclesiastical legend is the Teuton's representative of the same personage, The Niebelungen Lied. the Etzel of the Niebelungen Lied. In the five or six centuries which elapsed between the fall of the Hunnish monarchy and the writing down of this poem, the German seems to have forgotten almost everything about his mighty lord and foe, except that he dwelt by the Danube, that there was glorious feasting in his palace, and that he had relations both in peace and war with the Burgundians and the Franks. Hence, in the Niebelungen Lied all that is distinctive in Attila's character disappears. He marries the Burgundian princess Kriemhilde, the widow of Siegfried, and at her request invites her kindred, the Niebelungs, to visit him in Hunland. There, good-nature and hospitality are his chief characteristics; he would fain spend all day in hunting and all night at the banquet; he is emphatically the commonplace personage of the story. True, it is in his hall that the terrible fight is waged for a long summer day between the Niebelungs and the Huns, till the floor is slippery with the blood of slaughtered heroes. But this is not his doing, but the doing of his wife, that terrible figure,  p177 the Clytemnestra or the Electra of the German tragedy, 'reaping the due of hoarded vengeance' for the murder of her girlhood's husband Siegfried. Her revenge and Hagen's hardness, and the knightly loyalty of Rudiger only serve to throw the genially vapid king of the Huns yet further into the background. This round and rubicund figure, all benevolence and hospitality, is assuredly not the thunder-brooding, sallow, silent Attila of history.

Scandinavian Traditions. 3. The Scandinavian Atli, the husband of Gudruna, is a much better copy of the original. Saga of the Niblungs. He himself is the cause of the death of the Niblung heroes, he plots and diplomatises and kills in order to recover the buried treasure of Sigurd, just as the real Attila moved heaven and earth for the recovery of Honoria's dowry or the chalices of Sirmium. Above all, the final scene in which he with a certain great calmness discusses, with the wife who has murdered him, the reason of her crime and appeals to her generosity to grant him a noble funeral, is not at all unlike what Attila might have said to Ildico, if the suspicion of the Byzantine courtiers had been correct, that he had met his death at her hand.

That the King of the Huns should be mentioned at all, far more that he should play so large a part in the national epic of the far‑distant Iceland, is a strange fact, and suggests two interesting explanations. First: the statement of the Western ambassadors to Priscus that Attila had penetrated even to the isles of the Ocean may have been more nearly true than one is disposed, at first, to think possible, and he may have really annexed Norway and Sweden (the 'island of Scanzia,' as Jordanes calls it) to his dominions.  p178 Second: throughout the early Middle Ages there was probably an extensive reciprocal influence between the literatures of the countries of Western Europe, especially a borrowing of plots and scenery and characters by the minstrels of various nations from one another, and it may have been thus that the fiction of the King of the Huns and his murdered guests travelled from the Danube to the North Sea. It seems a paradox, yet it is probably true that the thought of Austria had more chance of blending with the thought of Iceland in the days of the Skald and the Minnesingers than in the days of the Railroad and the Telegraph.

Hungarian imaginations about Attila, quite valueless for History. Another line of inventions rather than of traditions must be referred to, only to reject them as containing no valuable element for the historian or the archaeologist. The Magyars, a race of Turanian origin, and bound by certain ties of kindred to the Huns, entered Europe at the close of the 9th century, and established themselves in that country which has since been known as Hungary. As they slowly put off the habits of a mere band of marauders, as they became civilised and Christian, and as they thus awoke to historical consciousness, like a man sprung from the people who has risen to riches and honour, they looked about them for a pedigree. Such a pedigree was found for them by their ecclesiastics in an imagined descent from Attila, 'Flagellum Dei.' Little of course did they then foresee that their own noble deeds would furnish them with a far prouder escutcheon than any that even a genuine affinity to the great Marauder could bestow upon them. So, from the 11th to the 15th century a series of Magyar chroniclers, Simon Keza, Thurocz, Nicolaus Olahus, and others, made it their task to  p179 glorify the nation of the Hungarians by writing out the great deeds of Attila. There is no sufficient evidence that they were recording that which had been truly handed down, however vaguely, from their ancestors. On the contrary, there is everything to show that they were, as they supposed, embellishing, and certainly expanding the literary history of Attila by imaginations of their own. Inventions of this kind are valuable neither as fact nor as legend. They no more truly illustrate the history of Attila than the Book of Mormon illustrates the history of the Jews; and they probably reflect no more light on the genuine traditions of the Asiatic and heathen Magyars than is thrown by the 'Mort d'Arthur' on the thoughts of British minds in the days of Cassivelaunus and Boadicea. All this invented history should be sternly disregarded by the student who wishes to keep before his mind's eye the true lineaments of the great Hunnish warrior.

