Battle of the Catalaunian Plains 451 – Aetius vs. Attila DOCUMENTARY

Battle of the Catalaunian Plains 451 – Aetius vs. Attila DOCUMENTARY


To say that the battle of the Catalaunian
plains is iconic would be an understatement. But it is equally controversial, as the sources
describing the battle are conflicted, many details are unknown, and it seems that we
will never get a clear picture of the events. Add to that two larger than life figures in
Attila and Aetius, the Great Migration, the agony of the Roman world and the birth of
new kingdoms, and it is clear that we had no other choice but to cover it. We know very little about the Huns before
their arrival to the Eurasian steppes in the second half of the IV century. In 370s they
defeated the Alans and Goths, who lived to the north of the Black Sea and this probably
caused a cascade of events known as the Great Migration, as many tribes were forced to flee
to the west and enter the territory of the Roman Empire either as the allied-foederati
or the invaders. Eastern Roman army was crushed at Adrianople by the western branch of the
Goths – the Visigoths in 378, while Vandals, Suebi first entered Gaul, and then occupied
part of Spain. In 410 Visigoths of Alaric sacked Rome. Visigoths were then allowed to
form a kingdom in southern France with a capital in Toulouse in exchange for the military service
against the Vandals and Suebi. Meanwhile, the Huns subjugated the Gepids,
Alemanni, the Eastern Goths – Ostrogoths and other minor Germanic, Slavic and Sarmatian
tribes. Between 395 and 399 they attacked both the Eastern Roman and the Sassanid empires,
raiding the Balkans, Caucasus, Northern Iran and Eastern Anatolia. As the Hunnic realm
was extremely decentralized, many of their warriors served as mercenaries both for the
Western Romans and the Goths. Still the raids into the Eastern Roman Empire continued, and
the Empire was forced to pay annual tribute in 422.
Western empire was also having problems, as civil wars, rebellions and further invasions
weakened it. Enter Flavius Aetius. This Roman general of either Gothic or Scythian origins,
spent his childhood as a hostage in the Visigothic and Hunnic courts, learning much about their
fighting styles and gaining valuable allies among the Huns. In 423 it allowed him to recruit
a sizeable Hunnic force and move to Italy to support Joannes to the throne. However,
by the time Aetius reached the capital Ravenna, another pretender – Valentinian was crowned.
To curb his ambitions, Aetius was paid a hefty sum and was appointed the commander in Gaul.
Despite some setbacks, he managed to bring back the Roman rule to most of Gaul mostly
relying on the Hun mercenaries. He settled the Alans around Orleans to weaken the rebellion
in Brittany, destroyed the Burgundian kingdom and resettled it to the south and weakened
Visigoths and Franks, basically creating his semi-independent kingdom in the region.
Back East, the first ruler of the centralized Hun state – Rua passed away and was succeeded
by the nephews Attila and Bleda in 433. The new rulers renegotiated the treaty with the
Eastern Romans in 435, receiving promises not to enter into an anti-Hunnic alliance
and 700 pounds of gold annually. However, this peace was short-lived. In 439 Carthage
was captured by the Vandals. Following year, the Eastern Roman Empire sent an expedition
to reclaim Africa. Meanwhile, the Sassanids attacked the Romans in the East, and all that
allowed the Huns to raid and pillage the Balkans between 441 and 443, and this time they even
reached Constantinople. Emperor Theodosius was forced to agree to pay 6,000 pounds annually.
In 445 Bleda dies, possibly murdered by Attila, who becomes the ruler of the Hunnic realm.
We don’t know why, but in 447 Attila invades the Eastern Romans yet again. He destroyed
the Roman forces at the battle of the Utus, raided the Balkans and compelled the emperor
to sign another peace, this time promising to leave the Danube region as a buffer.
It was around that time, the relationship between Attila and Aetius soured, and different
sources present different reasons: The Huns were prohibited from serving as mercenaries,
which weakened Aetius. At the same time, the Vandals, who had animosity with the Visigoths
and one of the Frankish heirs invited Attila to invade Gaul to deal with their enemies.
The sister of the Western Roman Emperor Honoria sent her ring to Attila asking for his help,
and he took this as a promise of marriage and allegedly demanded half of the empire
as a dowry. Attila was also displeased that the Huns received no lands within the Roman
empire, unlike other allies. Surprisingly, the war against the Western Roman Empire became
inevitable, when the Eastern Romans refused to send tribute in 450 – Attila needed that
income to pay his troops, and as he knew that the Balkans were devastated and had little
hope of taking Constantinople, he decided to invade Gaul instead. In the spring of 451,
Attila joined by the Ostrogoths, Gepids, Alemanni and others crossed the Rhine.
At that point, Aetius was in Italy, and as he couldn’t rely on his usual Hunnic units,
he was forced to enter an alliance with his rival – the king of the Visigoths Theodoric,
ask the Burgundians and Franks for help and rush to Gaul. We know very little about the
route of Attila’s troops and which towns were sacked by them, but by the early June,
his horse-heavy army reached Orleans. The sources are conflicting here: Some claim that
Attila besieged the city and as Aetius arrived in the area soon, he was forced to abandon
the siege, others think that Aetius was near Orleans before the Huns and that didn’t
allow Attila to blockade the city. We also don’t know if the Alani leader Sangiban
was planning to side with the Huns or the Romans or was waiting to see which side is
stronger. In any case, as the area wasn’t favorable for the cavalry, the Huns retreated,
and Alani joined Aetius, who also received contingents of Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians,
and Saxons. The Roman general then moved to pursue Attila.
The exact location of the battle that we usually call the battle of the Catalaunian plains
