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A.D. 420-451.] ATTILA BETIEES ISTO CHAMPAGNE.
On their approach, the king of the Huns immediately raised the siege, and sounded a retreat to recal the foremost of his troops from the pillage of a city which they had already entered.* The valour of Attila was always guided by his prudence; and as he foresaw the fatal consequences of a defeat in the heart of Gaul, he repassed the Seine, and expected the enemy in the plains of Chalons, whose smooth and level surface was adapted to the operations of his Scythian cavalry. But in this tumultuary retreat, the vanguard of the Eomans and their allies continually pressed, and sometimes engaged, the troops whom Attila had posted in the rear; the hostile columns, in the darkness of the night and the perplexity of the roads, might encounter each other without design; and the bloody conflict of the Franks and Gepidae, in which fifteen thousandf barbarians were slain, was a prelude to a more general and decisive action. The Catalaunian fields J spread themselves round Chalons, and extend, according to the vague measurement of Jornandes, to the length of one hundred and fifty, and the breadth of one hundred miles, over the whole province, which is entitled to the appellation of a champaign country.§ This spacious plain was distinguished, however, by some inequalities of ground; and
dians. The historian is a far better authority than the poet. Cassiodorus was in a position to obtain positive information from some who were present at the battle. Sidonius, probably, had not in his list of names, another to supply the foot he wanted, so he used Burgundio, which may be taken to signify any other tribe quite as well.—Ed.]
* Aurelianensis urbis obsidio, oppugnatio, irruptio, nec direptio, 1.5. Sidon. .Apollin. 1. 8, epist , 15, p. 246. The preservation of Orleans might be easily turned into a miracle, obtained, and foretold, by the holy bishop. + The common editions read XCM.; but there
is some authority of manuscripts (and almost any anthority is sufficient) for the more reasonable number of Xvm.
£ Chalons, or Duro-Catalaunum, afterwards Catalauni, had formerly made a part of the territory of Rheims, from whence it is distant only twenty-seven miles. See Vales. Notit. Gall. p. 136. D'Anville, Notice de l'Ancienne Gaule, p. 212. 279. [Niebuhr (Lectures 3. 340) says, "This great battle is commonly called that of Chalons, which I do not consider to be at all certain. The whole of Champagne had the name of Campi Catalaunici, and is of such extent, that the battle may have been fought at some distance from Chalons."—Ed.]
§ The name of Campania, or Champagne, is frequently mentioned by Gregory of Tours; and that great province, of which Rheims was the capital, obeyed the command of a duke. Vales. Notit. p. 120—123.
the importance of a height, which commanded the camp of Attila, was understood and disputed by the two generals. The young and valiant Torismond first occupied the summit; the Goths rushed with irresistible weight on the Huns, who laboured to ascend from the opposite side; and the possession of this advantageous post inspired both the troops and their leaders with a fair assurance of victory. The anxiety of Attila prompted him to consult his priests and haruspices. It was reported, that after scrutinizing the entrails of victims and scraping their bones, they revealed, in mysterious language, his own defeat, with the death of his principal adversary; and that the barbarian, by accepting the equivalent, expressed his involuntary esteem for the superior merit of JEtius. But the unusual despondency which seemed to prevail among the Huns engaged Attila to use the expedient, so familiar to the generals of antiquity, of animating his troops by a military oration; and his language was that of a king who had often fought and conquered at their head.* He pressed them to consider their past glory, their actual danger, and their future hopes. The same fortune which opened the deserts and morasses of Scythia to their unarmed vatour, which had laid so many warlike nations prostrate at their feet, had reserved the joys of this memorable field for the consummation of their victories. The cautious steps of their enemies, their strict alliance, and their advantageous posts, he artfully represented as the effects not of prudence, but of fear. The Visigoths alone were the strength and nerves of the opposite army; and the Huns might securely trample on the degenerate Romans, whose close and compact order betrayed their apprehensions, and who were equally incapable of supporting the dangers or the fatigues of a day of battle. The doctrine of predestination, so favourable to martial virtue, was carefully inculcated by the king of the Huns; who assured his subjects that the warriors, protected by Heaven, were safe and invulnerable
* I am sensible that these military orations are usually composed by the historian; yet the old Ostrogoths, who had served under Attila, might repeat his discourse to Cassiodorus: the ideas, and even the expressions, have an original Scythian cast; and I doubt whether an Italian of the sixth century would have thought of the hujus certaniinis gaudia.