Resemblance between Attila and Napoleon. We return for a moment, in conclusion, to the true historic Attila, whose portrait, as painted by Priscus and Jordanes, has been placed, it may be with too great fulness of detail, before the reader. It is impossible not to be struck by a certain resemblance both in his character and in his career to those of the latest world-conqueror, Napoleon. Sometimes the very words used to describe the one seem as if they glanced off and hit the other. Thus a recent German historian​31 in an eloquent passage, contrasting the Hun and his great Roman antagonist, Aetius, says —

'Conspicuous above the crowd, the two claimants to the lordship of the world stood over against one another.  p180 Attila in his wild dream of building up a universal empire in the space of one generation: opposite to him the General of that Power which, in the course of a thousand years, had extended its dominions over three Continents, and was not disposed to relinquish them without a struggle. But in truth, the idea of a world-empire of the Huns had passed out of the sphere of practical politics even before the battle on the Catalaunian plains. Far and wide Attila enslaved the nations, but the more the mass of his subjects grew and grew, the more certain they were, in time, to burst the fetters which the hand of one single warrior, however mighty, had bound around them. With Attila's death at latest his empire must fall in ruins, whether he won or lost on the battle-field by Troyes. But the Roman would still stand, so long as its generals had the will and the power to hold it together.'

Do we not seem to hear in these words a description of Napoleon's position, sublime but precarious, when he was at the zenith of his glory? As the Hun led Scythia and Germany against Gaul, so the Corsican led Gaul and Germany against Scythia in the fatal campaign of 1812. The Kings of Saxony and Bavaria were his Ardaric and Walamir; Moscow his Orleans; Leipsic his 'Campus Mauriacensis.' He won his Honoria from an 'Emperor of the Romans,' prouder and of longer lineage than Valentinian. Like Attila, he destroyed far more than he could rebuild; his empire, like Attila's, lasted less than two decades of years; but, unlike Attila, he outlived his own prosperity. Of course, even greater than any such resemblance are the differences between the uncultured intellect of the Tartar chieftain, and the highly-developed  p181 brain of the great Italian-Frenchman who played with battalions as with chessmen, who thought out the new Paris, who desired 'to go down to posterity with his code in his hand.' But in their insatiable pride, in the arrogance which beat down the holders of ancient thrones and trampled them like the dust beneath their feet, in their wide-stretching schemes of empire, in the haste which forbade their conquests to endure, in the wonderful ascendancy over men which made the squalid Hun the instrument of the one, and the Jacobin of the other, and above all, in the terror which the mere sound of their names brought to fair cities and widely-scattered races of men, — in all these points no one so well as Napoleon explains to us the character and career of Attila.

The Author's Notes:

1 'Certaminis gaudia' (Jordanes, XXXIX).

2 Possibly there had intervened some slackening of the alliance or even actual dissensions between Ravenna and Toulouse. Jordanes says that Attila watched his opportunity in the departure of the Visigoths, and seeing, what he had often hoped for, his enemies divided into two parts, with a feeling of security moved forward his array for the destruction of the Romans. ('Attila vero nacta occasione de secessu Vesegotharum et, quod saepe optaverat, cernens hostium solutionem per partes, mox jam securus ad oppressionem Romanorum movit procinctum.'

3 Otherwise called the Natiso, now the Isonzo.

4 Mommsen thinks that the traffic in amber between Germany and Italy may be traced back as far as the times of the Roman kings. A silver coin of the Etrurian town, Populonia, of very early date, has been found, he says, 'on the old amber-route in the district of Posen' (Hist. of Rome, Book I, chap. 13).