is unknown, but some modern historians concluded that it happened in the place called Maurica,
close to Troyes, some 200 kilometers from Orleans, and not near Chalons, as was assumed
previously. Another hotly debated topic is the number of troops, but it is possible that
both sides had around 40,000 thousand warriors. The Hunnic army was cavalry heavy with elite
horse archers as its core, while the Romans had more infantry than their opponents.
Aetius chased Attila for two weeks. On June 19 his Frankish vanguard skirmished with the
Attila’s Gepid rearguard, but the Gepids soon retreated, as Attila’s goal was to
bring the Romans to the battlefield of his choosing that was advantageous for his cavalry.
Two paths were leading to Maurica divided by the forest, and although the Romans had
to split their forces in two to move around this forest, Attila did not attempt to stop
them at the chokepoints, probably rightly considering his infantry inferior to that
of the enemy. Still a small cavalry detachment was left on the Montgueux ridge. On the early
morning of 20th of June, the Visigothic column met this detachment on the hill. Attila wasn’t
planning to defend this position, hoping to fight the Romans on the open field to the
East, but he still sent some cavalry reinforcement to the ridge. Both the original unit and the
reinforcements slowly retreated, shooting a few volleys.
By the afternoon the Visigoths were in control of the ridge, and although both sides had
a good defensible position, they needed a decisive battle, so the armies started to
deploy. Aetius placed a small cavalry detachment under Theodoric’s son Thorismund on the
ridge, so the summit would hide them, and formed up his army with his right flank protected
by the said ridge, and his rear and the left by the forests, which gave Attila no opportunity
to attack the Romans from the sides or the back.
Theodoric and the Visigoths held the right wing and dismounted forming a shield wall
with archers in the second line. Alan cavalry took the center, while the left side was held
by the Romans, Franks, Burgundians, and Saxons with infantry in the first line in a shield
wall with another group of missile infantry behind them and the cavalry in the rear.
Attila and his Huns, all cavalry took the formed the center, while the Ostrogoth cavalry
led by Valamir manned the left with other Germanic infantry behind them. On the right,
Attila placed the Frank infantry and the Gepid cavalry under Ardaric, with more Germanic
infantry in the second line. The Hun leader gave a speech in front of his
line and then formed up his horse archers in the center into a wedge. The Huns then
galloped forward sending the volleys into the Alans, who answered similarly, but as
the Huns had numerical superiority, Sangiban’s horsemen had to retreat. According to their
usual fighting style, the Hun wedge then split down the middle towards the left and the right,
sending arrows towards the Romans and the Visigoths, but these volleys were less effective
as they were met with the shield wall. On the contrary, the missile units in the second
lines managed to wound and kill many lightly armored Huns.
Still, this attack covered the advance of the Ostrogoths against their Visigoth cousins,
while the Gepids moved against the Romans. Initially, both shield walls were pushed back,
but as the cavalry momentum was lost, the shield walls restored their composure, and
the archers in the second line continued to send the arrows above the shields.
However, the Huns turned towards the center once again and attempted to enter the hole
left by the Alan retreat. That threatened the Visigoth shield wall from the flank and
the rear. The king of the Visigoths Theodoric was killed while trying to encourage his troops
and it seemed that the battle is turning in Attila’s favor.
Still, Aetius managed to turn some of the Alans back and ordered them, along with the
cavalry reserves to plug the center, which stemmed the tide. Feeling that victory is
close Attila’s second line infantry joined the battle. At the same time, Thorismund learned
of his father’s death and finally descended from the ridge, charging enemy’s left from
the flank and rear. It seems that the Hunnic left was encircled and destroyed. Seeing that
his cavalry was bogged down and his right was having no gains against the Romans, Attila
ordered a retreat to the camp. By the nightfall, the battle stopped completely.
The Huns seemingly were on the backfoot, so it is a mystery why Aetius did not attack
the next day. Some sources are claiming that the Visigoths and Franks declined to fight,
while the others assert that it was Aetius himself who wasn’t eager to destroy the
Huns, as they were a perfect balance against the Germanic tribes. A later Frankish source
maintains that Aetius received a payment from Attila. Regardless, the Hun army left the
area on the next day and moved towards Pannonia. We will probably never learn the number of
casualties, but even if they were heavy, in 452 Attila invaded the Roman empire yet again,
this time via Italy, and sacked Aquileia and Milan, also inadvertently forcing the foundation
of Venice. Once again, we don’t know why, but according to the sources, he turned back
after talking to the Pope Leo. In 453 Attila dies, either from an illness
or killed by his young wife. Thorismund was murdered by his brother soon after. A year
later, Attila’s sons were defeated by the Gepids of Ardaric at the battle of Nedao,
and that resulted in the collapse of the Hun empire. In the same year, Aetius is murdered
by emperor Valentinian, who in turn is killed by the bodyguards of Aetius in 455. Just 20
years later the Western Roman Empire ceases to exist… This video was made possible by our Patreon
supporters and Youtube sponsors. Consider joining their ranks in order to support us,
learn about our schedule, vote on the next video and much more. We also try to answer
every comment, so let us know what you think, we are always happy to talk about history.
This is the Kings and Generals channel, and we will catch you on the next one.

