Attila the Hun, By Christopher Kelly

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The Independent Culture

Popular history cleaves to the one-man principle – that world events are controlled by the caprice of a single character – and it's an approach the history-book-buying public tends to favour. So biographies of Napoleon or Henry VIII triumph over interpretations of events that privilege context instead of individuals. Christopher Kelly's approach appears at first to be the former, in that he credits Attila the Hun with single-handedly ending the once-mighty Roman Empire. But given the lack of contemporaneous information about Attila, and that what there is was provided by Roman scholars who weren't best placed to judge him, Kelly must broaden his net and examine the context of his anti-hero.

The political machinations of the now Christian Roman Empire, the establishment of Christianity in the East, and Attila's heathen appropriation of all of that (Kelly argues that the Huns, nomads without a strong enough culture of their own, simply adopted the culture of whatever country they had subdued) produce a cast of characters that would have made Cecil B DeMille's mind boggle, had he ever tried to film this ancient story.