Drought could have been a convenient excuse for Attila to attack Rome

(ORDO NEWS) — The authors of a new study believe that they have established the reason for the fall of the Roman Empire: climate change is to blame. But this conclusion raises questions.

The events known in history as the Great Migration of Nations completely redrawn the map of Western Europe and led to the fall of the great empire – Rome.

And they began in the second half of the 4th century, when the Huns, nomads from East and Central Asia, invaded Europe from the east.

Historians do not know for sure why the Huns went west. It is generally accepted that they were driven out of Asia by the tribes of ancient Mongolian nomads.

After that, the Huns had no choice but to try to put pressure on their western neighbors – the Germanic tribes were ready.

The pressure was successful: by 373 they conquered the Alans living on the Don, the Ostrogothic state on the Dnieper, and even occupied the Roman province of Pannonia.

There they changed their nomadic way of life and, in addition to traditional animal husbandry, took up agriculture.

Drought could have been a convenient excuse for Attila to attack Rome 2
In historical sources, the Huns are usually portrayed as bloodthirsty savages. It is worth remembering that all these sources were written by Roman and Byzantine authors who did not have excessive affection for the Huns

Authors of which believe that the further expansion of the Huns into Roman lands was due to extreme droughts in 430-450 AD.

They believe that it was natural events that disrupted the way of life in the Danube border provinces of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, forcing the peoples of the Hunnic tribal union to adopt new strategies to “protect against serious economic problems.”

Scientists from the University of Cambridge (Great Britain) came to such conclusions after evaluating a new reconstruction of the precipitation regime based on tree rings, as well as archaeological and historical data.

They believe that climatic fluctuations, in particular the droughts from 420 to 450 AD, may have led to a decrease in crop yields and pastures for animals outside the floodplains of the Danube and Tisza.

The paper says: “We found that periods of drought, recorded by biochemical signals in tree rings, coincided with an increase in foray activity in the region.

If resource scarcity became too extreme, the settled population could be forced to move, diversify their livelihoods, and switch between farming and pastoralism. This could be an important strategy during a climate-driven downturn.”

Drought could have been a convenient excuse for Attila to attack Rome 3
The map of Europe shows the areas most affected by droughts in 420-450 AD

In other words, the authors of the work argue that the nomadic tribes who came from the east began to lead a settled way of life. And only the drought forced them to change their social and political organization and become violent raiders.

Let’s try to figure out if everything is so simple. Hun attacks on the Roman frontier intensified after Attila’s rise to power in 434.

The Huns increasingly demanded payments in gold and eventually began to lay claim to a strip of Roman territory along the Danube. In 451 they invaded Gaul, and a year later they invaded Northern Italy.

The study argues that if the modern dating of events is correct, then the most devastating invasions of the Huns in 447, 451 and 452 coincided with extremely dry summers in the Carpathian Basin: “Climate-induced economic shocks may have required Attila and other dignitaries to mine gold in the Roman provinces to maintain military units and maintain inter-elite loyalty. Former shepherds seem to have become robbers.”

The problem with this conclusion is that the Huns were never peaceful shepherds. After the conquest of the lands around the Don, the Dnieper, the Dniester, and also Pannonia, they did not stop and did not suddenly become sharply peaceful.

So, already in 395, the Huns, having passed through the Caucasus, ravaged the Roman provinces of Syria and Cappadocia.

Then the Romans manage, with the help of gold, to attract the Huns as allies – they fight together against the Goths.

But already in 422, the former allies attacked Thrace, forcing the emperor of Byzantium to pay off them. These are the peaceful shepherds and farmers.

The Great Migration of Nations is often associated with climate change, which is called the Climate Pessimum of the Early Middle Ages.

But it began almost a hundred years after the conquests of Attila, which are mentioned in the work, only in 535.

Let us assume that the drought itself, which, moreover, did not last for several years, did not become the main reason for the attack on the central provinces of the Roman Empire, although they could be mentioned at the negotiations as difficult circumstances.

Rather, the point is directly in the personality of the leader of the Huns – Attila. It was he who led the most devastating campaigns in the Roman lands.

He changed the Hunnic military strategy: under him, sieges of cities began to be practiced. And he also led the Huns to Gaul, where he was stopped at the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields.


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