According to legend, one of the most famous miracles in the history of Christianity occurred when St. Peter and St. Paul appeared to Attila, threatening him with instant death if he ignored the urgings of Leo.
The invasion of Italy
Attila the Huns Invasion of Italy

452 AD

Partially recovered from the defeat at Gaul, Attila in the next year (452 AD), turned his attention to Italy. He crossed over the Alps and moved down into Italy, launching another great invasion that terrorized the inhabitants of the Western Roman Empire. In some ways this second invasion of the West was even more savage than the first.

The city of Aquileia at the tip of the Adriatic was wiped off the face of the earth. The fugitives from that pitiful city, the Veneti of northeastern Italy, took refuge among the islands, marshes, and lagoons at the head of the Adriatic Sea and there founded a state that afterward grew into the republic of Venice.

Much of the Po Valley - Milan, Verona, and Padua - was devastated and depopulated. The Hun had pillaged and destroyed Northern Italy! Aetius found it much more difficult to persuade Visigoths and Alans to help in the defense of Italy than he had a year earlier in organizing them to protect Gaul.

For awhile it appeared that Italy would be lost to the invaders, after he devastated Aquileia, Milan, Padua, and other cities, his armies advanced upon Rome.

On his march to Rome he was boasting as he advanced, that the total conquest of Italy was to be his crowning work of destruction. Rome was the dowry which he planned to present to his bride, Honoria, the granddaughter of the great Theodosius!

All Rome awaited the coming of the Mongol King in hopeless terror. They had no defense left against him. And then, in the darkest hour ­ as would often be the case through the centuries ahead - the Eternal City was saved, not by its legions, its tribunes, its senators, or its suffering citizens. Rome was saved by its Bishop, the Holy Roman Pontiff, Pope Leo I.

Rome was saved from destruction, probably, by the mediation of Pope Leo I, who went out to meet Attila. He climbed steadily northward, over the mountains, and found the Mongolian chief below Mantua, at the point where the Mincio River, flowing down from its Alpine source - Lago di Garda ­ emptied itself in the Po. Attila's troops, hardened veterans seasoned in plunder and sack and rape, were ready and waiting to cross the Po when Saint Leo, in his papal robes, entered the disordered camp and stood before the King of the Huns.

Pope Leo threatened Attila with the power from St Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, if he did not turn back and leave Italy unmolested. Attila the Hun yielded before Leo, and agreed to turn back. He gave up Rome. And Leo, absorbed in thanksgiving, returned to his See.

Attila's servants, so the story is told, asked him why he had reversed his custom and capitulated so easily to the Bishop of Rome. The brigand chief answered that all the while the Pope was speaking, he, Attila, the generator of terror in others, was himself consumed in fear, for there had appeared in the air above the Pope's head a figure in the dress of a priest, holding in his hand a drawn sword with which he made as if to kill him unless he consented to do as Leo asked. The figure was that of St Peter!

Attila's position was weaker than the Romans realized, undoubtedly because of the serious losses he had suffered the previous year at Châlons.

In an act that added immeasurably to the influence of the fledgling papacy, an obliging Attila led his army out of Italy. It was probably not so much the influence of Leo as the fact that his troops were short of supplies that motivated the great Barbarian leader. There had been a famine in Italy in 450-51, and logistical support had never been a strong point for Barbarian armies. Also a plague swept through the army of the Huns, and the Eastern Emperor Marcian sent an army across the Danube to strike into the heartland of the Huns' territory. When these factors are added to the disastrous loses the year earlier at Châlons, it is obvious why Attila was able to see merit in the humanitarian arguments of Pope Leo.

In any event, the great Hun spared Rome and withdrew from Italy. Twice in successive years, at Châlons and in Northern Italy, the menace of the Huns had proved incapable of bringing the Western Empire to its knees. Perhaps Rome's last great service to the West was to serve as a buffer between the Asiatic Huns and the Germanic Barbarians whose destiny was to lay the medieval foundations of the modern, western nations. Aetius had been blamed by many Italians for not having destroyed Attila and the Huns in Gaul, but "the last of the Romans" had contributed substantially to the ruin of the once proud Barbarian nation. Its place in the pages of history was over.

In 453 Attila prepared once more to invade Italy, but he died before the plan could be carried out.

It is told that he took a new, young, beautiful bride, a damsel named Ildico, though he already had a coterie of wives. The wedding day was spent in heavy drinking and partying, and the King of the Huns took his new bride to bed that night in drunken lust. The next morning it was discovered that he had died. In his drunkenness he had choked to death in his own nosebleed. The new bride was found quivering in fear in the great man's bedquarters. The empire of the Huns dissipated nearly as quickly as its most famous leader. In 454 the Ostrogoths and other Germanic tribes revolted against the Huns, and the sons of Attila, who had quarreled among themselves, could not deal with the crisis. In the words of Bury, the Huns were "scattered to the winds."

Attila the Hun, the invasion of Gaul and the battle of Châlons.
Attila the Hun.
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