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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Huns, Visigoths, Romans, and a Pope

- Gerard Butler as Attila

This week's movie rental was 2001's Attila. It stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Attila the Hun, Powers Boothe as Roman general Flavius Aetius, Reg Rogers as the Western Roman emperor Valentinian III, Tim Curry as the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Theodosius II, and Liam Cunningham as King of the Visigoths Theodoric I.

- Theodoric I by Fabrizio Castello

I liked the movie fairly well - it wasn't great but was entertaining enough. There were a few historical inaccuracies but mostly what the movie did was dramatically elaborate and fill in the story told by history about the rise of Attila the Hun and the crumbling of the 5th century Roman empire. I found it interesting because I really like ancient history but I've not paid much attention to the Roman empire after the five good emperors. What I learned through the movie (and through reading up afterwards) was that the lives of the Romans were much more interwoven with those of the surrounding nations than I'd realized, and even religion played its part (Pope Leo I had a hand in dissuading Attila from sacking Rome, but sadly Leo didn't make the cut for the cast of this movie).

- the meeting between Attila and Pope Leo the Great Chronicon Pictum

The movie basically tells of the rise of Attila among the Huns and his growing interest in Rome. He meets Flavius Aetius (hereafter just "Aetius") who invites him to visit the eternal city (not historical) where he gets involved with the emperor's sister Honoria. This become significant later when she gets in trouble with the emperor and sends Attila a ring and an offer of half the Roman empire if he'll rescue her (this is actually true :). He decides to take her up on her offer and plans to attack Rome, but Aetius heads him off at the famous Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 - the Roman compliment was led by Aetius but consisted not just of soldiers of Rome but also included those of Visigothic king Theodoric I, the Frankish leader Merovech, founder of the Merovingian dynasty, and the Sarmatians (remember King Arthur?). Attila had some interesting help as well, including Valamir the Ostrogoth. Theodoric was killed in the battle but Attila was defeated.

- Theodoric, played by Liam Cunningham

Though the movie doesn't show this, Attila returned to pillage Italy the next year and this was when Valentinian III sent envoys, two civilians and Leo I, to negotiate with (bribe) Attila to leave Rome untouched, which he did. He died a couple of years later in real life, though the movie has him die soon after the big battle, poisoned by his latest wife, put up to it by Aetius (The Volsunga saga and the Poetic Edda have King Atli/Attila die at the hands of his wife too, but I think historians suspect the Byzantine emperor had it done). Rome's reprieve didn't last long, though - it was sacked in 455 by the Vandal king Genseric .....

Upon the Vandal arrival, according to the chronicler Prosper of Aquitaine, Pope Leo I requested that Genseric not destroy the ancient city or murder its inhabitants. Genseric agreed and the gates of Rome were thrown open to him and his men .... The cause of most controversy, however, is the claim that the sack was relatively "clean", in that there was little murder and violence, and the Vandals did not burn the buildings of the city. This interpretation seems to stem from Prosper's claim that Leo managed to persuade Genseric to refrain from violence. However, Victor of Vita records how many shiploads of captives arrived in Africa from Rome, with the purpose of being sold into slavery. Similarly, the Byzantine historian Procopius reports how at least one church was burnt down.

- Attila

At the very end of the movie, after both Attila and Aetius have been killed, a voice-over morosely intoned this thought, which I wanted to post (if only for Liam) ......

With Attila dead, there was no one capable of uniting the various nations outside Rome's boundaries. With Aetius dead, there was no one capable of protecting Rome. Within a generation, the western empire fell and the centuries of chaos known to history as the Dark Ages descended.



Blogger Liam said...

Thanks, Crystal!

That last paragraph sounds unbearably silly. On the other hand, Tim Curry as Theodosius II seems to good to pass up.

12:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

When I heard that last line in the movie, I thought of you gnashing your teeth - heh. It reminded me of a line one of the Stargate characters spoke when visiting a medieval village where they were trepanning someone to let the demons out of their skull - "They didn't call it the Dark Ages because it was dark" :)

12:13 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

I don't think of trepanning as something as specifically medieval, but hey -- I'd go for a good trepanation. God knows I have enough demons to let out.

2:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah - Dark Ages bashng :) I guess docs still more or less practice trepanning to relieve inter-cranial pressure, etc.

3:30 PM  

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