100 Comments

  1. Show notes! 🙂
    1. We are sorry for being so late with this video. There was a mistake, and then a couple of renders failed. It is all very technical, but in any case, we will do our best not to repeat that in the future, and you will continue getting new videos every Thursday and Sunday.
    2. I have read multiple books on the origin of the Huns, and I still can't say anything definitive. Turkic? Mongolian? Finno-Ugric? Iranian? Slavic? Chinese? I don't know, and if someone tells you that they do, they are probably lying, or have a time machine. The problem is, even the practicing historians with expertise in this field don't know. All in all, that debate seems of little use. For all their prowess, the Huns left very little behind, so feeling pride, because they are part of your ethnic makeup, seems a bit useless. Shows once again, why writing and fighting are more effective than only fighting. So, I will leave you with a philosophical question: who would win – thousands of angry horse archers or one writey boi?
    3. Since we are talking about the "writey bois." Most of the info we have on this campaign comes from Jordanes. And it is widely accepted that he was "a Gothic nationalist," which means that the role of both the Visigoths and Ostrogoths might be inflated, while the battle between the Romans and the Gepids on the Roman left flank is ignored.
    4. Events that happened within the Roman Empires between 370 and 450 are obviously compressed. There is much more, and it is possible that we will release at least one or two videos covering this era.
    5. There are, obviously, no contemporary depictions of Attila. We decided to use the one from the Hungarian museum. Seemed right to us. I am no expert on the Hungarian history, but they probably have more claim on Attila than anyone else, since the center of his power was in their modern-day territory. It is also how the Roman author and diplomat of Greek origin Priscus described him: "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, showing evidence of his origin."
    Peace!

  2. It's lying! 5. Not Priskos, Iordanes! Iordanes hate huns alias magyars (hungarians). But do you read something else from Iordanes or Priskos? For what you did not write them in here? Stop the mendacity and the forgery!

