Although he reigned almost 20 years as king of the Huns, the image of Attila in history and in the popular imagination is based upon two aggressive military campaigns in the last two years of his life which threatened to dramatically redirect the development of Western Europe.
Attila and his brother succeeded their uncle as leaders of the Huns in 434, with Attila in the junior role until his brother's death (perhaps at Attila's hand) 12 years later. The Hun kingdom was centered in modern-day Hungary. Attila embarked immediately upon a series of wars extending Hun rule from the Rhine across the north of the Black Sea as far as the Caspian Sea. From that base he soon began a long series of saber-rattling negotiations with the capitals of the Roman Empire at Constantinople in the East and Ravenna in the West.
Finally, Attila forged an alliance with the Franks and Vandals and in Spring 451 unleashed his long-threatened attack into the heart of Western Europe. After pillaging a broad swath of cities in his path, he was near obtaining the surrender of Orleans when the combined Roman and Visigoth armies arrived and forced Attila's retreat to the northeast.
Near Troyes the opposing forces joined battle at Chalons in one of the decisive battles of European history. Though the margin of victory was slim, the Western army prevailed, precipitating Attila's withdrawal back across the Rhine and avoiding a decisive shift in the course of political and economic development in Western Europe.
Attila's adventures in the West had not ended, however. In the following year he launched a devastating campaign into Italy.
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