Attila Flagellum Dei? & Attila e gli Unni

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Attila Flagellum Dei? Convegno internazionale di studi storici sulla figura di Attila e sulla discesa degli Unni in Italia nel 452 d.C. Gruppo archeologico aquileiese. Studia historica 129. A cura di Silvia Blason Scarel. ”L’Erma” di Bretschneider Roma 1994. ISBN 8-87062-860-4. 241 p. ITL 250.000.
Attila e gli Unni. Mostra itinerante. Gruppo archeologico aquileiese. Catalogo a cura di Silvia Blason Scarel. ”L’Erma” di Bretschneider Roma 1995. ISBN 88-7062-874-4. 149 p. ITL 150.000.

ARCTOS 30 /1996

The Gruppo archeologico aquileiese has produced two remarkable books on Attila and the Huns. Attila Flagellum Dei? is a collection of the papers given at the international meeting held in Aquileia in September 1990. Attila e gli unni was published for the Attila exhibition in Aquileia in 1991. Its purpose was to popularize the results of the international meeting for a wider public and to correct the conventional picture of the Huns in popular histories and school books. Attila Flagellum Dei? is an excellent survey of the present state of the Hunnic studies. The fifteen articles in the book raise many important questions. Can we speak of the Huns as a certain people? Did the Huns ever exist as a nation? Were they a bundle of different nomadic tribes rather than a nation” Was Huns a general label used for several nomadic invaders that disturbed the ”civilized” peoples of the late Roman Empire? The western ideas of Attila and the Huns from antiquity onwards seem to be more illustrative of the European peoples themselves than the Huns. The terrifying stories about the cruelties of the Huns and Attila’s beastial appearance reveal more about western anxieties and attitudes towards the Other, the different and the strange. The Huns were described as wild and ferocious beasts in the same way as enemies have always and everewhere been made inhuman.

Paolo Daffinà’s survey of the history and the present state of the Hunnic studies shows that the same basic problems remain unsolved: scholars do not really know where the Huns came from, or what their language and ethnic composition was like. Several articles in Attila Flagellum Dei? discuss the material aspects Hunnic history. The archaeological evidence is important because archaeology seems to be the only way of audiatur aut altera pars. All the literary sources on the Huns were written by their enemies. Péter Tomka’s article deals with the Hunnic archaeological material in Hungary, Timotej Knific surveys the traces of the Huns found in Slovenia, in literature, in folk tradition and in archaeology, and Katalin Bíró-Sey has studied the circulation of money in the Hunnic period in Pannonia and Dacia.

Walter Pohl analyses the dynamics of Attila’s kingdom and questions the previous clichés about irrational and uncontrolled barbarians. He stresses that the Roman historians like Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote descriptions of the Huns had hardly ever seen them; they simply used the topoi of classical ethnographies in describing them. Ferruccio Bertini’s article about the image of Attila and his Huns in medieval Latin chronicles and historiography is very fascinating. Bertini shows how Attila became a symbol of the ferocious wild pagan and the Flagellum Dei through whom the Christian god punished sinful mankind. Attila’s invasion of Italy and the situation in northern Italy are strongly represented in the articles in Attila Flagellum Dei?. Giuseppe Zecchini discusses the possible political and ideological reasons for the invasion. Mauro Caizolari has studied Attila’s campain in the valley of Po and has tried to identify the historical place where Leo I met Attila. Franca Maselli Scotti’s article deals with the defence of Aquileia in the light of the latest excavations at Aquileia and the surrounding region. Mario Mirabella Roberti has analyzed the traces of Attila’s invasion in two Aquileian buildings. Renato Iacumin discusses the problems of the church of Aquileia in the military, political and social crisis of the fifth century. Giuseppe Cuscito studies Leo I’s letter (PL 54, coll. 1135-1140) as a source on the sacking of Aquileia. Sergio Roda discusses the ideology of the western aristocracy in the fifth century, clearly manifested in Rutilius Namatianus’ De reditu. Danilo Mazzoleni surveys Christian epigraphy in Venetia et Histria in the fifth century.

Attila e gli unni is divided into four sections. The historical section concentrated on the history on the Huns and on the Northern Italian towns in late antiquity. The archaeological section is based on the discoveries made in the latest excavations. The section on literature and popular tradition is perhaps the most interesting part of Attila e gli unni because of fascinating examples of the human imagination. Attila appears in the works of late antique historians, in Germanic poems, in medieval chronicles and in folk tradition throughout Europe. Attila and the Huns in medals, graphic art, book illustrations and paintings are considered in the section on art.

Maijastina Kahlos

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