  3. Since the Battle of Andrinopolis no more roman army , in this battle only two romans Aetius and Oreste the genreral of Attila and his son was Romulus Augustulus Odoacer will kill Oreste before to break the empire . . Attila lost because with the rebels in the east of his empire , he lost a lot cavalry and the germans burned Metz and Nancy .and the people belieived to the apocalyspe , he forgot the franks who wanted a kingdom in Gaul between seine and Rhine with the wisigoths affront and the franks behind his tired army will never win a bad diplomacy more Barbarians germans and an army behind him only a few Gépides saved their life .

  4. Well done.
    Still one point to amend the video at 4:50. There's a reason for Attila to invade Costantinople. Costantinople hit by an earthquake and its wall fell (partially) down. So he thought that was "now or never" and move to invade the city; but the wall were quickly reconstructed before Attila's arrival. Huns sieging army was not up to siege Costantinople (or at least, so they thought).

  5. This video is basically just a depiction of the "bigger they are the harder they fall." I mean seriously, hundreds upon hundreds of years of dominance and the Romans and Greeks were brought to disaster after disaster, one after another, without end.

  6. Hi! You make great videos and i love your work! But i am hungarian and i suggest you to read the hungarian”képes kronika” i think you can find it in english version. Because there is many fact are different. Example the huns and their allys win the battle,because first the visigots leave the battlefield after the huns whitdraw the reinforced wagon camp. Then the next day Aetius remained legions leaved and after a 3 days Attila and his army go back home. And the next year they easily sack many city and only the holy pope convinced Attila to not sack rome(and the plage) but noo roman army! But what happened whit Aetius after the battle..? If he defeted the huns he needed to be the most glorius general in rome but he wont! In the hungarian “képes kronika” after the battle Aetius was killed by the senate because he coulnt win the battle! There is more fact, i suggest you to search some original documents . 😁

  7. I LOVE YOUR VIDEOS! Please do more on the U.S. Civil war. General Lee always was outnumbered and won over and over again. General Jackson was chased by 3 separate Union armies and defeated all 3 with only 15,000 men + Chancllorsville etc. Thank you guys so much for making learning fun.

  8. La crisis del siglo IV que desencadenó al fin del Imperio Romano y la separación de España cómo estado soberano en la nueva monarquía del Regnum Gothorum Hispaniae. España la nación mas antigua de Europa.

  9. The Roman coalition's losses were so heavy that "The Battle of Catalaunian" was actually closer to a stalemate…neither side could be considered a true Victor!

  10. Huns, Mongols and Turkic tribes have same like one father’s different mother’s children. They have used same military tactics and living cultures.

  11. Каталонские равнины, Теодор … Что за бред в анонсе? Каталония в Испании вообще-то. Битва на Каталаунских полях (территория современной Франции). Вестготами правил Теодорих. И т.д. …

  12. What would possibly the pope said to Attila which made him turn and abandon his campaign and died at the hands of his wife rather than as emperor of Rome?

  13. It’s very epic seeing how hungarians trying to isolate their roots from Turks. First Hun empire founded by Turks in 200s B.C. Yes Hun Empire!!! A confederation of asian nomads. Then crushed by Chinese, divided into parts and pushed to the west by Mongols plus other reasons…

  14. I wouldn't say we know very little about the huns. They re the xiongnu. New studies in acient Chinese lenguage result xiongnu is prenounced huna.

  15. The meaning of the story is that if you allow mass migration within your borders you will be destroyed… Sounds familiar???

  16. It's so painful to see the Roman Empire, once so great, in such a state. Army composed of regional forces and mercenaries, attacked from all sides, important cities sacked. If Octavian saw this, he'd shed tears.

  17. Hungarians son of the huns and schytians according the newest genetics research and old cronicle.Our one ofthe biggest king was Attila the great from the Turul dynasty.
    ​@t​

  18. Hungarians son of the huns and schytians according the newest genetics research and old cronicle.Our one ofthe biggest king was Attila the great from the Turul dynasty.

    ​https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/01/19/250688.full.pdf​

  19. A historical fiction novel series written by William Napier depicts this story in a three book series, Attila . It's a great read!

