Acheronte – “Flagellum Dei (Attila)”

Attila the Hun is the most well known of the barbarian warlords who terrorized the Roman Empire in the 400s CE. Ironically, he was responsible for neither sacking Rome or establishing any permanent kingdom in place of the Western Roman provinces. For the sackings of Rome, we can thank Alaric and his Visigoths (410 CE) and Gaiseric and his Vandals (455 CE). The Goths would eventually take over all of Spain and Italy, while the Vandals seized North Africa. Attila’s kingdom was much more short-lived, but his reign was nevertheless a cause of existential terror not only for the Romans, but even for those aforementioned Germanic tribes. Indeed, it was largely due to arrival of the Huns in Europe from the central Asian steppes that several Germanic tribes were forced to migrate, out of fear, further West and up against Roman frontiers. This desperation led the Goths to victory over the Romans at Adrianople in 378, and as Rome’s military resources dwindled, more and more tribes began freely crossing the Danube and Rhine to safety from Hunnic expansion.

Attila’s Hunnic Empire at its greatest extent covered most of eastern and central Europe, and he very well may have conquered both halves of the Roman Empire itself. However, the Romans had luck of their side. First, he was paid off in several tons of gold by the citizens of Rome and Constantinople to ward off his attack on their cities. Then, a combined Roman and Gothic force defeated him at Chalons in 451. He regrouped, and in 453 was again poised to attack Rome when he died suddenly of a massive nosebleed. The Romans breathed a sigh of relief, though Rome would be sacked by the Vandals only two years later and the Western Empire would see its political end when its last emperor was deposed in 476. Despite the fact that Attila was not the one to sack Rome or destroy the Empire, the fact that his forces were a menace to Roman and barbarian alike earned him the epithet Flagellum Dei, the “Scourge of God.” He was divine punishment for Rome’s centuries of sin, and the Romans henceforth would retreat into the penitent piety of the Middle Ages.

The Italian black metal band Acheronte rank Attila among the Ancient Furies of Alexander the Great, Diocletian, Tamerlane, and Vlad the Impaler, in this 2016 concept album devoted to iron-fisted rulers who either brutally conquered vast territories, and/or exercised extreme cruelty in their methods of rule. It is a meditation on the darkest depths of the human condition combined with great military and political power.

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