The Battle of Chalons

The image above is of King Merovech (Creative Commons License) who is believed to be one of several barbarian warlords and kings that joined forces with the Roman general Aetius against the Huns under Attila at the Battle of Chalons. The Battle of Chalons is also called the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, the Battle of the Campus Mauriacus, Battle of Troyes or the Battle of Maurica. The bloody, high-casualty battle took place on June 20, 451 AD, between a coalition led by the Roman general Flavius Aetius and the Visigothic King Theodoric I against the Huns and their vassals commanded by their king Attila the Hun. It is not known exactly how many guys were killed or how many guys were psychologically and physically butchered. The number of casualties numbered in the ten of thousands of needless male deaths and the number of guys who were needlessly wounded. Both sides had between 30,000 and 50,000 men. It was an only-guys-die battlefield.

Before 450 AD, the Romans hold over Gaul had become weak, and Honoria, the sister, of Emperor Valentinian III, offered to marry Attila. The scheming, manipulative Honoria promised to deliver the Western Roman Empire as her dowry. Attila accepted Honoria’s offer, but immediately demanded that Valentinian be delivered her to him personally by her brother Roman Emperor Valentinian. Valentinian refused, and Attila began his war preparations.

The Vandal King Gaiseric who wished to wage war on the Visigoths who sided with Rome encouraged Attila to go to war. Marching across the Rhine in early 451, Attila was joined by the Gepids and Ostrogoths. Along their march, Attila’s men sacked town after town including Strasbourg, Metz, Cologne, Amiens, and Reims. When Attila reached Aurelianum (Orleans), the city’s inhabitants closed the gates forcing Attila to lay siege. In northern Italy, Magister militum Flavius Aetius began gathering his forces to resist Attila’s advance.

In southern Gaul, Aetius found himself with only a small force. He requested help from Theodoric I, king of the Visigoths, but was initially turned down. Avitus, a powerful local magnate was finally able to get help for Aetius. Together with Avitus, Aetius was able to convince Theodoric I to join the Romans as well as several other local tribes. Aetius then moved north to intercept Attila near Aurelianum. Word of Aetius’ approach reached Attila as his men were breaching the Aurlianum’s walls.

Attila abandoned his siege of Aurelianum so that he would not be trapped in the city. Attila began retreating to the northeast to reach more favorable strategic terrain to make a stand. Upon reaching the Catalaunian Fields, he halted, turned, and prepared to make a stand. On June 19, as the Romans approached, a group of Attila’s Gepids fought a large skirmish with some of Aetius’ Franks. Despite advice to the contrary, Attila gave the order to prepare for battle the next day. Attila left his fortified camp and marched towards a ridge that crossed the fields.

Attila did not advance his army until late in the day which would allow his men to retreat after nightfall if they were defeated. Moving forward they advanced up the right side of the ridge. The Huns were in the center and the Gepids and Ostrogoths were in position on the right and left. Aetius’ soldiers went up the left slope of the ridge with the Romans on the left, the Alans in the center, and Theodoric’s Visigoths on the right. The Huns advanced to take the top of the ridge, but Aetius’ men reached the crest first. Aetius’ soldiers repulsed Attila’s assault, and Theodoric’s Visigoths surged forward attacking the retreating Hunnic forces. Attila’s own unit was attacked and forced to fall back to his fortified camp, and Aetius’ troops compelled the rest of the Huns to fall back too. King Theodoric was killed in the fighting, and his son, Thorismund, assumed command of the Visigoths.

The next morning, Attila awaited a Roman attack. Thorismund wanted to resume the attack against the Huns, but was stopped by Aetius. Aetius knew that since Attila had been defeated, so he began to focus on the political situation. If the Huns were completely destroyed, the Visigoths would likely end their alliance with Rome and become a threat to Aetius, so he persuaded Thorismund to immediately return to the Visigoth capital at Tolosa to claim his father’s throne before one of his brothers seized it. Thorismund agreed and left. Aetius also dismissed his other Frankish allies before withdrawing with his Roman troops. Attila believed that the Roman withdrawal was a deceptive trick, so he waited several days before breaking camp and retreating back across the Rhine.


Video: Decisive Battles – Episode 8 – Chalons, 451 A.D.

Video: Battle of the Catalaunian Plains 451 – Aetius vs. Attila