amidst the darts of the enemy; but that the unerring fates would strike their victims in the bosom of inglorious peace. "I myself," continued Attila, "will throw the first javelin, and the wretch who refuses to imitate the example of his sovereign is devoted to inevitable death." The spirit of the barbarians was rekindled by the presence, the voice, and the example, of their intrepid leader; and Attila, yielding to their impatience, immediately formed his order of battle. At the head of his brave and faithful Huns, he occupied in person the centre of the line. The nations subject to his empire, the Rugians, the Heruli, the Thuringians, the Franks, the Burgundians, were extended, on either hand, over the ample space of the Catalaunian fields; the right wing was commanded by Ardaric, king of the Gepidae; and the three valiant brothers, who reigned over the Ostrogoths, were posted on the left, to oppose the kindred tribes of the Visigoths. The disposition of the allies was regulated by a different principle. Singiban, the faithless king of the Alani, was placed in the centre; where his motions might be strictly watched, and his treachery might be instantly punished. ^Etius assumed the com* mand of the left, and Theodoric of the right wing; while Torismond still continued to occupy the heights, which appear to have stretched on the flank, and perhaps the rear, of the Scythian army. The nations from the Volga to the Atlantic were assembled on the plain of Chalons; but many of these nations had been divided by faction, or conquest, or emigration; and the appearance of similar arms and ensigns, which threatened each other, presented
The discipline and tactics of the Greeks and Romans form an interesting part of their national manners. The attentive study of the military operations of Xenophon, or Csesar, or Frederic, when they are described by the same genius which conceived and executed them, may tend to improve (if such improvement can be wished) the art of destroying the human species. But the battle of Chalons can only excite our curiosity by the magnitude of the object; since it was decided by the blind impetuosity of barbarians, and has been related by partial writers, whose civil or ecclesiastical profession secluded them from the knowledge of military affairs. Cassiodorus, however, had
DEATH OF TffEODOBIC. [CH. XXXV.
familiarly conversed with many Gothic warriors, who served in that memorable engagement; "a conflict," as they informed him, "fierce, various, obstinate, and bloody; such as could not be paralleled, either in the present, or in past ages." The number of the slain amounted to one hundred and sixty-two thousand, or, according to another account, three hundred thousand persons ;* and these incredible exaggerations suppose a real and effective loss, sufficient to justify the historian's remark, that whole generations may be swept away by the madness of kings in the space of a single hour. After the mutual and repeated discharge of missile weapons, in which the archers of Scythia might signalize their superior dexterity, the cavalry and infantry of the two armies were furiously mingled in closer combat. The Huns, who fought under the eyes of their king, pierced through the feeble and doubtful centre of the allies, separated their wings from each other, and wheeling, with a rapid effort, to the left, directed their whole force against the Visigoths. As Theodoric rode along the ranks, to animate his troops, he received a mortal stroke from the javelin of Andages, a noble Ostrogoth, and immediately fell from his horse. The wounded king was oppressed in the general disorder, and trampled under the feet of his own cavalry; and this important death served to explain the ambiguous prophecy of the haruspices. Attila already exulted in the confidence of victory, when the valiant Torismond descended from the hills, and verified the remainder of the prediction. The Visigoths, who had been thrown into confusion by the flight or defection of the Alani, gradually restored their order of battle; and the Huns were undoubtedly vanquished, since Attila was com
* The expressions of Jornandes, or rather of Cassiodorus, are extremely strong. Bellum atrox, multiplex, immane, pertinax, cui simile nulla usquam narrat antiquitas : ubi talia gesta referuntur, ut nihil esset quod in vita sua conspicere potuisset egregius, qui hujus miraculi privaretur aspecta. Dubos (Hist. Critique, tom, i, p. 392, 393) attempts to reconcile the one hundred and sixty-two thousand of Jornandes with the three hundred thousand of Idatius and Isidore, by supposing, that the larger number included the total destruction of the war, the effects of disease, the slaughter of the unarmed people, &c. [In such a battle, there must of course have been great slaughter; but it is evident that its extent has been largely overrated. Kiebuhr remarks very justly, that "the numbers which have been given, of those who were killed or taken prisoners, are beyond all belief." (Lect. 3, 341).—Ed.] 420-451.] EETEEAT OF ATTILA.
polled to retreat. He had exposed his person with the
rashness of a private soldier; but the intrepid troops of the centre had pushed forwards beyond the rest of the line; their attack was faintly supported; their flanks were unguarded; and the conquerors of Scythia and Germany were saved by the approach of the night from a total defeat. They retired within the circle of wagons that fortified their camp; and the dismounted squadrons prepared themselves for a defence, to which neither their arms nor their temper were adapted. The event was doubtful: but Attila had secured a last and honourable resource. The saddles and rich furniture of the cavalry were collected, by his order, into a funeral pile; and the magnanimous barbarian had resolved, if his intrenchments should be forced, to rush headlong into the flames, and to deprive his enemies of the glory which they might have acquired by the death or captivity of Attila.*
But his enemies had passed the night in equal disorder and anxiety. The inconsiderate courage of Torismond was tempted to urge the pursuit, till he unexpectedly found himself, with a few followers, in the midst of the Scythian wagons. In the confusion of a nocturnal combat, he was thrown from his horse; and the Gothic prince must have perished like his father, if his youthful strength and the intrepid zeal of his companions, had not rescued him from this dangerous situation. In the same manner, but on the left of the line, Jitius himself, separated from his allies, ignorant of their victory and anxious for their fate, encountered and escaped the hostile troops that were scattered over the plains of Chalons; and at length reached the camp of the Goths, which he could only fortify with a slight rampart of shields till the dawn of day. The imperial general was soon satisfied of the defeat of Attila, who still remained inactive within his intrenchments; and when he contemplated the bloody scene, he observed, with secret satisfaction, that the loss had principally fallen on the barbarians. The body of Theodoric, pierced with honourable
* The count de Buat, (Hist, des Peuples, &c., tom.vii, p. 554—578,) still depending on the false, and again rejecting the true, Idatius, has divided the defeat of Attila into two great battles; the former near Orleans, the latter in Champagne; in the one Theodorio was slain; in the other he was revenged.