5 Probably the ecclesiastical limits would so far agree with the political, that the portion of Illyricum which was assigned to the Eastern sceptre at the accession of Theodosius ceased before long to be within the obedience of the See of Aquileia. On the other hand Verona and the whole of Western Venetia were (possibly as some indemnification for this loss) transferred from the metropolitan jurisdiction of Milan to that of Aquileia, at the death of St. Ambrose or shortly after that event. Such at least is the conclusion of Count Maffei (Verona Illustrata, book X), who has carefully examined both the political and ecclesiastical relations of Aquileia with the Venetian province.

6 The sudden attack by which Theodosius wrested it from Maximus (388) was so completely a surprise that the city can hardly be deemed to have lost its character of impregnability thereby (see vol. I p467).

7 'Animadvertit candidas aves, id est ciconias, quae in fastigio domorum nidificant de civitate foetus suos trahere' (Jordanes, XLII).

8 It is important to remember the tradition that they had been guided into Europe by a hind, a somewhat similar kind of augury.

Thayer's Note: The passage of the Maeotian shallows, viewed as miraculous by the Huns, is described by Jordanes, chapter 24; Hodgkin provides a translation in I.243 f.

9 Told in the Historia Miscella, book XIV.

10 In the Academy of Sept. 3rd, 1881, there is a notice by F. Barnabei of the very interesting excavations by S. Bertolini in Concordia and its neighbourhood. Especially noteworthy must have been the great sarcophagi with their heavy lids, grouped on both sides of the Roman road which led to Aquileia and the East. 'In some places we see slabs that have been completely wrenched from their sarcophagi by means of levers; and in imagination we witness the desolating invasion of the ruthless Huns, who cared not one jot for the pains and penalties with which he who should desecrate the tombs was threatened, but broke them open in every direction in order to rifle the valuables which had been buried with the corpse.'

11 The distinction between the cities of Eastern Venetia and their Western neighbours, which is quite evident to any one at the present day who is in quest of Roman remains, is very clearly brought out by the Historia Miscella (Book XIV) which is here our best authority. 'Concordiam, Altinum sive (= et) Patavium vicinas Aquilejae civitates, illius instar demoliens solo coaequavit. Exinde per universas Venetiarum urbes, hoc est Vincentiam, Veronam, Brixiam, Pergamum, seu (= et) reliquas, nullo resistente, Hunni bacchabantur, Mediolanum Ticinumque pari sorte diripiunt, ab igne tamen abstinentes et ferro.

12 This story is preserved for us in the work — half dictionary, half encyclopaedia — of Suidas. Unfortunately his own date is so uncertain, and so many additions have been made to the original work, that it is quite impossible to say from external evidence whether this anecdote was committed to writing in the 5th century or at a much later period. Suidas relates it twice, once under the heading Κόρυκος and once under Μεδιόλανον. The former word, which signifies 'a sack' is of very infrequent occurrence, and it has been suggested that this is probably the cause of the preservation of the story.

13 This hint as to the feebleness of Aetius is to be found in Prosper of Aquitaine — 'Nihil duce nostro Aetio secundum prioris belli opera prospiciente; ita ut ne clusuris quidem Alpium quibus hostes prohiberi potuerant, uteretur; hoc solum spei suis superesse existimans, si ab omni Italiâ cum Imperatore discederet.'

14 We know, from a letter of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, that the grandfather of his Secretary Cassiodorus was sent on an embassy to Attila and obtained peace for Rome (Cassiodori Variarum, I.4). Some historians have perplexed themselves by trying to reconcile that account with this of the embassy of Leo and his two colleagues. But it seems much more probable that the embassy of the grandfather of Cassiodorus was an earlier one, perhaps one of the many relating to the vases of Sirmium. He was accompanied by Carpilio, son of Aetius, who, as we learn from Priscus (p179, Bonn edition), had passed many years as a hostage at Attila's court.

15 'Non videbis annos Petri,' the exhortation which is said to be addressed to each Pope on his accession, and which no Pope till Pius IX lived to falsify. The Pontificate of Leo I lasted only twenty‑one years.

16 This is the opinion of Maffei (Verona Illustrata, II.377, ed. 1825).

17 This is the opinion of Muratori (Annali d'Italia, III.154) and has also in its favour the authority of Andrea Dandolo (Doge of Venice, 1343‑1354), whatever that authority may be worth (And. Danduli Chronicon, book V, cap. 5, § 6).

18 Urbis et Orbis.

19 See a striking description of the upper valley of the Isonzo in 'The Dolomite Mountains,' by Gilbert and Churchill, p233.

