Rambling into history as a nation of mysterious origin, the Huns were a nomadic, multiracial and multilingual conglomeration of tribes. Whether their origin was on the European side of the Urals or from Turkic or Asiatic descent is left largely to rarely transcribed and sometimes confused oral history.
Tied to grazing, purposeless in regard to national goals, the Huns were a nation of loosely bound tribes in perpetual migration. Their warriors rode ahead of the women, who made their homes in skin-covered chariots overflowing with children and the pillage of victory.
Their long migrations were monotonous wanderings stimulated in spirit by endless songs paying reverence to nature. Above these songs rang out a steady cacophony of snorting horses and the cracking of whips.
Clad in the skins and furs of beasts, many of the Huns were characterized by somber, yellowish skin, long arms, large chests and narrow, slanted eyes with a dull glitter of mingled cunning and cruelty. Their warriors had skulls deformed in childhood by a wooden apparatus held fast by leather thongs. The scant beards of the warriors were the result of their cheeks having been seared with hot irons in their youth to retard the growth of facial hair.
They ate raw meat toughened by having been carried in pouches between their thighs or between the flanks of their horses. A portion of their nutrition came from drinking mares’ milk.
The weapons of the horde were considered unsophisticated and outlandish even in their own time. Their spirit as warriors was driven by a lust for rapid and sustained movement in pursuit of a paradise of glory filled with pillage and booty.
To the civilized world they were barbarians not far removed from wild animals in both appearance and life-style. The mere presence of the horde often instilled sufficient terror in the people of a region that they abandoned their villages without either resistance or subsequent reprisal.
Out of this perplexing and barbaric past rose one of the most formidable leaders the world has known: Attila, King of Huns.
He was born in a chariot somewhere in the valley of the Danube around the year A.D. 395. Attila was the son of King Mundzuk and could trace his ancestry some thirty-two generations. His was the family that maintained the integrity of the horde’s bloodline and distinctly Mongol characteristics.
Learning first to ride on the back of sheep, Attila later developed extraordinary skills of horsemanship. He also became superior in the use of the bow, lance, lariat, sword and whip. These were skills of tradition among his people and dutiful talents for one of noble rank.
He developed a strong sense of pride in his personal strength and a great disdain for the weak. His pride of strength was often publicly displayed on adventurous hunting expeditions, on which he captured wolves and bears in nets, then disemboweled them with a short dagger.
His strong bond and special relationship with his father was prematurely shortened upon King Mundzuk’s death while Attila was still a lad. Thereafter, he fell victim to the vicious mercies of his uncles, particularly Rugila, successor to King Mundzuk’s throne.
Attila’s open criticism of Rugila’s policy of entering the horde into the service of foreign nations, whom Attila thought the Huns could easily defeat, changed the course of his youth.
At twelve, Attila was sent as a child hostage to the Roman court of Honorius. In return, Rugila received a youth by the name of Aetius, in fulfillment of the exchange arrangement perpetuated by the Romans.
It was a sinister plan on the part of the empire. On the one hand, the empire taught hostages in its court the customs, traditions and pompous ways of its luxurious life—traits these young hostages would carry back to their own nation, thus serving to extend Roman influence into foreign lands. On the other hand, the youth sent as hostages by the empire greatly enhanced its espionage capabilities.
LEADERSHIP SECRETS OF AITILA THE HUN
Attila resisted the propaganda spewed at him by his Roman mentors. He personally rejected everything about them. Though he tried to ignite the spirit of resistance among the other child hostages, his attempts failed. On at least two occasions, Attila tried to escape. Failing to gain freedom, he prowled the palace as if he were a caged animal. His hatred for the empire’s policies and practices grew stronger day by day.
Captivity was a time of despair for the young Attila. He had been betrayed by the self-serving Rugila. He was lonely for the Hunnish homeland and customs more familiar to him.
Failing escape, Attila turned his attention to an intense study of the empire while outwardly ceasing to struggle against his hostage status. He studied the Romans’ internal and foreign policies. He often secretly observed them in diplomatic conference with foreign ministers. He studied the empire’s military, observing its strengths and vulnerabilities. He learned about leadership, protocol and other essentials suited to future rulers and diplomats from skilled Romans.
It was in the Roman court that Attila conceived his strategy to rule the world. His plan was methodical, extraordinarily precise. It was not the plan of a blundering half-wit.
While Attila was in the court of Honorius, Aetius, his lifelong nemesis, was serving similar time in the court of King Rugila.
Aetius was born into the family of Gaudentius, son of a German of Pannonia, who bore the titles “Master of the Horse” and “Count of Africa.” His relationship with his father was, as was Attila’s with his, abbreviated by his father’s death during a revolt of his own soldiers in Gaul.
During his period as a child hostage, Aetius developed a trusted relationship with King Rugila and other Hunnish nobles. Likewise, he became a scholar of the Huns—learning their customs, traditions and motives. They schooled him in the mastery of their weapons, taught him to hunt and to ride, providing the foundation from which Aetius would later deal with Attila at the Battle of Châlons.
On Attila’s return to the valley of the Danube, the tribes remained independent from political or military control by a central throne.
Attila began his rise to power by renewing and developing relationships with tribal chieftains. Much of this familiarization came through Attila’s many hunting expeditions throughout the Hunnish territories. He gained the loyalty of these chieftains through emotional appeal, arousing their warrior instincts and whetting their appetites for easily gained glory and pillage.
How Attila became king over the tribe in the valley of the Danube is said, by historical accounts, to be the result of his brother Bleda’s death during a hunt. A more romantic legend among the Huns gives his rise another origin.
According to this legend, on the death of Bleda, tribal leaders, gathered in mourning, argued over who would become their king. During this council a lad reported a flaming sword had just appeared in the midst of a nearby meadow. Following the lad to the meadow, the tribal chieftains watched in awe as the flaming sword jumped into Attila’s outstretched hands……
By Wess Roberts, Ph.D.