Sat. Feb 29th, 2020

The barbaric death of Attila

One will always remember Attila with the impassive face of Jack Palance. The actor played it in a Douglas Sirk film that I saw when I was little and since then the Hungarian king survives in memory with the same expressiveness as a Romanesque capital. The Scourge of God, and especially of the Roman legions, woke me up the same fascination that causes the incomprehensible and those indomitable forces of nature that seem to be born to overwhelm everything. His name encouraged that kind of admiration that any child feels towards men who are capable of defeating an empire and then capitulate in the presence of a simple elder (Pope Leo the Great, in 452, remember?). He instilled the respect that accompanies those who commit the greatest vesanias and then reach redemption with an unforeseen gesture destined to remain in History.

The halo around his figure did not last long despite his fame. Childhood imagination is impressionable, but it also has a high conception of justice. His myth immediately gave way to the discovery of his numerous cruelties. In the year 444 he murdered Bleda, his brother, without any sign of mercy, to proclaim himself a unique king, something unprecedented in his people, which had always been ruled by several monarchs, which also must not have too much background. A Roman ambassador, Prisco, recalled in a story how years after Attila devastated the settlements of Nis and Belgrade, the bones of the dead could still be recognized in the streets. At this point the loyalties of that child, fascinated by everything he did not understand, had changed sides and the affinities that were left on the side of his hordes now bowed steadily on the part of his adversaries.

Attila died as he lived: barbarously. He died with the same disproportion he used in the war and his conquest campaigns: it ravaged the empire of the East and then cemented that fame at the expense of the West. Only Aecio temporarily stopped him in the Catalonian Fields with a variocy coalition of Germanic tribes, which also had to be a troop worth seeing. A victory with mystical banner, of struggle between good and evil, as a kind of apocalypse in advance that cost 30,000 souls. It is considered one of the bloodiest and hardest battles of antiquity. Something like Helm’s chasm but without orcs or elves.

The Roman general attracted him there and defeated him using enormous efforts. The priests had warned Attila of his defeat if he accepted that encounter with his adversary, but he also came, because it should not be precisely an easy spirit to impress with the augury of four old ones. In the end, as predicted, he saved the skin by the minimum, although the reality, to be honest with the truth, is that Aecio let him escape. He thought that his existence and the fear he inspired would ensure the fidelity of the rest of the barbarian contingents settled in the Roman Empire: he did not know that sometimes following logic is the least rational thing to do.

Drowned in his own blood

Attila, who was not a three-to-a-quarter guy, and who, despite his poor physical attractiveness, was not to lack charisma, it didn’t take long to gather another army. In his new ride he took revenge for that defeat and gave even more sparkle to his legend. In that march, the saying that where he stepped on his horse did not grow back the grass ceased to be an exaggeration to be something precise.

What the sword could not kill, the wine got. Attila died of a nosebleed during his wedding celebration, an outcome that no one would expect from him. He had married a young woman named Ildico that the chronicles would lack, they describe as a girl of great beauty. The link was celebrated in style and with the excesses that anyone can expect from a Hungarian warrior. When he met his wife, he had conceived a new meaning to the concept of drunkenness. It is unknown if he had the opportunity to fulfill his marital duties, although due to the state of drunkenness we must assume that he did not. But he fell collapsed on the bed more tight than an English institute in Magaluf and died there lying, drowned in his own blood before the eyes of his terrified wife.

When his soldiers, worried about the prolonged wedding night, entered his bedroom, knocking down the door, as it should be, they found him bleeding and the newly married kneeling at his feet, we assume that he was devastated or, at least, at the limit of a nervous attack. As, according to tradition, “Hungarian kings are never cried with tears, but with the blood of their warriors,” their soldiers pulled steel and began to lacerate their faces, as indicated by custom, and tear their hair. Then they proceeded to his funeral: they washed the body and deposited it in a tent raised with silk. Their exploits were sung for a whole day and riders galloped around them. At nightfall we proceeded to a unique tradition, the Estrava. A banquet where he ate, drank, remembered the deceased, was offered by him, recounted his deeds and passed from laughter to tears without saving any intermediate point.

At the conclusion of the feast, they deposited the body in a gold coffin. This in a silver coffin and this one, in turn, inside another iron. Gold represented the sun; the silver, the moon and the iron, which had dominated the world by the force of the sword. A symbolic imaginary that nobody would expect in some barbarians. Then he was buried in a tomb and then he proceeded to kill the slaves who had built it so that the rest of Attila, king of the Huns, was never desecrated. Today, his burial has not yet been found and his discovery continues to be one of the pending challenges for archeology and historians.


«Empires and barbarians. The war in the dark age »(Desperta Ferro), by José Soto Chica


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