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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

When Aetius approached with his army


Orleans,

besieged and hard pressed, was about to surrender, when Aetius approached with his army. Attila was obliged to raise the siege at once, and retreat in order to select a better position for the impending battle. He finally halted on the broad plains of the province of Champagne, near the present city of Chalons, where his immense body of armed horsemen would have ample space to move. Aetius and Theodoric followed and pitched their camp opposite to him, on the other side of a small hill which rose from the plain. That night, Attila ordered his priests to consult their pagan oracles, and ascertain the fate of the morrow's struggle. The answer was: "Death to the enemy's leader, destruction to the Huns!"--but the hope of seeing Aetius fall prevailed on Attila to risk his own defeat.

The next day witnessed one of the greatest battles of history. Aetius commanded the right and Theodoric the left wing of their army, placing between them the Alans and other tribes, of whose fidelity they were not quite sure. Attila, however, took the centre with his Huns, and formed his wings of the Germans and Ostrogoths. The battle began at dawn, and raged through the whole day. Both armies endeavored to take and hold the hill between them, and the hundreds of thousands rolled back and forth as the victory inclined to one side or the other. A brook which ran through the plain was swollen high by the blood of the fallen. At last Theodoric broke Attila's centre, but was

slain in the attack. The Visigoths immediately lifted his son, Thorismond, on a shield, proclaimed him king, and renewed the fight. The Huns were driven back to the fortress of wagons where their wives, children and treasures were collected, when a terrible storm of rain and thunder put an end to the battle. Between 200,000 and 300,000 dead lay upon the plain.

[Sidenote: 452.]

All night the lamentations of the Hunnish women filled the air. Attila had an immense funeral pile constructed of saddles, whereon he meant to burn himself and his family, in case Aetius should renew the fight the next day. But the army of the latter was too exhausted to move, and the Huns were allowed to commence their retreat from Gaul. Enraged at his terrible defeat, Attila destroyed everything in his way, leaving a broad track of blood and ashes from Gaul through the heart of Germany, back to Hungary.

By the following year, 452, Attila had collected another army, and now directed his march towards Italy. This new invasion was so unexpected that the passes of the Alps were left undefended, and the Huns reached the rich and populous city of Aquileia, on the northern shore of the Adriatic, without meeting any opposition. After a siege of three months, they took and razed it to the ground so completely that it was never rebuilt, and from that day to this only a few piles of shapeless stones remain to mark the spot where it stood. The inhabitants who escaped took refuge upon the low marshy islands, separated from the mainland by the lagoons, and there formed the settlement which, two or three hundred years later, became known to the world as Venice.

Attila marched onward to the Po, destroying everything in his way. Here he was met by a deputation, at the head of which was Leo, the Bishop (or Pope) of Rome, sent by Valentinian III. Leo so worked upon the superstitious mind of the savage monarch, that the latter gave up his purpose of taking Rome, and returned to Hungary with his army, which was suffering from disease and want. The next year he died suddenly, in his wooden palace at Tokay. The tradition states that his body was inclosed in three coffins, of iron, silver and gold, and buried secretly, like that of Alaric, so that no man might know his resting-place. He had a great many wives, and left so many sons behind him, that their quarrels for the succession to the throne divided the Huns into numerous parties, and quite destroyed their power as a people.


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