Attila tried to take Orleans, but soon after he began to attack the walls he saw a great army at a distance coming towards the city. He quickly gathered his forces together, marched to the neighboring plain of Champagne and halted at the place where the city of Chalons (shah-lon') now stands.
The army which Attila saw was an army of 300,000 Romans and Visigoths. It was led by a Roman general name Aetius (A-e'-ti-us) and the Visigoth king Theodoric (The-od'-o-ric). The Visigoths after the death of Alaric had settled in parts of Gaul, and their king had now agreed to join the Romans against the common enemy--the terrible Huns. So the great army of the Romans and Visigoths marched up and attacked the Huns at Chalons. It was a fierce battle. Both sides fought with the greatest bravery. At first the Huns seemed to be winning. They drove back the Romans and Visigoths from the field, and in the fight Theodoric was killed.
Aetius now began to fear that he would be beaten, but just at that moment Thorismond (Thor'-is-mond), the son of Theodoric, made another charge against the Huns. He had taken command of the Visigoths when his father was killed, and now he led them on to fight. They were all eager to have revenge for the death of their king, so they fought like lions and swept across the plain with great fury. The Huns were soon beaten on every side, and Attila himself fled to his camp. It was the first time he had ever been defeated. Thorismond, the conqueror, was lifted upon his shield on the battle-field and hailed as king of the Visigoths.
When Attila reached his camp he had all his baggage and wagons gathered in a great heap. He intended to set fire to it and jump into the flames if the Romans should come there to attack him.
"Here I will perish in the flames," he cried, "rather than surrender to my enemies."
But the Romans did not come to attack him, and in a few days he marched back to his own country.
Very soon, however, he was again on the war path. This time he invaded Italy. He attacked and plundered the town of Aquileia (Aq'-ui-le'-i-a), and the terrified inhabitants fled for their lives to the hills and mountains. Some of them took refuge in the islands and marshes of the Adriatic Sea. Here they founded Venice.
The people of Rome and the Emperor Valentinian were greatly alarmed at the approach of the dreaded Attila. He was now near the city, and they had no army strong enough to send against him. Rome would have been again destroyed if it had not been for Pope Leo I who went to the camp of Attila and persuaded him not to attack the city. It is said that the barbarian king was awed by the majestic aspect and priestly robes of Leo. It is also told that the apostles Peter and Paul appeared to Attila in his camp and threatened him with death if he should attack Rome. He did not go away, however, without getting a large sum of money as ransom.
Shortly after leaving Italy Attila suddenly died. Only the day before his death he had married a beautiful woman whom he loved very much.
The Huns mourned their king in a barbarous way. They shaved their heads and cut themselves on their faces with knives, so that their blood, instead of their tears, flowed for the loss of their great leader. They enclosed his body in three coffins--one of gold, one of silver, and one of iron--and they buried him at night, in a secret spot in the mountains. When the funeral was over, they killed the slaves who had dug the grave, as the Visigoths had done after the burial of Alaric.
After the death of Attila we hear little more of the Huns.
Famous Men of the Middle Ages -by- J. H. Haaren and A. B. Poland