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Army Notes


Attila the Hun (433-453 AD)
(DBA II/80a)

By Chris Jones

The known history of the Huns predates the rule of Attila by at least a century. However, prior to his times they were merely a nomadic people living on the fringes of civilisation which were at times a nuisance with their rapid raiding but posed no serious threat to ordered nations. They also served in great quantities as mercenaries in the armies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

It was under Attila that the Huns rose to rule an empire of oppressed peoples who formed an army partly of slaves, partly of free men who threatened to overthrow both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires as well as setting in progress changes which would soon cause the fall of Rome. In the process their name became synonymous with cruelty and ferocity. Despite the fact that they posed a serious threat for a comparatively short period of time, the name of the Huns is far better known to most people today than that of the Avars, Khazars or Magyars who followed them.

Attilašs brother Bleda became King of the Huns in 435 AD. Despite the strong tradition that the two brothers shared the kingship, the preponderance of evidence suggests that Attila was the second ranking prince at this time although with a great degree of independence in terms of both action and military forces. When his brother launched major campaigns against the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople in 440 and 441 AD, Attila at first stayed out of the conflict with his forces and indeed dealt diplomatically with the Eastern Emperor until he decided to share in his brotheršs success. The Hunsš actions resulted in the sack of many towns and even though Constantinople was not threatened at this time the Eastern Empire signed a favourable treaty with the Huns providing them with large amounts of tribute.

In 440 AD the Sassanid Persians invaded Armenia. Large Hun contingents were sent to fight them until a major defeat of the Armenians in 451 AD caused a scaling down of Hun interest there. Attila was believed at one point to be considering an attack on Sassanid Persia but direct confrontation appears to have never materialised.

In 445 AD Bleda died. Whether his death was natural or due to a hunting accident or whether Attila had him murdered will never be known for sure. After his death, Attila became the undisputed King of the Huns, the first to hold such a title and he was to prove to be the last.

In 447 AD Attila launched a major campaign against the Eastern Roman Empire. He sacked over seventy towns. By a curious coincidence a major earthquake at the same time severely damaged the walls of Constantinople and for a period of two months while they were feverishly repaired Attila could probably have taken the city. But it appears that his army consisting of many Germanic peoples as well as Huns did not move as fast as Hun armies of old and the opportunity passed. A major battle was fought in Thrace from which the Huns emerged victorious from a costly conflict. Disease forced them to retreat after ravaging northern Greece as far south as Thermopylae.

Attila then turned his attention to the Western Roman Empire. In 451 AD he led his forces in an invasion of Germany and France picking up forces of Franks, Goths and Burgundians en route. His heterogeneous army spread fear wherever it went. The city of Metz was sacked and Paris threatened. Tradition has it that the city was saved by the intervention of Saint Genevieve who persuaded Attila to spare the city. A similar event saved the city of Troyes. Possibly Metz had been comprehensively sacked as an example to encourage other cities not to resist Attila. Attila then settled down to lay siege to Orleans. As the siege was on the verge of success the main Roman forces under Aetius arrived to give battle.

The battle was fought at Chalons or the Catalaunian Fields in June 451 AD. For a battle included by Creasy in his list of fifteen decisive battles of history it was remarkably indecisive ­ both armies were battered but remained to fight another day but Attila withdrew from his besieged camp to the Hungarian homeland for the winter. It has been suggested that Aetius allowed Attila to escape total defeat in order to retain the Huns as a threat to control the Visigoths.

In 452 AD Attila launched an invasion of Italy. The city of Aquileia was besieged and sacked after a siege lasting two months. Much of Lombardy was laid waste but Rome was saved partly by the intervention of the Pope Leo I. In addition Attilašs forces appeared to have caught a plague (malaria?), the Eastern Emperor, Marcian, had attacked Hunnic possessions across the Danube and it was near the end of the campaign season. For one or all of these reasons Attila withdrew again to Hungary.

In 453 AD Attila took a new wife. He died on his wedding night from a burst blood vessel due to over-indulgence at the wedding feast.

On his death, his eldest son, Erlak, became King but his other sons held much power. Such division led to civil war in which Erlak drove out the other sons. However he now faced a more serious threat in the shape of a revolt led by the Gepid King Ardaric. Erlak with his Hun forces met Ardaric with Gepid and Germanic troops at the river Nedao in 454 or 455 AD. The Huns were heavily defeated and Erlak was killed.

Of the surviving Huns some returned to the Steppes while others settled as Foederati in the Eastern Empire. Many served as mercenaries in the Roman armies. The days of Hun Empire were however over. Attila had ruled the Huns as absolute King for a mere 8 years but his claim to immortality was secure.


Attilašs army differed from other Hunnic armies in including many subject and allied nationalities.

