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Review: A history of Attila and the Huns

Edward Arthur Thompson

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A history of Attila and the Huns

The book “A history of Attila and the Huns” by Edward Arthur Thompson was written in 1948 and aimed to bring the history of the Huns closer and tell the relationship between the Roman Empire and this warlike and nomadic people in the years 370-470 CE.

Largely thanks to Peter Heather, the book was republished in the late 1990s. This famous British historian – despite the death of the author – undertook the difficult task of analyzing the theses and materials contained in the original book, and then juxtaposing it with the latest information, discoveries, and analyses of researchers around the world. The result of this hard work is an extraordinary position, which the PIW Publishing House in Poland decided to publish.

The Polish edition of the book is very good – hardcover, elegant paper, and clear font. The beginning of the position is two illustrations and, of course, the author’s introduction. The book is divided into eight chapters, in which the author separately focuses on, among others, sources mentioning the Huns, their history and origin, the times of Attila, relations with the Western Roman and Eastern Roman Empires, and the description of the Hun community. There is a bibliography at the end of the book with an index, appendices, and footnotes. Unfortunately, the disadvantages include the fact that footnotes are placed at the end of the book, which in my opinion is a great discomfort for the reader when he wants to reach for more materials.

The book is very valuable and is certainly an invaluable compendium of knowledge about the Huns and their influence on Rome and Constantinople. The author clearly debates with the previous conviction about Attila’s eminence as a leader and diplomat; comparing him to Genghis Khan, among others. Moreover, there are claims that the Huns were not the main factor leading to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Huns, in fact, launched a massive invasion on the borders of the Empire, but their continued presence on the Danube to some extent balanced forces and delayed the dissolution of the Roman state into separate kingdoms. In addition, the Huns, over several decades, appeared both on the side of the aggressors and fought in the Roman army as mercenaries. This is largely due to the false diplomacy of the Huns, as well as the lack of coordination of their actions. Attila largely became an agent who sought to centralize power and supervise the actions of various barbarian peoples.

The author also presents his opinion about the Huns, whom he clearly compares to a kind of robbers who used their subordinate peoples to provide armies, and food and take care of the field. In return, they gave practically nothing. What’s more, there are many descriptions of their actions – conquering and plundering cities, murdering people, aggression, and trying to force concessions from the Romans living in the west and east. A great underline of how weak the confederation of tribes was under Attila’s rule is the fact that after his death the entire Empire was immediately divided. Moreover, his sons either became local warlords or most likely enjoyed the charms of life at the court in Constantinople.

The book is a real treasury of knowledge and information about the times of the end of the 4th and the entire 5th-century CE. in the history of the Romans and the Huns. The author provides a multitude of accounts and descriptions from the best-preserved sources, which he additionally tries to analyze and confront. I would highly recommend it.

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