The Huns & Goths Part 1: Setting the Stage

A historical overview by Ian Wilson (Rated G)

I’ve been researching the conflicts between the Huns and Goths for a short story I’ve been writing, and I’ve discovered a forgotten history of a time and place I knew little about, and peoples that I had only heard rumors about before. I believe it’s important to remember the names and acts of the peoples of the past, because we can always learn something from them. Not just their mistakes, but their successes and virtues as well. 

For those who do not know, the Goths and the Huns were two tribes living on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. The clash of these three cultures contributed greatly to the fall of Rome, and affected modern society in a few important ways.

By the 4th century, the Roman Empire had grown so large that it had divided itself into two regions: the West and the East. Each had their own Emperor, and had developed their own subcultures though on paper they were still one empire. 

Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Empire, but had become embroiled in theological disputes by the 4th century, principally the Arian heresy. 

Now, until this point, both the Huns and the Goths were considered to be “barbarian” and of little importance to Rome, much less a threat to Roman power. But times change and Rome had seen significant cultural and moral decay. Their armed forces were mostly made up of barbarians who had joined the legion in exchange for Roman citizenship and all the benefits thereof. The government was mostly incompetent. And then there was that heresy I had mentioned earlier. 

Rome was weak and decadent, and the barbarians could sense it. 

The initial incursions were not necessarily deliberate. The Huns, for reasons that are unknown, suddenly began attacking their Germanic neighbors – the Goths, the Alans, the Vandals, etc. – pushing them out of their native lands and toward Rome. Seeking food and safety, the Germanic tribesmen came to Rome for aid. Rome was happy to oblige, if only so that they might have a Germanic “buffer zone” between the Romans and the Huns. As much as the Romans hated the Germanic tribes, they feared the Huns even more. The Huns had an unrivaled reputation for cruelty and incredible skill in mounted combat. They would ride in like a whirlwind and vanish before their foes had even put on their armor. 

Fortunately, the Huns were an assortment of allied tribesmen with multiple chiefs who had little hope against the monolithic organization that was the Roman Legion. That is, until a figure of near mythic proportions arose to take the reins of power. A figure whose name still sparks mild apprehension by the mere mention of it, so many centuries away; Attila. 

But that’s another story.

(To be continued next week)

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