Book Review: Attila the Hun: Arch-Enemy of Rome


by Ian Hughes

Barnsley, Eng.: Philadelphia. Casemate, 2018. Pp. xxvi, 214+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1781590095

Antiquity’s Most Iconic “Barbarian”

Hughes, who has specialized in the history of the Late Empire, in works such as Aetius and Gaiseric, gives us a new, and insightful look at their far better known contemporary, Attila (fl. c. 400-453) and his people.

Hughes opens with an introduction in which he discusses the available sources. He then examines the origins and early history of the Huns, including possible ties to certain “barbarians” know to the Ancient Chinese at about the same time. Although traditionally regarded as the archetypical “barbarians”, Hughes points out that they were a nomadic people who, like the Scythians or Mongols, produced some impressive art. He also points out that some contemporary Romans wrote that while Attila relished war and was ambitious for conquest, he was also “restrained in action” and “wise in counsel”, suggesting a far more sophisticated character than his reputation would have us believe.

Hughes naturally also tells us a great deal about the Roman response to Attila who, heading a federation of “barbarian” tribes, sought to overrun their empire. There’s a lot about the interaction among Attila, the other “barbarians”, and the East and West Romans. We get looks at the many people who were important in these societies, and how the interplay among them led ultimately to the defeat of the Huns, who disappeared soon after Attila’s death.

Attila the Hun is an excellent look at the state of the Roman world in the fifth century, but Hughes fails to answer an important question; why is Attila, who inflicted far less harm on the empire than did King Gaiseric of the Vandals or several other “barbarian” leaders, by far the most well-known of these?


Note: Attila the Hun is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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