  20. This video is far too Romanocentric to my taste. It focuses way too much on Aetius and not on the other Germanic leaders like Theodoric even if it mentions them, which I believe were far more important. The Romans really didn't fight the Huns nearly as much. The Huns' importance to Roman history is more in their displacement of the Goths into Roman territory than in their invasion diretly.

  21. The most fearsome enemies are your own allies. No armies can stop the hidden blade of your brother.

  22. They also attacked India at the same time ,it took decades to beat them back ,we have a cast that are direct descendants of huns

  23. Rome be letting me down with Atilla. Should have came together, brought every legion from the empire in and hammer and aviled his ass.

  24. because attila was a tartar christian thats why he turned back ffs the sword of mars is a roman myth so they could make the claim god struck down the pagan its clear propaganda.

  25. "cadavera vero innumera." – "the (lifeless) bodies were countless."

    Patrician Aetius with king Theodoric of the Goths fight against Attila king of the Huns at Tricasses on the Mauriac plain, where Theodoric was slain, by whom it is uncertain, and Laudaricus the relative of Attila: and "the bodies were countless"*. – Chronica Gallica Anno 511, s.a. 451.

    Aetius patricius cum Theodorico rege Gothorum contra Attilam regem Hunorum Tricassis pugnat loco Mauriacos, ubi Theodoricus a a quo occisus incertum est et Laudaricus cognatus Attilae: "cadavera vero innumera."* – Chronica Gallica Anno 511, s.a. 451.

    * "From the Latin verb cadō (“I fall”), as a euphemism for dying, "the fallen one". This etymology is found as early as ca. 200 CE in the writings of Tertullian, who associated cadaver to cadendo : Atque adeo caro est quae morte subruitur, ut exinde a cadendo cadaver enuntietur. (Tertullian, De Resurrectione Carnis).
    "

  26. Really nice and fitting music in the background! Big fan of theme fitting music.
    Maybe have a look into traditional Aulos music. (it's a ancient flute)

  27. Kings and Generals : Sponsored by the Zionists and/or a CCP Billionaire…………….
    practically everything in the video is fallacy, from the map – to your decryption
    of the battle. It was Aetius who sent messengers to the Visigoths to stop their
    pursuit of the fleeing Huns ( running away from the battle defeated ) to stop the
    charge and saving the Huns from annihilation. The mounted, horseback warriors
    of the Visigoths had crushed the mounted, horseback warriors of the Huns. NO
    shield wall, NO archers – that was always the go of the steppe peoples …………..
    running away and turning 180 degrees around to shoot arrows at the pursuing
    attackers, feigning retreat and then turning back with a volley of shooting arrows.

    The legendary Visigothic King Theodoric was killed in battle, whilst leading the charge
    from the front, his son the Prince was also knocked off his horse and badly injured,
    the Visigoths won the battle, written in every account – chasing the Huns down………
    ready to annihilate them when Aetius sent the message for them to let the bloodied,
    defeated Huns scurry away back to their base in central Europe. Why? Many historians
    have said it was to maintain a counterbalance.

    Kings and Geberals: you can only shape the hearts & minds of those who know nothing.

    *Note: the Vandals did not enter North Africa until the arrival of the Visigoths. They had
    a bloody protracted war, and after the defeat of the Vandals – most left to reform in NA.

  28. It's cool how your show stays the same, and you slowly evolve it better in little way. Discarding certain things, and keeping what's good. The more you illustrate little details the better people understand. It's good you say what's known for sure, what's suspected, what's possible or probable or unlikely, what's not true, and what we can never know.

  29. I never saw better multimedia educational project than this. I salute you. Music is out of this world too.

  30. 2:31 Nice try Angles or English, I see you sneaking into roman Britain behind and alongside Saxon shields, you're just another one of those plundering germanic barbarians of that age.

  31. Since prehistoric times, Mongolia has been inhabited by nomads who, from time to time, formed great confederations that rose to power and prominence. Common institutions were the office of the Khan, the Kurultai (Supreme Council), left and right wings, imperial army (Keshig) and the decimal military system. The first of these empires, the Xiongnu of undetermined ethnicity, were brought together by Modu Shanyu to form a confederation in 209 BC. Soon they emerged as the greatest threat to the Qin Dynasty, forcing the latter to construct the Great Wall of China. It was guarded by up to almost 300,000 soldiers during Marshal Meng Tian's tenure, as a means of defense against the destructive Xiongnu raids.

