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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Night Attila Died. Solving the Murder of Attila the Hun. Michael A. Babcock. Berkley Books (2005)

A very enjoyable and lucid investigation of the death of Attila the Hun. The official version of the death of Attila the Hun, the Scourge of God, is that he became very drunk on his wedding night, passed out and died from drowning in his own blood. Michael A. Babcock does not find that this version of the death of Attila persuasive, it is just too pat and convenient for the very large number of people who benefited from Attila's death. He believes that in fact Attila was murdered, probably poisoned, on the foot of a plot by the Eastern Roman Emperor, Marcian, and he makes his, persuasive, case in this book.
Michael A. Babcock is a philology, a historian of language and he uses his skill to track and trace the various ways the official history of the death of Attila was constructed, what is actually says and more importantly what it does not say. He delves deeply into the text, the account comes from the Gothic History of Jordanes, the book explores how Jordanes built his history from earlier sources and examines these sources. What potentially is an interesting if rather dry process is brought to vivid life by the passion, humour and skillful writing of the author.
The social, political, religious and military context for the death of Attila are carefully discussed and the evidence for murder is carefully and systematically gathered and presented. The likely suspects are identified and their probable motivation examined, the reasons for the creation of a narrative that gave Attila a death by natural causes are explored. One of the strenghts of the book is that Michael A. Babcock does not go beyond the evidence, he marshals it effectively and makes his case, he stops short of claiming a definitive proof. This is a very enjoyable, wide ranging and very well written book on a fascinating topic, well worth reading.

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