CHAPTER VI. THE BATTLE OF CHALONS, A.D. 451.
The confederate armies of Romans and Visigoths at last met their great adversary, face to face, on the ample battle-ground of the Chalons plains. Aetius commanded on the right of the allies; King Theodoric on the left; and Sangipan, king of the Alans, whose fidelity was suspected, was placed purposely in the centre and in the very front of the battle. Attila commanded his centre in person, at the head of his own countrymen, while the Ostrogoths, the Gepidae, and the other subject allies of the Huns, were drawn up on the wings. Some manoeuvring appears to have occurred before the engagement, in which Attila had the advantage, inasmuch as he succeeded in occupying a sloping hill, which commanded the left flank of the Huns. Attila saw the importance of the position taken by Aetius on the high ground, and commenced the battle by a furious attack on this part of the Roman line, in which he seems to have detached some of his best troops from his centre to aid his left. The Romans having the advantage of the ground, repulsed the Huns, and while the allies gained this advantage on their right, their left, under King Theodoric, assailed the Ostrogoths, who formed the right of Attila's army. The gallant king was himself struck down by a javelin, as he rode onward at the head of his men, and his own cavalry charging over him trampled him to death in the confusion. But the Visigoths, infuriated, not dispirited, by their monarch's fall, routed the enemies opposed to them, and then wheeled upon the flank of the Hunnish centre, which had been engaged in a sanguinary and indecisive contest with the Alans.
In this peril Attila made his centre fall back upon his camp; and when the shelter of its entrenchments and waggons had once been gained, the Hunnish archers repulsed, without difficulty, the charges of the vengeful Gothic cavalry. Aetius had not pressed the advantage which he gained on his side of the field, and when night fell over the wild scene of havoc, Attila's left was still unbroken, but his right had been routed, and his centre forced back upon his camp.
Expecting an assault on the morrow, Attila stationed his best archers in front of the cars and waggons, which were drawn up as a fortification along his lines, and made every preparation for a desperate resistance. But the "Scourge of God" resolved that no man should boast of the honour of having either captured or slain him; and he caused to be raised in the centre of his encampment a huge pyramid of the wooden saddles of his cavalry: round it he heaped the spoils and the wealth that he had won; on it he stationed his wives who had accompanied him in the campaign; and on the summit he placed himself, ready to perish in the flames, and baulk the victorious foe of their choicest booty, should they succeed in storming his defences.
But when the morning broke, and revealed the extent of the carnage, with which the plains were heaped for miles, the successful allies saw also and respected the resolute attitude of their antagonist. Neither were any measures taken to blockade him in his camp, and so to extort by famine that submission which it was too plainly perilous to enforce with the sword. Attila was allowed to march back the remnants of his army without molestation, and even with the semblance of success.
It is probable that the crafty Aetius was unwilling to be too victorious. He dreaded the glory which his allies the Visigoths had acquired; and feared that Rome might find a second Alaric in Prince Thorismund, who had signalized himself in the battle, and had been chosen on the field to succeed his father Theodoric. He persuaded the young king to return at once to his capital: and thus relieved himself at the same time of the presence of a dangerous friend, as well as of a formidable though beaten foe.
Attila's attacks on the Western, empire were soon renewed; but never with such peril to the civilized world as had menaced it before his defeat at Chalons. And on his death, two years after that battle, the vast empire which his genius had founded was soon dissevered by the successful revolts of the subject nations. The name of the Huns ceased for some centuries to inspire terror in Western Europe, and their ascendency passed away with the life of the great king by whom it had been so fearfully augmented. [If I seem to have given fewer of the details of the battle itself than its importance would warrant, my excuse must be, that Gibbon has enriched our language with a description of it, too long for quotation and too splendid for rivalry. I have not, however, taken altogether the same view of it that he has. The notes to Mr. Herbert's poem of "Attila" bring together nearly all the authorities on the subject.]
SYNOPSIS OF EVENTS BETWEEN THE BATTLE OF CHALONS, A.D. 451, AND THE BATTLE OF TOURS, 732.
A.D. 476. The Roman Empire of the West extinguished by Odoacer.
482. Establishment of the French monarchy in Gaul by Clovis.
455-482. The Saxons, Angles, and Frisians conquer Britain except the northern parts, and the districts along the west coast. The German conquerors found eight independent kingdoms.
533-568. The generals of Justinian, the Emperor of Constantinople, conquer Italy and North Africa; and these countries are for a short time annexed to the Roman Empire of the East.
568-570. The Lombards conquer great part of Italy.
570-627. The wars between the Emperors of Constantinople and the Kings of Persia are actively continued.
622. The Mahometan era of the Hegira. Mahomet is driven from Mecca, and is received as prince of Medina.
629-632. Mahomet conquers Arabia.
632-651. The Mahometan Arabs invade and conquer Persia.
632-709. They attack the Roman Empire of the East. They conquer Syria, Egypt, and Africa.
709-713. They cross the straits of Gibraltar, and invade and conquer Spain.