Ferocious warriors of the wild steppes, the Huns are a nomadic, raiding culture who live for the thrill of battle.

Although mentioned by Western sources as early as the second century CE, the Huns would only begin to exert real influence in Europe from the late fourth century until the middle of the fifth century, as they gradually took control of the eastern and central European steppes, going so far as to pose a direct threat to the Roman Empire.

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At present, there is no consensus about their origins. Researchers believe that they could have been Turkish, Ugrian, Mongol, or even related to the Xiongnu of central Asia. Written and archaeological sources confirm, however, that they were a nomadic people that traveled on horseback and came from the steppe, living primarily off their herds. The military tactics of these formidable horse archers was mainly based on rapid surprise attacks followed by an abrupt retreat. After crossing the Volga River in 375, they brought about the collapse of the Gothic kingdom of Ermanaric before continuing west to establish a kingdom around the Danube. This brutal advance resulted in waves of displaced peoples (Visigoths, Vandals, Alans, etc.) known as the “Migration Period.” At the turn of the fifth century, they attacked the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire and the Sasanians of Persia. Under Attila, the Huns reached the height of their power and became a constant menace to the Roman emperors, who were forced to pay heavy tributes to prevent attacks. Attila launched a campaign to conquer the Roman territories in the West, but was defeated in Gaul during the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451. Just one year later, however, he laid waste to the Po Valley before suddenly withdrawing his forces following a meeting with Pope Leo the Great. After his death in 453, the Hunnic Empire disintegrated.

Did you know?

Attila’s reputation as the “Scourge of God” was not used by his contemporaries but by medieval clerics, who described him in their chronicles as an instrument of God sent to punish men for their sins.