20 The mouth of the Brenta was formerly just opposite to the island of Rialto. The Venetian canal-makers took the river round to Brondolo.

21 No reader of Ruskin's 'Stones of Venice' will need to be reminded of that magnificent chapter, 'The Throne,' at the commencement of the Second Volume, in which the influence of this Adriatic tide on the history and architecture of Venice, and the whole connection between the philosophical configuration and political development of the city, are worked out with inimitable clearness and force.

22 Etzel (= Attila) is said to have been the Tartar name of the Volga.

23 See the well-known letter of Cassiodorus, Praetorian Prefect under the successors of Theodoric the Ostrogoth: written probably about 537 (Variarum, XII.24).

24 'In patria vero Venetiae sunt aliquantae insulae quae hominibus habitantur' (V.25).

25 See Priscus' description quoted in the second chapter.

26 Marcellinus says 'Attila, king of the Huns, despoiler of the provinces of Europe, is [at the instigation of Aetius] stabbed in the night by the hand and dagger of a woman. Some, however, relate that he lost his life by a hemorrhage' ('sanguinis rejectione').

27 Compare the lines of Claudian quoted at the beginning of the second book.

28 As this translation is somewhat paraphrastic the original is subjoined. 'Praecipuus Hunnorum Rex Attila, patre genitus Mundzucco, fortissimarum gentium dominus, qui inauditâ ante se potentiâ solus Scythica et Germanica regna possedit, necnon utraque Romani orbis Imperia captis civitatibus terruit, et ne praedae reliquae subderentur, placatus precibus, annuum vectigal accepit. Cumque haec omnia proventu felicitatis egerit, non vulnere hostium, non fraude suorum, sed gente incolumi, inter gaudia laetus, sine sensu doloris occubuit. Quis ergo hunc dicat exitum, quem nullus aestimat vindicandum.'

29 This thought is taken from Attila's message to Theodosius by Orestes, quoted in the Second Chapter.

30 There is some doubt whether the word Strava does not mean the heap of arms and trophies of war which was sometimes raised over the body of a dead warrior; but here the emphasis laid on the obscurity of the burial-place seems to negative that interpretation. Ducange (Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitiatis) seems on other grounds to prefer the banquet-interpretation.

31 Professor Binding, Geschichte des Burgundisch-Romanischen Königreichs, p44.

Thayer's Notes:

a The reader who is merely mining webpages for some point of information will be mystified; others will remember Priscus' description of a banquet in Attila's palace in the previous chapter.

b Hodgkin will temper this statement in a later volume.

c Some poets, at any rate: but the identification of the semi-mythical Eridanus with the Po is far from unanimous. Setting aside Strabo, who says the Eridanus doesn't exist anywhere, it has been identified with at least nine rivers other than the Po (among them the Rhône and the Nile): for the details and not a few citations, see Allen's Star Names, pp215‑217.

d So Hodgkin, enumerating only six gates. I've been unable to find the name of the seventh gate, if such there were; and strongly suspect that "seven" is a garden-variety slip of the pen: in 19c Italian authors I find "sei porte di Altino"— e.g.Descrizione analitica delle chiese, monasteri e palazzi che esistono nella Venezia. . . (a guidebook published in Padua in 1853), p14, p18.

e Hodgkin will devote an entire chapter to the early history of Venice in Book IX.

f When I was a young man many years ago, faced with an unhappy situation, I intentionally got drunk by ingesting a fifth of gin (minus about half a cup: I'd bought the stuff for cooking sauerkraut), straight from the bottle, in about ten minutes. I remember the room starting to swirl around me (as I suddenly got it in my head to start dusting and cleaning house!) — and came to later, to find I'd passed out: by great good fortune, face down on the openings of a pair of sneakers. I did not, therefore, suffocate on my own vomit, and I lived. For what purpose, who knows: except maybe to be able to bring you this website and the equally cautionary tale of Attila.

g Though these three coffins are from Jordanes' account (xlix.258), I'm amazed that Hodgkin doesn't comment on them. It seems to me that the most elementary common sense has to consign this immediately to the realm of pure myth. Did Attila travel around with a golden coffin, or was one whipped up in a hurry?

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Page updated: 16 Sep 22