Rome Halts the Huns

For years, the unstoppable Attila sacked city after city until a Germanic-Roman alliance halted the Huns in A.D. 451. The victory underlined a hard truth for the tottering empire: The barbarian threat could only be held at bay with the help of other barbarians.

Everybody may know the name “Attila the Hun,” but nobody knows where he’s buried. Finding him would be quite the prize, since historic accounts of his funeral are impressive: Attila’s body was reportedly entombed in a gold coffin, which was then placed in a silver coffin, which was in turn placed in an outer coffin of iron, a fitting burial for the most feared man of the fifth century.

Much of Attila’s infamy comes from his relentless campaign westward into Europe where he pillaged the riches of the Roman Empire. But he was stopped by a confederation of Roman soldiers and Germanic tribes. Defeating the great Attila might seem to be a sign of Rome’s strength, but many historians believe this moment reveals Rome’s true weakness, brought on by centuries of imperial mismanagement and overextension.

Relations between the later Roman Empire and the barbarian tribes that massed on its northern border have been commonly portrayed as a straightforward, mutual hostility. In reality, the complex relationship between Rome and its neighbors grew more interconnected through the third and fourth centuries A.D.

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