How Did Attila the Hun Die?

How did the warrior really die?

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

Atilla the Hun reigned between the years 434-453 CE, a time when the Roman Empire was struggling with leadership and having difficulty managing its far-flung territories. The combination of Atilla's might and Rome's troubles proved lethal: Attila was able to conquer many of Rome's territories and, finally, Rome itself.

Attila the Warrior

The military leader of a nomadic group called the Huns, he was able to bring together multiple tribes of warriors to create vast armies.

His ferocious troops would sweep in, decimate whole cities, and claim the territory for their own.

Within just ten years, Attila went from leading a group of nomadic tribesmen to leading a (short-lived) Hunnite Empire. When he died in 453 CE, his empire stretched from central Asia across to modern-day France and the Danube Valley. While Attila's achievements were tremendous, his sons were unable to carry on in his footsteps. By 469 CE, the Hunnite Empire had broken apart.

Attila's defeat of Roman cities was due, in part, to his ruthlessness but also, in part, to his willingness to make and break treaties. When dealing with the Romans, Attila was able to force concessions and then attack, leaving devastation behind him and taking prisoners as slaves.

Attila's Death

Sources differ on the exact circumstances of Attila's death, but it seems clear that he died on his wedding night. He had just married a young woman named Ildico and celebrated with great feasting.

In the morning, he was found dead in his bed, having choked on his own blood. It is possible that Attila was assassinated by his new wife (in a conspiracy with Marcian, Emperor of the East). It is also possible that he died accidentally as a result of alcohol poisoning or esophageal hemorrhage. The most probable cause, as suggested by the historian Priscus, is a burst blood vessel.

After his death, says Priscus of Panium, "they [the men of the army] had cut their long hair and slashed their cheeks "so that the greatest of all warriors should be mourned not with tears or the wailing of women but with the blood of men."  Attila was buried in three coffins, one inside the other; the outer one was iron, the middle once was silver, and the inner one was gold. According to legends of the time, Attila's body was buried, and those who buried him were killed so that his burial place would not be revealed.

Though some have claimed to have discovered Attila's tomb, those claims have proven to be false. To date, no one knows where Attila the Hun is buried. One unverified story suggests that his followers diverted a river, buried Attila, and then allowed the river to return to its course. If that were the case, then Attila the Hun still lies safely buried under a river in Asia.