Useful Notes: Attila the Hun

Attila was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. During his reign he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, earning him the title, "The Scourge of God". He also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul (modern France), crossing the Rhine in 451 and marching as far as Aurelianum (Orléans) before being defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (aka the Battle of Chalons). Subsequently he invaded Italy, devastating the northern provinces, but was unable to take Rome. He planned for further campaigns against the Romans but died in 453.

There is no universally accepted image of Attila the Hun, though he is normally depicted as a large hairy barbarian similar in appearance to Genghis Khan, another horseback archer barbarian conqueror.


Attila provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: If you see him as evil, that is. He listened to the appeals of Pope Leo and refused to sack the already weak city of Rome. He was also known for his hospitality.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Depending on where you live, or what sources you listen to, Attila was either an evil bloodthirsty warlord or a great and noble king. In Real Life he was probably somewhere in-between.
  • Blood from the Mouth: He was found dead choking on his own blood. Exactly what killed him is up for debate; most sources cite internal bleeding in the throat/sinuses, while one source claims an assassination.
  • Cain and Abel: He is believed to have killed his older brother Bleda, who, according to some sources, tried to kill him as well.
  • Death by Irony / Karmic Death: The bloody king Attila drowned in his own blood on his wedding night, possibly from drinking too much alcohol.
  • The Dreaded
  • Iconic Item / Cool Sword: The Sword of Mars. Rumored to be made out of meteorite iron and was a grave marker of the previous owner. While it stood in the ground it was struck by lightning.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: One of his methods of execution, later infamously adopted by Vlad the Impaler.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: A notorious conqueror, plunderer and pillager everybody has heard about, yet nobody is able to tell much more than a few lines about. There isn't even a universally accepted image of him. Many people will often confuse him with Genghis Khan, about whom we know a whole lot more.
  • Modest Royalty
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Literally! Whenever people heard that the Huns were coming they panicked and fled or surrendered. His first name also lives on in infamy as many villains in popular culture are named after him.
  • The Napoleon: He was apparently rather short and possibly suffered some form of dwarfism. Although, considering that most sources on his appearance tend to be generally quite negative about him, it could be inferred that such unflattering depictions may be a result of demonisation. In the sources where he is depicted favourably (mainly continental Germanic legends where he is said to be a noble and generous king) he's more of a background character and his appearance isn't elaborated upon.
  • Out with a Bang: Reportedly died on his wedding night - or, more likely, one of his wedding nights as he likely had a harem.
  • Sacred Hospitality: One of his more redeeming qualities.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": As with many foreign names his name has been spelled both as Atila, Attilla, Atilla and Attila.
  • The Spymaster: Many of his successes against the Roman Empire came from knowing their movements in advance.
  • Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: The greatest battle he partook in, also the one that he was stopped in, was this. He headed an alliance of the Huns and all the barbarian tribes north of the Danube and east of modern-day Germany. The Romans marched to stop him at the head of an alliance of Visigoths and Franks, followed by Saxons and Burgundians. Why was this significant? Other than the sheer Rule of Cool of nearly 200,000 warriors brawling it out, the victors of this battle made the Middle Ages (representing Visigoths = European Spain, Franks = France & Holy Roman Empire and Saxons = Vikings/Anglo-Saxons/Normans).


Works featuring Attila:

  • Attila appears in rather mythologized form in the Nibelungenlied and the Völsunga saga under the name of Etzel or Atli.
  • Attila appears in Dante's Divine Comedy in the seventh circle of Hell.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus once did a parody of a typical American sitcom called The Attila the Hun Show, with John Cleese as the eponymous conqueror in the starring role.
  • The White Stag: A highly fictionalized Origin Story for the Huns.
  • An occasional rival to Hägar the Horrible.
  • Several Historical Fiction novels:
    • The Attila Trilogy by William Napier
    • The Scourge of God by William Dietrich
    • The Sword of Attila by Michael Curtis Ford
  • Attila: A miniseries starring Gerard Butler.
  • Defeated Alexander the Great in Deadliest Warrior.
  • Attila's is one of the historical campaigns you can play in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, showcasing the Hun faction that was included in that expansion.
  • Appears as the faction leader of the Huns in Civilization V. The AI assigned for him is easily the most aggressive out of all the leaders in the game (even memetic asshole Montezuma). His unique units and powers make him the the best choice for an early game conquest victory.
  • In Time Squad Attila is a sniveling, neurotic and strangely Ambiguously Jewish wannabe leader. Time Squad comes in to turn him into a leader that his men can respect and follow orders.
  • He appears as one of the many wax figures brought to life in Night at the Museum.
  • In the episode "Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch" of Futurama, Attila was one of several simulations of evil characters accidentally brought to life (others included Jack the Ripper and Professor Moriarty)
  • Serves as the namesake of Total War: Attila, and is essentially the Final Boss in the campaign. Unless you play as the Huns, in which case he is an Infinity+1 Sword.
  • In Los Trotamúsicos, an adaptation of The Bremen Town Musicians, the four animals were confronted by three robbers whose evil dog was named Attila.
  • In The Simpsons pilot episode The Simpsons Christmas Special the family tries to sing Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer but Bart keeps adding lines of his own to Homer's annoyment. After singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: you'll go in history." Bart belts out: "Like Attila the Hun!", which is the final straw for Homer who starts strangling him.
  • Margaret Thatcher was known as "Attila the Hen" by her detractors.
  • In the famous essay "For the New Intellectual," Ayn Rand used Attila as the symbol of all historical figures who think and act like The Brute, without thinking about the long-term future, or any form of morality (particularly the reasons why dealing with people through brute force is a bad thing), or an understanding of things that uses the concepts of philosophy and science, etc.
  • A Trinidadian calypso singer from the first half of the 20th century called himself Atilla the Hun. He is notable for being the first calypso musician to be elected into the City Council of Port of Spain and the Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Billy Joel started his career as part of a Psychedelic Rock band called Attila. Their only album Attila (1970) is often called "one of the worst albums ever created."
  • There is also a 2005 Metalcore band from Atlanta, Georgia called Attila.
  • Giuseppe Verdi wrote an opera about Attila the Hun in 1846.
  • Attila and his hordes occasionally show up on Kaamelott, where he is an easily fooled short Asian man and his hordes consist of a single bodyguard... yet is apparently a legitimate Scourge of God.
  • A Gender Flipped version of him appears as a Saber in Fate/Grand Ordernote . This depiction is also a very favorable one, as her In-Universe Character Alignment is Chaotic Good, and she's one of the more just Servants.

Alternative Title(s):

Attila The Hun