  32. Oh wow, i didn't realise the ostrogoths inherited the land from a victorious Rome, i always assumed attila beat Rome and the Ostrogoth played a hand in Romes defeat.

  33. There are 3 major mistakes in the video, which are common misconceptions.
    1. Atila and Buda (or Bleda if you go strictly by Jordanes, who is not the most trustworthy source)
    There is no contemporary source that would suggest Buda was killed. It is a much later speculation of historians, who did not understand why Buda is missing from later documents.
    There is a more viable theory, that says that the huns had a dual kingship just like the later khazars and magyars, where one of the kings is a sacred one, who is occupied with religion and internal affairs and therefore mostly invisible for external viewers- that would be Buda- and a "war-king" who has all the military power and does all the external affairs- that would be Atila.

    2. The Catalaunian battle
    In the year 451 AD. the huns were fighting on two fronts. The more famous front is the western one (it's similar to WWI. and WWII.- eurocentrism welcome). The other one is in the east against the Sassanids, where only the hunnic cavalry could do the trick with it's great mobility. Those cavalry units were missing in the west, where the numbers were filled up with mostly germanic allied forces. This made the western army much more balanced or slightly infantry heavy.
    On the other hand the sources tell us, that the battle was costly for both sides, and it was ended by the darkness, when both armies went back to their camps. Later during the night Aetius left the battlefield, while Atila stayed. And there is a general understanding about whoever stays at the battlefield, that is the winner.

    3. The aftermath, fall of empires
    After Atilas death there was internal power struggle that gave opportunity for the germanic vassals to separete from the huns. Nonetheless the hunnic empire was not destroyed. It existed in a smaller form in the Pontic Steppes (modern day Moldova, Ukraine, Suothern Russia) for at least a century. After this period (with a short intermezzo of avar vassalage- who were also huns, from the white hun branch) the european huns slowly transformed into the Ogur federations (Onogur, Utrigur, Kutrigur, Saragur).
    Considering Rome, it's interesting that both the fathers of Romulus Augustulus (the last West Roman Emperor) and Odoaker (who overthrown him) were Atila's generals.

  34. FYI – The Hunnic empire collapsed but the hunnic people did not vanish. Some of them retreated to the plains referred as Scythia and as always, joined other groups(e.g. Bulgars, Khazars,Hungarians).
    One of the remants however led by a surviving son of Attila called Csaba went south instead, directly into the Eastern-Roman empire because his mother was sent from Constantinopole i.e. he also could seek asylum form his grandfather there. So not sure what amounth of Hunnic troops were there for an an unknown reasons, several years later they broke up with their hosts so moved back northwards and settled in the Carpathian mountains. Going forward they had to hide their identity so they changed their names and no longer referred to themselves as Huns.
    This was the reason why in 895 the Hungarian invaders found Hungarian-like speaking, settled people in Transilvania.

  35. Dammit Valentinian, Flavius Aetius could have to saved the Western Roman Empire !!! its shit like that, which makes you depressed and irritated as f**k at the same time

  36. "Whether well [by killing Aëtius] or not, I do not know. But know that you have cut off your right hand with your left."

  37. The Germanic tribes where pussies so they fight with Rome for centuries but decide to leave there land against the Huns.

  38. It would be great to see videos on Strasbourg, Adrianople, the sacks of Rome, the campaigns of Aurelian, Cape Bon and other late Roman campaigns.

  39. It saddens me to see change in Romans during this period of time. During the Republic, if they were losing hard they would keep assembling an army to the death. Their or their enemies. If there was a tribe, that was willing to join them, they were settled at the border and it's people were given ways to become citizens. During 5th century they were like sure don't mind me, take all my land and fight my wars.

  40. Another great insightful video! I really appreciate these videos. It helps put together history from different periods.

    Do you know which primary sources were primarily used for detailing the historic battle positions? Did the Romans have scribes in the battle recording in the back during the battle? Or did the generals report back?

  41. Total war is basically the visual meat and potatoes of all animated history channels. No complaints. But do you need permission to use it?

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