Interview with Attila the Hun
Interview with Attila the Hun
I tried for months to get an interview with Attila the Hun. You know … that ferocious warrior/king known as the ‘Scourge (punishment) of God.’ But to no avail. I could not reach him by Skype, he would not friend me on Facebook, and my tweets went unanswered.
My supernatural interviewing powers with deceased, infamous celebrities had never failed me before. I was extremely frustrated.
So to cheer myself up, I was sitting in a little theater that runs Indie films waiting for the re-run showing of that 2001 television/film, ‘Attila,’ starring Gerard Butler as the protagonist before he became famous. Gerard that is, not Attila.
This chunky-looking short fellow dressed in animal-skin-clothing comes in, and although the theater is practically empty, he sits down right beside me. Don’t you hate when someone does that? I start to get up to move over a couple of seats and he whispers: “drbj … are you drbj? Genghis sent me.” I look at him stunned.
Now you know I am intrigued. The only Genghis I am familiar with is Genghis Khan whom I interviewed some time ago.
me – Yes, I am drbj. Who are you?
Chunky-looking stranger – My name is Attila. My buddy, Genghis, told me you wrote a very funny pun about me and I wanted to thank you. I never get humorous publicity, you know.
me – I have been hoping to interview you, Mr. Attila the Hun. Do you have some time now? We can sit in the lobby since the movie won’t begin for another 20 minutes.
Attila – Of course, but you can drop ‘the Hun’ part of my name. Call me Attila.
me – Historians have described you as a ferocious warrior – a ruthless, uncivilized barbarian. Is that an accurate description?
Attila – My enemies might see me that way but my subjects knew me as a fearless general and a great king with excellent leadership skills.
The Early Years
me – (trying to hide my surprise) Leadership skills? Tell me more.
Attila – I was born in 406 AD to a ruling Hun family of nomads who came from Asia – what is now southern Russia. My uncle, Roas, was the king of our tribe. I was still only a child when I was taught to ride a horse, shoot a bow with real arrows, and fight in hand-to-hand combat. My favorite opponent was Bleda, my older brother. I won every time.
As a teenager, I found a sword buried in the ground of a fallow field. Our tribesmen believed it was the sword of the war god, Mars. I knew it was just a sword of some dead warrior but did not try to dissuade them since they thought it was a sign that I was destined to rule the world as an invincible warrior.
That was my first lesson in leadership …
me – (interrupting) … which was?
Attila – ‘Contrary to what most chieftains (leaders) think, you're not remembered by what you did in the past, but by what most Huns think you did.’
me – That’s very insightful, Attila.
Attila – I know. I am a fast learner.
me – You also have an amazing vocabulary: fallow? dissuade? invincible?
Attila: Let me insert a little history here to explain. Before I was born, the Huns were a barbarian, nomadic race of many different tribes. Each tribe had a king. By the time I was a ‘tween,’ the Huns had conquered the Ostrogoths and drove back the Visigoths who were threatening the Eastern Roman Empire.
Then Rome and the Huns negotiated peace terms and hostages were exchanged between the Romans and the Huns to secure peace.
Not Your Typical Teenager
me – And you were …
Attila – (interrupting) … one of the hostages. I spent two years in Rome, studied classical Latin and Greek, the language which replaced it, and learned many new big words. I was completely awed by the grandeur and riches of the Roman Empire. And I vowed to return one day not as a hostage, but as a conqueror.
By my late teens I was leading my Hun tribe in battle against our enemies, the Visigoths. When it came to looting, pillaging and devastation, I was fearless. No one could match me in battle and I became the commander-in-chief of the Huns in my twenties.
This was my second lesson in leadership: ‘Chieftains who lead our Huns must have courage. They must be fearless and have the fortitude and the gallantry to accept the risks of leadership.’
Attila asks: can you see the resemblance?
me – When did you become the king?
Attila – My uncle, King Roas, died in 433 and I became king and general of the entire Hun empire sharing the throne with my brother, Bleda. Our empire stretched from the Alps and the Baltic in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east.
We negotiated a peace treaty with Theodosius II, the East Roman Emperor, who paid us tribute of 700 pounds of gold annually. The Romans called us – not to our faces, of course- mercenaries.
me – How long did that peace last?
Attila – In 440 we went to war against the Romans when we caught a Roman bishop desecrating Hun tombs. By then, I had united the various Hun tribes (Uncle Roas had fortuitously murdered all the various Hun kings) and created one of the most formidable armies ever seen.
