The battle of the catalunic fields was the meeting between two worlds, that of Attila king of the Huns leading his formidable hordes across Western Europe and that of Gallo-Roman Gaul, former territory of the Roman Empire. This decisive fight did not take place near Châlons-en-Champagne as tradition reports, but near Troyes, at the Mauriacus campus. The Catalaunic fields relate more to the founding myth than to reality; in all likelihood, the Hunnic army was smaller and much more composite than medieval historiography has long claimed.
What happened and in what context?
In the year 451 CE, following the devastation of eastern Gaul, Attila headed for Orleans. Nothing and no one seems to be able to stop his formidable hordes. However, the Hunnic adventure had to end there, in Cenabum. The Roman Empire is in its last days and the few available Roman legions are mostly stationed in northern Italy under the protection of Ravenna and the Emperor of the day, Valentinian III.
In Gaul, only Magister Flavius Aetius, master of the militia at the head of a small cavalry and a few cohorts, made the decision to stem Attila's advance. The disproportion of manpower between his campaign army and the gigantic army of Attila, forces him to forge alliances with the barbarian kingdoms surrounding the Gallo-Roman territory, of which he is the ultimate representative of the Empire, the " last Roman ”. A peerless diplomat, Flavius Aetius succeeded in the impossible, with the support of most barbarian leaders in his ambition to stop Attila in his devastation of Gallo-Roman Gaul.
It is the summer of 451, now an armed force will be able to coerce the claims of the Hunnic king. Reinforced by thousands of warriors, Franks, Sarmatians, Alans, Burgundians, Visigoths and others, the army of the Generalissimo advances on Orleans, just as Attila sacked the city, after resistance of several weeks. Surprised by such a counterattack and following fighting in the city streets, Attila is forced to turn back, east. Slowed down by the convoy of his wagons filled with Orleans loot, Attila's army could not outrun the Allied army. After a few days and several miles, following each other at a distance, the two armies would have to meet again.
Attila's immense army was engaged in a vast plain of Champagne, with the coalition of Aetius at its rear. This time, the "Gods" had chosen the place of the decisive battle, of the final confrontation. Shortly before the start of the battle, the Gepids, a people allied with Attila, had clashed with the Franks, a federated people allied with Aetius, not far from there, in a place called Campus Mauriacus. Very many of theirs were exterminated by the Salian warriors during the fighting of formidable violence. The Gépides survivors of this hell, as well as the Franks joined theirs in the vast plain.
The plain of the great battle
The troops of each army had taken the time to position themselves because none of them wanted to escape the fight, this long-awaited confrontation. The army of Roman General Aetius occupied a slightly elevated position, as did Attila's nearby hordes!
Arrangements of troops among the Huns; Theodomir, Walamir and Widemir, Ostrogothic kings and princes, command the left wing of the Hunnic army. Attila's Hunnic hordes occupy the center, along with King Ardaric's Gepid warriors, many of them cut off after the Campus Mauriacus battle. As for the right wing, the vandal warriors of Andagese form its ranks. Other tribes had joined the Hunnic adventure; the Marcomans, the Herules, but also Alamans, Thuringians. As for the Riparian Franks, they too sided with Attila.
Allied side; The Visigoths of King Theodoric I and his sons, Princes Thorismond and Theodoric II, occupy the right wing. At the center of the coalition, Aetius places the Alans of Sangiban. The Burgundians of King Gondioc, and the Gallo-Romans rubbed shoulders with the Alans. Then come the Sarmatians, heavy riders in scale armor, fighting with spears, then the famous Soissonnais field army. Lète elements, and Armorican warriors, complete this armed device. Finally, the end of the left wing benefits from the reassuring presence of the Francs de Mérovée.
Thousands of warriors cover the plain
It was early afternoon when the Huns launched the first attack. The formidable horsemen of the steppe wanted to seize a hill. The shock was appalling for the Romans, and the Visigoths. But, after some time, the Huns were driven back by Thorismond and Aetius. Then the fighting spread among all the warrior peoples: the Visigoths opposed the Ostrogoths while the heavy cavalry of the Alans fought the Huns. The Romans, on the other hand, fought Attila's other Germanic allies. The battles were raging, sabers against sword, lassos and spears against swords ...
Equipped in the Roman style, the allies of Aetius succeeded in giving the exchange face to the Germano-Hunnic multitude.
For some time, the fighting continued in darkness. Galvanized by their king Theodoric, the Visigoths began to push back the Ostrogoth warriors. It was then that pierced by an enemy spear, Theodoric left to join Walhalla. His people were unleashed, forcing the Ostrogothic adversary to give in to their pressure. His left flank, therefore stripped of Ostrogothic supports, Attila ordered his warriors to erect a circular enclosure with its chariots and saddles. Then, noting that the fate of the battle was played, he took refuge behind this heap. Ready to set it on fire, to throw himself into the blaze, he then understood that the Visigoths were leaving the battlefield. For Attila, the departure of the main allies of Aetius is a relief. True, the battle was lost, but his hordes will be able to withdraw from this bloodied battlefield.
Tens of thousands of corpses littered the plain. The Romans were victorious, thanks to the precious help of the Visigoths. Having paid homage to their late king, the Visigoths, under the leadership of Thorismond son of Theodoric, resumed the road to their kingdom of Aquitaine.
Now Aetius’s main task was to watch the retreat of Attila to the Rhine, for his army was still very large and was a real threat until it crossed the great river. After a few days, this great moment finally arrived, Attila and his formidable hordes repassed the Rhine. Gaul was finally, definitively freed from the terrible Hunnic threat. Aetius, crowned with his victory, will obtain the prestigious title of Patrice des Romans, before being assassinated by the emperor, worried about the popularity of the last of the Romans.
Year 451, the victory of the West, by Alain Di Rocco. Editions Beaurepaire, 2018. Also available on Fnac.com.