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Bill Thayer

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Book II
Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a section 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,
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Book II
Chapter 4

Book 2 (continued)

Vol. II
Note B

On the Site of the so‑called Battle of Châlons

As such recent historians as Aschbach (Geschichte der Visigothen) and Thierry (Histoire d'Attila) place the site of the great battle at Châlons-sur‑Marne,a it may be well to show how little there is to support this view in the earliest authorities.

The place which we now call Châlons was probably under the Romans named Duro-Catalaunum. It was the chief place of the Catalauni, a tribe who dwelt next to the Suessiones. As in so many other parts of Gaul, the old tribal name has finally prevailed, and Duro-Catalaunum has become Châlons, as Lutetia Parisiorum is Paris, Augusta Suessionum, Soissons, and so on. In Roman miles (ten of which are about equal to nine English), and by the Roman roads, Châlons was 170 miles distant from Metz, and 51 from Troyes. Fanum Minervae, now La Cheppe, where the so‑called 'Camp of Attila' is to be found, is about ten miles to the north-east of Châlons 'as the crow flies,' but owing to the interposition of the river Vêle, seems to have been 55 miles by road (which went northwards to Rheims, and then returned on the other bank of the river to Châlons). This camp is square, of Roman origin, and was therefore certainly not constructed by Attila even if he encamped inside it.

We may now consider the words of the original authorities.

Jordanes says, 'They come together therefore at the Catalaunian plains, which are also called the Maurician plains, 100 Gaulish leagues in length and 70 in breadth.' ('Convenitur itaque in campos Catalaunicos qui et Mauricii nominantur C leugas ut Galli vocant in longum tenentes et LXX in latum.') These measurements would cover the whole space between 48°  p144 and 50° N. latitude, and 3° and 5° E. longitude, or a district at least equal to the old French province of Champagne.

Gregory of Tours says (II.7), 'Aetius and Theodore put Attila to flight [from Orleans], and he, going to the Mauriac plain, arrays his troops for battle.' ('Attilam fugant qui Mauriacum campum adiens se praecingit ad bellum.') Here we have no mention of the Catalaunian, but only of the Mauriac plain.

Idatius (28th year of Theodosius II) puts the battle 'in the Catalaunian plains not far from the city of Metz which the Huns had broken up' ('in campis Catalaunicis haud longè de civitate quam effregerant Mertis'). This statement is evidently quite wide of the mark, and shows that the Gallician bishop had such vague notions of the geography of north-eastern Gaul that we cannot safely accept his guidance.

The continuer of Prosper gives the most precise details: 'The battle was fought at the fifth milestone from Troyes, at a place called Maurica in Champagne.' ('Pugnatum est in quinto milliario de Trecas,º loco nuncupato Mauricâ in Campaniâ.)

Now when we look (1) at the exceedingly wide range which, as we see from Jordanes, was given to the term Campi Catalaunici; (2) at the persistent reference to Campus Mauriacus or some similar name as the field of battle; (3) at the fact that there is still existing a place called Mery-sur‑Seine, which may fairly be supposed to represent the ancient Mauriacum; (4) at the situation of this place, not indeed at the fifth milestone from Troyes, apparently about twenty miles distant from it, but situated in a plain which may very probably have been called the Campus Mauriacensis, and may have extended to the fifth milestone from Troyes; (5) at the great strategical importance of Troyes, placed at the centre of a perfect cobweb of roads, in the Roman time as well as now, and commanding apparently the passage of at least one important river; considering all these facts and comparing them with the authorities, we must, as it appears to me, accept the conclusion that the battle was fought near to Mery-sur‑Seine, but upon widely extended lines, and that it may easily have rolled over into what were properly called the Catalaunian plains (the Catalauni being the next tribe to the Tricasses), though it cannot have extended as far as the modern Châlons-sur‑Marne, which was two days' march from the field of battle.

 p145  It will be observed that this argument represents the conclusion to which we are brought by a simple consideration of the language of the chroniclers, and is wholly independent of the interesting discoveries day by day in the Mémoire of M. Peigné Delacourt to which reference is made in the text.

[Von Wietersheim takes the same view as to the site of the battle.]

Thayer's Note:

a Now Châlons-en‑Champagne.

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