College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


Benjamin Esswein


Attila, Apocalypse, Rome, Roman Empire, Christianity, Huns


European History | History


Since their arrival onto the European landscape from beyond Scythia, the land north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, the Huns were originally perceived by the Roman world as a seemingly unknowable, uncivilized barbarian group that instilled fear on the unfortunate peoples in their path. As the Huns migrated further south and eventually permanently settled in the Great Hungarian Plain, the Romans’ original perception largely remained intact, but with great alterations. By the campaigns of Attila in the mid-fifth century, as numerous cities and towns were utterly destroyed across the Balkans, Gaul, and northern Italy, Attila and the wider Hunnic peoples were no longer seen by the Romans as just another fearsome barbarian tribe, but instead became the embodiment of the apocalypse. As Attila proclaimed outside of Troyes in 451, he and the Huns were the “Scourge of God”, sent by the Almighty to punish the Christianized Roman world for their sins. Therefore, Attila and the Huns’ intrusion into the Roman world was not simply perceived as a minor obstacle to the continuation of Christianized Roman civilization and empire, but rather the direct fulfillment of the Christian apocalypse. From the establishment of traditional Roman paganism, to its infusion with Christianity forming a unique religious framework by the fifth century, particularly the concept of collapse, the ensuing Christian apocalyptic beliefs would alter the Romans’ perception of Attila and the wider Hunnic peoples.