The Decissive Battles of History: Ancient Battles-Ch‚lons (451 AD)

Figure 1.--

The battle of Ch‚lons is commonly seen variously as either the last battle of the ancient world or the first battle of the medieval Europe. The Western Empire was a shstill existed in name, but was a shadow of its formerself. The Western Emperor controlled only Italy and claimed control over Gaul (France) and Spain which were in fact controlled by warloards who challenged Roman forces. Gaul was only nomimally a part of the Western Empire in the mid-5th century. The Visagoths were contending with the Romans for control of Gaul. The Huns had grown to be a huge challenge to both the Eastern and Western Empire. Rome had used the Huns as mercinaries to hold the Visagoths in check. The Roman commander in Gaul, AŽtius, was a boyhood friend of Atilla the Hun. Atilla comanded the most powerful military force in Europe. Atilla and the Huns practiced war with a vebgence, devestating the lands they invaded. He was known as the Scourge of God in the now Chritianized Roman Empire. AŽtius was the only Roman commander with a creditable force. Having drained the Eastern Empire trasury and plundered much of its European possesions, Atilla determined that the rewards of plunder lay in the West. It is at this time that a daughter of the Western Emperor send Atilla her ring. Demanding a dowery of half of the Empire, Atilla moved west. The havoc and devastation he wrought in Gaul was passed down in Medieval folklore. It was this devestation that enabled AŽtius to gain allies among the Gauls and Germanic tribes. (In one of the curious turns of history, AŽtius and Atila were boyhood friends. AŽtius had been sent as a boy to the Huns as a hostage to ensure good relations. It was there he met the young Atila and became friends with him.) Atilla in his army were Ostrogoths and other Germanic warriors (including Franks, Burgundians, and Alans) who had lived on the Germanic side of the frontier with Gaul. The Franks were split between pro- and anti-Roman factions. AŽtius succeeded in assembling a confederacy to confront the huge Hunnic army. AŽtius' army was composed of Franks, Visigoths (led by Theodoric), and his own Romano-Germanic army. Atilla had ravaged large areas of Gaul and invested Orleans. The city was about to surrender when AŽtius and Theodoric arrived to confront Atilla. The two armies met on the Catalaunian Fields, near Ch‚lons-sur-Marne in the heart of what is now the champagne district. (A famous World War I battle was also fought on the Marne.) It was one of the great battles and certainly most bloody of the late Roman/early Medieval era. No one knows precisely the size of the two forces. Surviving accounts suggest huge numbers, but were probably more for literary account than reasonable estimates. It was also one of the rare occassions when Atilla suffered defeat (254 AD). Atilla had a larger army and simply through it in a massed calvary charge at the center of the challenging force. AŽtius was hard pressed, but Theodoric pressed on one flank and AŽtius on the other other. The huge Hunic army was thus denied manuerability--its greatest strength. Figting continued after nightfall with huge losses. Theodric was knocked from his horse and trampled, but under his son Thorasman, the Visagoths continued the fight. Thorasman was almost killed himself. The Huns suffered huge losses. AŽtius emerged victorious, but did not destroy Attila and his army. He appears to have decided not to press the attack, apparently thinking that his his Visigothic allies would desert his coalition and seize control of Gaul if the Hunnic threat was eliminated. His army had suffered massive losses as well. Atilla invaded Italt the next year. He ravaged norther Italy but was persuaded to turn back by the pope. One factor was the huge losses suffered at Ch‚lons, he no longer had the power that he once possessed and the Eastern Empire threatened the Hunnic homelands.


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Created: 7:41 PM 7/12/2004
Last updated: 1:22 PM 9/4/2004