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Full Version: Why did Attila the Hun move so deep into Gaul?
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I'm a bit confused by Attila's strategy after he stopped making war on the Eastern Roman Empire. From what I understand, he had plans to attack the Visigoths in Gaul early in 450, but then Valentinian's sister Honoria offered her hand in marriage to Attila.
But instead of marching on Ravenna to make good on his claim, he went to Orleans for some reason and ended up getting into a losing battle at Châlons against Aetius and his allies in 451. After he was defeated at Châlons (and presumably his army was weakened considerably), he regained interest in Honoria and campaigned in Italy in 452.

But why didn't he just move into Italy in the first place? What did he really have to gain by attacking Orleans instead of Ravenna? If I'm not mistaken, his army was in the Pannonian Plain in 450... Italy was closer, and Gaul was pretty turbulent at the time what with the Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians et al on the move.
He had the Gall? :mrgreen:

Maybe a Northern base from which to mount an expedition? Because of the turmoil he maybe thought it was easy pickings? I am not sure but I am interested in this. I will look as well.
Sorry, I haven't got that far in researching and writing the book! :roll: I'm only up to the Vandal invasion of Africa at the moment. Once I've got that far, I'll join in!

Ian
Because he could.

M.VIB.M.
Italy had already seen some plundering maybe, or he rightly asssumed that Gaul was by no mean defended like Italy would have been. Had the Federates not aided Aetius, he would have been right.

Btw, I don't think he lost the battle near Orleans. It was a draw at best. Maybe it was a defeat to the Huns (especially their allies et al would realise Attila was not invincable), but the Huns were not defeated.
Quote:Italy had already seen some plundering maybe, or he rightly asssumed that Gaul was by no mean defended like Italy would have been. Had the Federates not aided Aetius, he would have been right.

I always thought Italy was poorly defended at that time. Didn't Geiseric waltz right through the gates of Rome unopposed a few years later?

Quote:Btw, I don't think he lost the battle near Orleans. It was a draw at best. Maybe it was a defeat to the Huns (especially their allies et al would realise Attila was not invincable), but the Huns were not defeated.

That's true, the Huns didn't suffer a tactical defeat, but they abandoned Gaul afterward.
Edward Gibbon puts it down to the political situation in Gaul. After detailing dozens of persons, events and peoples (which I have no idea how to summarise in less than 10,000 words), he says that Clodion, king of the Franks died. His younger son Meroveus…

Quote: was persuaded to implore the protection of Rome; he was received at the Imperial court, as the ally of Valentinian, and the adopted son of the patrician Aetius; and dismissed to his native country, with splendid gifts, and the strongest assurances of friendship and support. During his absence, his elder brother had solicited, with equal ardor, the formidable aid of Attila; and the king of the Huns embraced an alliance, which facilitated the passage of the Rhine, and justified, by a specious and honorable pretence, the invasion of Gaul.

Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Chapter 35

So basically, if I understand it right, Gibbon is saying that Attila wanted to support an ally, which would probably come in handy if he planned to later march on Rome. A subdued Gaul would also perhaps help secure his flank. Moreover, besides Honoria, he would have another excuse to threaten Rome: they supported the other brother against his man.

Edit: And here is another, from Bury. He says:

Quote:Attila longed to extend his sway to the shores of the Atlantic, and he would now be able to pretend that Gaul was the portion of Honoria...There was another consideration which urged him to a Gallic campaign. The King of the Vandals had sent many gifts to the King of the Huns and used all his craft to stir him up against the Visigoths. Gaiseric feared the vengeance of Theoderic for the shameful treatment of his daughter, and longed to destroy or weaken the Visigothic nation. We are told by a contemporary writer, who was well informed concerning the diplomatic intrigues at the Hun court, that Attila invaded Gaul "to oblige Gaiseric." But that was only one of his motives. Attila was too wary to unveil his intentions. It was his object to guard against the possibility of the co-operation of the Goths and Romans and he pretended to be friendly to both. He wrote to Tolosa that his expedition was aimed against the enemies of the Goths, and to Ravenna that he proposed to smite the foes of Rome.

Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, 9,4
Hi Justin,
Quote: I always thought Italy was poorly defended at that time. Didn't Geiseric waltz right through the gates of Rome unopposed a few years later?
Not exactly. Rome was undefended in 455 because Aetius, victor of 454, was murdered by Valentinian, who in turn was murdered because of that act. In the ensuing chaos afterwards, Gaiseric could make his move.

Hi David,
Quote: Edward Gibbon puts it down to the political situation in Gaul. [...] So basically, if I understand it right, Gibbon is saying that Attila wanted to support an ally, which would probably come in handy if he planned to later march on Rome. A subdued Gaul would also perhapks help secure his flan. Moreover, besides Honoria, he would have another excuse to threaten Rome: they supported the other brother against his man.
Bury says:
We are told by a contemporary writer, who was well informed concerning the diplomatic intrigues at the Hun court, that Attila invaded Gaul "to oblige Gaiseric." But that was only one of his motives.
I think that we simply do not know Attila's motives. Both Bury and Gibbon are clearly interpreting wildly, quoting tactical motives as well as strategic ones, down to gossip from the period itself. I think that even the Romans did not know it.

My best guess is that Attila did what he had done in previous years in the eastern Empire, namely raid deeply for plunder, when the Romans could not of refused to pay him. No more than that. Take the gold and as an alternative, take the plunder. I doubt very much that Attila had any plans for empire, unlike all the Germanic generals before and after him, who only wanted to take their place in the Roman world. Attila did not. His 'empire' crumbled immediately upon his death.
Yes, I agree that Gibbon and Bury were guessing. A more-or-less simple thirst for plunder is also a valid idea. But I'm curious about your idea that Attila didn't have any plans for empire (however we define that). Certainly he had some thought of continuity in his realm after his death, didn't he?
Perhaps he did not want to enter a peninsula where he could be feasably trapped by any armies unfriendly to him in the north and west?
Quote:But I'm curious about your idea that Attila didn't have any plans for empire (however we define that). Certainly he had some thought of continuity in his realm after his death, didn't he?
If you want an empire you need to give it structure. But the Huns never held any cities, from which an administration could organise things (unlike for instance the Mongols later). The Huns just held power over a number of subjects peoples, who broke away as soon as Atilla died.