Attila the Hun: a Really Nice Guy, Actually


Fri, Feb 10th, 2012 20:00 by capnasty NEWS

Well, not quite the chap I'd have a cup of tea with or trust to feed my kitty while I'm on vacation, but at least according to The Smithsonian Magazine's Mike Dask of the Past Imperfect section, Attila sounds like he was a little more decent than any other ruthless barbarian of its time. Or a modern capitalist.

For one thing, the barbarian leader was, for the most part, a man of his word -- by the standards 0f his time, at least. For years, he levied annual tribute from the Roman Empire, but while the cost of peace with the Huns was considerable -- 350 pounds of solid gold a year in 422, rising to 700 in 440 and eventually to 2,100 in 480 -- it did buy peace. While the tribute was paid, the Huns were quiet. And though most historians agree that Attila chose not to press the Romans harder because he calculated that it was far easier to take their money than to indulge in risky military action, it is not hard to think of examples of barbarians who extracted tribute and then attacked regardless -- nor of leaders (Æthelred the Unready springs to mind) who paid up while secretly plotting to massacre their tormentors. It might be added that Attila was very much an equal-opportunity sort of barbarian. "His main aim," notes Goldsworthy, "was to profit from plunder during warfare and extortion in peacetime."

More compelling, perhaps, is the high regard that Attila always placed on loyalty. A constant feature of the diplomatic relations he maintained with both the Eastern and the Western portions of the Roman Empire was that any dissident Huns found in their territories should be returned to him. In 448, Attila showed himself ready to go to war against the Eastern Empire for failing to comply with one of these treaties and returning only five of the 17 Hun turncoats that the king demanded. (It is possible, that the other dozen fled; our sources indicate that the fate of those traitors unlucky enough to be surrendered to Attila was rarely pleasant. Two Hun princes whom the Romans handed over were instantly impaled.)

The above image is from Attila the Hun's Wikipedia page.



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