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Attila the Hun by John Man

Attila the Hun (2005)

by John Man

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We learn from early history classes in school that Attila the Hun was a brutish, savage leader, bent on beating down the mighty Roman empire. Attila sprang from the dark recesses of northern Europe to lay siege to the civilized people of the Mediterranean. But this story is decidedly one-sided and lacking in nuance. In John Man’s Attila, he tries to gives flesh and blood to the skeleton of the tale. Man attempts to give this historical ghost a context and finds much more than we expected.

While Attila’s birthdate is unknown, by about 434 CE he had become the leader of the Huns and an empire that stretched from the Ural Sea to the Baltic, and from the Rhine River to the Danube. Man’s history gives a fair amount of space to the pre-Attila relationships between the Roman Empire, the Goths, and the Huns. This is necessary because of the intricate and delicate political bonds throughout Europe at the time. From then until his death in 453, Attila cements his place in history by gaining the loyalty of millions and repeatedly challenging the might of the Roman Empire. Apparently, the only thing that could stop Attila was his rather anti-climactic death (from possibly a peptic ulcer that drowned his lungs in blood).

Man relies heavily on Mierow’s 1915 translation of Jordanes’ 6th century History of the Goths. He couples this with both the histories of Procopius and the contemporaneous writings of Priscus. These works have their flaws and biases, but it’s really all we have to work with. New archaeological finds and secondary sources also help to flesh out the tale. I did find the lack of direct footnotes a bit worrying, but the biography is about as detailed and intriguing as it can get. While scholars will look elsewhere, the casual enthusiast of ancient European history or the Roman Empire will find a lot to enjoy here. A rich and adventurous read. ( )
  NielsenGW | Sep 28, 2014 |
I read John Man's book about Genghis Khan before, so I knew what to expect here, and I was proven right. Here too he makes assumptions based on his observations of the region where Attila lived today, without sources. If you can overlook these historical errors, it is a very basic introduction into Attila the Hun and the world of his day. ( )
  divinenanny | Sep 17, 2009 |
Not as enjoyable a book as Man's book on Genghis Khan, this book was a curious mix of modern tales and history, of fact and conjecture. The mix made me doubt the truth of the tale. Not recommended for serious historians of the period, as it reads more like a travelogue. ( )
  Meggo | Jul 31, 2007 |
This is an interesting book. John Man provides a portrait of a barbarian lord who never quite lived up to his modern day persona. Attila failed to conquer Rome, or Constantinople, or Gaul: and yet the name Attila conjures up a half-demon in contemporary minds. He seems to have been a man of his time, where brutality and plunder were the commerce of the day. John Man's hero worship of the Hungarian horse-archer goes a bit over the top, however he does provide a fascinating picture of a Roman Empire undergoing slow, relentless collapse. ( )
  woodpigeon01 | Mar 20, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553816586, Paperback)

The name Attila the Hun has become a byword for barbarism, savagery and violence. His is a truly household name, but what do we really know about the man himself, his position in history and the world in which he lived? This riveting biography reveals the man behind the myth.

In the years 434-454AD the fate of Europe hung upon the actions of one man, Attila, king of the Huns. The decaying Roman Empire still stood astride the Western World from its twin capitals of Rome and Constantinople, but it was threatened by a new force, the much-feared Babarian horde. It was Attila who united the Barbarian tribes into a single, amazingly effective army and launched two violent attacks against the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire, attacks which earned him his reputation for mindless devastation, and brought an end to Rome’s pre-eminence in Europe.

Attila was coarse, capricious, arrogant, ruthless and brilliant. An illiterate and predatory tribal chief, he had no interest in administration, but was a wily politician who, from his base in the grasslands of Hungary, used secretaries and ambassadors to bring him intelligence on his enemies. He was a leader whose unique qualities made him supreme among tribal leaders, but whose weaknesses ensured the collapse of his empire after his death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:01 -0400)

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The name Attila the Hun has become a byword for barbarism, savagery and violence. In this book, the author describes how he moulded the Barbarian tribes into a single and amazingly effective army, bringing an end to the Roman domination of Europe.

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