Why and How I Wrote Attila
I was having a bout of past lives, dreaming, imagining, somehow thinking that I had been there. First, for some unaccountable reason, I imagined a past life as a nomad, in the eastern steppes of Eurasia, sometime in the last three thousand years. I wasn't very specific. I believe I wrote some fantasy stories, did some reading, and, of course, stumbled on the Huns.
First, I came upon the legend of Attila the Hun finding his miraculous Sword of the Huns in the abandoned city of Samarkand, destroyed by his ancestors. It was the legendary city, far to the east, that had been founded by Alexander: one world conqueror beckoned another. That led me to search for anything I could find about Attila.
There were children's stories from Hungary, about how the Huns came to Europe, and how the Magyars were their cousins. The Magyars had stayed behind, east of the Caspian, until a century after Attila's empire, before venturing into what is now Hungary. They counted themselves as members, or allies of Attila's great empire.
There were also stories about Attila having been sent to Rome as a youth (it would really have been Ravenna).
Then there were the chroniclers, Roman or Gothic, contemporaries of Attila, or retelling stories from earlier chroniclers who were. Priscus, a Roman diplomat, wrote the most direct eyewitness account of Attila; he had spent some time at Attila's court, as part of a legation attempting to negotiate agreements with Attila for the Eastern Roman Empire.
Priscus not only described Attila, he described Zerco, as well, the former jester of the former King, Rugila, inspiring me to write another novel (I, Zerco).
But I didn't just want to know the history and legends, I wanted to know how the Huns lived, day to day, which led me to a wonderful book: The World of the Huns, by Otto Maenchen-Helfen. Here there was anthropological, archeological and linguistic research into the Huns, as well as a more extensive history of their origins, back to the Hsiung-nu, a marauding tribe on the western edge of the Chinese Empire. Otto was a polymath, conversant in Magyar, Turkish and Chinese, some tribal languages, as well as the German in which he wrote.
One of the themes that kept recurring, was the Roman relationship to the Huns, their wildly inaccurate image of Huns, their uses for them as warriors, and the hostage relationship: royal youth were exchanged for the youth of Roman generals; each learned about the other's culture. General Aetius, the last great Roman general, the only one to beat Attila militarily, if not decisively, was a hostage to Attila's uncle, King Rugila. That led me, also, to read the extensive letters of a Senator, later Bishop, Sidonius (St. Sidoine in France), to get a feel for life among the wealthy and common people in those times.
And then I found the story that Attila's father, Mundius, or Mundzuk or Munducius, had been murdered by his brother, the King. Then (click title to buy) Attila as Told to His Scribes began to take shape.
I remember taking my laptop outside, and writing, writing, writing, living Attila in a sunny glade, the sound of a running stream below me.
Why did I write Attila? I confess there was something about his story that drew me: he was short, like me, and powerful, and he was a man of the country, who hated cities enough to destroy them: Singidinum (modern day Belgrade) and Acquilea, eastern gateway to the Italian peninsula, were the two most prominent, but there were others. And, I further confess that Attila's ascent, his apparent megalomania and his madness for power drew me, too. Here was a classic story of absolute power corrupting absolutely; I wanted to figure out how something like that could happen, since I had a hunch that Attila was as normal as anyone in that era to begin with.
Then, also, the era itself interested me: it was when the Roman Empire in the west was rapidly coming apart, partly because of "barbarians" like Attila and their marauding tribes, but also because of the insularity and selfishness of a monopolistic ruling class, the Roman Senators. The late Roman Empire was, after all, the precursor to the Dark Ages, and the worst of feudalism, serfdom, wandering raiding parties and social breakdown.
The elite reminded me of our contemporary era, hence my website: Roman Empire America Now which is no longer available. Instead, I have an author website: douglascsmyth-author.com, which will list my latest blogs and a new book, Princess Olga,.
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