We swept through what is now Austria and Germany plundering and devastating everything in our path, defeating the Romans in every battle.
me – In 445, I know that you became the sole king of the Hun empire when your brother, Bleda, was murdered. Rumor has it you were responsible. Were you?
Attila – I could plead the Fifth Amendment. Instead I will quote my third lesson in leadership: ‘Know that your most worthy efforts, actions and ambitions will be scorned by your peers, for it is they who suffer most when you excel.’ Unquote.
me – Although you were now very wealthy from tribute payments of gold, the historian, Priscus, reports that you led a very simple life.
Attila – That’s true. I wore plain clothing and I ate normal Hun food – mostly raw meat. We didn’t have an FDA to warn us this might be dangerous (Laughs). And I was a generous husband to my six wives.And a loving father to my three sons.
I rewarded my warriors and their families as well since I had learned the fourth lesson of leadership: ‘share your riches with those who are loyal and stand in need. They will be willing to follow you into the mouth of hell, should the occasion arise.’
me – What led you to turn your aggression toward the Western Roman Empire?
Attila –This may surprise you. It was a marriage proposal in 451. The Roman princess, Honoria, sent me a note and a ring. She was the sister of Emperor Valentinian III and had been promised in marriage against her will. She wrote and asked me to rescue her.
I interpreted this as a marriage proposal and willingly accepted her dowry which included half of the provinces in the Western Roman Empire. Her father refused so I readied my army of 500,000 warriors (Huns and Germanic tribesmen) and set out to claim my newest wife.
me – Now that’s what I call a dowry!
Who were the ancestors of the Huns? They were probably from one of the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian steppes whom the Chinese called the Xiongnu. These nomads launched such devastating raids into China, they motivated the construction of the first sections of the Great Wall of China.
Around 85 AD, the resurgent Han Chinese defeated the Xiongnu who then scattered to the west. Some traveled as far as Scythia, where they were able to conquer a number of fearsome tribes. Combined, these people became the Huns.
Something to think about:
Ildikó is a Hungarian feminine name. The English equivalent is Hildegard. The name means ‘fighter’ or ‘fierce warrior.’
Attila – We swept through Gaul (France) and pillaged the largest cities. The Romans united with the Visigoths, our enemies, and halted our advance at the Catalaunian Fields (Chalons) in northeastern France.
The battle lasted several days and 90,000 lives were lost. The battle was not conclusive for either side but has been described as my ‘Waterloo.’
I wasn’t defeated though because in 452 I invaded northern Italy and devastated the Roman countryside. We captured Padua and Milan. But because of a famine and plague that existed in Italy – food provisions were short at the time – I was forced to withdraw.
Pope Leo later claimed to have met me and persuaded me to turn back. But that’s an urbane legend.
me – Urban legend.
Attila – Right. By then, I had learned the fifth lesson of leadership: ‘A chieftain cannot win if he loses his nerve. He should be self-confident and self-reliant and even if he does not win, he will know that he has done his best.’
In 453, I planned my next campaign against the Eastern Roman Empire because the new emperor, Marcian, refused to pay the tribute agreed upon by Theodosius II.
But first I decided to take my seventh wife. I married Ildikó, a beautiful teenager. We had an extravagant wedding and I may have drunk more than I usually do to celebrate. I never woke up.
Footnote: Attila died in his sleep during the night following his marriage. He may have perished due to a severe nasal hemorrhage ... or not! Those who buried him and his treasures were subsequently put to death by the Huns so that his grave might never be discovered.
After Attila's death, his three sons divided up the empire and fought over who would be the high king. The eldest son, Ellac, won but was killed in battle. The second son, Dengizich, became the king. He demanded that the Eastern Roman Empire pay tribute to the Huns again. The youngest son, Ernakh, refused to get involved and took his warriors out of the alliance.
When the Romans refused Dengizich’s demands, he attacked and was killed together with a majority of his people. The remnants of his clan joined Ernakh’s tribe and were absorbed by the Bulgars, the ancestors of today’s Bulgarians. Just 16 years after Attila’s death, the Hun Empire was dissolved.
Source for 'leadership lessons' - "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun," Wess Roberts, Ph.D.
This book has many meaningful leadership secrets. This is my favorite:
You must be willing to learn, to listen, and to grow in your awareness and abilities to perform the duties of your office. This is not often accomplished without tremendous effort and sacrifice of other interests. If it were easy to be a Chieftain, everyone would be one.
© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2013. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So."
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