Who Was Attila The Hun?

Pope Leo I, Repulsing Attila, (detail), 1511-14. Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City, Italy. (Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Attila the Hun was called the Scourge of God by many of his European contemporaries, as he was famous for brutal battles, razing cities, and massacring civilians, including women and children. However, much is a mystery about both Attila and the Huns, who had a massive impact on Europe and Asia Minor during the fourth and fifth centuries but more or less dispersed into different regions after the demise of their great ruler. Their origins are unclear, as they likely came from a lineage of nomadic peoples, and though they taught their children Latin in order to communicate with the outside world, their own language is still not well understood.

What can be said is that they were epic warriors who used cranial deformation to give their heads a larger, elongated appearance and trained their males from infancy to endure pain, even scarring or burning the newborn's cheek on the day of a son's birth. Though often called "barbarians" due to their nomadic lifestyle and ruthlessness, it was actually their technological superiority that made them so successful, thanks to their long range composite bow and unique high front and back saddle.