Attila the Hun Portraits

01
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Collection of book jackets cover showing Attila the Scourge of God.

Collection of book jackets cover showing Attila the Scourge of God.
Image ID: 497940 Attila, the scourge of God. (1929) Collection of book jackets; this cover showing Attila the Scourge of God. NYPL Digital Gallery

Attila was the fierce 5th century leader of the barbarian group known as the Huns who struck fear in the hearts of the Romans as he plundered everything in his path, invaded the Eastern Empire and then crossed the Rhine into Gaul. For this reason, Attila was known as the Scourge of god (flagellum dei). He is also known as Etzel in the Nibelungenlied and as Atli in Icelandic sagas.

02
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Attila the Hun

Image ID: 1102729 Attila, King of the Huns / J. Chapman, sculp. (March 10, 1810)
Image ID: 1102729 Attila, King of the Huns / J. Chapman, sculp. (March 10, 1810). NYPL Digital Gallery

Portrait of Attila

Attila was the fierce 5th century leader of the barbarian group known as the Huns who struck fear in the hearts of the Romans as he plundered everything in his path, invaded the Eastern Empire and then crossed the Rhine into Gaul. Attila the Hun was king of the Huns from 433 - 453 A.D. He attacked Italy, but was dissuaded from attacking Rome in 452.

03
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Attila and Leo

Raphael's The Meeting between Leo the Great and Attila
Raphael's "The Meeting between Leo the Great and Attila". Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A painting of the meeting between Attila the Hun and Pope Leo.

There is more mystery about Attila the Hun than just the one about how he died. Another mystery surrounds the reason Attila turned back on his plan to sack Rome in 452, after conferring with Pope Leo. Jordanes, the Gothic historian, relates that Attila was indecisive when the pope approached him to seek peace. They talked, and Attila turned back. That's it.

"Attila's mind had been bent on going to Rome. But his followers, as the historian Priscus relates, took him away, not out of regard for the city to which they were hostile, but because they remembered the case of Alaric, the former king of the Visigoths. They distrusted the good fortune of their own king, inasmuch as Alaric did not live long after the sack of Rome, but straightway departed this life. (223) Therefore while Attila's spirit was wavering in doubt between going and not going, and he still lingered to ponder the matter, an embassy came to him from Rome to seek peace. Pope Leo himself came to meet him in the Ambuleian district of the Veneti at the well-travelled ford of the river Mincius. Then Attila quickly put aside his usual fury, turned back on the way he had advanced from beyond the Danube and departed with the promise of peace. But above all he declared and avowed with threats that he would bring worse things upon Italy, unless they sent him Honoria, the sister of the Emperor Valentinian and daughter of Augusta Placidia, with her due share of the royal wealth."
Jordanes The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, translated by Charles C. Mierow

Michael A. Babcock studies this event in his Solving the Murder of Attila the Hun. Babcock does not believe there is evidence that Attila had ever been in Rome before, but he would have been aware there was great wealth to plunder. He also would have known it was virtually undefended, but he walked away, anyway.

Among the most satisfactory of Babcock's suggestions is the idea that Attila, who was superstitious, was afraid that the fate of the Visigothic leader Alaric (the Alaric curse) would be his once he sacked Rome. Shortly after the sack of Rome in 410, Alaric lost his fleet to a storm and before he could make other arrangements, he died suddenly.

04
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Feast of Attila

Mór Than's painting The Feast of Attila, based on a fragment of Priscus.
Mór Than's painting, "The Feast of Attila," based on a fragment of Priscus. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Feast of Attila, as Mór Than (1870) painted it, based on the writing of Priscus. The painting is at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest.

Attila was the fierce 5th century leader of the barbarian group known as the Huns who struck fear in the hearts of the Romans as he plundered everything in his path, invaded the Eastern Empire and then crossed the Rhine into Gaul. Attila the Hun was king of the Huns from 433 - 453 A.D. He attacked Italy, but was dissuaded from attacking Rome in 452.

05
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Atli

Atli (Attila the Hun) in an illustration to the Poetic Edda.
Atli (Attila the Hun) in an illustration to the Poetic Edda. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Attila is also called Atli. This is an illustration of Atli from the Poetic Edda.

In Michael Babcock's The Night Attila Died, he says Attila's appearance in The Poetic Edda is as a villain named Atli, bloodthirsty, greedy, and a fratricide. There are two poems from Greenland in the Edda that tell the story of Attila, called the Atlakvida and the Atlamal; respectively, the lay and the ballad of Atli (Attila). In these stories, Attila's wife Gudrun kills their children, cooks them up, and serves them to her husband in revenge for his killing her brothers, Gunnar and Hogni. Then Gudrun fatally stabs Attila.

06
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Attila the Hun

Attila in the Chronicon Pictum
Attila in the Chronicon Pictum. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Chronicon Pictum is a medieval illustrated chronicle from 14th century Hungary. This portrait of Attila is one of 147 pictures in the manuscript.

