Who was Attila the Hun? Attila the Hun is often called history's first great terrorist, and the most prolific killer of the Early Middle Ages. But the facts about Attila's life are much more complicated than that. Born into the royalty of a small but ambitious steppe tribe, Attila and his brother Bleda were groomed for a life of combat. They ascended to control the Hunnic Empire, and were soon at war with Rome.
Information on Attila the Hun is hard to come by and often biased. We know he was an innovative general feared by his enemies, but did you know that his conquests were instrumental in founding the city of Venice? Or that one of his greatest invasions started with a possibly fraudulent marriage proposal? Or that accounts of the time said that St. Peter himself came from Heaven to negotiate a piece with the Huns?Here are some facts you probably have never heard about Attila the Hun, interesting Attila the Hun trivia, and other biographical information about the greatest conqueror of his time, and a legendary warrior even today.
Little Is Known About His Birth or Early Life
Despite being one of the most important figures of the Early Middle Ages, historians agree on little regarding Attila's birth or youth. He was likely born in 406 CE in Pannonia, a province of the Roman Empire that now comprises part of several Balkan countries. His father was Mundzuck, a powerful Hunnic chieftain, and his mother's identity is unknown. He had at least one brother named Bleda - a vitally important figure in his life.
His Birth Name Likely Wasn't "Attila"
Like Genghis Khan being born Temujin 800 years later, Attila was born with a different name than the one we commonly know him as. Unlike the great Khan, Attila's birth name is lost to history. Scholars disagree on the origin of the name he was eventually known by, but most agree that "Attila" is a Germanic adaptation of the nickname "little father" - indicating Attila carried on his father Mundzuk's conquests. The actual Hunnic language is lost, with only a few words being known.
Nobody Knows for Sure What Attila Looked Like
As with most Middle Ages figures, we have no first-hand accounts of Attila's appearance. The closest description is second-hand hearsay from 6th century Roman historian Jordanes, who cites the work of another Roman historian, Attila's contemporary Priscus. This work, History of Byzantium, describes Attila as "short of stature, with a broad chest and a large head; his eyes were small, his beard thin and sprinkled with grey; and he had a flat nose and tanned skin."
He Was Born Into Hunnic Royalty
While there's little reliable information about Attila's upbringing, we know he was born into an important Hunnic family. His father, Mundzuk, was the brother of the Hunnic tribe's co-leaders, Octar and Rugila (also called Ruga or Rug). Mundzuk died in 434, Octar died in 430, and Rugila was killed in battle against the Eastern Roman Empire later that decade, possibly in 435. The death of their father and uncles (along with neither uncle having sons) left Atilla and his brother Bleda as co-leader of the Huns.