Attila the Hun, By Christopher Kelly

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The Independent Culture

Beady little eyes, squashed nose, on the short side: conforming to dictatorial stereotype, this was the man whose army cut a swathe through 5th-century Europe from the Black Sea to Champagne, though his starting-point remains hazy.

Kelly admits that it is "regrettably impossible" to pinpoint the homeland of the Huns more accurately than the 300,000 square miles of modern Kazakhstan. Even so, Attila was a distinctly Western figure who outmanoeuvred Roman leaders and ran rings round their armies.

His wiles were backed by brutality. In Christianised Burgundy, "a pitiless act of ethnic cleansing" left 20,000 dead. Yet Kelly's impressive account describes Attila as "surprisingly civilised". Ironically, it seems the scourge of decadent Rome drowned when he had a nosebleed while sleeping off a drunken debauch. The Hun empire instantly fragmented.

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