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The Huns: Nomads, Attila, and the Fall of Rome

Afternoon Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, December 13, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0320
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Materials for this program

A reconstruction potrait of Attila the Hun by artist/historian George S. Stuart (©George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures® archive)

In the history of Western civilization, few peoples are as important and yet as mysterious as the Huns. These nomadic horsemen appear in Roman sources shortly after the year 350, when they attacked the Goths living near the Black Sea after they traveled swiftly across the Asian steppe. Over the following century, the Huns played a critical role in the collapse of the western Roman empire, first indirectly by driving Germanic peoples across the imperial frontiers and then directly, led by Attila, the greatest Hun of all. Attila’s sudden death in 453 led to civil war among the Huns, however, and Hun power collapsed as swiftly as it had emerged.

The Huns left few traces behind, and scholars continue to debate concerning their language, culture, and ethnic identity. Much of historians' knowledge derives from Roman and Gothic writers who feared the Huns and struggled to understand nomadic life, while to uncover Hun origins, scholars look further east toward the borders of China. David Gwynn, associate professor in ancient and late antique history at Royal Holloway, University of London, covers the full breadth of the Hun world, from the Chinese steppe to Attila’s invasion of France and Italy. Drawing on the Romans who witnessed and chronicled the Hun impact at first hand, Gwynn explains why the Huns were so dangerous but their power so short-lived and explores the legacy they left for Europe and beyond.

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