1x Lh(Gen) or Cv(Gen) Although there is no direct evidence that any Huns fought other than as mounted light archers, the Cv option for the general represents armoured cavalry armed with lance and bow. Indirect evidence for some Huns being so armed derives from Huns entering Roman service being credited with introducing the lance / bow combination to Roman cavalry tactics. The Lh option are simply mounted archers armed with bow and javelin although the generals element might well have some armour.
7x 2Lh Hun mounted light archers some also armed with javelins and shields
1x 3Kn Fast-charging Ostrogothic or Gepid armoured cavalry armed with spear and shield
2x 4Wb Frankish, Burgundian, Gepid or other German foot warriors armed with spear and shield.
1x 2Ps Lightly equipped Ostrogothic or Gepid archers

Enemies and Tactics

General Tactics: Firstly, all historical enemies are arable and of lower Ag so most battles will be against a BUA. In the case of 82a, 83a and 83b the very low Ag means that nearly all games will include an enemy BUA. Now, as will be clear from the preceding historical piece, Attilašs Huns were quite effective at sieges. Not so in DBA! With their best assault troops the Wb they cannot capture a BUA garrisoned by a Bd (as may be the case with 83a and 83b) and will die nearly 50% of the time. Even if the BUA is only garrisoned by Wb which everyone has except 67b the assault will only succeed 1 in 36 times and the Wb die one third of the time. So in order to reproduce historical battles it will be necessary to adopt a variant rule that either devalues or removes the BUA.

Attilašs Army is a Light Horse heavy army and will need to out-flank its enemies to attack their camp or create flank / rear attacks to defeat heavier slower opponents. This will be easier in 25mm due to the board being larger in proportion to the element size and move. This is an army which really gains from a larger board size as has been suggested in a number of variant rules.

Lh can be used to draw impetuous Kn and Wb forward into double overlaps and QK situations but it must be done with care as Kn kill the Lh on a double.

67b Early Ostrogothic, Herul, Sciri or Taifali: This army consists of an equal number of Kn and Ps. As they are Ag 3, they will set up the terrain in the majority of battles so the Ps will probably hide in bad-going. The Huns can use their Lh to draw the Kn into double-overlaps where they can be quick-killed or work around the flanks to create over-laps. A BUA ifone is present will only be defended by Ps and so could be taken by Wb although the odds are still against them.

69 Sassanid Persia: The Sassanids have two elements not featured in the army of any other enemy. One is the El which have a QK on Wb or Kn so will need avoiding. Lh do QK El but at +2 vs +5 will need overlaps or rear attacks. The other element are the 7Hd which against the Huns are essentially the same as Wb which do not recoil except that they are QK by the Hunšs Wb and do not gain rear support against them. So they are probably a good target for the Wb. Otherwise the army consists chiefly of Kn and Cv which the Lh should try to create overlaps against.

70a Burgundi and 72d Early Frankish, Rugian or Turcilingi: These are both Wb heavy armies with little else. Neither has Kn so your Wb can take on their Wb on equal terms. Kn can be used to QK Wb while Lh look for flanks to exploit.

82a Later Visigothic (note that the inclusion of 65b Early Visigothic appears to be an error as the dates 200 ­ 419 AD do not overlap with Attilašs army). This army has a Kn General and Cv as well as Wb. So again avoid the Kn with your Wb and attempt to create overlaps or flank attacks with your Lh against the Kn and Cv. However this army also has 4 elements which can be taken either as 3 Bw or 2 Ps. The Bw option is very unbalancing in that they are +4 vs +2 against Lh or indeed +4 vs +0 with 3 shooting at one Lh element and kill Lh on a double. A Bw element in a BUA does not bear thinking about! So if you are attempting historicalmatch-ups you probably should take the 2Ps option to maintain the balance found historically between these armies.

83ab Patrician Roman (East and West): Use your Kn vs Bd, Ax and Wb elements but remember that ps can be used to support Bd or Ax vs mounted. If possible use your Wb to sweep away the Bd. Attempt to draw Kn into overlaps with your Lh and avoid his Kn with your Wb if you can. At least therešs no Art to worry about! The Huns against these two armies will be an interesting duel of two heterogeneous forces with large amounts of impetuous forces in both sides.

58 Alan (not included in list of enemies in the Army Lists but a campaign against them in 452 / 453 is mentioned by Jordanes). The Alan army is also essentially a Lh army and so very mobile. Use your Kn carefully to destroy opposing Lh but beware of follow-ups. Otherwise it will be whoever manoeuvres the best. During this period the Alans should not use the 4Bd option.


Hun ranges (or figures) in 15mm are available from a number of manufacturers including Allan Touller, Chariot, Donnington, Essex, Gladiator, Irregular, Lancashire, Museum, Old Glory and Table Top Games.

In 25mm, figures are available from Essex, Foundry, Hinchcliffe, Irregular, Old Glory, and Whitecross Games.

Other Resources

A gallery featuring the author's Atilla the Hun DBA army comprised of 28mm Whitecross and Gripping Beast figures.

The De Bellis Bookstore features the following Osprey title: Attila and the Nomad Hordes : Warfare on the Eurasian Steppes 4th-12th C. (30) [New Trade Edition]

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My thanks to Chris Jones for submitting this essay. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: Dec. 3, 2002