Attila was the fierce 5th century leader of the barbarian group known as the Huns who struck fear in the hearts of the Romans as he plundered everything in his path, invaded the Eastern Empire and then crossed the Rhine into Gaul. Attila the Hun was king of the Huns from 433 - 453 A.D. He attacked Italy, but was dissuaded from attacking Rome in 452.

07
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Attila and Pope Leo

Miniature of Attila meeting Pope Leo the Great. 1360.
Miniature of Attila meeting Pope Leo the Great. 1360. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Another picture of the meeting of Attila and Pope Leo, this time from the Chronicon Pictum.

The Chronicon Pictum is a medieval illustrated chronicle from 14th century Hungary. This portrait of Attila is one of 147 pictures in the manuscript.

There is more mystery about Attila the Hun than just the one about how he died. Another mystery surrounds the reason Attila turned back on his plan to sack Rome in 452, after conferring with Pope Leo. Jordanes, the Gothic historian, relates that Attila was indecisive when the pope approached him to seek peace. They talked, and Attila turned back. That's it. No reason.

Michael A. Babcock studies this event in his Solving the Murder of Attila the Hun. Babcock does not believe there is evidence that Attila had ever been in Rome before, but he would have been aware there was great wealth to plunder. He also would have known it was virtually undefended, but he walked away, anyway.

Among the most satisfactory of Babcock's suggestions is the idea that Attila, who was superstitious, was afraid that the fate of the Visigothic leader Alaric (the Alaric curse) would be his once he sacked Rome. Shortly after the sack of Rome in 410, Alaric lost his fleet to a storm and before he could make other arrangements, he died suddenly.

08
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Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun. Clipart.com

A modern version of the great Hun leader.

Edward Gibbon's description of Attila from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 4:

"His features, according to the observation of a Gothic historian, bore the stamp of his national origin; and the portrait of Attila exhibits the genuine deformity of a modern Calmuck; a large head, a swarthy complexion, small deep-seated eyes, a flat nose, a few hairs in the place of a beard, broad shoulders, and a short square body, of nervous strength, though of a disproportioned form. The haughty step and demeanour of the king of the Huns expressed the consciousness of his superiority above the rest of mankind; and he had a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired. yet this savage hero was not inaccessible to pity; his suppliant enemies might confide in the assurance of peace or pardon; and Attila was considered by his subjects as a just and indulgent master. He delighted in war; but, after he had ascended the throne in a mature age, his head, rather than his hand, achieved the conquest of the North; and the fame of an adventurous soldier was usefully exchanged for that of a prudent and successful general."

09
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Bust of Attila the Hun

Bust of Attila the Hun
Bust of Attila the Hun. Clipart.com

Attila was the fierce 5th century leader of the barbarian group known as the Huns who struck fear in the hearts of the Romans as he plundered everything in his path, invaded the Eastern Empire and then crossed the Rhine into Gaul.

Edward Gibbon's description of Attila from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 4:

"His features, according to the observation of a Gothic historian, bore the stamp of his national origin; and the portrait of Attila exhibits the genuine deformity of a modern Calmuck; a large head, a swarthy complexion, small deep-seated eyes, a flat nose, a few hairs in the place of a beard, broad shoulders, and a short square body, of nervous strength, though of a disproportioned form. The haughty step and demeanour of the king of the Huns expressed the consciousness of his superiority above the rest of mankind; and he had a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired. yet this savage hero was not inaccessible to pity; his suppliant enemies might confide in the assurance of peace or pardon; and Attila was considered by his subjects as a just and indulgent master. He delighted in war; but, after he had ascended the throne in a mature age, his head, rather than his hand, achieved the conquest of the North; and the fame of an adventurous soldier was usefully exchanged for that of a prudent and successful general."

10
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Attila Empire

Attila Map
Attila Map. Public Domain

A map showing the empire of Attila and the Huns.

Attila was the fierce 5th century leader of the barbarian group known as the Huns who struck fear in the hearts of the Romans as they plundered everything in their path, invaded the Eastern Empire and then crossed the Rhine into Gaul.

When Attila and his brother Bleda inherited the empire of the Huns from their uncle Rugilas, it extended from the Alps and Baltic to the Caspian Sea.

In 441, Attila captured Singidunum (Belgrade). In 443, he destroyed towns on the Danube, then Naissus (Niš) and Serdica (Sofia), and took Philippopolis. He then destroyed imperial forces in Gallipoli. He later went through the Balkan provinces and into Greece, as far as Thermopylae.

Attila's advance in the west was checked at the 451 Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (Campi Catalauni), thought to be in Chalons or Troyes, in eastern France. The forces of Romans and Visigoths under Aetius and Theodoric I defeated the Huns under Attila for the only time.